The Lady in The Window
A Homily for Jean Absher
When I asked Bill earlier this week if there was anything he wanted to be certain that was said here today, he remarked, “it’s hard, it’s real hard when you have to face it,” and then he said, “you’re never prepared.” I was profoundly moved at how well Bill captured with a few simple words what we have all been experiencing in these last few days. We knew that Jean’s time with us was growing shorter and we did everything we could to let her know how much we loved her and appreciated her. She did everything she could to show us a beauty that has taught us about the power of God to be at work in our lives when we must move from this life into eternal life. Yet, as Bill so rightly said, “it’s hard, it’s real heard when you have to face it; you’re never prepared.” So we gathered here in this place that Jean loved so much to remember the God she served so well who cares for her now in ways that we no longer could so that we may honor the gift that God gave us in her as well as the gift of eternal life which she now lives with her Lord Jesus Christ.
My first memory of Jean Absher goes back to my very first Sunday at Blacksburg United Methodist Church. She and Bill were celebrating a wedding anniversary that weekend, I guess it was their sixty-second anniversary, and I was struck by the mutual love so evident in their relationship as well as the love of their family for them. I would come to have a much deeper respect for that love as it has been my privilege over the years to serve as the pastor of this congregation. In those early years, I have vivid memories of Jean entering the sanctuary from the door that goes out to the lobby. She was always beautifully dressed, but the most beautiful aspect of her appearance was her wonderful smile which literally brought light into the sanctuary. She would use the side aisle to make her way back to her seat and she would stop every few pews to greet friends and share a laugh with them. She made the sanctuary a very loving place to be by the way she loved the people in it. People in this church experienced the love of God at work in this sanctuary because Jean was sharing her love with them. I can remember how folks like Harry and Irene Harris waited with great anticipation to share words with Jean. She would eventually make her way to her seat where Doris and Bob would sit in front of her and Barbara and Archie would sit beside her. When the service was over, Jean always made it a point to give me a hard time. She was the kind of person who could tease you and convey to you how much she loved you at the same time. We’ve spent the last nine years teasing and loving one another. I always looked forward to visiting with Jean because I knew that she was going to do her best to get me with some quip and she often did! Our banter continued at the hospital and after they brought her home from the hospital. She was not about to let her declining strength rob her of her joy for life and the people in her life. I know that she gave this same kind of love to other people and it is why so many of us did all that we could to convey to her in these recent days how much we loved her and appreciated her.
Barbara commented that her mother was not vocal about her faith, but that she lived it. We know that Jean Absher could not have spoken more powerfully about her Christian faith than she did with her beautiful example. She didn’t have to talk about Christian faith because it permeated everything she said and did. Curtis wrote an email while his mother was in the hospital about her pleasant personality. He cited Galatians 5 where Paul lists the fruits of Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. She shared her beautiful smile even when her face was covered with a mask and she gave many “thank you Sweetie,” to the people who were providing her care. This remarkable example in her most challenging days reflected a way of life that Jean had lived all her life. Curtis and Barbara shared how she was raised not to complain, but to see the goodness of life and to celebrate it. It was something she had learned from her own mother and she taught all of us about its power to transform life. In the last few years, Jean had become even more affirming of her appreciation of life as she would declare that something that had been done for her was undoubtedly the best that she had ever experienced. She was always positive and always appreciative. She loved to brag about her caretaker, Mary, Janice, and Lodis and how great they treated her and Bill. I think Mary, Janice, and Lodis would be the first to acknowledge that Jean made them better people. You couldn’t help but be better when you were around Jean because she brought out the best in life with her love for people.
Of course, the people she loved the most and rightly so, was her family. She and Bill shared 71 years in marriage and Jean loved to tell how Mrs. Wall had declared that their marriage would never last at the time that they got married. Bill shared with me that he had said it before, that people that can get along like he and Jean did, that he wouldn’t trade it for anything. Jean took care of Bill in a way that demonstrated how proud she was of him. In an essay that Curtis wrote on his blog entitled “The Lady in the Window,” he recounts how his mother polished Bill’s brogan shoes and made certain that there were well starched creases in his work clothes. Jean wanted to give her husband the best that was possible and she did it with a well-ordered home, with well-cooked meals, and with a love that left no doubt that Bill was the most important person in her life. Even in recent weeks, she would continue to ask Bill if needed something, still doing her best to take care of him. Jean gave this same kind of care to Curtis and Barbara. Barbara said that her mother’s family was her career and those of us who know and love this family know what an outstanding job Jean did with her family. The essay that Curtis wrote is a beautiful testimony to a mother’s love that did the very best she could for her children. It recounts how Jean sewed clothes for them and polished their shoes. She was very proud of her family and she wanted them to look their very best. She took great pride in them and they gave her great joy. Barbara told how a neighbor once commented to Jean after she had dressed after a nap, “Well, Jean, where is she going, to a party?” While Jean dressed in a way that accentuated her God-given beauty, she was often seen wearing an apron. The apron reflected her life of service in keeping her home in perfect shape as well as preparing food that couldn’t be any better. Her grandchildren will long remember her macaroni and cheese and the care packages that she would give them when it was time to go home. Karen, her granddaughter, talked about the barrels of boiled custard Jean made and took to people. She made everyone’s favorite foods and that made everyone know how special they were to Jean. Curtis shared that his mom once told him that her favorite things to do were to clean house and write notes. When asked about that comment sometime later, she wasn’t sure about the cleaning, but she continued to affirm her joy for writing notes which became a source of joy for all of us who received them. I know I kept those notes, which typically had a little quip and an affirmation of love, with notes that my mother wrote to me. Jean was like a mother to me and many others.
I am confident that all of us will remember Jean’s beautiful sense of humor. It was never cutting and it was always loving. Barbara and Curtis shared how their mom would call the church office and ask Janet Tabor to put her name on the list of jobs that Bill was doing at the church. She enjoyed joking with everyone. Jean and Kenneth McCoy loved giving each other a hard time. Jean was comfortable with everyone because she loved everybody. Jean’s sense of humor was a reflection of her enjoyment of life. Karen, her granddaughter, wrote about something all the family will remember. She recounted how Jean used to sing while she swept the floors, did dishes, whatever. She wrote, “I don’t know that she even knew she was doing it and sometimes it was more of a hum.” Curtis and Barbara recalled their mother singing “Oh what a beautiful morning” when she was starting her day. I think Karen is probably right that Jean didn’t know that she was doing it. It was as natural to her as breathing.
It is because Jean was such a remarkable, beautiful, loving person that it’s hard, real hard, to think that she is no longer with us in these life transforming ways. Yet we know that she will always be with us in this way because her example will always challenge us to live with a greater joy and appreciation for life. I am confident that Jean would want us to remember the life she now lives with God. She remained secure in her knowledge of God’s love for her and for us until her last breath. Because Jean was loved so well by so many, it was difficult for me to provide any real pastoral care. But there was one night when Kaye was the only one with her at the hospital when I was finally able to engage Jean in a way that will forever confirm her deep faith and abiding trust in God. I tried to lead Jean into a conversation about how difficult, about how frustrating, about how hard her situation was. She genuinely didn’t see it that way. I explored whether she was depressed or dismayed and she truly wasn’t. She was so grounded in her Christian faith that the approach of death gave her no anxiety whatsoever. She was perfectly at peace. The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, taught us that we are to strive for perfection and he defined that as having the mind in us that was in Christ. It is total and complete trust in God. Wesley didn’t think that most of us experience perfection in this life, but rather he thought that most of us would experience it in the life to come. Nevertheless he held out that it was possible for a few people to experience perfection in this life because he discerned it in a few people under his care. If you ever want to understand this teaching of Methodist theology, you only need to remember the life of Jean Absher. I have no doubt that she had experienced Christian perfection because of the way she lived and the way she died. She has shown us what is possible in Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God for the gift of Jean Absher who was a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. It’s hard, it’s real hard. May we always understand our heartache as a reflection of the precious gift given in Jean Absher and may that always help us to appreciate the precious gift given in Jesus Christ.
Reginald D. Tuck
Blacksburg United Methodist Church
November 19, 2010
Mother loved Reggie and they had an on going conversation about Mom sleeping in church. When Mom was having problems sleeping Reggie offered to bring her CDs of his sermons.
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