“Occupy.” Dianne had shared with me on several occasions in recent months that this one word was the only thing God had told her in the face of terminal cancer.
“I don’t know exactly what it means,” she would continue. “But I guess it means I should busy myself doing what he called me to do, and that was to prepare myself to be a counselor.”
Dianne came to seminary later than most. She had worked in the justice system for many years until an election found her having been hired by a politician from the wrong party. Approaching the age of retirement she felt a strong call to address the social ills she had seen in public service through a counseling ministry. For the past four years she was Dr. Doug Slocumb’s graduate assistant which meant she worked at a desk just outside my office. All of us who work in our suite of offices in “B Building” are good friends. Students and others often comment on the “family” and peaceful atmosphere. Dianne was very much a part of our special community.
Cheryl and I have known Dianne, her husband, Joe, and their two daughters for thirty five years, every since we were all at Westmore together in the mid-eighties. We knew way back then that Diane was a special person. She was the daughter of a Nazarene pastor and came into the Church of God having married the son of one of our pastors in Alabama. She was a Spirit-filled, holiness woman, but not exactly our brand of holiness. Her kind was measured slightly more by inward character and slightly less by outward appearances than was ours.
What I discovered decades ago was that she had a deep love for God and an unshakable spirituality. I was fascinated by her thirst for knowledge and understanding. She simply wasn’t satisfied with pat answers or past experiences. She hungered for a ever deeper relationship with God.
I left Westmore in 1988 and had virtually no contact with the Hodo’s for almost twenty years until she enrolled in the seminary. And there we were working together and catching up on life as if no time had passed. Cheryl especially became close to Dianne. They were kindred spirits who had married into the Church of God. Many times Cheryl spoke to me of how Dianne was a gift from God.
It was just about two years ago when Dianne had emergency surgery and they discovered cancer. The diagnosis was very bad; if just one cell was left behind it would be terminal. There was no effective treatment once the initial tumor metastasized. A short time after the initial surgery the cancer was back.
We all prayed fervently, all except Diane. She didn’t feel free to pray for healing. Her mother was living with her and Joe and the elderly saint was not doing well. After her mother passed on to heaven, Dianne felt released to pray for her own healing, but she never got an answer, just the single word “occupy.”
She kept coming to classes, completing her assignments, and working for Dr. Slocumb as if there was no problem. She completed an internship and was being supervised counseling others. Last summer she began to bleed internally requiring trips to Vanderbilt University for assessment and blood infusions. A day or two later and she would be back full force on campus occupying her place and calling.
A couple of weeks ago her doctor told her she was amazing. Her scans revealed multiple tumors several of which were huge. She should have been in extreme pain and immobilized. She said it was as if she was looking at two different women. Dianne should not be living a near normal life.
One week ago last Friday night, Dianne and Joe were at our house with a group of friends for dinner and a game of “Clue.” It was clear she was winded moving about our house, but frankly no more than most of the rest of us. Before she left she mentioned her heart was racing. Our hearts sank; she had mentioned to us many months ago that the end might come when her heart just gave out from the extra work.
She was at school early the next week, but by Wednesday she was back in Nashville. This time the prognosis was dire. The tumors were pressing against all of her internal organs including her kidneys which were shutting down. They sent her home on Hospice care. Still, she told Doug she was going to take the weekend to be with her family but she would be in for work on Monday. That would have been tomorrow. But while at Gatlinburg she took a dramatic turn for the worse (vomiting, racing heart, shortness of breath).
They brought her home. Dr. Slocumb called us in Virginia this morning to tell us she wasn’t doing well. By the time we got back in touch with him he was at their house and she was going fast it seemed. She was alert but on strong pain meds. Dr. Land was there presenting her with her diploma for her master’s degree. The faculty had planned to have a special graduation service for her next Tuesday. She had more than enough hours for the degree. She only really lacked a couple of required courses, one in Church of God history and polity. It seemed good and proper to wave that requirement for Dianne.
Sometime early this evening, while we were driving home with plans to see her tomorrow, she exhaled her last breath of sin-tainted, earth-bound atmosphere and inhaled the pure and undefiled breath of God somewhere inside the Pearly Gates of Heaven. She occupied every moment of this life with faith, courage, grace, and ministry. We will miss her greatly, but I suspect she is right now putting in a good word for us and cheering her heart out for us to finish our course. In a little while we will see her, only let us occupy until He calls or comes.
October 31, 2010