A Tribute to Jenae Tilley, An AWANA Cubbie
(This is the message I preached in honor of Jenae Tilley who went to be with Jesus on Thursday, November 3, 2016. I share it to honor her and make much of her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.)
“We are AWANA Cubbies, we’re happy all day long. We know that Jesus loves us, that’s why we sing our song. We hop because we’re happy and we jump and shout for joy! Jesus is a friend to us, He loves each girl and boy.”
Jenae Tilley, the AWANA Cubbies leader for Eagle Heights Baptist Church, would have sang the aforementioned song an untold number of times over the years since she first began battling the cancer that ultimately took her earthly life. She would have sang it week after week to children who were ages three to five years. She would have sang it to children like my four-year-old daughter, who taught it to me.
Let me break this song down because I believe it embodies Jenae’s winsome and difference-making life.
“We are AWANA Cubbies” AWANA means: Approved Workman Are Not Ashamed and is taken from 2 Timothy 2:15: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” Jenae was a 2 Timothy 2:15 Cubbie.
“We’re happy (joyful) all day long.” Again, she would have sang this over and over through good days and bad in her fight against cancer. Can there be any doubt that she meant it when she sang it? When I would see her, all I ever saw was joyful optimism. According to her family, she would say: “Don’t feel sorry for me. Don’t give up on me. God is not done with me and He is going to use my to make others believe in Jesus.” Jenae was joyful in the Christ who could use cancer for good. She trusted in the Jesus that made her hop and jump and shout for joy.
Her spirit was compelling and attractive and motivating. She was, and is, inspiring. She was the kind of person who could make you want to live and die well.
But how? How could she be so joyful and optimistic with so much life in front of her? She had a trip to Hawaii planned. She had a daughter who had not yet graduated from high school. She had another daughter who is to be married in July. She had her first grandchild on the way. How could she be so optimistic and joyful through the ups and downs of fighting a relentless disease?
The answer is in the song. “We are AWANA Cubbies, we are joyful all day long. We know that Jesus loves us, that’s why we sing our song.” There it is. There is the answer. She sang the song because she knew that Jesus loved her and does love her. Let’s keep going. “We hop because we are happy (joyful) and we jump and shout for joy. Jesus is a friend to us, He loves each girl and boy.” There it is again. She had joy in trial because Jesus is a friend who loves.
Some may wonder how a God who loves could allow a disease to take the life of someone who was loved so much. If ever you wonder whether the LORD God loves people, all you have to do is remember that God sent His only son to be ravaged by sin and death on the cross, that whoever believes in Him, would live forever, even if he or she dies (John 3:16 and 11:25-26). Jenae knew the love of Jesus. Jenae knew that Jesus was, and is, her friend.
Jenae’s favorite verse was Philippians 4:13. You know it. It’s on the Christian list of most-oft quoted verses. It also frequents t-shirts, mugs and wall decor. “I can do all things through Him (Christ) who strengthens me.” But here is the secret to this passage; Paul is writing in the midst of trial. Most people won’t mention it because they probably don’t know it. Paul is in prison. Four times in chapter one, he reminds the Philippians he is in prison for the gospel of Christ, and if you read the verses (4:10-13) around verse 13, you hear Paul talking about contentment in the face of trial.
But not only can he be content in all circumstances, but he can be joyful in trial too. Paul is writing this letter from prison, but over and over again he talks about joy and rejoicing and gladness – like Jenae did when she sang the Cubbies song. In Philippians 4:4, Paul commands rejoicing. In 2:17-18, he speaks of being offered up like a sacrifice for the Philippians – sacrifices get hurt – and yet he says that he rejoices and urges them to do the same.
What on earth was wrong with this guy? Did he like pain and suffering?
What was wrong with Paul is the same thing that was right with Jenae. Despite her battle and affliction and trial, she had unwavering hope in Christ because she knew Christ loved her with his life and death.
What would Jenae say having now been in the presence of the one who made her sing, hop and jump for joy with little children every Wednesday Night? What would she say to us, having seen face to face the one who died for her sins and rose again, overcoming sin and death?
Jenae would say what she was already saying: “Don’t feel sorry for me. To live is Christ, but to die is gain and to be with Christ is very much better (Phil. 1:18-23). So join me! Turn from your sin and your own way. Turn to Christ and God’s way and trust the one who died for you and rose again, overcoming sin and cancer and death.”
Jenae’s life pleads with us to this day, to follow her example and know the love and friendship of Christ.
Jenae is in her lasting home with Jesus, which is far better. Won’t you trust in Christ so that you can know this Cubbie, Philippians joy, that Jenae knew and sang about? Wont’ you join her?