Went to visit an aunt last Thursday (Aug 26). She is 96 and living in a nursing home in Toronto. The first thing she told us (in Cantonese) was that she was safe in the arms of Jesus and that when the time came for her to go she was not afraid. We were in Toronto on our way to Peterborough to help son Andrew start school in Trent University. This aunt is the wife of my mother’s elder brother. Uncle and aunt were from Hong Kong and had spent some time in Malaysia as church planters. My uncle died some years ago. She lost her only son to pancreatic cancer two years ago. (I still miss my cousin very much.) Because of her health needs she now lives in a nursing home.
Andrew had never met her before. It was important that he did, especially at this key transition in his life. And of course Bernice and I wanted to see her. Toronto is hardly around the corner from Bukit Timah. As we grow older, we begin to lose people. You want to savour the moments you have. You want to tell them how precious they are. If we are all made in the image of God, then we are always precious at all chapters of life. In an increasingly utilitarian world, celebrating the value of all people is counter cultural. And right.
When we entered the room, we got a whiff of the smell of urine. There were three occupants in a room meant for four. Sophia, my cousin’s widow who had brought us there, told us that my aunt was on a waiting list for a better facility. They were grateful for what they could get. My aunt looked small and fragile. Sophia said she looked better than she had looked for a while. At first my aunt didn’t seem to recognise Bernice and me. After all it had been three years since we last saw her. In fact we were warned that there was no guarantee that she would recognise us.
Her first and immediate response was her declaration of the fact that she was safe in the hands of the Lord and that she didn’t fear death. This reality must have loomed so large in her heart that it spills out at the slightest opportunity. But soon recognition came. She knew who we were. She remembered that we lived in KL. (We had moved to Singapore since.) She knew we were in Christian ministry. She thought we ran a bookstore. We run a publishing company but close enough. She said many times that I had lost weight. (I wish.) She said Bernice was very beautiful. We had a great conversation. And when we were about to leave she blessed us in a strong voice. We were blessed.
Life is a series of transitions. Transitions can bring much upheaval. They can also uncover what is truly important. My aunt’s default stance was her conviction that she was safe in the arms of Jesus. She should know. Jesus had seen her through many storms. Indeed she had gone through some “perfect storms” recently. Safe in the arms of Jesus. Might be just the word a young man needs to hear as he leaves Malaysia/Singapore to start a new chapter of his life half way around the world. Sure sounds like a word the parents of that young man need to hear as they release their youngest son to a different chapter of life.
Indeed, you are my shelter,
a strong tower that protects me from the enemy.
I will be a permanent guest in your home;
I will find shelter in the protection of your wings.
(Psalm 61: 3-4 NET)