*Thank you, Alison Valderrama, for writing such an inspiring piece about an amazing woman. And for being a constant source of encouragement for me as well!*
Sometimes we get a wake up call in life that shocks us to the core and leaves us wondering how to put it in the box of faith. For me recently, it’s been watching someone I love and admire get beaten up by an ugly, painful and frustrating disease. Our beloved pastor was diagnosed with ALS in November and has had a quick and shocking decline since. I am merely a church member witnessing this from my comfortable seat, while church brothers and sisters said kind and honest words that brought our leader and her daughters to tears, week after week. What does one even say to comfort a pastor, who counsels and loves and shows US the way to God?
In December, Pastor Julie gave one of the most emotional and powerful sermons I’ve ever heard. This was no surprise, because she is a very compelling, interesting and down to earth speaker who has always given us realistic, honest insight. But this sermon was different, because it was two weeks before her retirement, which was another unfair result of ALS. Her speech had begun to slur and she spoke from a wheelchair, but between laughter and tears, gave a sermon called “Count it all as Joy.”
Joy?! Here we had seen her sickness take over a healthy person, young and alive and vibrant…and she wanted to talk about joy?! In typical Julie style, we saw that her spirit would not be crushed.
Her message focused on Philippians 4:1-13.
(You can read the sermon, and her other sermons here if you’d like: http://www.firstunitedoakpark.com/files/sermons/12-16-12_Count_It_All_Joy_Julie_R_Harley.pdf).
One of the points that stands out to me still is that Julie says she knows she is deeply loved, and feels it even more now, than when her body was healthy. It’s been uplifting to see how Julie has been able to make positive and joyful and bittersweet conversations out of what has happened on her journey. But I’m not surprised; she is an amazing person, deeply loved by God.
Like we all are.
It’s been hard for us as a church to go through this, but it’s not about us, not wholly. And where it is, we are believing that God is going to meet us in our wilderness. We are trusting that God has all the answers, and holds us in his arms. It’s been hard to remember the love of God sometimes, especially when we see those tears, and the wheelchair, and the pain on Julie’s daughters’ faces. But I know this is the challenge: finding joy in struggle and the rejoicing in the love of God.
“The feeling remains that God is on the journey too.” -Teresa of Avila