By Barbara Rendel
There had been no news of anything unusual when my husband and I were traveling toward the airport at 7:00 a.m. Sunday, August 27. We were rerouted around the airport with no explanations. Wally said, “Do you suppose there has been a plane crash?” We really thought it unlikely. There had not been a commercial plane crash anywhere in the United States for five years.
But Comair Flight 5191 had crashed at 6:07 a.m., and this was a major event in Lexington. There probably wasn’t a person in our relatively small community who didn’t know or have a connection with someone on that flight. Some of the people on the plane were headed on their honeymoon, some were on business trips, and others were going to meet friends or family. Their journeys ended unexpectedly at Blue Grass Airport in Lexington.
I couldn’t help but think back a few years to a snowy February night when two Jessamine County police officers knocked on the front door of our home at 1:30 am. When we saw the police at the door, my husband, a minister, knew it could be any of a myriad of things.
Our first thoughts were not of our kids. They had never been in trouble. Bart was sleeping in his bed. Jodi and her friend, Shannon, were at another home, asleep, doing some overnight babysitting. We were not prepared for the policemen’s news.
They asked if we had a daughter named Jill. Was she traveling in Michigan with a basketball team? After we said yes to each question, they told us she had died in a van accident a few hours earlier near Marshall, Michigan.
I remember I actually sort of chuckled and told them they must be mistaken. Our daughter was traveling with a group. I asked if anyone else had died or been seriously hurt. They told me no. I again said they must be mistaken. Surely this was not Jill.
But when my husband called Michigan, it was confirmed. My body became very numb. I thought my heart was stopping and I was in the process of dying. My mind simply could not comprehend such news.
When Jill’s journey ended in Heaven, the journeys of the remaining family members—Barton, Jodi, Wally, and me—took very sharp turns. Although each of us has a story to tell, part of each of our stories is the sensitivity we have toward others who go through similar sudden, dramatic, traumatic changes in their lives.
Let me give you another illustration. Sam was one of our friends. After his wife died he moved to Sayre Christian Village in Lexington. When Sam moved from Pennsylvania to Kentucky, he was already past 80. Although he was now living closer to some of his family members, it didn’t mean very much to Sam at this time.
He was lonely, distraught, and old. He actually curled up into a fetal position. He would not eat. He thought his journey had ended, but soon found out his journey was only taking a sharp turn. A person who visited him simply began to take a personal interest in him. They were able to get him to eat. He began to get out of bed.
Sam’s new friend invited him to our church. After a short time, Sam decided he wanted Jesus as his Lord and Savior, and he was baptized. Sam was faithful in his church attendance. Sam no longer was lonely, distraught, or ready to die. He found others in the nursing home who needed encouragement and help. Many of these people were much younger, but also sicker and weaker than Sam. He would feed them, visit them in their rooms, and wheel them to the lunchroom and other activities. At the church services in the nursing home, Sam served Communion, helping many residents take a sip of juice through a straw. He loved them and ministered to them.
Sam loved flowers. He noticed a courtyard at the nursing home was bare of any flowers and had few visitors. Sam began to plant flowers in the courtyard. People began to supply Sam with more flowers and plants. Before long it was the most beautiful part of the nursing care facility.
Sam renamed Sayre Christian Village the “Halfway to Heaven House.” When Sam was asked how he got his flowers to bloom so beautifully, he said, “I just treat them like I do the women around here. Tell them how pretty they are, and they bloom like crazy.” Sam not only lived the last years of his life with a new eternal destination, he made an eternal difference in the lives of many people around him.
Invested In Ministry
Another great example is Dorothy. Dorothy has become one of my all-time favorite people. She was only 52 when her husband became very ill with liver cancer and was given only a short time to live. Dorothy and Johnny were not Christians but had a wonderful Christian neighbor who called to tell us about them. She knew they needed Jesus.
My husband began ministering to them and told them of the eternal hope they could have in Jesus if they would surrender their lives to him. They did and began to faithfully attend church even when Johnny could hardly walk. Soon after, Johnny died at 56.
Dorothy had never “kept the checkbook” or driven a car. She knew she could either sit alone in self-pity or do something about the situation. She learned to drive. She learned to take care of the duties of keeping her home.
Dorothy soon learned that investing herself in ministry to others was the joy of her life. I cannot tell you how many people were blessed by her good cooking—her homemade yeast rolls, “snowballs,” hot chicken salad, and much, much more. She became involved in cooking for various church events.
One of Dorothy’s greatest ministries has been to others who were lonely or hurting. She led activities for the senior adults at church. Dorothy recently told me of her dear friend Berniece, who is now in a care facility. Berniece (now in her 90s) went with Dorothy every Tuesday for 14 years to Sayre Christian Village to visit residents and fill their water pitchers. (Dorothy did this for 18 years.) Dorothy’s homemade candy, jam cakes, and crafts probably raised more money for the Sayre Christian Village Bazaar than anyone else.
Although Dorothy now has some physical problems, she would tell you the last 20-plus years of her journey have been some of her most blessed. I just hope each of us can learn from these special people.
You may be at a crossroads in your journey. You may have lost your closest friend or spouse in death. But I want to tell you there is hope for your journey. If you will allow God to lead you, the best years may still await you, especially if you listen to Jesus, who said, “follow me.”
Barbara Thackston Rendel, executive director of university advancement at Cincinnati (Ohio) Christian University, is a native of Sugartree Ridge, Ohio. Her husband, Wally Rendel, is a Christian church minister who currently serves as director of church relations for CCU. They have three children and four grandchildren. Barbara graduated with a BA from CCU, serving as executive assistant to the president of CCU during college and after graduating. After serving as executive assistant to the headmaster of Lexington (Kentucky) Christian Academy, she founded and served as executive director of the Lexington Christian Academy Foundation, directing a multimillion-dollar capital campaign. She also is a musician and has taught piano.