We sat in her living room huddled around our Bibles after we watched a woman Bible teacher unpack several verses. True to form, Twilla did not steer us back to the passage. She flipped through her well-loved Bible and landed in Isaiah. She pointed to the passage, then looked at me. In a few months, she would be dancing with Jesus, but in this moment, her eyes danced.
Before I recount the rest of the story, I know Twilla would slap me silly if I presented her as a faultless saint, incapable of sinning. She very much was human like the rest of us, with a temper that flared and a mouth that would follow. She loved fiercely, but sometimes she fought fiercely too. She was (oh how I hate the word WAS) normal.
But on that Bible study day, I sensed something supernatural in the air. Something different, as if the atmosphere in the room shifted and shimmered. I doubt any of the other women would even know I sensed this strange shift, but Twilla knew.
She put her finger on these verses, looked at me, then began to read:
Isaiah 61 New International Version (NIV)
The Year of the Lord’s Favor
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
5 Strangers will shepherd your flocks;
foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
6 And you will be called priests of the Lord,
you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,
and in their riches you will boast.
7 Instead of your shame
you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
and everlasting joy will be yours.
8 “For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.
9 Their descendants will be known among the nations
and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”
10 I delight greatly in the Lord;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
and praise spring up before all nations.
My eyes misted through the reading. In that moment, I felt she was reading about herself, about the ministry she had to so many. Twilla fetched outcasts. She attracted them like honey entices a hungry bee. She salved wounds. She found wallflowers. She dignified the undignified.
And if something wasn’t just or right, she would flat out make it her mission to right that wrong.
Recently my friend Lynette reminded me of her tenacity even with our kids. “I miss Twilla,” she said. “If one of our kids was straying, you know what she would do? She would have lunch with him or her and tell them they were messing up. She did something about it.” I nodded. I missed that fighting spirit, that desire she had to see people make good lives for themselves, to follow after Jesus instead of the things that broke His heart. She worried over other people’s choices, their rebellion, their straying. And she didn’t just pray, she acted.
Truth be told, that girl hunted you down.
So as she read these seemingly prophetic words, I knew. I KNEW she was reading them like a revelation over her life. She lived freedom. This imperfect saint hated the prisons we often put ourselves in. And she deeply longed to see her friends and family live out their lives in obedient joy to Jesus.
Like you, like me, she had difficulties in childhood. She fought her way toward overcoming. She let Jesus rebuild the “ancient ruins” and “restore the places long devastated.” Instead of wallowing in shame, she received a double-triple-quadruple portion of energy and feisty joy. She personified delighting in the Lord in such a way that it was infectious. She made me want to run to Jesus for that kind of wellspring joy. And her love for other people made me want to leave my comfort zone for the sake of pursuing the unloved.
Her life, as it says in Isaiah 61, was a garden. She doggedly pursued spiritual growth, and God provided the increase in the form of fruit, flowers, abundance.
She painted an indelible mark on my life. But I suppose you can sense that now.
Twilla finished reading the passage, and then started to cry. I expected her to say something about wanting to be on this earth longer, but instead she looked at me again. “Mary,” she said. “These verses are about you.”
I sat there stunned. She wasn’t reading those amazing verses as a means to remind herself of God’s faithfulness to her, or as a declaration of the work in her life, but as a doxology of grace over my own life.
Could it be, I thought, that these words are true of me too? The prophecies of joy and freedom I saw lived out in Twilla, were they mine too? And what kind of loving act had she blessed me with? She proclaimed Isaiah’s words over my life like a song, forgetting her own mourning.
Last year on this day, March 4, 2014, Twilla flew to the One who truly, truly set her free. She loosened her grip on this earth and her dear, dear family and friends, and took the hand of Jesus. She is clothed in garments of salvation, robes of righteousness. Her children (“descendents”) are making a beautiful impact on the kingdom of God, walking into their own calling. She left behind her husband Johnny to mourn her vivacious, irreplaceable absence, and now is a bride who “adorns herself with her jewels” dancing on golden streets.
Twilla is at peace, singing freedom. She breathes the air of heaven even now. She left behind treasure for us to mine and remember.
I will always, always treasure that moment when her steady voice proclaimed the truth of God over my life like a symphony of outrageous love.
Thank you, Twilla.