Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

March 14, 2021

Wearing a Morning Face On the Lonely Road of Sorrow

Over more than 68 years, Dean and I loved the old song, “Precious Memories.” Sometimes I would sing around the house the one verse that stayed in my memory book:

Precious memories, how they linger
How they ever flood my soul
In the stillness, of the midnight
Precious sacred scenes unfold

Happily and often, we shared fond memories of the days of our lives, recalling family members and friends with whom we had shared joy and sorrow. Now, after her recent death, Dean has become the most precious person in all my memories.

Some may think I am exaggerating when I say that Dean lived a remarkable life. But I knew her better than anyone so you can believe me when I say she was a remarkable woman, and an authentic servant of Jesus Christ. I never ceased being amazed at how much she loved Jesus. I was honored to be her second love.

Let me explain how she loved Jesus. Her love was more than sentimental affection. She loved Jesus by letting him guide her to do amazing things for others, especially the poor. We were 74 when we flew to Zambia to spend time with our African friends Alfred and Muumbe Kalembo. Dean quickly bonded with Alfred’s sister, Catherine, a woman with little education who worked in the Kalembo home.

Alfred took us to see the vacant lot where one day he hoped to build a modest home for Catherine. We stood on the lot and I commended Alfred for his desire to build a home for his sister. Suddenly, Dean had “that look” in her eyes and said to me, “We must build a home here for Catherine.” Instantly, I knew that would happen, though I did not have ten dollars to help start a fund.

We came home and Dean persuaded her Sunday School Class to build a home for Catherine. Within two years Catherine had a home on that lot, a home where she has raised her daughter Linda and cared as well for several orphan children. That was Dean’s way of loving Jesus.

I saw that same look in her eyes the first time we visited New Walk of Life Church on Council Street in Montgomery. Pastor Ken Austin had asked me to preach that Sunday in August. The church building, in an impoverished area of west Montgomery, was in disrepair. Water leaking through the roof had destroyed the floor in the entrance of the sanctuary and in the bathroom. I had come to preach, and having done so, I was ready to have lunch and go home. But I found Dean standing beside the gaping hole in the sanctuary floor. 

I walked up hoping she would tell me I had preached a great sermon. Instead, she looked at me and said boldly, “We have got to fix this church.” Within a week or so, she had pulled together a group of people who began raising money to repair the church building. The group chose the name “Dean’s Army” and within a year or so, the building had been beautifully restored and is now equipped with four bathrooms and a new nursery. Dean was not “General Dean;” she was “Mama Dean” and her Army marched in step with her to “fix” the church. It was inspiring to watch Dean love Jesus that way and the experience is now one of my most precious memories.

Many days now, being alone, I rise early and do some of my best singing while the coffee is brewing. Since heaven is surely nearby, I think maybe Dean can hear me singing about how those precious memories linger and cheer me on this lonely road of sorrow. Knowing how disappointed Dean would be, I would not dare greet the morning with a sorrowful face. She would not like that because she welcomed each new morning cheerfully. Many a dark day in our lives was brightened by the morning face that Dean chose to wear.

A country poet herself, Dean loved the poetry of Robert Louis Stevenson, that dear man who blessed us with Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dean loved to bless audiences by reciting Stevenson’s delightful poem, “The Swing.” She adored the poem for its charming cadence and its enthusiasm for life. But she loved it even more because it was written by a man who remained cheerful in the midst of his suffering.

Stevenson struggled all his life with various illnesses. He was so sick as a child that he could not attend school on a regular basis until he was 14. Stevenson and his wife Fanny lived in France and America but his happiest years were in Samoa. They loved the climate in the Pacific. A victim of tuberculosis, Robert refused to surrender to despair and self-pity. One of his stepdaughters, Isobel Field, described Stevenson’s victorious spirit in a book of her own, This Life I’ve Loved.

Isobel wrote, “One day Stevenson read us a prayer he had written. In it were words none of us will ever forget:

‘When the day returns, call us up with morning faces and morning hearts, eager to labor, happy if happiness be our portion, and if the day be marked for sorrow, strong to endure.’

Isobel continued, “We awakened on the morrow with happy morning faces, but that day was marked for sorrow. That day, at the height of his fame, in the best of health he had ever enjoyed, Louis went out of this life suddenly, quietly, painlessly.”

From the moment Dean read Stevenson’s prayer, asking God to call us up each day with morning faces and morning hearts, she never ceased asking the Lord to help her greet each dawn with a morning face. And I can happily testify that she did!

In these mornings of my life, when grief sometimes grabs me by the throat, I find that I can overcome it by singing and praying – loudly. While the impact of grief diminishes with the passing of time, it remains a force that can wreck your life. Grief feels like the bottom has fallen out of your world. A chair is empty. A pillow is unused. Someone you loved is missing. You feel so alone; there is no one to share your hurts or your dreams. You feel numb and helpless. You fight back tears; you are sick of crying. You want to share a thought, a feeling, but there is no one to hear your voice. The silence is maddening. How can I live without this person with whom I have shared most of my life?

Then reality sinks in. Life goes on. It will go on, with or without you. You must find a way to pick up the pieces and go on with your life. Your life is not over. You must choose to make wise decisions about the time remaining. That’s when I find singing and praying helpful! It breaks the power of silence. It makes you conscious of God’s Presence. You celebrate the truth of what the Psalmist David said: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). The Lord who created the heavens and the earth is with you! He is healing your broken heart! You discover that your memories help you break the stranglehold of grief. You decide that brokenness will not have the last word!

My precious memories of Dean strengthen me – her enthusiasm for life, the causes she loved, her devotion to the ministry we shared, the ways she loved Jesus by loving hurting people, the personal sacrifices she made by putting others first, her tenderness, her toughness, the loving caress of her hand upon my brow, her love for the Holy Scriptures, the ways her hands were always busy serving others, her joy in hosting meals for family and friends, her simplicity in living, her unselfish spirit, her indomitable courage in facing sorrow, and her undaunting resolve to wear a cheerful morning face. Grief cannot stay in the same room with a morning face!

So, God helping me, I am resolved to greet the remaining mornings of my life in the only way that would please Dean and honor Jesus – with a morning face and a morning heart! + + +