There was a young couple in a small country church who had a beautiful little daughter who was a favorite of everyone in the congregation. Clarissa had golden hair and was pretty and bright, with a sweet disposition. Ardella liked to dress her up in frilly dresses and bonnets when they came to church. Everyone loved to fuss over little Clarry, as her father called her. Gilbert used to take her fishing down by the river that ran through their farm, and they would laugh together at the antics of the muskrats they saw playing along the banks.

Then, one day, they discovered that Clarissa had a fast-growing, malignant tumor on her brain. The tumor was inoperable and untreatable. Clarissa died four months later, exactly a week before her fifth birthday. Gilbert picked up Clarissa’s lifeless body and carried her across the long river bridge, all the way to the funeral parlor in town. Ardella and Gilbert remained faithful to the church, but the light had gone out of their lives. Everyone in the congregation grieved with them. After several months, it was apparent that both of them were deeply depressed. They talked to the pastor; they went to a therapist for counseling, but nothing seemed to help.

One Sunday morning, almost two years to the day after Clarissa’s death, Gilbert and Ardella came into the church with smiles on their faces. Everyone could tell that something had happened, but they didn’t know what. Gilbert and Ardella just said it had something to do with a gift of the Spirit. It wasn’t until several months later that the congregation heard the full story.

There was an old Jehovah’s Witness couple who had been coming to witness to Gilbert and Ardella for several years. They never turned them away, even though they were not much interested in the old couple’s religion. Gilbert and Ardella would listen politely and sometimes they would share a little of their own faith. After the couple’s religious obligation was completed, Ardella would always insist that they stay and visit a while. Then she would lead them into the kitchen for milk and fresh bread with homemade strawberry jam. Often there was hot soup on the stove to go with the bread. They visited about everyday concerns, sometimes laughing and talking until late in the afternoon, well past chore time. When Clarissa died, the old couple came more often and said little about their religion.

Gilbert and Ardella noticed one day that it had been several months since the couple’s last visit, and they began to wonder what had happened to them. They had never exchanged last names or telephone numbers. Gilbert and Ardella had no idea where the old couple lived or how to contact them. All they could do was wait and wonder. Several months passed, and then, one day, the old man showed up on their front doorstep alone. He said his wife had died quite suddenly, and he had been so grief-stricken that he had not been able to get out to do his witnessing. Gilbert invited him in, and Ardella made him sit down and have some soup with them. As he told about his wife’s death, they wept with him, and put their arms around him, and loved him.

John Sumwalt is a retired pastor and the author of “Shining Moments: Visions of the Holy in Ordinary Lives.” He can be reached at johnsumwalt@gmail.com.

Capital Newspapers Weeklies Lead

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