This past week I attended the funerals of two women who were very dear to me. They happened within 24 hours of each other (the funerals, not the deaths); the first on Thursday night, the second Friday morning. The memorials were officiated by the same minister and were at the same location; Pastor Tom of Salem Peoples Church, which is my old stomping grounds. It well illustrates the particular challenge of the life of a parish pastor. And the first of these was a particular challenge.
Both of these events were for faithful Jesus following ladies, so there were definite notes (and full songs) of hope. Both ended with joyful singing, long embraces, and, of course, food in the fellowship hall (but sadly no potato salad). Both had many tears but were also full of laughter. And both were equally inspiring, because both of these women were true heroines.
The first was a much younger woman, Sheila, who passed just shy of her 50thbirthday. She left behind three boys, all handsome young men ranging from ages 18 to 23. And a handsome husband, Dan, of 29 years. I well remember their wedding day, as it was the first officiated ceremony of a green, wet behind the ears, minister. Me. They trusted me with the most important earthly knot of their lives. And, happily, the knot held until, sadly, death did them part. And, tragically, Sheila joined the over 800,000, and counting, Covid-19 deaths in the United States. Like me, she had the underlying condition of asthma, and during the holidays a lethal dose of the virus hit fast and hard. And suddenly a mom, wife, sister, niece, aunt and daughter went home too soon. Muchtoo soon.
The second funeral was a bit easier for all of us (many of us were at both), though she was also a mother of three. The young woman we were celebrating, Patsy, was a bit less young than Sheila (2 weeks shy of her 90th birthday). But her husband, Jim, still believed her much too young to “go,” as the Scriptures describe, “the way of her fathers.” But what an amazing 90 years (we’ll spot her the couple weeks) she lived! Truly. She was a farmer’s daughter from Oklahoma whose family relocated to Newport, Oregon, for her dad’s health reasons. While there, she met the love of her life on the beach, and he asked if he could take her to the movies or roller skating. Scandalous! But she told him the only place he could take her was to church. So he did, and after committing his life to Jesus they later became pastors in Newport before heading to Africa to “spend their life.” Two daughters and a son joined mom in dad in Nigeria in the heat of a civil war. After many years there, and after Jim successfully fought off Malaria several times, the doctor said they needed to go to a higher climate, as the next episode of Malaria might well be his last. So it was on to the mountains of Ethiopia, where they served until the health of Patsy required them to return to Oregon. In total, they served the people of Africa for over four decades and left a legacy we all could dream of. If Patsy’s funeral had been located in either African nation, it would have been a packed to overflowing house, full of lives they impacted. They were heroes of the first degree, and while the death of Patsy went relatively unnoticed in our world, the heavenly reception no doubt was deafening!
But so, too, was the homegoing of Sheila. While her greatest joy was each of her boys, she had another most significant legacy. You see, Sheila was a Pre-School teacher for 13 years, and worked with kindergarten boys at church, along with Dan, for nearly a decade. That’s a lot of kids! And there were a lot of kids at her service, a nearly packed house in the large sanctuary. Many of those kids sat behind and in front of me in the balcony. I know this because Pastor Tom had all of the kids Sheila had taught, and all of the parents of any of those kids, stand. He had Sheila’s boys stand and turn to see the incredible impact of this otherwise soft-spoken mother and wife. To say that Sheila was a hero to those kids and families is not an overstatement, and to say that her impact will be eternal is no exaggeration.
Heroes and heroines come in all shapes, sizes, colors, ages and vocations. The faith community I’ve been a part of for over three decades celebrates the missionary heroes, and with good reason. Their sacrifice is at times almost unbelievable, as we heard at Patsy’s memorial. But though the overall sacrifice might have been less for Sheila, she still served with great sacrifice, and distinction, as shown by the school’s attendees and the abundance of tissues. You see, you don’t have to be an African missionary to receive a heavenly hero’s welcome. None of us are fully aware of the impact that our small acts of service and kindness, love and faithfulness, sacrifice and even death, will make in eternity. But there is one who does, and HE is the one who strikes up the band and releases the golden ticker tape. You can almost hear the eternal roar if you stop and listen. It’s even likely that the same parade was scheduled for bothPatsy and Sheila, as they came down those translucent streets of gold for the first time, at last joining those “fathers” (and mothers) who had gone before them. I see them walking hand in hand…
And, perhaps, you and I will be equally surprised at the reception that Jesus has planned for us, celebrating our small acts of service, kindness, love, faithfulness, sacrifice and even death, whether it be way too soon or not. So let’s live today with an eye on that day, and whether at home or abroad, seemingly significant or not, known to you and others or only to HIM…let’s live a lot like Patsy and Sheila.