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I Can Only Imagine

I Can Only Imagine

Tribute to my dear friend and CUTE sister, Joanne Dukes

When I received the call to come by, I prepared for one of my regular visits with Joanne, but I had no clue what I was about to experience. I opened the door to greet her husband and two daughters. We hugged and they explained the purpose of her request to see me. She was in transition…My legs grew limp, my heart ached and tears flowed from my eyes.

As we cried and clung to each other, thoughts flooded my mind. Why would God allowed this to happen to her? She shared the gospel, served faithfully, and trusted Him. Why Joanne? But then I remembered…God remains sovereign and no matter how bad the situation appears, He is still good. He never asks us to understand His ways. Instead, He only requires us to trust Him…to trust His character. He knows what’s best for us. Our small group fasted and prayed for this cup to pass her. But God said “No.” So we prayed for grace to get her through it.

After composing myself, I walked into the room. Sitting on the floor beside her bed, we gazed into each other’s eyes. I said, “I love you,” several times. You see, as the days progressed, she lost the ability to verbally communicate, but her hearing remained strong. We always told each other, “I love you to eternity.” As I kneeled by her bedside, eyes drenched with tears, those were the last words I whispered in her ear.

I kissed her on her forehead. I wanted so badly to crawl into the bed with her, to bear her pain, to embrace her, to watch her get up just one more time. When she crossed over into eternity, we circled around Joanne and joined hands to pray. The words to this old familiar hymn jumped into my mind:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

For although cancer stole her physical body, it never touched her heart and soul. It was well with my soul, because it was well with hers. Shortly after, the room resounded with weeping and shouts of sorrow. But as we grieved, her daughter Jourdan played one of Joanne’s favorite songs by the group Mercy Me. The room suddenly burst into a time of praise and worship as we sang “I Can Only Imagine.” The title sparked my imagination.

I can only imagine the void in my life if I never met Joanne and her husband, Reggie, 20 years ago while auditioning their eldest daughter Jessy for a program at our church. A life-long beautiful friendship began. My family adopted Jessy and Jourdan, and their family adopted my sons, Branden and Ryan. She loved the Lord and walked under His authority. She loved her husband dearly and adored her two girls. She experienced great joy with the recent birth of her two twin granddaughters.

I can only imagine the sadness of not enjoying a genuine, rare, priceless, and pure friendship. See, it matters whom you allow to influence your life. The Bible talks about the wisdom of having the right relationships. Acquaintances are many; but true friends are few. Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man of many friends comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times.”

For me, Joanne proved to be that type of friend. She invested time in me, corrected me, prayed for and with me, pushed me to grow in my faith, and encouraged me to fulfill my God-given purpose while moving me to be more Christ-like. She loved me with all my faults and challenged me to be and do better.

I can only imagine the difficulties of serving without her. She worked with me in the Children’s Special Events programs, in youth drama, in the church-wide productions as a stage manager, and in the CUTE ministry.

I can only imagine what I would be like if she never walked with me as part of my inner circle. Jesus had His inner circle—Peter, James and John. Joanne was my James. I loved her so much. She always pointed me to the Lord and challenged me toward excellence.

I can only imagine what it would look like if Joanne’s faith and trust in the Lord wavered. But she remained strong throughout her fight with cancer. We looked forward to our weekly Wednesday chats and prayer time, and each Sunday we searched for each other in the sanctuary…her from the balcony seat, and me from down below.

I can only imagine what my taste buds would have missed if I never experienced her cooking. Joanne could throw down in the kitchen! My favorite? Her delicious lemon blossom cakes.

I can only imagine…

Yes, I can only imagine about a lot of things. As I listened to the lyrics of the song, I could only imagine what Heaven would be like for Joanne. But it dawned on me that she no longer needed to imagine. With her last breath, she stood in the presence of our Savior and I can only imagine what she saw and did. Therefore, the lyrics change:

I can only imagine what it was like
When Joanne walked, by His side
I can only imagine what her eyes saw
When His face was before her
I can only imagine
I can only imagine

Surrounded by His glory
What did her heart feel
Did she dance for you Jesus
Or in awe of You be still
Did she stand in your presence
Or to her knees did she fall
Did she sing hallelujah
Was she able to speak at all
I can only imagine
I can only imagine

She doesn’t have to imagine for that day has come
When she found herself standing in the Son
She doesn’t have to imagine when all she will do
Is forever, forever worship You
She doesn’t have to imagine
She doesn’t have to imagine

No, Joanne doesn’t have to imagine anymore. She always wanted to hear “well done,” and there exists no doubt in my mind that she will. Jesus prayed to His Father in John 17:4, “I glorified Thee on the earth having accomplished the work which Thou hast given Me to do…” Joanne glorified the Father on earth having accomplished the work He gave her to do. This represents the mark of true success…coming to the end of your life having fulfilled the will of God. When you and I can say this, we have lived life well.  Joanne lived life well, and like Paul, she can say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”

Yes, I miss my dear CUTE sister and friend so much it hurts. But tears of sorrow turn into tears of joy because she no longer suffers. I am forever thankful for the privilege of knowing her, loving her, walking with her and being with her doing her last days on this side of eternity.
As hard as it was to let her go, I feel so blessed to call her my friend. I didn’t say “goodbye,” for I will see her again. Besides, I will always “love her to eternity.”

I don’t know about you, but this Thanksgiving, and every day, I realize the need to give thanks for my friends. I need to say “I love you” more and live life as if it’s my last day on this side of eternity, because it just may be. And if it is, like Joanne, I won’t have to imagine anymore. Why? Simply…


Because I Am CUTE



Have a Blessed Thanksgiving and Give thanks to Jesus for the gift of true friendship. To all of you who I call my friend, I love you! Thank you for your friendship.


  1. Carla says:

    Not only was I sad to hear of her passing but I missed being at her beautiful service. What I do have is a picture of her when she served with the youth on “giving Saturday”@ Dallas Designing Dreams. I have memories of her and Reggie standing on the bridge at the south side checking to see how I was doing. I will miss seeing her smile and being at Reggie’s side.

    • areyoucute says:

      Carla, there are so many memories of her…that’s what makes it hard and beautiful. We loved working with you on volunteer weekend and she was always by my side. I will miss so much about her, but I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to do life with her. I love you my CUTE sister.

  2. Martha Malone says:

    My Dear Sister Pat, I feel your pain, I did not
    Walk thru Joanne’s last days beside her as you did. But, in my own way, and in my own home I walked with her, Reggie, The girls and The Grandchildren, I prayed and wailed b4 God to bring peace to the family and a smooth transition for Joanne, Thank you for sharing your heart with us. We all, me for sure, Love you and your family.

  3. Nina says:

    My dear Sister, well and thoughtful words. I love you with joy and love for our years of friendship and sisterhood. Love you Pat. We will forever be the best small group and family ever.

  4. R Outen says:

    Prayers to her family.

  5. Jocelyn Pinkard says:

    Pat, thank your for your beautiful piece. I know it was heartfelt. I want to tell you know, that I love you. May God continue to comfort your heart.

  6. Marian Alicia Roberts says:

    Have a blessed Thanksgiving. I love you my cousin, my friend. What a beautiful lesson and story about your friend.

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