We got the news Friday May 18, 2012, that our choir director Rusty King’s daughter Ann Michele had entered into Hospice care. The family has graciously given me permission to share this meditation. Ann Michele, a beautiful, vibrant twenty five year old woman, was nearing the end of her valiant eight year battle with cancer. Rusty, his wife Stephanie and their daughter Emily were at home with Ann Michele, loving her through her final days.
I had only met Ann Michele a few times, so I didn’t know her well. I knew she had graduated from Oklahoma City University and had a career as a graphic artist in Houston, Texas. I wanted to know her better, so I watched a video she had made on YouTube. It was called “I am Ann Michele King.” Through the video I encountered a generous, talented, fashionable, vivid, loving person. I saw pictures of her with family and friends, at parties and at benefits she had helped organize for cancer sufferers. In all of them my eye couldn’t help but be drawn to her, the most luminous person in every picture. The final slide featured a smiling Ann Michele with the caption- “I am Ann Michele King and the only c in my life is Christ.”
Sunday afternoon May 20, I stood with 20 or so other members of the Chancel Choir of First United Methodist Church of Allen, Texas in Rusty and Stephanie’s living room in their home. Their home has one big room across the front, a dining room and living room in one. Ann Michele lay in a hospital bed in what had been the dining room. We stood in the living room, holding our United Methodist Hymnals, singing the hymns of the faith. We had sung “Fairest Lord Jesus.” We had sung “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.” We had sung “I Need Thee Every Hour.” We had sung “Amazing Grace.” We had just finished singing these words from Ann Michele’s favorite hymn, “Hymn of Promise,” by Natalie Sleeth.
In our end is our beginning;
in our time, infinity;
in our doubt there is believing
in our life, eternity.
In our death, a resurrection, at the last, a victory
unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
I was standing between Tracy Holloway, hearing his strong bass voice, and my husband Murry with his pure tenor tones. I was attempting to sing alto. I looked across the room at a young woman, now emaciated from a cruel illness, struggling for every breath. Surrounding her hospital bed were her stalwart mom Stephanie, her amazing sister Emily, her devoted dad Rusty, and an angel from Hospice. I could hardly sing for the tears. Then I thought to myself, “A group of twenty people holding hymnals in your living room and blubbering is not a choir. It’s just depressing. So get a grip, and do what members of a choir are supposed to do- sing!” So I did. As we finished singing “Hymn of Promise,” Rusty came over and joined us. One of the altos handed him a hymnal. “Let’s sing ‘Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,’” he said. “It’s one of our family favorites.”
If you looked up this hymn online you would find that it is one of Charles Wesley’s most popular hymns, appearing in 1,328 North American hymnals from a variety of denominations. You would find that he adapted some of the words from Dryden’s operatic play King Arthur. You would find that the tune is attributed to Purcell. You would find that Love Divine is loosely Trinitarian in organization: Christ is invoked in the first stanza as the expression of divine love; the Holy Spirit in the second stanza as the agent of sanctification; the Father in the third stanza as the source of life; and the Trinity in the final stanza as the joint Creator of the New Creation. You would find that this hymn, like many others, contains numerous biblical quotations, including “Alpha and Omega” (stanza. 2) as an epithet of Christ, from Revelation 21:6; the casting of crowns before God’s throne (stanza 4), from Revelation 4:10; and the promise that Christians shall be “changed from glory into glory” (stanzas 2 and 4), from 2 Corinthians 3:18.
But I wasn’t thinking of any of those things as we stood in the King family’s living room holding our hymnals. I was focused on the sight and the sound of a faith-filled father, leading his choir in singing the last verse of this hymn, across the room from his dying daughter.
Finish, then, thy new creation;
pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see thy great salvation
perfectly restored in thee;
Changed from glory into glory
till in heaven we take our place,
till we cast our crowns before thee
lost in wonder, love, and praise.
Ann Michele King passed away Monday morning May 21.
I picture her singing in a heavenly choir. The fact that she already knows the words and tunes to all the hymns is thanks to her faith-filled family. I picture her singing in a heavenly choir, led by the best choir director of all, her tears transformed into tones of joy.