I was nearly asleep last night, when my wife asked me what I knew about the lady who died. She was referring to an email we had both received, but I hadn't opened it yet. I said I didn't know. She read it to me. "Pray for the family of Dawn Black, the music director at Bible Baptist Christian School in Hampton, Georgia. She fell in the shower this morning and was killed." I was stunned, like I'd been punched in the gut. I interrupted my wife: "No! No, no, no! That can't be right!" I was heartbroken. I wept. I had just spoken to Dawn a few days ago. I watched her caring for her toddler son as she moved from room to room, cheering on her students at the GACS fine arts competition. I chatted with her about her family, her choir, her hopes for the competition. I heard the announcement that they won. I listened to them perform under her direction. She was alive, thriving, joyful. And now gone. In paradise, which is far better, but gone from earth.
I grieve for her family—her husband Brian and her four children ages 4 through 11. I ache for them. It's impossible to imagine how their lives changed so drastically, so suddenly, so irreversibly. It's hard to process it. I'm praying for them, for the school, and for the church. I'm confident—I'm certain—that God is always good and wise. Always. I'm grateful for the loving church family the Blacks have to help them bear this burden, and I pray for grace for them as they live with this greatest of all thorns.
I'd like to share an experience I had with Dawn that is still one of the favorite moments of my life. Many knew her better. But I was privileged to witness a spectacular moment, and I'd like you to hear of it.
Dawn and I were in school together at Bob Jones University. More specifically, we were in the BJU Chorale, directed by Dr. Warren Cook. I was a grad student, the Chorale President for the year. I think she was a freshman or sophomore. The Chorale was and is the premier choir on campus...and I'm afraid that we knew it. We boasted a bunch of graduate students with tremendous—huge!—voices. (Myself excluded, genuinely. I was average, but I filled a spot and a robe.) Well, this occasionally smug group witnessed an inspiring, humbling, once-in-a-lifetime moment, all because of Dawn. Dr. Cook was having impromptu auditions for some solos that we would be singing in John Rutter's masterful Requiem. He asked this young, unknown, unassuming girl named Dawn Braun to sing the solo part that day. Sure. Whatever. But it was magical. The room fell silent as she sang. I remember it like it was yesterday. I teared up as I listened to the hauntingly beautiful song, with impossibly high notes, which she performed perfectly. We were involuntarily riveted to her voice. Without warning, the rehearsal became a concert. She sang the entire piece, and we sang our background parts, trying desperately not to break the trance. She finished, and we just sat there, hushed. Overwhelmed. Then spontaneous applause erupted. Voice Graduate Assistants cheered a young, spectacled undergrad with a golden voice. I knew I'd been part of something powerful, the likes of which I'd probably never experience again.
I saw Dawn shortly thereafter. She was working in the dining common, wearing a dining common uniform (complete with a hairnet), with no hint of glamour or sophistication. But her eyes still glowed. I told her that I'd remember that moment for the rest of my life. I thanked her, sincerely. She quietly smiled, I think knowing she'd had an artistic "coming of age," and still wondering at it.
Ironically, the piece she sang was "Pie Jesu" (online here). The translation is stunningly appropriate: In a prayer for one who has died, the choir asks "Pious Lord Jesus, Give them everlasting rest."
As it turns out, she didn't end up singing that solo in the concert. Instead, she sang the solo in the last movement, "Lux Aeterna" (online here). The text is even more perfect: "I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, 'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, for they rest from their labors.'"
Indeed. She rests from her labors, and her deeds follow her (Revelation 14:13).
Rejoice with those who rejoice, for she sings in a heavenly choir, beholding the face of her Savior. And weep with those who weep, for her family has suffered a deep loss, for which nothing but God's grace will be sufficient for them (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
Thank God for grace.
Chris is the pastor of Killian Hill Baptist Church near Atlanta, GA. He was the founding pastor of Tri-County Bible Church in Madison, OH. He writes hymns and devotionals through ChurchWorksMedia.com and preaches at Bible conferences around the United States. He and his wife Lori have four lovely daughters.