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Twenty-five years ago, the Dordt College concert choir loaded up on a bus for our spring break tour. Our first stop didn’t make it on our tour t-shirts.

My long-sleeved tour t-shirt is the only 25 year-old piece of clothing I still own and wear.

Our first stop wasn’t a church or a school, but a farmhouse in Kanawha, Iowa, where we sang for Nate Schreur’s parents. Nate was one of our choir members and his dad, Bob, wouldn’t have been able to travel the 100 miles to Des Moines for our first concert, or the 140 miles to Sioux Center for our homecoming concert. Bob was confined to his bed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. So it was from his bed that he listened to our choir sing, “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide.”

Recently, Nate posted video from that miniature concert on Facebook (and gave me permission to share it here). There we were, 45 bright-eyed college students tucked tightly into the living room and spilling into the hallway. The light filtered softly through the cream-coloured curtains as we sang. We filled the room with our bodies, with our song and then with tears. Nate wrote, “My Mom’s words summed it up nicely, ‘thanks for blessing others with your music, and letting Bob experience a little piece of Heaven!’ Dad got to experience Heaven and all its glory, four years later, Sept. 1, 2001!”

Screenshot of the little concert in Nate’s living room. Nate is on the right in a white t-shirt.

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide. Sometimes the eventide falls so fast. My first husband was one of the choir members that year (scroll down the comment thread of the Facebook post to see a clip from our home tour concert with Layton singing to the left of our conductor’s left arm).

Layton (left of conductor, Dr. Ben Kornelis’s hand)
and Heidi (top row) at twenty years old.

He did not know (we did not know – no one knew!) that the eventide of his life would fall swiftly and suddenly just a few years later with a slip off an icy freeway. He did not know (we did not know – no one knew!) that several choirs would gather at his funeral to fill Church of the Servant (Grand Rapids, Michigan) with that same song we’d sung in Nate’s living room.

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide. This is such an Evening Song. Because my congregation only has services in the mornings, I rarely find a place for it in the flow of the liturgy. But on a Sunday in March of 2020, I decided we just needed to sing it. I preached a sermon about Christ becoming human – and so identifying with us in all of our sufferings that he took for himself the de-humanizing death of crucifixion. And then we sang Abide With Me as the very last song of that worship service. I remember closing my eyes in heartbreaking memory as we lifted our voices a capella, “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide…”

It was the last song we sang together before everything shut down. The eventide fell so fast.

I know there are eventides of our lives that fall more slowly. Lives that linger at death’s door for years. Marriages with rifts that grow so gradually over time, as to be almost gently torn apart. Seemingly inevitable demises that loom on the horizon in a never-ending twilight zone.

But sometimes the eventide falls so fast. In a video vignette, Kate Bowler speaks of these life-altering, fault-line, eventide moments. “When something really bad happens, it’s like it draws a line through your life. And then there’s a before. And then there’s an after.” A diagnosis. An accident. A discovery of infidelity. Sometimes the eventide falls so fast.

And the night stays so long. My mom longed for death. She longed for it. And I longed for it for her because I wanted to want what she wanted. But I remember thinking before she died, and saying after she died, “But Mom, when you die, even if it’s your next big adventure, for us you’re just dead. And you’ll stay dead.” When she died, the eventide fell fast. And the night stays so long.

The eventide of Covid fell fast. And the night has stayed so long! Though there are places and pictures I see where life seems almost back to normal, our family is in our second round of positive tests. I walk around with the pockets of my mind heavy with Plan B’s and anticipatory grief for the celebrations and vacations we might yet lose. The night stays so long.

Though the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has been going on for years, the eventide of the war we now see fell fast on the 24th of February. And the darkness keeps deepening.

So, if the eventide falls fast and the darkness stays so long, how do we live in these long nights? My library has lots of books that answer this question so beautifully (God in the Dark by Luci Shaw, Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor, everything Kate Bowler). But in order that I not turn this blogpost into a research project, here are the simple things that come to mind this morning.

God is with us in the long night. God is with us as darkness deepens, as helpers fail, as comforts flee, as temptations flex their muscles, and as ills and tears weigh heavy in our mind-pockets and heart-pockets. We are not alone in the dark nights of death, of the soul, of grief, of war, of COVID.

As we walk in the dark, the lesser lights guide and brighten. The Moon of a meal dropped at your door. The Stars of a good cry that gets so snotty it ends in laughter. The Aurora Borealis of Ukrainians giving a surrendered Russian soldier a snack and use of their phone to FaceTime his mom. The Lightning of sudden clarity in the midst of suffering. All these, good gifts from the abiding God.

And isn’t it true that even when the eventide falls fast, there are usually competing tides that ebb and flow at the same time? Morningtides of babies born and new relationships. Noontides of blossoming creativity and milestone birthdays. The shores of our lives are lapped by so many tides. What a gift to receive each time. Each tide.

And we do hold hope that one day the Final Morningtide will rise in the twinkling of an eye with pockets full of new mercies. The Final Morningtide will dawn on the new earth, underneath the new heavens. A line will be drawn and there will be a Before. And there will be an After.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes.

Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.

Heaven’s morning breaks and earth’s vain shadows flee.

In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Header Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Text of Abide With Me – Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847)

Heidi S. De Jonge

Heidi S. De Jonge is the pastor of Westside Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Kingston, Ontario. She and her husband, Tim, a CRC chaplain, parent three grade school daughters. Heidi enjoys cake decorating, cycling, and digital scrapbooking.

14 Comments

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Thank you.

  • Jan Hoffman says:

    Thank you, Heidi.

  • Joyce Looman Kiel says:

    Oh Heidi! What a soul felt message. A snotty cry ending with laughter felt here. Loved the heavy pockets and then the pockets full of mercies. Thank you.

    • Heidi De Jonge says:

      The pockets were such an unintentional metaphor in this blog…. but they stick with me, too. You’re welcome… Crying and laughing at the same time = the best!

  • Gloria McCanna says:

    Thank you for shining a light in the darkness.

  • Tony Vis says:

    Thank you for the reminder of this wonderful hymn. It is a hymn of the church that most have abandoned. In a recent sermon I used the words to another hymn, “There is a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the seas.” Pretty sure half the group had never sung it. Such great messages in these old hymns. I could imagine one of our Reformed colleges working up arraignments of just these songs, traveling during spring break, and drawing crowds. Grey, balding, and wrinkled crowds, I suppose, but some of us would at least invite our kids and grandkids. By the way, I was one of the pastors at Meredith Drive Reformed Church in Des Moines when you passed through. Thanks!

    • Heidi De Jonge says:

      “There is a wideness in God’s mercy….” another wonderful hymn! Thanks for the connection, Tony! My dad ended up pastoring Crossroads in West Des Moines several years later. Another connection!

  • Lou Roossien says:

    Thank you. So real, mind and heart-pockets heavy and sometimes spilling over, and in the darkness, the dawn of Hope breaking through…

  • Chris says:

    A beautiful and poignant reminiscence and reflection. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

  • Jane Brown says:

    Thank you -so beautiful and comforting
    Brought memory of singing this growing up in my grandmas church at evening worship ( decades ago)
    Particularly liked
    “As we walk in the dark, the lesser lights guide and brighten. The Moon of a meal dropped at your door. The Stars of a good cry that gets so snotty it ends in laughter. The Aurora Borealis of Ukrainians giving a surrendered Russian soldier a snack and use of their phone to FaceTime his mom. The Lightning of sudden clarity in the midst of suffering. All these, good gifts from the abiding God.“

  • Jack Ridl says:

    There is a courageous warmth in all you write that makes your words transform into an incarnation of comfort.
    Shalom, Heidi

  • Norma Hook says:

    Heidi, this was beautiful. Thankful for your gifts. I shared this with my friend Kay VerBrugge. Bob was her brother in law. And Layton was a good friend of Kay’s son in law, Kevin Groenenboom and Layton played trumpet at Kevin and Kim’ wedding, that I attended.
    Dutch bingo across states and countries.

    If you recall, I am the person with the great grandson that continues to fight Neuroblastoma. Stated at age 3. He is now 7 and receiving antibody treatment. Andrew’s Journey through Neoroblastoma on FB

    • Heidi De Jonge says:

      Wow! What a fun game of Bingo! And yes, I absolutely recall you and your story. I follow Andrew’s journey on Facebook, and have been since you told me about it. Amazing.

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