Ruth was sixteen-months-old and fresh from Uganda when friends brought her to their little Baptist church in Maine. In the nursery worked Hazel, a petite woman with short brown hair and a quick smile. Unlike many, Hazel wasn’t intimidated by Ruth’s tight muscles and uncooperative body or inability to speak, bound as it was by cerebral palsy. In fact, Hazel faced special challenges of her own, needing a leg brace to keep a foot from turning out and a social worker to set up programs and help her get to and from work.
Many months later, after we adoped Ruth, our daughter and Hazel rode the same bus to a local center. And three years ago, when Ruth died, Hazel and her social worker typed a letter, saying how sad she was that Ruth was gone. It is among my most treasured mementos.
This Easter, I volunteered to make cinnamon rolls for church. Hazel is now a member there with her mother. Last week she phoned and offered $10 to help buy the ingredients.
“Do you like to bake?” I asked.
“I do!” Hazel said, and so we decided to make the rolls together.
After picking up Hazel on Saturday, we took turns rolling the dough on my kitchen counter. She slathered it with melted butter and sugar. I shook out the cinnamon, and we rolled it together. Next, we sat around the kitchen table playing Uno with my eleven-year-old daughter and four-year-old son while waiting for the dough to rise. After the rolls were baked and decorated, I drove Hazel home. On the way, we stopped at the grocery store, and I thanked Hazel for caring for Ruth in her church nursery nearly ten years ago.
“Ruth would have turned eleven this past week.” I faced Hazel in the car. “On her birthday I bought an Easter Lily and broke off one blossom. Then my family drove to where Ruth is buried and laid the blossom on her grave. Because even in winter, when all the earth and trees and flowers look dead, spring is God’s way of reminding us that He brings things that are dead back to life.”
“She told me that.” Hazel waved her hand above her head as if reaching for a far off memory. “At the funeral I wanted to walk up front and sit with your family, because you were crying. I — I saw how sad you were. But the minister said only your family could sit up front. So I didn’t get to. But she — she told me she was going to rise up.”
“Who did?” I was confused.
“Ruthie. The night before. I saw her, in my mind. Ruthie signed to me. And I — I was signing back. We was talking. Ruthie told me she was going to rise up and see your family in the air. And you — you wouldn’t know who she was. Because her body — her body won’t be like that anymore. You will have to tell her your names so you recognize each other.”
Stunned, I blinked back tears as I pictured my sweet daughter alive and with us once more.
Hazel’s words — so innocent and unexpected — brought me one step closer to understanding the meaning of Easter. That what is unseen is more powerful than what is seen. That God doesn’t create something so beautiful — not a tree, not a flower, not a person — simply to let it die, but brings new life in His time. And that, more than anything, He wants to share that new life with us.
“In His time,” I sang earlier that Saturday while re-potting seedlings at the farm where I volunteer. “In His time. He makes all things beautiful in His time. Lord my life to you I bring, may each song I have to sing, be to you a lovely thing in Your time.”
None of us knows how long we have here or how before Christ returns to gather up those who are His — those alive and those once lost. But Scripture promises new life for everyone who accepts the life Christ offers.
“I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying,” Jesus said in John 11:25.
Or as the apostle Paul said, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come,” II Corinthians 5:17.
That’s what Easter is all about as Hazel so beautifully reminded me.
What does Easter mean to you?