From the Pastor's Desk - February 2019
“Her children rise up and call her blessed…” (Proverbs 31:28). These words filled my heart and mind last month as my 96-year-old mom peacefully fell asleep in Jesus on Sunday afternoon, January 20. All of her ninety-six years were spent in or around my little home town in Iowa. This is where she was born, and this is where she died. That is pretty amazing in and of itself in this age of mobility where people move frequently. She was the youngest of twelve children, and the last surviving member of her family.
Mom embodied a graceful simplicity and love of life. Her needs were really very simple; she didn’t need anything fancy to be happy. Just to be outside in God’s good creation, or working in the garden, or walking all over town as she did. Always a smile and a friendly hello from Ruth Ann, but underneath that was a steely determination and a phrase of hers: “You gotta be tough as nails to make it in life.” How right she was and how right she is! Way back in high school, I was involved in Speech - kind of appropriate for a future pastor to learn about public speaking. One thing we did was readings from Spoon River Anthology, written by Edgar Lee Masters in 1915. This is a collection of over 200 free verse epitaphs taken from the cemetery in Spoon River, Illinois. Among these epitaphs is that of Lucinda Matlock:
I spun, I wove, I kept the house, I nursed the sick, I made the garden, and for holiday
Rambled over the fields where sang the larks,
And by Spoon River gathering many a shell
And many a medicinal weed –
Shouting to the wooded hills, singing to the green valleys.
At ninety-six I had lived enough, that is all,
And passed to a sweet repose.
What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness,
Anger, discontent and drooping hopes?
Degenerate sons and daughters,
Life is too strong for you –
It takes life to love Life.
That, I believe, sums up my Mom. We always knew she loved life and that she was tough, but we didn’t realize just how tough she was until the end of her life. She defied all expectations by hanging in there, due in large part, we are convinced, by how active she remained until shortly before her passing. Before she entered the local care center, Mom waged an ongoing war on dirt; it never stood a chance with her housecleaning regimen. And then, after entering the care center, Mom continued to remain active. She hopped on that exercise bike several times a day, and during the summer you could find her sitting outside in the sunshine there by the front door. Despite being out in the summer sun for most of her life, Mom never developed skin cancer. Go figure!
At different times before her final illness and passing, Mom told my siblings and me: “Don’t cry or be sad when I go. I’m going to heaven!” She possessed a confident faith and trust that we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus. Mom passed on to all of us the legacy of a living faith and trust in Jesus, and it is our turn now to pass this on to the next generation. An image that is firmly planted in my mind as a child is coming downstairs in the morning and seeing Mom sitting at the desk in the dining room, reading her Bible and her Portals of Prayer devotions. That is an example to follow, seeking the face of the Lord each day. It goes without saying that there is a sense of grief and loss; there are tears. We are only human, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Through the tears and sorrow, we sing of Easter joy. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In Jesus our risen, reigning, and returning Savior, every morning is Easter morning, even in January in Iowa.