They prepare you many things in seminary, but one thing they cannot teach you is how to preach the funeral of someone like Paula Horn. Because there never has been, and there never will be, another like her. There are no words, stories, or songs that would do justice to bringing the honor that is deserved for the life lived by Paula Horn.
If I can be honest, I’ve asked the Lord many times, “Why Lord? God, of all people, why Paula? Why her?”
As one of her dear friends told me the other night, “In all the years I knew Paula, I never once heard her speak a negative word about anyone.”
So why her? She had so much life left to live. So many more people to bless. So many more lives to touch. So many more funny stories to tell. So many more hugs to give. So many more kids to make smile.
If you are wondering how the Lord could take someone like Paula, you need to know it’s okay to ask questions. All throughout the Psalms in the Scriptures, for example, we see the biblical writers pleading, “Why, oh Lord?” “How long, Oh God?” “God, have you forgotten about us?” “God, do you not hear our cries and prayers?”
It’s okay to ask questions, and it’s okay to be honest with God. If you can’t be honest with God, then who can you be honest with? But know, that while we may not understand everything in this life, sometimes God chooses to answer our prayers for healing in an even greater way than we had asked.
Because while we merely ask for healing in this life, sometimes God chooses to give the ultimate healing, and that kind of healing doesn’t happen in this life, but it happens in the life to come. And hundreds, if not thousands, of people have been praying for Paula since October of 2014. Those prayers have been answered, because Paula Horn has been healed of cancer, and she bears those tumors and those burns and that pain no more.
Here’s the thing about Paula: there’s not really a whole lot I need to say, because Paula Horn preached her own funeral over the past 65 years.
You meet a lot of people in life. Some of them are mere acquaintances; some of them become friends; some of them even become really close to you, but every blue moon, maybe one of out of a 1,000 people you meet, you encounter the rare person – and it’s almost as if they glow. And their life, and who they are, it touches you, and it impacts you to the very core of your inner being. These people are so rare, and there’s something so fundamentally different about them – but to be around them, it just makes the deepest part of your soul, smile.
And this is what it was like to know Paula Horn. She was a rare gem – a specially wrapped gift from God, to all of us.
To know Paula, was to love her. And if someone didn’t like Paula Horn, the problem wasn’t with her; it was with them.
Paula Horn loved everyone. She loved her dear family. She loved her friends. She loved her church. She loved kids.
Children’s ministry exists at Pleasant Valley Community Church because of Paula Horn. She loved those kids, and those kids loved her. For years, she taught in what was called the “Bible Zone” every Sunday. She prepared the lessons; she came to the church during the week and prepared all the materials every Sunday. She paid out of her own pocket for all the kids to have snacks each week (and not little cheap snacks, NICE snacks:) Paula’s snacks are the reason half the families in our church ended up staying, because the kids wouldn’t let their parents even consider going to another church.
Years and years ago, Paula started a personal ministry so that every single child that attended our church, on their birthday, would get a personal package from the local florist (candy, a stuffed animal, balloons). Even if that child had only attended our church one time, if we got their name and information one time, they got on Paula’s list and they stayed on that list. On their birthday, hundreds of kids every single year (thousands over the past decade plus) get this package delivered to their front door, and on the note, it says, “Happy Birthday from Pleasant Valley Community Church.”
It should have said, “From Paula Horn,” because Paula is the one that paid for every single one of them until this very day, but nobody ever knew it – because she didn’t want any of the glory or praise. She wanted all the glory to go to God. For many of these kids, their families didn’t have much, and this may be one of the only gifts they get for their birthday. More kids are smiling in Owensboro today because of Paula Horn.
Finally, I want to share the impact that Paula Horn has had on my life. I was supposed to be her pastor, but I’m persuaded that she had a far greater impact on my life, than I could have had on hers.
I’ll never forget the first time I met Paula Horn. It was in the early Spring of 2006. I was a seminary student in Louisville, and drove down with a leader from the Kentucky Baptist Convention to meet with a few of the leaders from at that time, what was New Focus Community Church. I was not even in the picture to be the pastor at this point; I was just being mentored by the man who was consulting with the leaders at New Focus on their next steps as a church, and so I was just along for the ride. But we met over in a little trailer on Veach Road in the parking lot of the old church building.
There were about five representatives from New Focus Community Church in that meeting, and one of them was Paula. And that first night I met Paula – her smile, and the joy in her heart, literally, lit up that little trailer. I didn’t know this woman from Adam, and spent less than two hours in a meeting with her, but I knew that there was something special about her.
The church at that time, had just about decided to close the doors, and they had called this consultant from the Kentucky Baptist Convention as a last ditch effort to know what they should do. On our drive back to Louisville, the consultant asked me, “So, what do you think? Does that church have a chance to survive?”
And I remember it was though it was yesterday. I said, “Yes. They will, and that church has a very bright future.” He said, “Why do you think that?” And I said, “Because of Paula Horn.” Those were my exact words as a 23 year old.
I had known her for less than two hours, but never in my life had I seen a woman with such faith as she had. Her faith in God, her love for Jesus, her love for people, and her love for her community and church – it literally oozed out of her soul. It was contagious.
From a human perspective, the church had little hope of survival, but Paula Horn was convinced with all of her heart that God was not done with that church, and that He had plans and it was going to grow, and it was going to be something special.
After that night, I went back to Louisville. I went back to school. I continued at the job I had, and didn’t think much more about Paula and New Focus Community Church. About eight months later, out of the blue, I was walking to the library one day and I got a phone call. And on the other end was the most joyful and jubilant voice, and the voice said, “Is this Bro. Jamus?” I said, “Yes mam, who is this?” She said, “You may not remember me, but this is Paula Horn from New Focus Community Church in Owensboro.”
I said, “Yes mam, I remember you very well!”
A few days later, Annie and I drove to Owensboro for an interview. Before the interview, I took Annie to the Moonlite Buffet, and then we drove over to that old warehouse on 800 Pleasant Valley Road. And as we walked toward the side door of that building, we were as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
But standing there at the door to greet us, was none other, than Paula Horn (sweat pants and a t-shirt). It was the second time she’d met me, and the first time she’d ever met my wife. And Paula smiled like only she could smile, and she reached out and gave us the biggest hug, and at that very moment before we even made it in the building, Annie and I looked at each other, and we knew, we had found our new home. It wasn’t the building; it wasn’t the church; it wasn’t even the banana pudding at Moonlite BBQ; it was God’s grace and God’s love in Paula Horn that let us know this is where we were supposed to be.
Humanly speaking, the reason my wife and I are in Owensboro, Kentucky today is because of Paula Horn.
But more than that, humanly speaking, the reason Pleasant Valley Community Church exist, is because of Paula Horn.
So yes, we weep. But we do not weep as though who have no hope (1 Thess. 4). Because on Tuesday morning, for the first time, Paula Horn saw the face of Jesus Christ.
There was a peace over that deathbed at the Heartford House on Old Hartford Road, because the family knew that when Paula passed away it wasn’t “goodbye,” it was only, “See you soon.”
We weep for losing such a dear woman, but at the same time, we rejoice, because as the Apostle Paul said, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Paula has gained; she has gained everlasting life. She has gained eternal, unshakable, glory that no cancer can hinder or touch.
While we are here weeping, Paula is in the presence of her Lord. No because she lived a perfect life, went to church, and loved family (although she did all of these things). But the reason Paula is in heaven is because as a young woman, she saw the beauty of Jesus Christ and that Jesus Christ was her only hope to save her from her sin, and so she believed and she gave her life to Jesus.
This is why when Paula passed away a few days ago, she didn’t die primarily a weak woman or a sick woman, but she died a saved woman being held in the all-powerful right hand of Jesus Christ. We can rest assure that nothing – that no sickness, no disease, no cancer could separate her from the love of God in Jesus Christ.
There’s a seat in the back, middle row of Pleasant Valley Community Church that we will never be able to fill. Pleasant Valley Community Church will never be the same. But someday, for those of us who are in Christ, we will see Paula again. What a reunion it will be.