Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Salute to a Sufferer

"Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm does bind the restless wave,
Who bids the might ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
O hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea."
              --Navy Hymn

Years ago Hazel asked me to speak at her funeral. And I come today to try to keep that promise. And I’ve wondered what I might say on this special occasion when we have come to honor a very great lady. And I remembered a book I read years ago called, Crossing to Safety by the Western writer, Wallace Stegner.

The book begins with an old couple married for over 50 years. They had traveled a long way first by plane and then a long drive by car to get to the summer cottage they had stayed in every summer with their friends. The book opens the first morning after they  arrive. The husband gets up early and makes the coffee. She sleeps late and when she does stir he comes and brings her coffee. He helps her put the braces on her legs and finds her crutches .She had been left crippled by polio years before. He helps her to the bathroom and leaves her until she is finished. With a tap-tap on the door he goes and helps her out of the bathroom. Puts her crutches down, takes the braces off her legs and slowly helps her put on her clothes. Then he helps her put the braces back on and hands her the crutches.  He helps her up and they slowly make their way down the steps.  He holds her arm so she won’t fall again. She had already broken an arm and a hip. Hand in hand they move down the walk to eat brunch with their friends. No wonder the writer calls his book, Crossing to Safety. He says that none of us move across the swirling waters to safety without somebody helping us. We can’t do it alone.

I couldn’t help but think about this story when dear Hazel left us Friday afternoon—surrounded by her family. On Friday they told her that they loved her. They kissed her. They prayed together and then they sang: “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound...” And not long after that she quietly she slipped away into the mystery.

She crossed to safety—across the swirling waters of so much pain and difficulty. And yet she made it, not alone. We can’t do it alone. She made it because of Butch—our hero that has given much of his life to help the woman he loved across the dark water. They were married for 56 years. 40 years of that time she was suffering from arthritis that got worse and worse. Somebody asked him one day: “How do you stand it? Why didn’t you leave her?” And Butch said, “I kept remembering those little words I said at the altar: ‘In sickness and in health...for better or for worse...’”He held on to those promises and they helped each other across the wide, wide river.

But there were others that helped her cross to safety. Renee and Jimmy and her grandchildren, Abby and Caroline and Bailey. And friends helped—she had so many friends. And Church helped—she loved this church with all her heart. And God, of course helped. She hung on to her faith and some days it surely must have been hard. 60 surgeries. All that pain. And yet she still believed. These—and many other graces got her to the other side.

And so we thank God today for many things. God’s faithfulness. The Holy Scriptures she read over and over in that worn-out Bible. We thank God for all those 20 years she taught at Daniel High School and Edwards Middle School. How many students did she help across the waters? She was an inspiration to all of us that knew her. And Butch too. And so first we offer a doxology for her special, special life.

 But there’s more. We can’t stop there. For in this place that she loved...under the shadow of this cross—we would remind the family here: Butch, Renee and Jimmy and all this family that the cross-beam comes all the way down to where you are. And the promises that Hazel found through her long journey she would want you to find too. “God is a refuge and strength in time of trouble...therefore we will not fear.” “In the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.” “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God.” “Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death—I will be with you...” “I will not leave you comfortless...I will come to you...” “Let not your heart be troubled...” And then most of all we would remind this family:

 “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: ‘See, the home of God among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things has passed away.’”

One more word. Hazel would remind all of us that have gathered to surround her loved ones to remember that cross-beam of God’s love comes down to all of us. And we, too who will one day cross the swirling waters—need to reach out to one another and help each other along the way. All the way through the Bible there is this word that comes like a tom-tom beat to all of us: “Do not be afraid...Do not be afraid...” And this is what we come back to today. We are not alone—Hazel, her family or any of us. And we thank God from beginning to end for those wonderful twin angels that carried her along—and us too. We know their names, don't we? “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives.” Praise God from whom all blessings flow.  

In loving memory of Hazel Trent 1933-2013

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