Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Home Stretch

I got a call yesterday from the funeral home that handled the arrangements for my mother. A pleasant woman called to tell me that the date of my mother’s date was now on the headstone. Having purchased this headstone in 1982, for 18 years it has been waiting for this date.

The many times I have visited my father’s grave I have also stared at my mother’s would be grave. I have looked at that headstone and wondered what date will appear. Now there is a date. Now it is final. It is official. On February 25, 2010, almost one month ago, Elsie Mae Bumbaugh Johannesen Martin joined with my father all those who worship around the throne of God.

Many years ago while still a teenager I had a pastor who is buried not far from my parents at Memorial Cemetery in Columbia MO. I stopped at his grave when we buried my mother. I think I will stop there often as I visit both of my parents.

Brother Parker, my pastor, preached a sermon series that I still remember. He preached from 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.

I never remembered Brother Parker doing sermon series. Maybe he did and I don’t remember but this one has been forever etched in my brain. Each week he would look back at the Heroes of Faith in Hebrews 11. Each week their stories would be shared. These Heroes of Faith, human beings with faults and limitations like mine, rose to greatness in God.

Each week as he began and ended the individual stories, he would remind us that these were those in that cloud of witnesses. I was young and I would picture myself running in a race, getting almost to the finish line – there would be all these bigger than life biblical giants yelling come on Joyce, you can do it!

When I heard that sermon, I had no idea that one day I would see my mother and father in that cloud of witnesses. Or that I would see Brother Parker there. Lately I’ve been looking at pictures from the church of my childhood. I’ve been looking and scanning at the familiar faces, wondering their names – recalling many.
I’ve been thinking about Friday night youth services without the benefit of a youth pastor. Yet somehow, we learned and thrived spiritually. We sang the same hymns as Sunday morning and the same pastor preached the word to us.

I look at those people and I realize most are in that cloud of witnesses with my parents. They are looking down and cheering me on. Their memories fill me with desire to be more faithful. They make me miss church.

I’ve been reading that Calvin, the great theologian, said that the church is our mother. I had a great mother. In fact I had several great mothers, Salem Gospel Tabernacle premier of them all. Sort of the mother of all mothers… but there was also Calvary Tabernacle and First Assembly of God where Brother Parker preached the Word.

That cloud of witness is getting very familiar to me now. New dates are being engraved on headstones of my heroes of faith-Pastor Dahl, Pastor Johnson, Pastor Crandall, Brother Parker – Sunday School teachers like Helen Titland, Fran Larsen, Esther Paulsen, Joyce Paulsen, Gunda Braaten, far too many to name along with the others whose presence still fills my life and reminds me to be faithful. They are cheering me on. I am hearing them. I don’t have much further to go and I will join them.

What a day that will be….

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