Sister Jean

I have enjoyed watching the NCAA basketball tournament. It is fun to watch fans as they cheer for their teams. Loyola Chicago has been this year’s Cinderella team. Their most ardent fan is Sister Jean, the team’s 98-year-old chaplain. Though Sister Jean is “retired,”and she recently broke her hip bringing in groceries, she is right there with “her boys,” cheering them on and praying for them. Her presence and support have made a great impact upon the team’s performances, the players say. They are a Cinderella team, or a miracle, according to Sister Jean. After all, how do you explain an 11th seed making it to the elite eight?

In the Presbyterian Church USA’s Book of Confessions, the Brief Statement of Faith begins and ends with the statement, “In life and in death, we belong to God.” This simple assurance has been a tenet of reformed faith since Calvin wrote The Church Institutes. It is important to remind ourselves of this truth in light of the reality that just this week, a number of our friends and colleagues have experienced deaths of a loved ones.

I am reminded of the words of a church member, Totsie Sifford. Totsie called me one day and said, “Bill you need to come see me.” So I went to see Totsie, who had already passed her 80th birthday. She shared with me that she had just received a diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). ALS is a devastating progressive

neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Totsie said, “You know Bill, I always knew I was going to die but I did not think it would be from something like this.” That is a reality for each of us. While we know we will die, we never expect it, and because of our lack of being able to grasp that reality, we are shocked when it comes.

Years ago one of my professors at Gardner-Webb, Dr. Lewis, said to me, “Bill, a person’s life is as long as it takes for that person to go from birth to death. For some, that may be 10 years, for others 30, 40 or 50, and for a few, 80, 90 or 100. However long our life is, it is not measured in the number of our days but in what we contribute and the joy we bring to those around us.” While the death of anyone is a tragedy, there is a larger reality that each of our lives has value and meaning, and we sometimes without even realizing it, have a great impact on others.
In the Heidelberg Catechism, the first question is, “What is our only comfort in life and in death?” The answer given, “That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all of the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.”

May God continue to bless Sister Jean, and help us all believe that we belong wholeheartedly to God.

Bill Neely