In mid-November 2012, the lighting of the Christmas tree for the state of Michigan took place on the lawn of the Capitol in Lansing, as the culmination of an evening of music and celebration known as “Silver Bells in the City.” Particularly because many of our international students were interested in the event, a group from Grad IV decided to attend. We weren’t free to leave just when they did, so the plan was for the students to go downtown, find a place for dinner, and text or call us to let us know where we could meet them.
Previously this would have been no problem. We would have driven to within 6 or 8 blocks of the place and then either walked the rest of the way or hopped onto a shuttle bus, because many streets would be cordoned off. But now Priscilla’s mobility was so limited that we had to try to drive right to the restaurant. This was a long and frustrating endeavor. We finally completed a circuitous route to get there, only to discover that the students had finished eating by then and were on their way to another place for dessert. (We’d told them not to wait for us, just keep us posted on their plans.) The same thing happened when we tried to join them at the next place—by the time we could get there, they were gone, this time heading to someone’s apartment. At that point we gave up, realizing that we were no longer able to keep pace with the student lifestyle.
This was a concern that had actually been emerging for some time, as far back as Grad IV’s New Student Outreach in the fall of 2011, when Priscilla’s symptoms were first beginning to make themselves felt. On Labor Day we spent from morning till evening putting on a cookout at the InterVarsity House. Four days later we were out until 2 am at the barn retreat. We asked each other several times then whether we weren’t getting too old for this. It was an honor and a privilege still to be doing front-line student ministry as campus staff workers in our mid-50s, but perhaps we were reaching our limits. What we didn’t realize at the time was that disease, not just aging, was beginning to set those limits.
We asked our supporters to pray that God would sent a full-time staff worker for Grad IV. We thought it would be better for the chapter and for us if we could serve alongside such a person, instead of being the primary staff as volunteers. In the months that followed a young woman applied for the position and was accepted. She attended her first Grad IV event, a summer Bible study, in June 2012, just two days before Priscilla was examined for the first time for her symptoms. This new staff worker still needed to raise her support, so we planned to make the 2012-2013 school year one of transition. We’d slowly hand off to her the responsibilities that went with her position, but stay in an active supporting role. For example, she observed us conducting the first couple of monthly student leaders’ meetings that fall, and in November she began to lead those meetings herself.
That same month the Silver Bells incident occurred and it forced us to revise our thinking. We decided that this would have to be our last school year working with Grad IV with any definite responsibilities. After that, we’d help with whatever we could. Living out the disease faithfully would become our new “priority activity,” as this would eventually require most or all of our time and energy. But one thing would not change: We would continue in the way of life God had called us to, relying on Him by faith to provide our needs, trusting that He would demonstrate His continuing faithfulness in these new circumstances.
Priscilla resolved to “finish strong.” She had always made at least one large main dish for our monthly potluck dinner-and-a-speaker events, to ensure that there was enough food for everyone. For the meeting in January 2013, she was determined to make chicken shawarma, at a student’s request, though she’d never attempted it before. Both while she was cutting up the chicken so it could marinate, and then while she was cooking it, she had to sit or lie down at frequent intervals to rest. In the end it took six hours to prepare the dish. But she wanted to continue her hospitality ministry for as long as possible. “It’s my pride and joy,” she explained.
The semester finished strong as well. Students kept joining our Bible study that spring until all twelve of the chairs were filled that our hostess had insisted back in the fall, by faith, that we would need.
We’d started going to a new church, closer to where we lived. We felt at home there right away because many of the Grad IV students, the new staff couple, and our faculty advisers attended there. In fact, they had all encouraged us to visit, saying we’d really like it. They were right. Every three months this church got together with its sister churches for an evening of worship and sharing called “Fire By Night.” We attended this gathering for the first time at the end of March 2013.
There was an opening worship set, a designated time for sharing, and then a closing worship set. Towards the end of this last part, one of the pastors broke in and said that he’d just gotten a “word from the Lord” that he wanted to share. (These were Vineyard churches, so they were open to this kind of thing.) He said that there were some present who were “coming to the close of a season in their lives,” and he prayed that God would bring them to closure well and lead them into their next season. There were probably a couple of hundred people present and we didn’t know how many of the rest of them this might apply to, but it certainly applied to us. The message was underscored when we got home and noticed that the title of the historical novel Priscilla had just started reading, lent to her by a friend, was Fire By Night.
If I had to name the day on which we gave up our official responsibilities (though we would continue to help out wherever we were able, and to meet with students individually), it would be the day earlier that same week when we arranged to meet with the new staff worker before prayer meeting to discuss who could pick up each task we’d formerly been doing. For example, we’d need to find someone to take custody of Priscilla’s treasured bin of hospitality supplies, which she kept ready for any occasion: paper plates and napkins; plastic tableware; coffee, tea, and hot chocolate; serving spoons; knives and cutting boards; etc. I noted in my journal that Priscilla was in “much emotional distress” in the days leading up to this meeting.
We’d planned to have our talk inside the MSU chapel, where we met for prayer, but it was locked, with a note from the caretaker that he’d return soon. So we talked in our car instead. We’d just about finished the conversation when we saw him unlocking the door. We followed him inside and saw two large floral arrangements in the chapel. “What are those?” we asked. (We probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to inquire under other circumstances.) “Oh,” he replied, “they’re left over from a wedding. It’s been three days and no one has come for them, so I was going to throw them out, unless you want them.”
The flowers were all white. Priscilla, as an events florist, had worked successfully with flowers of all types and colors, but white ones were her favorites for herself. Her bridal bouquet had been all white, and she would later request white flowers for her memorial service. So naturally we were delighted to accept this offer.
We took the arrangements home and Priscilla divided the flowers that were still useable into four smaller bouquets, which she put in vases in our living room, dining room, and bedroom, and in her office. Everywhere she went around the house in the days that followed, she had a reminder of the love of her Heavenly Father, who’d understood why she was feeling distressed, and sent her white flowers.