First, the joy of having been at Mass this morning. Today was the Rite of Sending, in which we send those preparing to be received into the Catholic Church to our cathedral in Cleveland for the Rite of Election. It reminds me of the day 4 years ago when we attended the rite, shortly before our family's reception into the Catholic Church. A very special day, and exciting to see the hundreds of others who were on the same journey.
Today was also the sort of "prologue" for our church's annual mission services. Each year during Lent, a special speaker comes and conducts the mission services. The purpose is to encourage our parish to pursue our mission: living as God's people and reaching our community for Christ. Our speaker this year is Fr. Damian Ference, who teaches at the seminary in Cleveland. He is a man filled with energy and a passion for Christ. The words he spoke this morning rang so true: Satan's lure to us is to make us self-centered, rather than God-centered (I'm paraphrasing).
The other emotion I'm feeling today is one of melancholy. Today would have been the 44th birthday of my friend Denise (see previous post ). Denise and I became friends in Bible college back in the late 1980's. She was one of the best friends I ever had, and we had some really fun-filled times together. In fact, the first date I went on with my now-husband--Denise was on, too! You see, it was "Spinsters' Spree"--the girls did the inviting. She and I double-dated with two guys named Keith! We went to Branson, which was in its pre-every-celebrity-owns-a-theater days. We all played putt putt golf and ate at a small diner-style restaurant. It is a memory I will cherish forever. So much laughter! (Where but in Branson, heart of the Ozarks, will you find a mini-outhouse as part of a putt putt golf course?!) Other memories of her I will always cherish: working together in music theory class under the close eye of dear Sister Swaim (musician extraordinaire). Ministering together on the streets of Springfield, Missouri, as part of the street witnessing team. Singing together in oratorio choir, as well as taking part in the many recital groups. Laughing until our sides ached, as we sat on her pink bedspread (always pink for Denise!) or my blue comforter (always blue for me!).
One of my favorite memories was the weekend her twin sister, Erlene, and her younger brother, Bruce, came to visit campus. It was kind of eerie to me, how much Denise and Erlene looked alike!Same laugh, same smile... Yet, there was always the difference of clothing (always purple for Erlene!). I need to dig out the pictures from that weekend. It was a blast!
Best memory of all, though: just having her as a friend, and someone whom I never doubted when she said, "I will pray for you." She meant it with all her heart. Prayer warrior is one of the attributes she was definitely known for. Oh, and the all-night CMF prayer meetings! Having the chance to be in her wedding...and me wearing a PINK bridesmaid's dress, of course!
As I said, today would have been Denise's birthday, as it is today Erlene's. However, Denise's battle with brain tumors ended just a few short years ago on March 24, 2006. This is her brother's poem, which he posted on Facebook recently. It gives you a glimpse into the battle she fought. If you can't access it, let me know. I can re post the text here. Anyone who has watched a loved one battle cancer will be able to relate to his poignant words.
In summary, this is a reflective day for me. Reflecting on God's grace "in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Reflecting on my sinfulness, and thankful for that grace! Reflecting on happy memories of a dear friend. Reflecting on the brevity of life. Rejoicing in the privilege of having known Denise and having shared her friendship...a rare and shining gem.
God bless, dear friends. And happy birthday to Erlene...I know this is a joyful/tearful day.