A few weeks ago I had a full week-end visiting with family and friends in North Carolina. Being with people I have known most of my life is a special thing and means more the older I get.
I have two aunts living, both in retirement apartments in Winston-Salem and I love them. I spent time with each of them and at 88 and 92 they are both as sharp and funny as ever.
As I was leaving my aunt Libby to go to see my aunt Mary Frances, Libby said, “Let’s stop in a minute to see Lounelle Selle. She is right here and she would love to see you.”
Lounelle was my chaplaincy supervisor over thirty years ago when I was freshly out of seminary and struggling to minister to dying cancer patients at the Baptist Medical Center in Birmingham. Back then she scared me to death. Tall and intimidating, she prodded and questioned me on all of my interactions with patients. But she was one of the first pioneering women in ministry that I knew and I learned about compassion and courage and honesty from her.
I’ve seen her before when visiting Libby and she always greeted me with such joy, wrapping me in a huge hug. This day was no exception. We knocked on her door in the Assisted Living unit. She was sitting on the bed watching TV and immediately jumped up to greet us.
“I believe you’re taller than me now!” She observed, pulling me to her and exclaiming over how good I looked, how wonderful it was to see me. She spilled over with life and happiness.
The walls of her small room were covered with the memories of a lifetime of service, from her ordination certificate to pictures of her as a missionary and chaplain. As I looked over her pictures, including one taken at the time I knew her, I said, “Lounelle, I’m retiring in a few years and I’m going to get back to where I started with you.”
She immediately cupped her hands together in front of her as if she was holding a baby bird or taking the sacraments, looked me in the eye and said, “Give these to God and He will fill them.” Then she burst into another giant grin.
Her words have stayed with me as I’ve made the transition from unstructured days to another school year. I’ve thought about how much God has put into my hands, about the wonderful summer I had with special friends and family members, about the time I’ve had to sit and think, to pray and watch the butterflies in my garden. And my first weeks back to work have been good too as I’ve seen old friends and students and felt excited about what’s ahead.
“Give these to God and He will fill them.” Despite all God has done for me, I still quake at giving Him my hands, at relinquishing control over my life. It feels like stepping out into the dark, putting my feet on ground that I can’t see. But the older I get the more I am trusting that God will be there and guide me. When His timing is right He will open the doors and show me which way to go.
As a child I learned Proverbs 3:5-6:
I’ve seen God direct my path. When I was with my friends from high school, we were laughing about how as teenagers and young adults we wanted to know “God’s will for our lives”. We wanted to know exactly what our lives would be like and how to make sure everything turned out perfectly. Looking back, we could never have predicted the ups and downs that our paths have taken, but neither could we have predicted the joy and peace we experience now. Each step was taken in faith.
Lounelle continues to minister to those around her, well into her 80’s. I’m thankful for her influence in my life. And I’m praying that each day I will offer my hands up to the Lord and accept whatever He places in them.
Read about Lounelle’s amazing life in this 2014 Winston-Salem Journal article.