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Farewell, My Friend-What I learned about bodies and souls from Shirley Ann Frey

I helped bury a dear friend last week. Much to grieve. Much to celebrate. Shirley Ann Frey loved wellfreely and fiercely. One of the matriarchs of our church, she taught us how to love our husbands (Seek to understand, before being understood) and our children (you will raise what you praise).

She also taught us that we are not our bodies.


I helped bury a dear friend last week. Much to grieve. Much to celebrate. Shirley Ann Frey loved wellfreely and fiercely. One of the matriarchs of our church, she taught us how to love our husbands (Seek to understand, before being understood) and our children (you will raise what you praise).

She also taught us that we are not our bodies.

An acute onset of a rare kind of dementia took her life five years after onset. This ray of sanguine sunshine that would get right in your face, "Now, TELL ME Missy, how are YOU doing?" receded into the mists of an increasingly un-co-operative body. She strained through the fog to force words together. When words would no longer connect, her husband, Dick, became a gifted translator of her still-very-present soul, offering easy yes/no questions to which she would reply with "uh-huhs" that clearly signified recognition.

Shirley Ann gave new depth and meaning to the phrase "people person." She could connect with a hard nosed, jumpsuited repair man as easily as to her neighbor’s children. At her memorial celebration her neighbor, Kathy, told stories of how she not only gathered their family into hers, but how she "inserted" Jesus into conversations where Kathy would never have imagined he belonged. (But, to her eternal joy, she found him there.)

Perhaps the most people person/soul I ever knew, Shirley Ann defied all medical predictions that she would eventually disconnect from the loved ones around her. With an "uh-huh," with a tear, with a startling reconnection of clarity on her last Mother’s Day (cracking jokes no less), those of us who observed her body’s decline continued to experience Shirley Ann’s real presence. For all her loss, her soul was so strongly connected to those around her that the dreaded days when she would no longer recognize her family never fully arrived. To the end she connected and loved, expressing her deepest, truest nature.

Shirley Ann gave us hard evidence that there must be something more to us than our brains and our bodies. The Bible makes the same point: Whether it describes you with the words "soul," "spirit," or "heart," the meaning is the samethe real you, the deepest truest you is not your body. You are a living soul.

Scripture teaches that God is life to the full and he wants to share his life with us. As church father Irenaeus said, "The glory of God is man fully alive." Shirley Ann’s soul was fully alive.

The more we let God grow his life within us, the more our sensations, our thinking, believing, desiring and choosingall that emanates from our souls will mirror the abundant, overflowing life of our Father. (And God will look so good in the process.) God wants to reflect his life through our uniquely individual souls. He wants to enable us to leave legacies of love, like my friend Shirley Ann.

When we die our souls eave our bodies behind. With our technology more and more people live to tell of near-death experiences. We’ve interviewed some on our radio show. And the way they describe their experience echoes the biblical picture of souls, able to see, move, think, feel, believe, remember all the things a soul can do, especially once freed from the constraints of the body. At the moment of her death, Shirley Ann opened her eyes, looked into eternity and formed a word on her lips…one last moment of recognition. Then she was gone.

You are not your body. Dr. Moreland offers this analogy: Your body is like a paint brush. Picture it as a fine sable brush protruding from the middle of a closed stage curtain, its end hidden from view, poised to paint a picture on an empty canvass. You observe the brush moving across the canvas, but no one would believe that the brush alone is painting the picture. There is no doubt that a hand behind the curtain is holding the brush. In the same way your soul expresses your thoughts, feelings and desires through the instrument of your brush, your body.

For twenty-five years I have battled rheumatoid arthritis. I think my brush has become more of a sketch pencil. Shirley Ann might say that her brush became more like a piece of chalk. And finally…a pen that has run out of ink?

Yet there is hope. "Exquisite hope." The deepest truest me will one day toss this sketch pencil aside. The Bible says my soul will live naked for a while, waiting to be clothed, waiting for a brush more sensitive and yet more robust than I can imagine. But then one day…

I picture enjoying tea at the River of Life Café with Shirley Ann, telling our stories of what it was like in our earthly lives to try to paint our daily pictures with a broken pencil, an empty pen. Enjoying the beauty of one another’s souls reflected in our new bodies, delighting in a larger capacity to enjoy God. A beauty and capacity only made possible by the very pain and limitations that God allowed to penetrate his protective hedge around our lives…for our joy…for his glory.

 

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Lael writes and speaks about faith and culture and how God renews our vision and desire for Him and his Kingdom. She earned a master's degree (MAT) in the history of ideas from the University of Texas at Dallas, and has taught Western culture and apologetics at secular and Christian schools and colleges. Her long-term experience with rheumatoid arthritis and being a pastor’s wife has deepened her desire to minister to the whole person—mind, heart, soul and spirit. Lael has co-hosted a talk radio program, The Things That Matter Most, on secular stations in Houston and Dallas about what we believe and why we believe it with guests as diverse as Dr. Deepak Chopra, atheist Sam Harris and VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer. (Programs are archived on the website.) Lael has authored four books, including a March 2011 soft paper edition of A Faith and Culture Devotional (now titled Faith and Culture: A Guide to a Culture Shaped by Faith), Godsight, and Worldproofing Your Kids. Lael’s writing has also been featured in Focus on the Family and World magazines, and she has appeared on many national radio and television programs. Lael and her husband, Jack, now make their home in South Carolina.

14 Comments

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    Mimi

    all there…or all that’s important
    Years ago, an older friend was quickly deteriorating from Alzheimer’s. She was a bit different from Shirley Ann in her progression because it was Alzheimer’s, not dementia, but nonetheless, it was amazing to see her soul, because in the end, that was all that was left. She knew no one, even her husband, but while she was still physically able, you could take her in public to the store or wherever and she would share the gospel with every person she met. It was the only thing she remembered and her mental capacities boiled down to that and scripture. Sad to see her pretty much leave her physical body while still on earth, but most interesting to see what was left in the interim before she passed on.

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      Lael Arrington

      so similar to Shirley Ann…isn’t it?
      Reminds me of Mary…only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the better part. Thanks, Mimi.

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    Leanne

    Very beautiful and
    Very beautiful and meaningful to those who have also suffered from depression, the sense of “who am I, really, with or without these medications” – who is the REAL me? We are not the body and also not the mind. “It remains to be seen what we shall be”…. it can be hard to remember that the mind and the emotions are also part of the body… and not really our true selves, our spirits. A beautiful thought that underneath all the detritus is the soul/spirit – shining in God’s eyes because of our position in Christ. What a relief.

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      Lael Arrington

      Good thought, Leanne
      And a good parallel…if we can see without eyes, we can think without a brain. Have no idea what it will be like to be be a naked, "unclothed" soul for a while. But I delight to think I’ll have a resurrection body for eternity that will be incorruptible…no RA, no depression, no dementia, no health care debate about how to fix it all!

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    Vicki Callender

    Lael’s tribute to Shirley Ann
    Lael, this tribute blessed my soul abundantly! I feel closer to heaven than ever after Mike going ahead of me to be with the Lord and watching my body grow weaker each year. Thank God that we won’t live with this earthly pain forever and in the meantime He can surely use it for His glory! 2 Cor. 5:1-10; 4:16

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      Lael Arrington

      Can’t imagine the loss
      Vicky, I can’t imagine what it means to lose Mike so soon. I do know what it’s like to lose your health so early. I’m sure you are experiencing, as I am, how real Jesus and heaven become in the midst of the loss. I believe that it’s hard but v. good to experience that heaven shift…where we really can agree with Paul that it would be far better to be with Christ than remain here. May He continue to carry you.

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    Pam

    I think that as I approach
    I think that as I approach more and more limitations, I see Him more clearly! I would not have said that even 5 years ago! Shirley Ann, My mom, so many are such Godly examples of His Grace!

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    LadyLorraine

    Thanks for sharing so
    Thanks for sharing so wonderfully, Lael. I didn’t know her; you are fortunate you did.

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    Sue Bohlin

    The vividness of heaven

    Lael, Ray told me several years ago that heaven is more real to me than anyone he knows. I think it’s because thoughts of a new glorified body are never far from me.

    But I think you’ve got me beat, girl!

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      Lael Arrington

      hmm…don’t think I have you beat

      You are definitely a heaven-set woman. And you are welcome at our tea!

      I do

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        Sue Bohlin

        Paying off over the course of eternity?

        Lael! This is a stunning thought! I’ve never heard anyone talk like this! Mmmmm. . .

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    Dianne Miller

    what a blessed hope

    your thoughts remind me of the blessed hope we share in Christ. Made in His image and for His glory and belonging to Him forever with those we call "brothers and sisters" in Christ. I look forward to meeting Shirley Ann. Thanks so much for encouraging words.

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    Gwynne Johnson

    She was all you say!
    As another fan and friend of Shirley Ann…let me affirm that she was all you say and more!