When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him,
They have no wine. And Jesus said to her,
Woman, what does this have to do with me?
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
In 2006, my sister, Diane, developed a second round of breast cancer. She had started chemo-therapy unsuccessfully in the fall and planned a new round of chemo in the New Year. After Christmas I drove to Philadelphia to visit her and offer encouragement.
When I arrived, we walked around the house inspecting the renovations that she had contracted. She was especially proud of her new kitchen that included a system of warm water circulation in the floor tiling.
I bought her a DVD film starring Queen Latifah, Last Holiday,1 which we watched together. The film is the story of a woman, Georgia, diagnosed with a fatal neurological disorder who blows her life savings visiting a celebrity chef working in a large, luxury hotel, called the Grandhotel Pupp in the Czech Republic. During her visit, Georgia discovers hidden talents, finds love, and, in the end, learns that she had been misdiagnosed. I hoped the film would offer Diane hope and the strength to persevere in her new chemo treatments.
On Monday, February 12, 2007, my mother called me as I commuted to work in Washington D.C. with a colleague. She told me that Diane had taken a turn for the worse. What had begun days earlier as an adverse reaction to chemo had by Sunday night left Diane with blood clots, a heart attack, and a stoke. As she lost consciousness, she asked for her two brothers, for John and for me.
I returned to Centreville, dropped off my colleague, and picked up John. Together, we then traveled to Springfield, Pennsylvania, where Diane lay in the intensive care unit of the local hospital. Our parents waited for us, having traveled earlier in the week on a visit.
When John and I arrived at the hospital mid-morning, Diane lay unresponsive on life-support. The person I saw lying in the hospital bed no longer looked like my sister and the doctors opined that nothing more could be done. I consoled my brother-in-law, Hugo, while we waited for their pastor. Once he arrived, we read Psalm 23 and prayed. Then, we instructed the doctor to remove Diane from life support and sat with her as she took her last breaths.
The Funeral Services
Hugo and my father worked to schedule funeral services for Thursday at Diane’s home church, First Presbyterian Church, in Springfield, Pennsylvania and for Saturday at LPC in McLean, Virginia, where Diane would also be interned in the family burial plot. I thought to attend the LPC service, but my father insisted that I eulogize Diane at both services.
As I prepared my eulogy, I realized that the two, enduring friends of my youth, Diane and our cousin, Carol, had preceded me in death although I had preceded them in life. Carol died years earlier at the age of 31 of an undiagnosed heart condition leaving behind John and Jackie, ages three and four; Diane left behind a teen-aged son, William, who grieved fiercely. My grief ran silent and deep. The passing of Diane and Carol brought my mortality more clearly into view, sharpening my sense of urgency in attending to life’s work.
At the Springfield service, the only people that I knew were family members and my friend, Jon, from high school, who pastors a Lutheran church in Pennsylvania. As I grieved Diane, I drew comfort from the fellowship of about 350 saints who also mourned my sister. As I looked out from the pulpit in McLean, I could see the entire Hiemstra family, many friends in Christ, and about a dozen friends from my office.
Wedding at Cana
Diane’s funeral service served as a “Wedding at Cana” moment in my ministry. Just as Mary drafted Jesus into solving the wine problem at the wedding, my father drafted me to lead Diane’s eulogy. Later I noticed that the colleagues who saw me in the pulpit and heard my eulogy stopped using profanity in my presence.
Over the following year, I began to think differently about part-time seminary studies. In March of 2008 I drove to Charlotte, North Carolina with a friend to attend an open house at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (GCTS). Walking through the door, GCTS students greeted us. We felt truly welcomed seeing many second career students and learning that the entire curriculum could be taken during long weekend visits. Unlike at other seminaries, at GCTS we could continue working while we studied.
Also unlike other seminaries that I visited, African Americans made up about a third of the students. African American students were largely absent on other seminary campuses. Having worked in Washington D.C. for twenty-seven years, I had many African American colleagues, felt comfortable in their presence, and respected their deep spirituality. Seeing the African American students at GCTS gave me comfort that I had finally found the right seminary home.
When I returned to my home in Centreville, I applied to GCTS, was accepted and began classes the following August. I never experienced such joy as I felt on entering seminary.
Also see: Looking Back
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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.
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