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Lucretia Beth (April) Shepphard

God answers prayer.

April Shepherd & Herb ShattuckAfter many years of battling rheumatoid arthritis, my dear friend April died this morning, March 11th. Of late, April had been staying at a convalescent home and had been steadily declining in health. She had advanced rheumatoid arthritis and her body was badly distorted as her joints had grown well beyond their normal positions. While her body was useless, she was still a beautiful lady and still had a sharp wit and demanding temperment. April had been mostly bed-ridden, except when someone dressed her and helped her out of bed, which was a difficult process at best. All of us who knew her had to help in some way. I’m sure few of us can imagine the frustration of having one’s mind intact but unable to affect the world around us through movement.

April had been part of the ‘Word of Faith’ movement prior to the onset of the arthritis. Apparently she was even a ‘pastor’ of sorts at one time. Of course when the disease began to progress through her body, her faith was shaken to its core and her friends and church abandoned her because she didn’t have “enough faith” to overcome the disease. She left that apostasy and began attending more traditional evangelical churches.

I met April several years ago in a Bible study of Romans taught by my friend and mentor Herb Shattuck. In a sense, we became ‘Reformed’ together. When the study moved from the church we began meeting in her home, since she couldn’t reasonably go out. I was the youngest guy there, so it was up to me to move her from the wheel-chair to the couch where she’d listen, interject and sometimes sleep through our years of study together. Later, when I taught a class in Ephesians at her home she challenged the Catholic woman who was there to trust in Christ alone.

While April wasn’t a saint, in her younger years and had made some terrible choices in her life, she became a sister in the Lord to me. And though her body was repulsive I found that I cared very much for her. She was still a tough cookie, however, and knew what she wanted, when she wanted it and exactly where she wanted it. She could be quite demanding, and I think that’s plus her physical shape were some of the reasons some people found it hard to deal with her. For some, just the visual effect of her body was nearly impossible to handle. I believe that God gave me grace to handle it to some extent, but it was never easy.

Through our day-to-day lives as able-bodied persons it is easy to get so busy as to forget those who are ‘physically-challenged’ in such a way. I was always cut to the quick when I heard of some plight of April’s. When living at her own hom, she once rolled nearly off of her bed and waited hours for someone to help her up. The eyesight goes and the ability read can also be lost. She usually couldn’t change the radio station, tv channel or hit the VCR switches. We tried all sorts of mechanical gadgets to help, her son even sent her a voice-activated remote (which would have worked great, but by that time her voice was barely above a whisper.) She told me once that she’d listened to the same song over and over because the remote was out of reach. We take so much for granted.

April loved the Lord. She told everyone about Jesus, especially the kids who came at Halloween and the people who came to drive her around and take care of her. She and I would joust over points of doctrine, and yet she would get teary eyed at the thought of seeing the Lord face-to-face or thinking about those who are lost.

In her last days, April’s body finally began to succumb to the disease. Rheumatoid arthritis is a token example of the results of the fall. The disease causes one’s own body to attack itself and the growths and crumpled form that result can be terribly painful. In the end the body cannot properly process food, and the arteries and veins can loose the ability to properly transport blood. In essence, death wins.

April is with her Savior now. And while I am left to grieve for my sweet sister in the Lord, I can truly say that “she is in a better place”. And while death had victory over her in this life, I know Christ has conquered death and that we’ll be together at the wedding feast.

The last time I saw her, she was semi-conscious. She’d been on morphine for days and hadn’t eaten much. Her son had flown in from back East in to take care of her, he questioned what he had to do, be it put to in a feeding tube or allow her to go back on the morphine… he went back home yesterday, and she was gone this morning.

I don’t know all the lessons being with April taught us… for myself, my wife and April’s other friends. I’ve learned to love and care for someone who was very difficult to care for. I pray that God will graciously extend that in my life, that I might treat others similarly. I’d very thankful for people like Don and Elenor, mutual friends of ours (and fellow Reformed Baptists) who would see her every few days and help her as much as they could, even being advanced in age themselves. I hope that I can emulate their attitude toward service of others.

The last time I saw her I prayed that God would make her better enough that she could eat and that we could talk together again… or that God would receive her into His kingdom quickly. I’m thankful, for her, that He chose the latter.

Please pray for her family, especially grace for her son, as they consider the life and death of April and that they might come to faith in the same Savior who was her only hope.

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