None of us were sure what October 11th would look like.
We didn’t know if it would be a day of mourning or a day of rejoicing.
It turns out that it was a little of both.
It turns out that when the year anniversary arrives of the death of someone you love and know is with Jesus, there are tears and laughter intertwined. And I think all of us who knew and loved Kathy McDaniel were relieved to discover that.
We were relieved that in the midst of our tears, there was joy in the remembering.
I went to bed last Tuesday evening a little tentative. I learned last year in the weeks and months leading up to and following Kathy’s death that grief does strange things to the heart that translate to the body, like it or not. Like it or not, there were days, or even weeks, it felt like I was walking with lead bricks on my feet or had a weary sorrow pressing on my heart. And I did not know if I would wake up the morning of the 11th with those same concrete bricks on my heart or feet.
But as I climbed into bed, the the word “Rejoice!” popped into my head, a word I had not thought of in a long time. It was almost as if I heard Kathy herself say it.
“Rejoice!” was Kathy’s word; she wore it on a chain around her neck and signed it at the end of many of her letters. And “Rejoice” was her word because joy was the attitude of her heart – joy and steadfast courage in the face of the enemy of cancer, an enemy that ended up taking her body, but not her heart.
And hearing her voice say “Rejoice!” as I climbed into bed was a precious reminder that Kathy Bonds McDaniel was alive and well. Yes, we were about to climb the hurdle of the day of her death the next day, but the day of her death was also the day of her becoming. The day of her wedding. The day of her face to face encounter with her Heavenly Groom, Jesus, the Lover of her soul. The battle Kathy fought so well with cancer had worked out for her an eternal weight of glory that she was in the throes of enjoying, in fact, rejoicing in, while we were missing her on this earth.
When I got up the next morning, I read from the devotional book The Songs of Jesus by Tim Keller. The reading for the day came from Psalm 108:1-4: “My heart, O God, is steadfast; I will sing and make music with all my soul. Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.”
The devotional from Keller said this about the psalm: “This psalm is an expression of a ‘steadfast’ heart, one with courage. There is an aggressive joy here. Even if it is dark, the psalmist’s song to God will bring on the dawn.”
My friends, can I tell you something? Kathy McDaniels’s aggressive joy and steadfast heart literally brought on the dawn. She brought on the dawn by showing all of us who watched her suffer and die, leaving behind a husband and three young children, the character of Christ in the midst of every single trial she walked through.
She brought on the dawn by modeling for us that joy and rejoicing was possible in the face of extreme affliction.
And she was bringing on the dawn the morning of October 11th, singing her song of joy and confidence with Jesus over those of us here, reminding us that joy and rejoicing is coming for us too when Jesus comes to take us home.
Were there tears throughout the day of October 11th? Yes. Of course. But they were tears, in the words of Rich Mullins’ song If I Stand, “If I weep, let it be as man who is longing for his home.” They were tears of longing for home – the home Kathy stands so fully and completely in now and the home that we get only glimpses of when the veil is pulled back for a moment and we hear her songs on the other side.
My friend, Jenny Venghaus, said it best. As a few of us sat together last Tuesday, talking about and remembering Kathy, she said, “It’s like she left the wedding reception and got to go on the honeymoon, and we are all still here cleaning up afterwards, waiting for our turn to go too.”
But friends, one day, for those who know King Jesus, our reception is coming too. So until that day, we are to sing, like Kathy, with aggressive joy and steadfast hearts to awaken the dawn. The dawn is a reminder to a dark and weary world that rejoicing is coming, the sun is rising, and glory is breaking to fill our eyes.
We ended the day at the McDaniels’ house eating ice cream sundaes with sprinkles, gummy worms, and chocolate sauce – because, after all, what is a day of rejoicing without a little ice cream at the end?
That’s just the way Kathy would have wanted it.
So “Rejoice”! The way is hard, but the joy is deep. All you have to do is open your eyes, look for the dawn, and sing with aggressive joy. The Son is coming.