Wednesday, October 9, 2013

You Signed In Blood

Howie and Gail were over 60 by then.  Married for the first time at 56, they were living large, a life of excited exploration--everything old was new again for them.  I was offering a two year biblical literacy programme (The Bethel Series) at our church and they signed up.

-You do realize this is the "intensive phase", right?  There will be lots of homework.

-Yes, we know.

-There will be memory work, essays, projects, presentations....

-Yes.

-...and EXAMS!

-Are you saying you don't think we can do this, he asked leaning forward in his seat, his hands on his knees?

I gulped in embarrassment.  That was exactly what I thought, but I was too cowardly to say so to their faces.

-Let's give it a go and see how it works out.  Just remember, once we begin, you can not quit on me.

Gail took it upon herself to bring cakes and cards each time a class member had a birthday.  I never saw her without a smile and a tender heart.  Howie was the class clown.  He made us all laugh by making himself the but of his own jokes.  For Gail's devotional, early in our first year, she self-consciously read a page from "Our Daily Bread".  Nothing original, but she did fulfill her obligation.  Howie declined every time his turn came around.

-No thanks.  That's not my thing.

As the first year came to a close, we were all still standing, a little bent under the strain, ready for the summer holiday, but ready to soldier on in the fall.  All of us that is, except Howie.

-We want to quit, he told me, flushing to his hairline.

-You can't quit.  You signed in blood, remember?

At the outset, I had purposely painted a bleak picture of the course requirements.  Drop-out rates had been high in the past.  I'd jokingly told prospective students they'd have to sign in blood to commit for a full two years.

Our second year flew by.  We had reached our stride and we had the end in sight.  We steam rolled over the assignments week by week, exam after exam.  Howie, bless his heart, never achieved a passing grade on a single exam in the two years, but he never missed a single class.  His wife, his classmates and his teacher loved him dearly and were all so proud of him for sticking it out.  Precious man.

Gail flourished that second year.  She found her rhythm and truly enjoyed what she was learning.  That spring, it was again her turn to lead the devotional.  No two minutes from a magazine this time.  The class sat spell-bound as she took a passage of scripture she loved and gave us a 15 minute exposition.   She finished with a personal testimony that had more than one of us wiping tears from our cheeks.  Her childlike faith had been there all along, but by now she had learned what she believed and why she believed it.  She had blossomed in the loving acceptance of her fellow classmates and dared to be vulnerable before us.

Not too many years later, Gail faced the untimely death of her beloved Howie and a couple of years after that, her own terminal illness.  Her solid faith in Jesus as her Loving Lord never failed her.  She clung to the scriptures with dignity and surety to the very end.  In all my years of teaching, Gail has been the most gratifying student to date.  She began as a timid person offering cakes in friendship.  She graduated as a strong woman of faith, leading others to Jesus in love, still feeding them cake.

RIP Gail and Howie.  I smile as I remember you.


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