“For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.” Philippians 2:13
Our heads are tilted toward one another, hat brim to hat brim, each with an arm around the other, both of us offering our most photogenic smiles. Then something happened. Probably our mother couldn’t find the button to push on the camera or perhaps a gust a wind disturbed her. I can no longer remember, but whatever it was, we looked at each other and grinned, and what was captured was a unguarded moment of joy between sisters. We called it our hat picture, and when my sister died at the age of thirty-seven, my mother and I framed it for the memorial service.
Though we seemed to have little in common, Rosie and I shared an immense love of hats and often wished ourselves born in an era when a lady’s ensemble was not complete without a matching hat. Therefore, every Easter was marked by a new hat, bought or borrowed from one another. The dress, though of utmost importance, was secondary to the sensation created by the effect of the hat set at just the right angle atop tresses specifically groomed to compliment the Easter bonnet. We would no more miss an Easter sunrise or church service than we would go hatless for this most sacred of days. The hat signified more than a wistful nod to fashion of the past, however. It was a pure and glorious celebration of being a woman created by God’s own design to enjoy and immerse herself in femininity. It was a voluntary admission of being a lady of quality and worth, not to be mistaken with fame and wealth. For the quality of womanhood comes directly from God’s creation of the very first woman and the worth is that He gave His son to die on the cross, rescuing every man and woman who accept Him from infinite death. Our hats became symbols that reminded us we were cherished, we were loved, and we were made perfectly just as we were by a loving God who knew us before we were even born. And wearing them was an acknowledgement of His love, an acceptance of His sacrifice and an act of submission to His absolute authority in our lives.
Ah, but, you say, submission? Absolute authority?
Yes, to both. And here’s an example of how that looked the last few weeks of my sister’s life.
She knew she was dying and though loathe to admit it, so did we. After five major heart surgeries and many follow up surgical procedures, after several pacemakers, after repeated intubations, repeated coding and defibrillations, enough medications to let a pharmaceutical executive retire, oxygen tanks that she named since they had to dog along with her everywhere, and ten months in and out of the hospital, her frail little body was tired, weak and starved for rest.
She and her eleven year old son, along with our mother, had moved in with us for what we had thought would be a several week recovery, but turned into a ten month blessing that often resembled a nightmare with midnight runs to the emergency room or living for days at the hospital, all the while trying to maintain a ration of normalcy for four children who accepted this time of pain and hardship as simply how we lived. Rosie wanted to go home, to see her son in his own yard again, to see our grandmother, to see the rose bushes she had planted a year ago, to burn the memory of the place she had created to raise her son in her mind once more.
We all protested. She was too weak. The medical care wasn’t the same, wasn’t good enough. The risk was too great to fly, in fact, they wouldn’t let her. But her resolve was greater than our protests and with a gentle spirit we barely recognized in one who had been a virtual whirlwind of spunk, she insisted we let her go.
When all was arranged and it was time to say goodbye, I pulled her into the house, into a private area, and threw my hefty arms around her thin, bony body.
“Don’t leave,” I begged, “stay, because I’m terrified I will never see you again if you go.”
She put her hands on my shoulder and pushed me back until we were eye to eye. Her blue-green eyes held mine steadily, as if trying to transfer her thoughts to my mind. We both had tears. “I have to go,” she whispered.
I fell to my knees and placed my arms around her legs, looked at her and sobbed my fear, “But if you go, I’m afraid you’ll die there, Rosie, and I’ll never see you again.”
My baby sister put her hands around my face and a sad little smile played around her mouth. “You’ll see me in Heaven.”
I clung to her as I cried, but there were no more words. She knew, I knew, and God knew. She was finished with her fight for life, her struggle to live long enough to see her son graduate high school, the painful procedures to sustain her body. And so she was embracing her future, submitting to the authority of Jesus who both numbered her days on earth and waited to take her to Heaven. She was a woman of quality, of worth, and more courage than I’ve ever seen in any human.
Years earlier when we had one of our many discussions about what Heaven would be like, she had quipped that she hoped we’d have something to go with those white robes everyone talked about.
“Like what?” I asked.
“Like a really cute hat and some matching sandals with a kitten heel,” she laughed.
Besides her beautific smile, I picture my sister greeting me when I arrive in Heaven wearing a pink hat festooned with ribbon rosettes and seed pearl trim set at just the right angle to frame a heart shaped face and glossy brown hair. She’ll have one for me, and one for our mother, and at the same time we’ll take them, like crowns, and lay them lovingly at the feet of the One who gave us life, and life again. Our Jesus.