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My mother never had a job outside our home until she was in her late 60's. Her mission was four children and a husband. She was 65 when my Father died. As became the pattern in the twentieth century, her children were scattered around the country. Her purpose in life now seemed unclear. After a couple difficult years of grieving and loneliness, an amazing thing happened. She found a new purpose, a new vocation. I don't know exactly how it happened. I was one of the scattered children. My mother started to work---for money! Oh, I don't mean JUST for money. But in her late 60's she earned currency for the first time in her life. Some change for this farm girl who had spent nearly 70 years raising her children, and looking after her husband. She began to "baby sit" area children. I'll bet someone approached her to help out, and then they told someone else that she was wonderful with the children, and so on, and so on. Soon her calendar was filled, and folks competed for her time. Children asked if she could be the one to come. Mum sure had a real job.
But that meant being out late some nights. It meant staying at others' homes, sometimes for days, while parents were on business or vacations. You can imagine that her children worried about all of this new activity. She didn't skip a beat. And this blessed vocation went on for twenty years, until she was nearly 90. One day she said, "I think I had better stop. People might think I'm too old, if they really knew my age." But the hedge trimming and leaf raking and, and, and, did not stop. My sister became frantic that she would fall or something. My opinion was, that if she was living her life, and enjoying it, it might be better to die raking, than to live hiding. But to be honest, I worried too.
So where is the Christian message in all of this? Where is the scripture? No scripture today, but I think I have a Christian observation for you.
I knew my mother's heart. The only way she could do what she did, at that age, was because she felt her work was valuable. When she was there, the children were safe. And they were loved. She almost seemed to raise some of them. And years later, she stayed with THEIR children too. At holidays or on her birthday, the child-made cards poured in. Every inch of her kitchen walls was covered by child-made cards. Love returned for love given, I am sure.
I recently read a tribute to Steve Irwin, naturalist, who was killed by the barb of a stingray while deep-sea diving in the ocean. A pastor who admired him said:
"But is his death really all that tragic? I know a lot of people who are so afraid of dying that they end up afraid to live. So afraid of failure that they end up failing to try. It makes you ask the question, what's worse? Living an unlived life, or dying a lived one? We know what Irwin's answer would have been."
My mother knew who she was. She knew she was a loved child of God. Her steps were taken trusting God. And she knew her final step would be taken trusting God, too. With that kind of faith, and confidence in death, she was free to live! Free to risk. Free to love. I remember as a little boy sitting next to her, not so quietly, in the pew. The one hymn that I can hear her sing, like it was yesterday, is also the theme of all of my spiritual messages:
"Love, that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee.
I give Thee back the life I owe---
that in thine ocean depth its flow may richer fuller be"
My mother gave her 94 years to the loving, sustaining, hands of God. And she trusted Him with her eternity in death. In God's ocean depth her life became richer and fuller indeed! In her living, and in her dying, she never seemed to fear for herself. She seemed free to live her life and death boldly, because she knew Who she was, and Whose she was.
Loving Father, give us the faith we need to rise up and live our lives without fear, whether we have ten minutes, or forty years. We pray this in the Name of the One who allows us to live without fear, your Son Jesus, Amen