sis

 

How can I say thanks for the things You have done for me?
Things so undeserved, yet You gave to prove Your love for me;
The voices of a million angels could not express my gratitude
All that I am and ever hope to be—I owe it all to Thee…

To God be the glory
To God be the glory
To God be the glory
For the things He has done

With His blood He has saved me
With His power He has raised me;
To God be the glory
For the things He has done

 

The above words were penned by Andre Crouch, about his tribute to God for what He had done in Crouch’s life.  They come to mind for me because my sister Lori and I used to sing them sitting at the piano when she was probably 16 and I was 6.  Lori was my eldest sister, followed by Julie and then Jenn.

Thinking about singing this song with Lori brings tears to my eyes as I write, not only because Lori passed away on April 20, 2018 after a 12 year battle with ovarian cancer, but also because God made these words an intimate reality in Lori’s life.

You see, Lori at a young age possessed a zeal for God and a love for Jesus Christ.  She and I sang this song for its truth and for the beauty of its melody.  Both of us sang these words with immature, yet sincere hearts—to God be the glory for the things HE has done.

Lori was also a very outspoken Christian, and as a teenager she boldly took a stand against the leadership at our church over a leadership decision she felt was hypocritical.  Consequently, she left the organized church for DECADES after that.  She recently told me before her death that she did not leave her faith in Jesus, but she did leave His church with vehemence.   Overtime, a hardening towards the church led her into a (her words) self-righteous hardening.

Lori was exceptionally gifted in the field of advertising and rose through the ranks of several different advertising firms in Atlanta, Georgia, eventually being named partner in one of the firms.  Lori’s career in many ways became her identity and she sought to find fulfillment through her work. (More on this in a moment).

Our relationship & Lori’s humor

Sis Crazy

(Lori & “Bird”)

Though ten years apart in age, growing up, Lori and I had a very good relationship.  She had a WONDERFUL sense of humor, and she was always quick to laugh at my humor, too.  More than that, Lori had the ability to laugh at herself.  One of the funniest stories I have ever heard in my life, she told on herself.

As a college student, Lori worked at McDonalds, and on Sunday nights, the workers were required to clean out the sundae machine.  On one particular occasion, Lori was diligently cleaning out the machine when it occurred to her that the soft serve swirling into the 5 gallon bucket was just going to be wasted.  As a result, Lori grabbed two spoons and went to work, plunging one into the ice cream and one into the hot fudge sauce—both meeting at her mouth simultaneously!  This went on for who knows how long, when suddenly, the regional manager for McDonalds comes walking around the corner.

In an instant, Lori went from stuffing her face to enthusiastically telling the manager about her major in college (advertising) and how much she enjoyed school and (probably) working at the Golden Arches. After a few moments, the district manager said that he needed to visit with some other people, and Lori returned to work, cleaning out the ice cream machine.

It was at that moment that she happened to catch her reflection off of the galvanized steel of the machine to witness her mouth, chin, and uniform covered in hot fudge sauce!!   The district manager never cracked a smile the whole conversation, as Lori waxed eloquent about her burgeoning college career and future—chocolate dripping off her chin.  That makes the whole thing even funnier to me!  And Lori would repeat that story over and over!

My faith journey & our relationship

Sis3

(Alicia, me, Lori, Jenn, Julie, Kevin, photo bomb by Mr. Farmer)

At age 25, I began to experience a longing for more out of life than I was currently experiencing.  I remember sitting in my car in a grocery store parking lot and before getting out of my car I had a random, yet profound, thought—I was not created to live a mediocre life.  That thought, couched amidst a failed relationship and dissatisfaction with life in general, ultimately propelled me back into the faith of my childhood.

Zealous in my renewed faith, I was excited when Lori came to visit me in Nashville.  I took her to church with me, and we went to lunch afterwards.  I asked her what she thought of the service and she said, “Bo, I am glad that you have found some satisfaction and meaning in a relationship with God, but you need to know that not everybody finds hope in that way!”  Normally being the type of person who hates confrontation and arguing, I looked at her and said, “Lori, there is no hope apart from Jesus Christ.”  This must have stunned her somewhat because briefly thereafter the conversation was directed to safer waters.

Still, that conversation initiated a rift between us that would last for many years.  I intentionally tried NOT to share my faith with her or even to mention anything about spirituality when speaking with her.  That really didn’t seem to matter because during one phone conversation Lori blurted out, “Bo, PLEASE do not say ‘Praise the Lord’ after every sentence!”  The fact of the matter was that I had not even said it once in the entire conversation.

At that point in her life, Lori was really hardened towards spiritual things.  She would tell me many years later that she would have still considered herself a Christian, but it was certainly not a focal point in her life.  She lived her life, at this point, finding satisfaction in her career.  Working for various advertising firms in Atlanta, GA, Lori had found a significant degree of success and was even named junior partner in one of the firms.    

Her career was her identity, and she was very good at her job.   For some reason, I in my infantile faith knew that Lori’s career was where she found her significance in life.  As a result, in 1996 I began to pray, “Lord, you know that Lori finds her self-worth in her job, but Lord, I pray that you would help her to find her identity in YOU and not in her jobs.  Lord, do what it takes to get her there.”

Prayer warrior Leonard Ravenhill once said, “Hidden prayer is like heat smoldering in the bowels of the earth, far beneath the [surface] of a volcano. Though [there] may be years of inactivity, sooner or later there WILL BE an explosion. So it is with prayer—it never dies.”  I prayed this prayer of Lori finding her satisfaction in Jesus over and above her job many times through the years.  Yet, I saw very little evidence that God was working.  Our relationship remained strained for years, and Lori continued grinding herself to weariness in her work.

Lori’s Health

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(me, Lori, Mom, Julie, Dad, Jenn)

And then 2006 happened. 

The corporate world is often a meat grinder that is straight from the pit of hell, based upon the incessant drive to be THE best.   Consequently, there is much jockeying for position for yourself and your friends in order to reach “the TOP” (whatever that is).  In 2006 Lori was fed through this meat grinder via a new boss.  Though incredibly gifted at her job, Lori became the target of her new boss.  Her newly acquired boss had designs for someone else to fill Lori’s position, and as a result, Lori was terminated.

Shortly after losing her job, Lori was in a traumatic car accident in which the driver behind her hit Lori’s car at about 75 mph while Lori’s car was in a turn lane.  This accident should have killed her, but her life was spared.  Though she did have to endure several surgeries, she was very blessed to still be alive.

Six months later, I would receive a phone call that no one wants to receive.  With shaking voice, my dad informed me that Lori had just been diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer.  I did not know anything about ovarian cancer, but I did know that this was very serious.  My mother considered this to be a death sentence and felt that Lori would die.  Yet, doctors felt that an aggressive chemotherapy might be helpful in fighting the cancer.

And it was.  After many bouts of various medical treatments, Lori’s cancer went into remission to such an extent that after five years he doctor said, “Lori, you are cancer free. You need to go and live your life.”

Sadly, just a few months after the doctor’s pronouncement (and five years!), the cancer returned.  Again, there would be more rounds of chemo and radiation, and Lori had to be put on disability because she was not able to work full time any longer.  Yet, through all of this, God was on the move in Lori’s life.  Slowly but surely, a softening towards the things of God emerged in her life.  Lori began attending a women’s Bible study and started plunging deeply into God’s Word, through the help of many godly people in her community.

My own relationship with Lori started to heal, as well.  I am a pastor in Nashville, TN, and Lori and I started having many discussions about the Bible, about suffering, and about the sovereignty of God in life.  In time, Lori shared with me how she had started “Backpack Buddies” program through her church (Valley Baptist, Valley, AL) for underprivileged children in her community, as well as various other ministries and after school programs—many of which I am unaware to the extent of her impact in her community.

Lori came to see her cancer not as a curse from God but as a blessing from Him.  She did not waste her cancer.  Instead of crawling into a self-absorbed shell, Lori started employing her various gifts and abilities she gained in the advertising world to promote the various ministries and community projects in which she was involved.  In truth, I cannot do this season of Lori’s life justice because I don’t know all of the things to which she contributed.  Yet, one thing is true.  Every single person I have come to meet in West Point, GA (Lori’s home) has said to me, “You have no idea the impact that Lori’s life has had in this community.”  Glory to God!!

In late February 2018, I received a phone call from my mother that Lori had to be rushed to the hospital by my sister Julie because Lori was having difficulty breathing.  As it turns out, a tumor in her abdomen had developed and had to be drained.  I made the decision at that point that I needed to go visit Lori, and I am so glad that I did.  It was during this visit that I was able to spend some time alone with her for the first time in many years.  

Lori’s faith

Lori4

It was during this brief visit that the pieces of Lori’s faith (and the depth of her illness) came into sharper focus for me.  She made a humbling confession to me during this visit that simply floored me.  She said, “Bo, for the longest time, I simply did not want to surrender everything to God.  I still wanted to be in control of my life.  Yet, it was through everything that I have experienced in the past twelve years that God has shown me that only He could really be trusted to work out the details of my life.  And I am now 100% surrendered to whatever God wants to do with me.”

I was stunned by this statement because this was the very answer to my prayer that I had been praying in 1996.  My prayer had been that God would give my sisters the joy and faith that I had come to find in Him. AND HE ANSWERED MY PRAYER IN LORI’S LIFE—yet, not in the way that I would have ever seen or asked for.

During my visit, Lori had told me that she did not want to have to go through chemotherapy again, but she was willing to do it for my parents’ sake.  She was surrendered to whatever was going to happen.

Three days later, Lori went to the hospital and had a series of scans that would reveal that the cancer had spread throughout her body.  Chemo would not matter.  The cancer was terminal, but Lori was at peace and even grateful.  I can honestly say that I have never in my life seen a person who was so READY to die—that is until I watched the final eight weeks of Lori’s life.  She was anxious (in the best sense) for Heaven.  There was not a moment of fear about where she was going, just sheer confidence, hope, and joy.

My title for this tribute is entitled “One Remarkable Life” because Lori’s life was certainly that.  She never married.  She achieved much success in her chosen profession, but as she rose through the ranks, I believe she beheld much of the vanity and hollowness of striving after the brass ring.  Conversely, I know that it was through the illness of cancer and the subsequent inability to work a full-time job that Lori began to truly suck the marrow out of life.  The impact that she had on the lives of other people is immeasurable, but it is shot through with resplendent glory of God.

No, Lori did not see her life as remarkable.  She was just trying to do what she could with what she had to the glory of God.  This is why I chose this story to be entitled “My Tribute” because it harkens back to decades ago of my life with Lori singing this beautiful song—a song which would prove to come full circle in her life and become her testimony…   

How can I say thanks for the things You have done for me?
Things so undeserved, yet You gave to prove Your love for me;
The voices of a million angels could not express my gratitude
All that I am and ever hope to be—I owe it all to Thee

To God be the glory
To God be the glory
To God be the glory
For the things He has done

With His blood He has saved me
With His power He has raised me;
To God be the glory
For the things He has done

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.  Proverbs 31:30

I love you, Sis, and I know that you are having the most WONDERFUL birthday.