First off, I must thank the LCR family for the love and support these many years that we have all been praying for my mother, Barbara Vance. It has become a familiar name in the prayers of our church. My mother, Barbara Vance, joined the Church Triumphant on May 18. We prayed for her because she was battling terminal bone cancer. She battled for over two years and in many ways defied the odds of time. I believe she defied the odds with the love, support, and prayers of her Prayer Warriors in LCR and beyond. For that, I am eternally thankful. I am thankful for your prayers, for the love, for the cards, the kind words. I am thankful for the love of Christ shining through each of your faces.
With that, I’d like to share with you the “eulogy/speech/sermon” that I mustered the strength to give at my mother’s funeral. I have a deep belief that the Holy Spirit touched me the days after my mother’s death. As you will see, the Holy Spirit touched Carolyn and my family as well. I hope you can see this may be a nice addendum to the “Thin Space” theme Lenten devotional from two years ago. I hope I can serve as a witness to you. That we can believe in the sure and certain hope in the resurrection. Peace and God Bless you and this wonderful congregation of LCR. (For the sake of the story, I am from Northern Ohio, a little town called Huron. It is situated at the southernmost point of Lake Erie. When I say “lake” and “from here”, I mean northcentral Ohio and Lake Erie. Ted and Heather are my siblings.)
To tell the story of the Vance family, faith most certainly needs to be involved. All of us in the family grew up in the church. There are the obvious reasons being that Dad is a Lutheran minister, but for maybe less obvious reasons, my mom embodied the teachings of Christ like few other. Our faith has grown strong through both of them. I can talk for hours about Mom and who she was and what she meant to me; we all could talk for hours. However, I’d like to tell a story about recent events and faith instead.
Mom loved the water. All she ever talked about was wanting to get a chair and sit by the lake. She always wanted to relax but never was quite able to relax as much as she wished. However, she carried this dream of sitting by the lake until her last days. I suppose I am cut from the same cloth. I tend to wander back to the lake when I’m able to be up here. As some know, I live in Cincinnati now, but I really feel that I grew up here. Every time we make a visit I have a secret ambition to make it to the lake, just for a little bit.
A few weeks ago Mom entered hospice and was moved home. This was an extremely difficult time as you all know. Ted, Heather, and I all spent really meaningful hours with Mom while we could still talk with her. We rode the roller coaster of emotions, telling stories. Some funny, some sad. It was a hard and beautiful week all in one. I was able to spend an entire week with mom, dad, and my siblings. However, on a particularly difficult morning I took a break from the house, went to get a coffee, then went straight to the lake. I found a lonely bench at Lakefront Park in Huron and took a seat. The lake was calm and the morning was quiet. I peered out to the water and found the most beautiful Great White Heron. As they do, this bird was majestically standing in the water, patrolling, looking for a morning meal. I watched it for the good part of a half an hour. Strolling. Patrolling. It was beautiful and calming. I left with a sense of peace and rejuvenation. I snapped a picture and shared it with Mom. When I showed her my view that morning she was just as enthusiastic as I was.
A week later, Mom passed at home. Surrounded by her loved ones in her last hours. Dad, Ted, Heather and I were with her in her last day. Dad held her hand in her last breath. All of a sudden, things were quiet, but not in that good calming way. In that sense of loss and emptiness way.
I went back to the lake the next morning on Sunday. I was looking for that calm and comfort. In the back of my head I was looking for my friend. I was hoping my Great White Heron was back, strolling, patrolling. I found that same lonely bench. I peered out to the water but unfortunately didn’t see my friend. The water was peaceful and the morning calm, but it didn’t quite give me what I needed. So that morning I cut the visit to the lake short.
Shortly after, I went home to be with Carolyn and the girls. We spent the afternoon trying to be normal and get some of our lives in order for the upcoming difficult week. Our kids were up way too late heading into the school week. I walked outside around 8 or 8:30 and decided the night was too nice to not go for a walk. I came in the house and announced that I was heading out for a walk and everyone should join me! It’s past the kids bedtime, but who cares? I had this strong urge to enjoy the beautiful weather.
We always walk the same route with the dog and the kids, maybe about a mile loop or so. About quarter mile into the walk is a pond that marks the entrance to a neighborhood near our house. The pond is small, but big enough for coy fish and for ducks and geese to make a temporary home.
As soon as we left the house, it was apparent that the birds were active. So much so, that we had Nora start counting them. Ducks, swallows, robins, geese, countless other species that I couldn’t identify. Nora was in the 40s before we hit the pond. As we approached the pond Carolyn pointed out a bird and it froze us all. Standing on the rocks next to the pond was a Blue Heron. In Cincinnati, Ohio. A Blue Heron. This is an extremely rare sighting. We stared at the beauty of this creature. Carolyn and I both made comments. “I’ve never seen one of these outside of Lake Erie”, “It’s just staring at us”, “It’s not even fishing, just standing on the rock”. The birds buzzed around us, and we were stuck in motionless time. After a few moments of looking at us, the Heron batted it’s wings and flew directly away from us, flying higher and higher, then disappearing. Not to the left or right or at an angle, but directly away from us. The Heron I was looking for that morning at the lake was gone, but a new Heron showed itself later in the day in a much more dramatic way. Then Carolyn said something that shook me to my core. “Your Mom’s OK, she just told us.”
Sometimes the distance between our lives and God seems to be separated by an impenetrable concrete wall. Life is so hard, difficult, and unrelenting. We ask “God where are you??” Believe me, I’ve have asked this question to God...recently. Just as we probably all have at one time or another we ask “God where are you?”
However, sometimes that impenetrable wall becomes a thin vale. So thin that we might be able to peer to the other side, if only for a moment. In some Christian traditions, this is called a Thin Space moment. A Thin Space when we have an experience that brings us close to God, maybe even nose to nose.
You can call me crazy and question what happened and my interpretation, but that’s OK. Creature manifestation of God? Adam has lost it. No way. I get it. It seems far fetched. As Christians in 2019 we are entirely based on faith. We never saw Jesus, we never heard his parables in the flesh, we never witnessed a miracle, but we believe. We have faith. A belief without seeing.
I believe Carolyn, myself, and the girls experienced a Thin Space moment. It has helped me come to grips, it helps me feel that it will be OK, that Mom is OK. We were given a message that we’re not alone, that God is here, all around us. He mourns as we mourn, but celebrates His daughter coming home.
I hope that this Thin Space story is now your Thin Space story. That if we slow down and look around, we can see God all around us. Sometimes it is subtle, but sometimes it hits you over the head. In our world that is so hard and so busy and so stressful, we need that peace. We need a time to slow down and see God. When we see Nature it might be a bit easier to see God. Maybe it’s the butterfly, or the fresh snow fall, or the birds singing in the morning, or the beautiful sunset. However, if we look a little deeper, maybe God is in the person sitting next to you.
Mom can never die because she lives through Jesus Christ, that was His promise. She also lives
through me. She lives through Dad. She lives through Ted. She lives through Heather. She lives through Michelle, Joe, and Carolyn. She lives through Amber, Maya, Jacob, Allie, Nora, and Lily. She lives through all of you.
We will be OK. We will be OK because God is with us. And you know what? Barbara Lynn Vance is OK. After all, our Thin Space moment told us so.