My Sheep Hear My Voice

Meditation on John 10:11-16

In Memory of Debra Canning

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, NY

Pastor Karen Crawford

Feb. 24, 2023

Audio of Pastor Karen sharing this message:

Debra Canning always gave good advice.

And she was right, says her daughters Michelle and Janine, though they might not have wanted to hear all her advice when they were teenagers.

 But they listened to the voice of their mother. Because she knew them and listened to them with love, always wanting the best for them. They had always been close—Debbie and her twin daughters—in proximity and relationship.

M. and J. trusted their mom and felt they could talk about anything with her. And they did. They talked to her every day. One had a routine of calling Debbie on her way home from work.

M. and J. describe Debbie as being a “brilliant stay at home mother of twins.” What a wonderful tribute to their mom! She was a good cook and was involved with all their activities. She was their Girl Scout Troop Leader for many years, an active member of the Mothers of Twins Club, and our congregation, First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, where she had attended when she was young. She went to all their school functions and their many church activities. She didn’t miss anything of their childhood!

She also had her own interests and special talents. One was that she had a gift for caring for plants, especially those that weren’t growing well under someone else’s care. People would give her their dying plants, and then they would thrive.

Being a mother of twins, she didn’t have the same expectations for each of her daughters. She was determined that their personalities and lives wouldn’t become melded into one—that they would become all that they could be. She didn’t want their being born on the same day to define them or hold them back in any way from experiencing all the adventures of life.

Debbie would make sure that each would have their own birthday cake and candles to blow—and they were different cakes! Their mom would lead the singing of The Happy Birthday song all the way through for each of them.

She was protective of her girls, especially because they were twins and people would say the darndest things about them to her in public—as if being a mother of twins was anything but a WONDERFUL thing to happen! A great blessing from God!

She made many friends, and she kept many friends from childhood. One of her friends was nervous about taking the civil service exam. She went with her and took the exam, too. Debbie’s daughters were in 6th grade, and she wasn’t looking for a job, but her high score led to her being offered a number of positions and deciding to work for many years with the Smithtown School District in a variety of roles.

But the most important thing to Debbie was her family—especially her husband, John, of 45 years. He completely devoted himself to her care after an aortic dissection surgery in January 2019 led to a blood clot, which devastated her health and mobility. While her survival from the 8-hour surgery and multiple medical interventions since then were nothing short of miraculous, the journey of these last 4 years has been long and arduous. The stroke affected one side of her body and left her unable to walk. She dealt with chronic, persistent pain.

I have been touched by the sight of John and Debbie together in the back pew box, with their daughters, since I arrived to serve as pastor last May. When so many people choose to do other things at 10 a.m. on Sunday morning, John would get Debbie ready and bring her here in her wheelchair. I would marvel at the effort it must have taken for them to attend an hourlong service, with all her serious health challenges.

 Coming to church with her family brought Debbie peace.  It was just one of the ways The Good Shepherd was watching over and caring for one of his precious sheep.

The Good Shepherd, not the hired hand, in John 10, is the one who is willing to lay down his life for his sheep. Jesus is foreshadowing for his disciples his death on a cross for our sins so that we might live eternally with him. He is willing to die even for one lost sheep! The hired hand has no investment. It’s no loss to him. Is he going to risk his well-being to save someone else’s sheep? The Good Shepherd isn’t afraid of anything. He seeks only to do God’s will. Nothing will deter the Good Shepherd from protecting all of his sheep from the wolves—what would seek to harm a soul in this world—and snatch and scatter the fold.

But there is nothing in this world that would harm a soul. There’s nothing we can do to lose our salvation, and there’s nothing anyone can do to us to separate us from God’s love.

Listen. Jesus assures us in John 10: 27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

When Michelle and Janine talked about their mother’s passing early Tuesday morning, they spoke of the look of peace on Debbie’s face. She had been hurting for a long time, they said. She had been fiercely holding onto life in this world with her family because she didn’t want them to cry and be sad, missing her.

But I always tell people that not only is it OK to cry, crying is healing! When we cry, we release our sorrow that we are holding onto and we invite others to share in our sorrow, which is really a beautiful thing. And, you know, Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend, Lazarus, whom he loved—and this was right before he called him by name and he was raised from the dead.

We find also comfort in St. John’s vision in Revelation of what we will see when we are with the Lord, face to face.  For we WILL make our home with God and God WILL make His home with us. Revelation 21:3-4 says, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”

And something else struck me as we spoke of Debbie and her daughters talking every day.

When our loved one’s die, we would give anything to hear their voice, once again. I remembered last night that after my dad passed away in 2019, I looked in vain for a long, rambling voicemail he had left for me one night that I had saved—just because I liked listening to it. I recall part of it was that he said, “Hello, Karen. This is Dad. I’m not calling for any special reason. Just to talk.” He just had such a wistful sound in his voice—like he was longing to hear mine, too. Somehow, my phone automatically deleted it after a certain amount of time.

It isn’t just the sound of their voice that we miss; it’s the love and tender care of the person who is speaking. We want to talk with them. We know because of our close relationship that what they say matters—and that whatever they say will be for our good. We trust them and their advice!

Some people wonder if our loved ones can hear us talking to them after they die. And can they speak to us in some way? I don’t know if Scripture answers this question.

In my personal experience, I do know that not knowing if Dad can hear me has never stopped me from talking to my father—and feeling a sense of peace when I do. I know he is with God—and God can hear everything I say. Couldn’t the Lord share it with him? Dad had a long battle with health issues—decades—beginning in his 50s, really. He was in a wheelchair for the last few months of his life. My mother had taken care of him through all his illnesses, surgeries, and miraculous recoveries, much like John took care of Debbie and never gave up hope.

If I listen now, in the quiet, I can still hear my father’s voice—calling my name. That hasn’t faded from my memory. His is the voice in my head telling me what to do with the plants in my yard and my home. His advice continues to guide me to this day, though my dad was a quiet, shy man.

This is my hope for Debbie Canning’s family and friends and for our church family—that you would still hear her voice for years to come. And that you will remember the practical wisdom she was so willing to share with you and you were so willing to receive because you knew she wanted the best for you—and that she was right —and that it came from a heart of love.

Let us pray.

Good Shepherd, thank you for your everlasting love for ALL your sheep and for knowing us so intimately, better than we know ourselves. Thank you for the promise that you will call us by name, and we will hear your voice and follow you. Open our ears to hear you and trust in your Word because of your love and faithfulness. Comfort those who mourn. Hold us forever, dear Lord, safely in the grasp of your hand. Amen.

Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York on Long Island. Come and visit! We want to share God’s love and grace with you and encourage you on your journey of faith. I have served Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio since my ordination in 2011. I am a 2010 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and am working on a doctor of ministry degree with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am married to Jim and we have 5 grown children and two grandchildren in our blended family. We are parents to fur babies, Liam, an orange tabby cat, and Minnie, a toy poodle.

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