What I encountered at Freedom was a vibrant and charismatic spirituality among a group of people who, in the words of Howard Thurman, lived with their backs against the wall. We struggle with lots of things at Freedom--addictions, poverty and parole--but in our shared meals and worship we are cared for and protected by the grace and mercy of God.
And Sister Beth, she was at the center of it all. Beth was the Angel of Freedom.
Beth had lived a hard life. But a few years before I started attending Beth had given her life to Jesus and had became a fixture at Freedom. And then more than a fixture, one of our leaders.
By the time I was showing up at Freedom Beth had taken charge of Freedom's kitchen, cooking for, organizing and directing our weekly meals. When I wanted to help clean up after the meals Beth was the one who told me what to do.
And considerable though it was, Beth's biggest influence on Freedom actually wasn't in the kitchen. Beth's biggest impact was in the sanctuary.
The worship at Freedom is Spirit-filled. During worship we dance in the aisles, raise hands and wave flags. And Beth, she had a dance all her own.
She didn't like drawing attention to herself, so Beth would stand off in a corner during worship. And there she would open her hands and sway. A movement slow and graceful. A dance all her own.
Beth's dance affected everyone at Freedom. That dance gave others permission to move in their own ways. And for my part, Beth's dancing opened my heart.
When Beth danced she was transformed. She glowed. I'd never seen anything like it. When Beth danced she was alone with God, baptized with grace. That dance was beautiful to watch.
That dance taught me how to pray again. That dance taught me how to worship again. That dance saved me.
A few weeks ago Beth was diagnosed with cancer. She was moved to hospice last week. And on Friday she passed away.
I went with Jana to visit Beth in ICU before they moved her to hospice. Joe and Becky where there. Because of the pain and medication Beth was only intermittently lucid. Jana held one of Beth's hands and Becky held the other. I stroked her foot.
Even in all that pain Beth was still worried about Freedom, worried about if the meals were being taken care of. Becky and Jana repeatedly assured her that people were helping out, though it would take ten people to replace one of Beth.
There were lots of tears. At one point Becky began to softly sing Blessed Assurance, and we all joined in.
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.It was a perfect song for Beth. This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long. No lyrics better capture Beth's faith and life.
O what a foretaste of glory divine.
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
This is my story, this is my song,
praising my Savior all the day long;
this is my story, this is my song,
praising my Savior all the day long.
Before we left I put my hand on Beth's forehead and prayed Psalm 91 over her.
For he will give his angels charge of youOn Friday Beth fell into the arms of the angels.
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.
After I finished reading the psalm I stroked Beth's hair.
"Beth," I said, "you are one of the most beautiful people I have ever met." And then we said good-bye.
May you rest in peace, our dear Sister.
Thank you Beth, for teaching us how to dance.