By WALTER ALBRITTON
Find my wife’s grave in the old cemetery in Wetumpka and beside her grave you will see a stone bench. It was placed there by a group of women who loved Dean, women Dean loved, women who have suffered the loss of a child. On the bench are carved the words “Be strong and courageous.”
The women, whose fellowship is aptly named “Mourning to Morning,” chose those four words because they were the title of Dean’s final message to her friends. At the time, no one had any idea that she would die later that year at age 88.
Students of the Bible will know that Dean found the familiar phrase in the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua. It comes out of the story of Moses handing the leadership baton off to Joshua. Having led the Israelites through the wilderness, Moses understands that it will be his assistant Joshua, not he, who will lead God’s people into the Promised Land. So, in his farewell address, Moses includes this dramatic phrase to the Israelites, and to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous.”
When Joshua gives his account of this historic transition of leadership, he credits the Lord with having said those words to him. He even provides us with the profound reason why he could become “strong and courageous.” He heard the Lord say to him, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” No greater confidence builder was ever given to a man.
In her message encouraging her friends to “be strong and courageous,” Dean was sharing the great testimony of her life. For decades, I had heard her inspire audiences with that message. She did not speak much of Moses and Joshua. She spoke with passion of the time Jesus came to her and said, “In your great sorrow over the loss of your son, be strong and courageous. As I have been with Moses and Joshua and many others, I will be with you and I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
After wallowing in an initial self-pity party, overwhelmed by the suffering, death and burial of her firstborn, Dean found a way out of that dismal darkness.
“Jesus came to me,” she would say. “He told me He loved me and He took me by the hand and said, ‘Enough of this grieving! It is time for you to be strong and courageous so you can help others who are struggling with sorrow find the joy I have given you.’”
And she spent the rest of her life doing that, I was privileged to witness the many ways the Lord used her strength and courage to encourage others to trust Jesus, as she had trusted Him, to move beyond grief into a life of joy, fulfillment and service to Christ.
In the Bible Moses and Joshua are described as “servants of the Lord.” That’s what Dean was too — a servant of the Lord Jesus. She refused to allow grief to color the rest of her life after David’s death. All because, when He came to her and said, ‘Be strong and courageous,’ she said, “Yes Lord, I will!”
These days, often when the sun is setting in the west, I get quiet and I can hear Dean saying to me, “I know sometimes you feel like giving up, my dear; but don’t do it! The Lord wants you to be strong and courageous, so get out of that recliner and get going! There are hurting people who need to hear your testimony. You can encourage them because the Lord is not done with you! And He will be with you just like He was with me. Use your remaining days to help people trust Jesus to help them move through their sorrow. And when He decides to move you up here with me, I’ll meet you at the gate.”
Some afternoon, when you can spare an hour or so, drive up to that cemetery in Wetumpka. Find Dean’s resting place. Sit on that stone bench. Close your eyes and pray awhile. You may hear God saying to you, “Be strong and courageous.” Your reply could change your life.