Several months ago I met a spunky, gentle, confidant, peaceful, dying woman. Her skin was sunken and all her hair gone. She walked with the help of nurses and friends. She wore a mask protecting herself from the inevitable- but it was more out of duty than desperation.
"I have made peace with my passing," she told me with a settled smile.
She attended a free concert I performed for military families at Madigan Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington. She was the last person I spoke with that day. She loved the song, Heaven Waits for Me, and wondered when it would be available to purchase.
Without thinking, I told her it would come out in February or March. As soon as I spoke it, the truth of the matter hovered in front of my eyes and I felt sick to my stomach; ashamed that I had spoken so carelessly and assuredly about the future.
We both knew February wasn't in her future.
And yet she smiled. A deep, generous smile. And she told me:
"When I came to this place and I was diagnosed- I went outside to the courtyard to pray. While I was out there, God sent me a sparrow! Really! The Lord just sent a sparrow- and sparrow's don't usually let people touch them, but this sparrow walked straight up to me and into my hand. I got to run my fingers down his little head. He sat with me. And the Lord told me- "I, the one who cares for sparrows Debra, will surely care for you." And that's all I needed to hear. I came back day after day and the sparrow kept coming back. I was able to take a picture of my little sparrow that the Lord gave me. And I want to give it to you. I want you to remember Jenny, that our God cares for sparrows. How much more will He care for you?"
We hugged and cried and she told me how she loved the song His Eye is On the Sparrow. And I told her that I had one more show in town, and that if she were able to leave the hospital and come to the show, we would play the song for her. She handed me a picture of her tired hand with this tiny bird at the tip of her frail fingers. Annie, my three-year-old, keeps it by the window in her bedroom.
Two nights later, as I walked on stage to put out my set list and a bottle of water, I looked up and saw her there with a nurse on each side of her. Face beaming. Settled. At peace. Held together like a tiny sparrow thrown about in a storm.
I ran back stage a bit panicked. I had never played or performed His Eye is on The Sparrow- barring the five hundred million times I had sung along with Lauryn Hill on Sister Act 2- but I told my guitarist we had to play the song... Deb had taken me up on my offer. We quickly learned the best version we could come up with. It wasn't perfect- actually it was horribly off- but it was perfect.
Rarely have I become so emotional in a song that I was unable to finish singing it. But singing the very words of worship that a dying woman's heart was clinging to, brought me very near.
Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come? Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home? When Jesus is my portion, A constant friend is He- His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me; His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, For His eye is on the sparrow, And I know He watches me.
We hugged at the end of the night and I knew it would be the last time I would see her.
Over the holidays Deb sent a gift for Annie and I.
"Thank you for your kind words at Madigan Army Medical Center and especially at the church in Lacey, WA. And singing that special song to me! This was really part of multiple messages God has sent me to tell me, He will always be with me through this progressive cancer. "His Eye is On The Sparrow" was soooo touching. Words are not enough. I wanted to send you a little something for your daughter who would love to catch a bird!"
She sent a Willow Tree woman with sparrows on her arms. Annie asked if it could be her angel. The sun falls through the cracks each morning and as I sit and figure out what to do with my life each new day, I am ever reminded that the Lord sees me. God cares. If the birds outside my window have a melody to sing and a worm to eat and a nest on which to rest their heads- I have nothing to fear. Am I not of more worth than the birds?
Deb fought through February and finally went home to be with Jesus yesterday morning, March 31st.
One of the nurses- who became a dear friend of Deb's- wrote to let me know.
"I thought how appropriate she would pass away on the most beautiful day we have had in the Pacific Northwest this year AND on Easter. As we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior we also celebrate Deb's transition to being with Jesus."
So tonight I announce to as many people who will hear my voice, the words which a faithful, beautiful woman reminded me to cling to. The life that Jesus Christ came to offer anyone who would choose to lay down their burdens on Him and instead take His yoke, which is easy and His burdens, which are light of soul (Matthew 11:29-30).
"If our God cares for sparrows, Jenny, how much more will He care for you?"
"Why, even all the hairs on your head have been counted! Stop being afraid. You are worth more than a bunch of sparrows." Luke 12:7, ISV
"Look at the birds in the sky. They do not store food for winter. They don’t plant gardens. They do not sow or reap—and yet, they are always fed because your heavenly Father feeds them. And you are even more precious to Him than a beautiful bird. If He looks after them, of course He will look after you. 27 Worrying does not do any good; who here can claim to add even an hour to his life by worrying?" Matthew 6:26-27, The Voice
In loving memory of Deb Strand, a woman who trusted Jesus to care for her every step of the way.