Unbelieving, I held the phone to my ear. Joanne? Sick? We always talked by phone every few weeks, but wait … how long had it been this time?
And now a call from her husband with tears in his voice. I could feel the conversation moving in a direction that I could not absorb.
The easy, relaxed freedom of our ties suddenly appeared to have been foolhardy. Although Joanne had been in her seventies, I truly had thought she would live forever–or at least until we were both “caught up together with Him in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” (We spoke of it often.)
Now she was already there, and I hadn’t even given her a proper send off.
Homeschooled sons, a toddler, a baby, and a five-hour drive made for some challenging funeral logistics, but the patient husband and I managed to attend somehow, because I had been asked to share words about Joanne and our friendship–an incredible gift to me in processing the beauty and the loss.
But it was not what helped the most.
Morbid as it sounds, the empty shell of her—the sick body looking so wrong and so hollow–pierced the grieving just enough to make room for thanksgiving that God had allowed her to fly free of it. Here’s where the theology gets fuzzy, but “absent from the body, present with the Lord” superseded the void she had left behind, and with Holy-Spirit-fueled certainty, I knew that something stronger than heredity had been passed along to me during our decades-long sisterhood, a genealogy of spirit stronger than blood that came to me through:
Shared ministry in which we lost ourselves in the communication of Truth;
Witnessing her determination to be ordained during her retirement years;
Hours spent in prayer at a messy kitchen table;
Arguments over obscure Scripture passages when I was a headstrong teenager;
Her unshakeable conviction that God had plans for me.
Although it is untraceable from a practical standpoint, still, I ponder this concept: a genealogy of Spirit—a sharing of faith and calling that runs back through all my known spiritual influences and beyond memory to the time of Christ.
When Anna the prophetess saw the Messiah Babe in the Temple, I picture her charging forth with a message of hope to pour into every ear. How many of the faithful who stood in the women’s court were baptized into her incurable optimism?
When that five-times-married Samaritan woman embarked upon her calling as an evangelist, isn’t it true that her proclamation of the good news would have set off a chain reaction of righteousness that reverberated forward for generations?
Did Lydia the business woman ever come alongside a sister, put an arm around her and say, “How about you and I practice this life of following Jesus until we get it right?”
Was Priscilla ever confronted—brought up short—by a wiser, more discerning sister who pointed out the gaps between her theology and her life that were big enough to drive a Roman chariot through?
I receive from them, women of the distant past, as surely as I have been blessed with the gift of Joanne’s sacrificial building forward into my life. Cherishing what I have received, I am determined to choose availability over “me-time;” vulnerability over image-management; relationships over the elusive merit-badge in housekeeping.
I have not even begun to build forward in the way that Joanne did, but because of her investment, there is a genealogy of Spirit running forward through me and into the lives of women who need time in front of an open Bible; who need to gather and pray, to share their stories around a circle of coffee mugs so that they, too, can build forward into their daughters and their friends—into women I will never see or know.
This vision of an eternal sisterhood, the privilege of carrying forward the same Truth cherished by my New Testament sisters urges me to lean into this unfinished story; to show up in the church library on Sunday mornings with my Bible and my notes; to continue inviting young women into my kitchen for bean-canning, pickle-making, and talk about marriage and mothering.
The truth is that this is not a neat and tidy narrative where I am carrying a torch into a crowded auditorium, an unreached people group, or a visible public ministry. The beauty of this unfinished story is that the Great Commission is not always fulfilled with a passport and a suitcase.
Sometimes two women sit at a messy kitchen table, and the Spirit is there, and the eternal sisterhood goes on.