Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Great Cloud of Witnesses

Hebrews 12

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the saints who have gone to heaven from our church. I think of them as I drive around town and pass the houses where they used to live. They were all "prayer warriors" and our church and our personal lives were diminished when they went home to be with the Lord. I miss them all.

Mrs. Stinnette lived in this house by the railroad tracks with her husband, a former pastor of our church, until he died quite a few years before she did. She always called him "Mr. Stinnette." They moved back here after retirement, as many of the former pastors have done (including my parents). I don't know of anyone who called her by her first name, Faye. She was a forever Sunday school teacher - I remember the day Kristen went from the nursery to her class at age 3. She was the one who kept track of the "Cradle Roll" babies for many years - she went on countless visits to new mothers in town, inviting them to be a part of our church with their new babies. She was eminently interested in missions, partly because her daughter and son-in-law were the first missionaries of our denomination in Columbia, before his way too early death.

One of my favorite memories of Mrs. Stinnette was when her eyesight became too bad in her 80s to continue driving. My experience is that most of our elderly loved ones fight this change in their lives with great resistance. When she failed the driving test because of her eyes, she drove her car home (not quite sure how that was allowed), put it in her garage, and never looked back. Her biggest concern was how she was going to continue to "take care of the old lady" she had been employed by for a very long time.

Heaven was richer the day Faye Stinnette entered those gates.

Joe and Maizie Anstett lived in the above house for many years - Joe was extremely proud of his yard and garden and I think he would be very sad to see what has become of it since he died and Maizie had to go to assisted living until her death at age 102 last year. Joe and Maizie had been married for 75 years before he went home to Jesus. She missed him greatly, but continued to be a cheerful, sharp minded, delightful, talkative lady, fun to visit. Her little tiny suite was filled to overflowing with pictures of her large, loving family and mementos of all sorts that they had brought to her. I loved visiting them when they both lived in that small area, after they had to leave their home. Joe was such a sweet man - he always asked about our kids and was genuinely interested. Joe would try to tell a story, but never got very many words in before Maizie would chime in and correct him. He was the most patient, loving man - and they made a delightful couple, testament to great love and endurance.

Across the road from Joe and Maizie's place is this house, occupied for many years by Floyd and Violet Hicks. Floyd was a godly man, but very very quiet. Violet, or Grandma Hicks as everyone called her, was a bright spot in our congregation. She had been around forever - she and Faye Stinnette used to spend many days each week visiting folks who they wanted to see come to church. She had a very large family and loved to cook for them on Sundays - inviting others to join them - what was one or two or three more?

Violet lived up to her name in a very concrete way - everyone who came to our church got a visit from her with an African violet - new babies were welcomed the same way, with a plant for the mothers. I remember mine well, and it lasted for many years. I wish I still had it.

I can still envision her sitting in the third pew, organ side of the church. Whenever the congregation was asked to choose a favorite song to sing on a Sunday night, she would, without fail, choose "Living by Faith." And she did. I know she and Maizie and Sister Stinnette are up there in heaven having a grand time.

I had to make a special trip to photograph the house above, because it's not in my usual route around town. But I couldn't leave out Alice Campbell - a tiny little woman who had once been a missionary to China. She always sat in the second row on the organ side and her presence was known - she always asked for the chance to give her testimony of what God was doing for her in her life. I treasured her prayers and counted on them. In fact, if it weren't for her, I'm not sure I would have married DC - she told me one day that she had assurance from God that it was okay to marry him. I always thought she had a hot line to God! She had not had that same sense about my previous boyfriend!

When Sister Campbell was unable to live by herself any longer, she graciously went to the nursing home. She continued her ministry there, delivering mail and cheering the other residents every day. What a blessing she was.

Then there were Gladys and Esther, two wonderful maiden ladies who made a home together. What delightful ladies they were. Esther was a Latin teacher in her career days. She was shy, lovely, and I always wondered why she never married. She was generous and sweet, and I knew she was praying for me. Gladys was a nurse and did not retire until she was past the prescribed age. After she retired from "working", she became the nursery attendant and loved on our kids for quite a few years. Oh, how they loved "Grandma Gladys." I actually concocted that name because I didn't want my kids to call her Gladys and Miss Ehlers was way too formal for her. Grandma Gladys she was to everyone, and still is when she's remembered. I miss her still. When Gladys died, our pastor at the time was brand new. He honored her at her service with the most amazing insights he gained by looking through her Bible.

Last but certainly not least - Ray and Ethelyn lived in this apartment complex the last years of their lives. Ray and his first wife came to our church when their little church closed down. It wasn't long before his wife became ill and died. It became amusing to watch, as the time went by, the elderly unmarried ladies giving him the eye. He was quite refined and handsome, and very very nice. The one who won his eye was Ethelyn. She had spent her youth raising her younger siblings, then married at a much later age than the norm. Her husband was much older, and not in good health. I'm not sure how long they were married before he died, but I know it was not an easy life for her. She had never had the chance to just really love life - until she and Ray were married. What fun it was to watch her glow with love for Ray. Talk about another prayer warrior.

I have been blessed to have known all of these saints who have gone on before us. I love to think that they are keeping tabs on us down here. I don't know if that's possible or not, never will in this life. But I know that their lives have left a profound legacy to us in our church. They left some very large shoes to fill.


HOOTIN' ANNI said...

You, my dear Dawn, are a SAINT yourself you know. That goes without saying tho. I enjoyed your tour around the town. The name Stinnett reminds me of Colorado...there were a lot with that surname. In fact, I think I went to school with one. Hmmmmm, I'm gonna have to get my school albums out now and check and see.

PS...thanks so much for the birthday wishes and your visiting with me yesterday!!!

Susan said...

What wonderful tributes to those whos lives have been truly in service and prayer for His kingdom.

grammy said...

what a wonderful tribute to prayer warriors in your life.
seems like your church could make a copy of these for people that know them.
very sweet of you to think of them that way (o:

grammy said...

How funny...I just read Susan's comment and she started the exact same way I

nancygrayce said...

I'm not sure I know where all their houses are, but I have known many such women in my life. Especially having lived in the same town all my life. Those prayer warriors are sorely missed! What a nice tribute!

Tiffany said...

Oh what treasures you have known! We have a few of those saints at our church as well - I treasure their depth of wisdom.

Sammy said...

This is such a creative idea--to describe such dear people with photos of their homes! I loved reading about all these people but my absolute favorites are Gladys and Esther. I love the idea of two women supporting each other like that and becoming family. What a wonderful thing.

I say it all the time, but I sure do love your writing!

Maine Mom said...

You have had many great influences in your life and congregation! It's good to hear about great people. :-)

jmckemie said...

Precious memories for sure. Brought to mind the dear saints that I remember from my childhood and youth. Without fail I can close my eyes and see them sitting in their appointed spots...hear their prayers and testimonies, see the joy in their lined faces. I long to see the jewels in their crowns when I see them again some day!

PEA said...

Such a beautiful and heartfelt tribute to those who have left such a deep imprint in your life. I have no doubt that they are all looking down at the congregation and making sure that you all continue the work that they were doing:-) It's always so sad, though, isn't it, when you pass by a house that used to belong to someone you knew so well but that are now gone. There was this one couple, Bunny (his real name was Vernon but he always had the nickname Bunny) and Marion who I always called my "second parents" and after they died two years of each other, I can never drive by their house without remembering them and the wonderful memories they left behind. It makes me wish they were still there!! xoxo

Glenda said...

Dawn, I so enjoyed this beautiful tribute to these precious people! Theirs was a special generation of strong, committed Christians. I think of many in our church who have impacted my life greatly, and for them I am thankful. We have big shoes to fill, don't we?

Midlife Mom said...

Wow! Can I relate to this post! When I think of all the prayer warriors that have gone on before us it makes me sad for me but happy for them. One dear elderly man in our church used to pray for everyone in the church! He had it set up in lists and prayed for a different list of people each day. I think sometimes we have become too busy with our lives in this day and age to do that and it is too bad. The way the world is we all should be praying!!

So glad that A. has an appointment with Mike! Keep me posted!!

Robin said...

What a sweet love journey. The longer we have been here in our church - the more saints leave and it is so hard to say goodbye.
What a beautiful way of remembering yours!

jmckemie said...

Reminds me of the lyrics to a song (Steve reGen, I think?) that I used sing on occasion in church. When I took over the position of children's director, this song became especially meaningful to me. So often I would leave after services and wonder if I had gotten through to any of them at all or had I just spent time corraling them. Such an inspiration to be reminded that there are those who have gone before us, lying the foundations and paving the way - faithful, praying saints of God.

We're pilgrims on the journey
Of the narrow road
And those who've gone before us line the way
Cheering on the faithful, encouraging the weary
Their lives a stirring testament to God's sustaining grace

Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses
Let us run the race not only for the prize
But as those who've gone before us
Let us leave to those behind us
The heritage of faithfulness passed on through godly lives

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful

After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone
And our children sift through all we've left behind
May the clues that they discover and the memories they uncover
Become the light that leads them to the road we each must find

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful

Needled Mom said...

It was fun to meet all of the saints that have touched your life in such special ways. This was a really interesting post, Dawn.

Just Call Me Grammy said...

Love this beautiful post. Lately I have been really missing a dear prayer warrior friend from my church who passed away a couple of years ago. I often think of her looking down on us and cheering us on. Thanks for sharing your special tribute.