Dixie’s Affirmation of Faith
I stand here, not as Dixie’s Pastor, but as her friend. Yes, I was her Pastor at the Barker Road Methodist Church some 40 years ago, and yes, I was her Pastor at the Paya Lebar Methodist Church some 30 years ago. However, today, I bring God’s message as her friend. Indeed, we have been friends these past 40 years.
This afternoon, I join you in kindred spirit, in the presence of God, to remember our beloved Dixie, and to give thanks to Him for her life and witness on Earth.
Memories of Dixie
Dixie has been an inspiration to all of us. She made a difference in the life of many people, regardless of their station in life. People in low places as well as those in high places have been touched by her gentle, gracious and caring ways. A good number of people shared their memories of Dixie during the wake services and at the earlier part of today’s funeral. Others have penned their thoughts of her in the Facebook and in the blog “dixietanmemorial”. Still others have sent text messages about Dixie to Grace and Jacinta. The tremendous outpouring of grief and love is evidence of how God has used her many gifts to reach out and transform lives. Someone has summed up very poignantly Dixie’s impact on all of us: “She was like an angel sent from God to touch the lives of many”.
The Last Leg of Dixie’s Life Journey
Perhaps, not all of you have had the opportunity to see Dixie when she was about to begin treatment for her tumour and when she was nearing the end of her life journey. My wife, Yeok and I were given the honour of doing so. Our two meetings with Dixie have helped shape my thoughts for the sermon today. I would like to describe the meetings in reverse order, beginning with our visit when she was nearing the end of her life.
Five days ago, in the early hours of the morning of Tuesday 22 April, as I was praying for Dixie, something stirred within my heart. I felt the urgings to see Dixie before leaving for the Malaysia/Singapore Combined Methodist Pastors’ Retreat in Malacca. About 3 p.m. Yeok and I went to the Singapore General Hospital to visit Dixie. In the ward, we were received by her daughters Grace and Jacinta who were keeping a devoted watch over their mother. Dixie was in a coma but her countenance was peaceful. Yeok and I held her hands and I laid my right hand on her forehead as we prayed for God’s grace, peace and love to be upon her. Ten hours after our visit, word came from her Grace that in the wee hours of Wednesday 23 April, Dixie returned home peacefully to her Lord. I travelled to Malacca with mixed emotions – with a heavy heart for the loss of a very dear friend, yet grateful to God for blessing Dixie with eternal rest and freedom from the shackles of suffering.
Let me now re-visit our meeting with Dixie on Tuesday 11 March. Late in the evening of that day, Yeok and I visited Dixie at her home in the Bishan Park condominium. Some days before our meeting, Grace told us that Dixie was scheduled for an intensive course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy for her brain tumour on 12 March. We decided to have a meal with her on the eve of the treatment. We were also told that Dixie missed Japanese food. We bought a big box of sashimi and sushi, as well as freshly-wrapped local ‘popiah’ just in case she craved for it too. Before dinner, Dixie requested that we hold a simple worship service as she was unable to attend church from the time she was taken ill. Grace produced two United Methodist hymnals (UMH) and copies of the Bible. I suggested that everybody chose a hymn, and these were the hymns chosen:
- Dixie chose UMH 472: “Near to the Heart of God”,
- Grace chose UMH 451: “Be Thou My Vision”,
- Yeok chose UMH 369: “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine” , and
- I chose UMH 407: “Close to Thee”.
Regarding the hymns chosen, what stood out for me was Dixie’s choice – with a strong voice, she sang with child-like confidence “There is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God.”
After our communal prayer, I suggested, almost spontaneously, that we turn to Psalm 46 on UMH 780 to sing collectively the First Response and read the text of that Psalm as printed. As we were singing and reading, I felt there and then that Psalm 46 had ministered to her – it affirmed that her faith in God was not in vain. As for me, I saw very clearly, in my mind’s eye, that Dixie’s life is a powerful witness and testament to three statements of faith found in Psalm 46.
What are the three statements of faith so clearly evident in Dixie’s life?
Dixie’s First Statement of Faith
The writer in Psalm 46 does not say that God will prevent disasters, tragedies, troubles and all manner of suffering from entering our life. Neither does he blame God when these happen. He sees God, not as a protector, but as a real (“very present”) source of comfort, solace and strength when bad things occur. Dr Mark Chan, a lecturer at the Trinity Theological College puts it beautifully and succinctly when he analysed this verse:
“God is not our escape FROM trouble. Neither is He our shield AGAINST trouble. Rather, He is an ever-present help IN trouble. God does not trouble-proof His children; He proves Himself in times of trouble.”
Throughout her life, Dixie faced many difficulties and challenges, yet she did not flinch. One of her relatives wrote these words in the Facebook: “Dixie was an amazing woman who went through such horrible things. She was thrown into nightmare after nightmare, and while most people would not have survived, she conquered her fear and the fear of others, and did what was right.”
I am convinced that Dixie’s life is an embodiment of the ideas in Psalm 46 verses 1 – 3. She had consciously turned these ideas into her own statement of faith and was therefore able to face those challenges:
“God is my refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore, I will not fear,
though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.”
Dixie’s Second Statement of Faith
Dixie’s second statement of faith from Psalm 46 is this: “I will dwell in the city of God forever.”
To the psalmist, the city of God is a metaphor for the kind of security that he finds in God. History has shown that man-made cities rise and fall as a result of wars and sheer decay. However, the city of God, by contrast, will remain forever. The psalmist paints a graphic picture of the desolation brought upon man-made cities by powerful forces such as tsunamis and earthquakes, but to him, the city of God will not be destroyed! Again, he painted the contrast between the inexorable destruction wreaked by the waters of the angry sea with the rejuvenating power of the waters of the river running through the city of God, to underscore the message that there is joyful life for all those residing in God’s city.
Dixie dwells in that city! If you were to ask Dixie for directions to that city, she would, without doubt, tell you that it is inside you. It is that spiritual sanctuary where God dwells. It is in the soul of a human being. How can I be so confident that she is living in that city? Throughout the brief period of her illness, when the cancerous cells seemed to be relentlessly consuming her body, Dixie’s spirit never wavered. Inwardly, she grew from strength to strength. She remained courageous, gracious and serene right till the end. That was how everyone saw her. Indeed, she lives on in that city!
The way Dixie bore her illness reminds me of Dan Richardson, another fervent believer in Christ. Like Dixie, his body finally succumbed to the ravages of cancer. At his funeral, a poem which he wrote during his illness was read out. It says:
“Cancer is so limited…
It cannot cripple love,
It cannot shatter hope,
It cannot corrode faith,
It cannot eat away peace,
It cannot destroy confidence,
It cannot kill friendship,
It cannot shut our memories,
It cannot silence courage,
It cannot invade the soul,
It cannot reduce eternal life,
It cannot quench the Spirit,
It cannot lessen the power of the resurrection.”
Dixie will definitely say “Amen” to the poem because she dwells in the city of God.
Dixie’s Third Statement of Faith
Dixie’s third statement of faith is this: “I have learned to be still, cease my striving, for I know that God is in control”.
This statement is derived from verses 8 to 10 in Psalm 46 where the psalmist asks us to “…behold the works of the Lord…” (verse 8) and “Be still, and know that I am God! (verse 10).
In my interactions with Dixie, I never failed to notice her calm demeanour and her lively sense of humour. It speaks of someone who knows that no matter what happens to her, God is in control. I can hear Dixie singing the hymn penned in 1873 by Horatio Spafford:
“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well; it is well with my soul.”
What then did Dixie’s life affirm?
- God is myrefuge and strength, a very present help in trouble;
- I dwell in the city of God forever;
- I have learned to be still and know that God is in control.