I friend of mine passed away two weeks ago. She attended my church off and on over the past few years, and though nobody knew her extremely well, as she was quite introverted, I wanted to honor her life and her participation in our church body by saying a few words at the end of yesterday’s service.
I met Sara sometime around 1987. My family started attending the church that her family went to in Minnesota. I was in 4th grade, she was in 6th. Over the years my parents became very close friends with her parents. They were even in a small Bible study group together for several years. Sara was the oldest of 4 sisters. Two of her sisters are the same age as my two younger brothers. They were also close friends growing up. Even though Sara and I were in youth group together, our families were close, and we attended the same junior high and high school, we were not all that close. She was two years older than me, and at that age, two years matters a lot more than it does now. We were not close, but we were more than mere acquaintances. I would definitely say that we were friends. I liked her.
She graduated from high school in 1994, and we lost track of each other. In those days there was no social media and the internet was relatively new. Fast forward about 15 years. I graduated, went to college, moved to Indiana, got married, started a family.
By the fall of 2009 Facebook had burst on the scene, and I had reconnected with many of my friends from high school, including Sara. We were all experiencing the aftermath of the housing crash, and the “Great Recession” was well underway. As many of us were, Sara was unemployed. She was also recently divorced, and living in Virginia. Her lease was running out, and she posted on Facebook that she was going to need a place to stay.
At the time we owned a duplex. We lived in the larger half and rented out the smaller apartment, but it had been empty for about a year. I half-jokingly responded to her plea for housing, saying, “I have an apartment available, but you’d have to move to Indiana.” *Ha-ha*. Little did I expect her to take me up on it. It turns out she had another friend in Elkhart, who coincidentally was also a friend of ours. The timing seemed to be perfect for all of us. We agreed to let her stay there for free for a few months. Give her some time to find a job and get settled, as long as she could pay the utilities.
She lived in our house for four and a half years, right up until we moved out last June. I saw her almost every day, coming and going to work, when she was working. My kids adored her. She would occasionally babysit them. Whenever they saw her outside they would run out, yelling “HI SARA!” They would talk her ear off with the kinds of silly stories children tell. I was embarrassed at how often she probably heard me lose my temper and scream at my kids, through the thin walls. She probably knew me better than I realized.
Sara was a true artist and a talented musician. You may remember that she played the piano and the bass guitar on our worship team from time to time. Her illnesses prevented her from being able to participate more, but her mother told me that she really appreciated the times she got to be part of it. I remember her, as a teenager, playing Great Balls of Fire on the piano. Her mom says she learned to play it by ear. She had a very eclectic style, as many artists do. She had a gorgeous collection of pottery, unique art, trinkets from friends and souvenirs from her travels.
She was the kind of person who held others at arm’s length. There were very few people she truly let in and get to know her closely. She was a quiet tenant, didn’t party or have a lot of company. She never complained. We had her over for dinner sometimes, and on rare occasions she and I would talk outside on the porch, but most of the time she kept to herself.
Sara had a lot of struggles, both internal and external. She wasn’t the type to ask for help, or to go seeking charity or government assistance. She wanted to appear strong, and I think she wanted to BE strong. She WAS strong, for a long time.
Jesus said in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Sara had the kind of trouble that many, perhaps most of us will probably never be able to comprehend. And now, those of us who knew her and cared about her are facing trouble as well.
Jesus also said, in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Sara is now experiencing ultimate rest for her soul, in Jesus. While we wait out our days here on earth, though we have many troubles, Jesus implores us to take heart, and he invites us to come to him and find rest.