On a roof top overlooking the city that will receive Yeshua, under a moonlit Jerusalem sky, cooled by a strong summer breeze, a bereaved family gave whole-hearted praise to God. Through their tears, the Ridings-Moore-Rosenthal-Boyd family declared “Hodu L’Adonai Ki Tov, Ki L’Olam Chasdo – Give thanks to the Lord for He is good and His mercy is everlasting.”
These words, “Hodu L’Adonai Ki Tov – הודו לאדוני כי טוב” were the last words spoken by their 29 year old daughter/wife/sister, Esther. She repeated them to each member of the family at her bedside, even as she was departing to be with her Lord. Over and over, at the memorial held in her honor on August 26, 2018, her family and close friends spoke of the courage, faith, and love shown by Esther in her two and a half year battle with cancer.
What left me unable to hold back tears was the unreserved way this remarkable family lifted their voices to give glory to the Creator/Redeemer/Healer to whom they had doggedly appealed for the rescue of their precious Esther. This was a young woman in the prime of life—a composer/singer of stirring songs, speaking directly of the dark storms of life that threaten to block out the light that yet will shine. Despite their crushing loss—three generations stood on that summer eve lifting their voices and their hands before the Most High, affirming “You’ll never let me down, never let me down. NO, you’ll never let me down.”
I thought to myself, these people are the real thing. Here they are, not pretending to understand why or how their exceedingly lovely young daughter/wife/sister has ended her earthly journey. Nor are they withholding their unspeakable sorrow. Yet they are giving tribute to Messiah Yeshua, whose coming kingdom they are so dedicated to hasten. Not incidentally, the Ridings’ have made this an around the clock pursuit by establishing Succat Hallel (Tabernacle of Praise) in Jerusalem in 1999. It has grown to be a 24/7 center of worship and intercession, with participants drawn from both Israel and the nations.
One could only be moved by the God-glorifying response of Esther’s husband, Will, her sisters, Bethany and Anna, her parents, Rick and Patricia, and all the nieces and nephews (who also sang and spoke movingly). Yet It was also the recounting of who Esther was (we should say “is”) and how she responded to the excruciating trial of watching her body being eaten away. “Esther was a free spirit, always wanting to be out doing things,” reflected Bethany (her big sister by 11 years). “It was so hard to see her hooked up to all those tubes in intensive care for so long. But even there, she still shone with the love of God and the joy of life. She didn’t hide her reaction of anger and grief to the initial shocking news of cancer, or of having a Downs Syndrome baby (Esther left behind her prized four year old son, Calev). She was neither bitter toward God, nor did she stay in self-pity.”
Bethany’s conclusion summed up the message of Esther’s life and of the entire evening. “All we have to take into eternity is our heart. This world is like a womb that we temporarily reside in. We can only hear God’s heartbeat—just as the child within his mother hears and feels her heartbeat.” What a thought—that our current stage is preparing us for a far more brilliant and lasting reality! Big sister continued, carried by a wave of lasting wonder. “Esther is my hero. She showed me, more than anything, LOVE—true love, unconditional love. Esther’s love for God wasn’t dependent on her healing or fulfilled dreams. I just hope I can be like that.”
Then she poured out her heart before us in a song she wrote shortly after Esther’s passing. What gripped me was that, again, it was a cry out of the raging storm of grief and love. “From the womb of time, soon we’ll see clearly.”
Esther’s second sister, Anna, was no less eloquent, no less passionate in describing Esther, no less compelling as she added “This world in its broken state is not what God intends. We have a choice—to dwell on questions or to catch the wind and rise on the winds of praise.” Her song—one of startling, tender witness to Esther’s legacy—spoke of penetrating the earthly, worldly measures of what’s important to get to the ultimate reality of Messiah’s reign.
I am undone by this family. All three girls (including Esther, who sang to us through a gritty, gutsy black and white video “Height of the Storm” are writers of deep songs of devotion, sung hauntingly with humility and whole-hearted authenticity.
This was an evening when we touched eternity. We experienced the gracious presence of God on that rooftop overlooking the city of the King. We felt, together with Esther’s family, the incredible worth of one person who lives life to the full. We wept and we sang. And we listened in amazement, to a true tale of suffering and loss—met with unshaken trust in the goodness of God.