When some of us who loved Gaye received word on Monday that she was gravely ill, call it superstition, call it childishness, or just plain silliness, some of us thought to ourselves and even said aloud, “Please God, don’t let this very good, very kind woman die on Halloween.” For whatever reason, most people would tend to agree that there are perhaps better days on the calendar to pass away.
However, I do not believe a better day exists on any calendar, Christian or secular, for a woman as loving, as compassionate and, yes, as saintly, as Gaye Johnson to go to be with the Lord than November 1. Because this day, the day that Gaye died, is the day Christians have historically and traditionally celebrated as All Saints’ Day.
It is the day that Christians throughout the centuries have marked to remember remarkable people of faith who have gone before us to be with the Lord. And there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that knew Gaye and loved Gaye that she was indeed a remarkable person of faith.
For six years, I had the wonderful privilege to work with Gaye, along with A.C. and Vivian Turnage, every second Tuesday of the month, passing out food to the needy and assisting people financially through Farmville Benevolent Ministries. It was a wonderful privilege, not only to be able to serve the poor in our community, but to serve with this saint who indeed had the compassion for others of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
It takes a special person to volunteer and commit to such service each month. Distributing food and helping folks pay rent and utility bills is enough to make anyone a saint in itself, but Gaye enjoyed going the extra mile. She loved to bring a trunk load of jars of molasses. Each month anywhere between thirty and fifty people would come by the community center, or where we currently are at Lost and Found, and get a small bag of groceries and then line up at the back of Gay’s Buick to get their molasses. That’s something she did not have to do. Giving them canned goods would have been a plenty. But like her Lord, Gaye gave to all, especially to those who needed the most, abundantly and extravagantly. Anyone who has ever tasted her chocolate pies knows a little something about Gaye’s extravagant love.
Indeed, this entire town has tasted of this extravagance as her ministry to others through Farmville Benevolent Ministries was not her only service to this town. Many days after she left Farmville Benevolent Ministries, she would hurry to the community center to deliver meals on wheels. She also volunteered in the soup kitchen and played Bingo with the residents of Farmville Healthcare. Gaye volunteered reading to Kindergarteners who needed extra help through the FACTS program. No, I can not think of any better day for this dear saint to go to be with her Lord who is now giving himself to her as she gave herself to others abundantly and extravagantly, than All Saints’ Day.
Everyone knows that we pastors are not supposed have favorites. We are supposed to love everyone equally. But I’ve got news for you, we pastors are human beings, and like all human beings, we have favorites. To stay out of trouble, we just try our best to keep it undercover. We just try to pretend that we love everyone the same.
With Gaye, I must not have done a very good job in pretending, because Pam has introduced me to every member of her family as Mama’s boyfriend.
There was nothing in the world that I would not do for my girlfriend, Gaye. And I am not the only one who felt that way about this saint, named Gaye. Many of you who were in this room last night saw an extraordinary sight as hundreds of people filled this room to let Gaye’s family know how much she has meant to them over the years. But, for me personally, nothing was more extraordinary than seeing Gaye’s childhood friend, Dan Satterthwaite come though the line to speak to the family. Last night, I said to Dan who has been very ill, very weak for a very long time, “Dan, I can’t believe you are here.” He said, “I can’t do this for everyone, but I’d do anything for Stella, as I call her.”
As I said, Dan, grew with Gaye and became very good friends with Gaye’s husband Shane. They hunted together and Gaye, Shane, Harriet and Dan loved to go and spend time at the beach together.
Not long, after Dan was diagnosed with his cancer almost two years ago, Gaye told me one Tuesday after Benevolent ministries, that when I went to the hospital to be sure to crawl up in the bed with Dan and give him a great big kiss on the cheek and tell him it is from me.
Well, like I said, I’d do anything for Gaye. So I marched right up to the third floor in the WestTower, walked in Dan’s room, crawled in his bed and laid one on him. You should have seen the look on his face!
He looked at me like, “Preacher, are you crazy?” But when I told him that it was from his good friend Gaye, he said, “Well, that’s alright then.” Now for all of you who know Dan, that’s more than enough to reveal how saintly this woman was.
But what truly revealed to me how saintly this woman was, when I went to see this woman in the hospital this past week, Gaye, so ill, that she had a sign placed on the door restricting visitors, one of he first things she asked me when I entered was how her ol’ buddy Dan was getting along.
Even when she was facing her own death, Gaye was still more concerned about others than she was about herself.
The First Christian Church, the entire community of Farmville, and yes, even this world, has experienced a great loss this week. But if Gaye had to die, as one day, we will all have to die, there is no better day on any calendar for her pass away than November 1—All Saints’ Day. For if there as ever been a Saint, Stella Gaye Johnson certainly was one. Thanks be to God for the wonderful privilege of knowing and loving and being known and loved by this saintly woman.