All Is Not Lost
ALL IS NOT LOST
“Is that a Noam?” That was my first thought as I walked up to Irene’s apartment door in the Talbot retirement home for the first time. For those of you who never went to Irene’s apartment she had a plastic Noam with a white beard, red hat, and blue coat guarding her door. That Noam put a smile on my face the moment I saw it. That was my first indication that I was dealing with someone full of joy and life with a good sense of humor to boot. As I entered Irene’s apartment for the first time I immediately felt at home. I was surrounded by quilts, arts and crafts, porcelain bunnies, trinkets, and of course plenty of candy.
Irene’s name means peace. And anyone who ever sat down with her for any amount of time would agree that Irene’s name peace fit her like a glove. I was immediately put at peace talking with Irene. She always found a reason to laugh. She asked me as many questions as I asked her.
I sat down with Ericka, Jay, Holly, and Kori last week and asked them to share some memories they had of their mother. They relayed to me the image of a woman who loved creating things to express her love for others. They relayed to me Irene’s love for Quilting, crocheting, sowing, cross stitching, and knitting. They relayed to me how Irene knit her family together with her love. Irene turned her lifetime love for arts and crafts into a success business in Virginia Beach called “What’s Your Stich and Stuff,” which she ran with her daughter Holly for twenty years. Her trinkets have no doubt traveled with tourists back home to different parts of the country and different parts of the world. The quilts that cover the pews today were made by Irene. The gold plated pictures that are outside of the sanctuary were donated by Irene and her husband Edward years ago.
Irene had a deep love for children. And children had a deep love for her. Indeed many children saw Irene as an adopted mother. Children gave Irene special names to express their love for her. Indeed, Irene’s niece Stacey referred to Irene as Aunt “Ungung” after the sound Irene made when she tickled and played with Stacey.
You can tell how close a family is by their sense of humor and their ability to poke fun at each other. Ericka, Jay, Kathy, and Holly sitting down with you all and seeing your light hearted humor towards each other and towards your mother I can see the sincerity of love your family has for one another. Irene always took her children’s light hearted jesting towards her with a joyful heart and a good attitude. One picture the family showed me stuck out in my mind. It was a picture of Irene in her wheel chair armed with an AR-15 assault rifle. It is hard to look welcoming when you are packing a deadly weapon. But Irene managed to pull it off.
Our New Testament text today talks about how the Apostle Paul faced a fierce storm and shipwreck in the course of his ministry. And certainly in her life and ministry Irene faced her fair share of storms and tragedies as well. In 1982 she lost her beloved husband Edward to a wave that washed him overboard while he was away at sea. Then she lost her twin sister Arlene to cancer. Finally, Irene herself was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. She fought the cancer for ten years, far longer than any of the Doctors expected she would.
Jay called me on Friday, February 2nd to let me know that Irene had taken a turn for the worst on Wednesday of that week and that her time was short. I was surprised because I had talked with her by phone the week before and she still seemed as cheerful as always. I went over to her apartment and just sat next to her and held her hand as I prayed. Then the Lord spoke into my Spirit and he said, “All is Not Lost.” And I think that sums up Irene’s life. No one loses their husband at sea, their twin sister to cancer, and fights cancer themselves for ten years while maintaining a smile without a hope that is anchored in something beyond this world. In our passage today all the sailors on the ship abandon hope, but Paul believed in God’s Word. Even if Paul had not receive a message that he would not die I believe he still would have said, “All Is Not Lost,” because he had a Blessed Assurance that Jesus was His and he belonged to Christ. Irene had a blessed assurance that Jesus was hers and she was His. She trusted in the one who sits enthroned over the flood and grants his people abundant peace. Even as I held her hand as she lay unconscious I believe that she knew that All Is Not Lost.
Irene never gave up hope that she would get better, that she would walk again. I had several more visits with her after that visit and she always asked me to pray for her to get better. Irene never gave up hope. Several times after she ended her chemo treatment she asked me to pray that she would get better. She just gave up control. She let the wind take her where it would. And she had peace with it. Because she was not a burden. Not a burden to us. Not a burden to us financially. She paid for all her funeral arrangements herself. Because she lived her lives for others.
The family wanted to end our service today with Gospel classic Mary Don’t You Weep, the Bruce Springsteen version. The song tells the story of Miriam, Moses’ sister, who’s name is translated as Mary in English. The singer is telling Mary not to weep but to celebrate because God has parted the waters of the Red Sea and allowed his people to pass through to the promised land. But Pharaoh’s army tries to pursue God’s people and the waves crash down on them drowning their oppressors. Pharaoh in this song is death, sorrow, and pain. It is a metaphor for God’s final victory over death. A promise that he put a down payment on when he raised His son Jesus Christ from the dead.
Today we weep. Today we grieve as we must. Grief is the price of love. And is a price we are willing to pay. The deeper the love the deeper the grief. It is a badge of honor. A sign that we have truly lived. A sign that we have truly loved. And while today is a loss for us it is not a loss for Irene. The waters have parted and the storm has ceased and she stands on the rock that cannot be moved on the further shore. She stands with Edward, she stands with Arlene, she stands with her Lord on a further shore with her AR-15 in her hand laughing and celebrating with her Lord in victory as all her sorrows are drowned in the sea. And she declares those ancient words, “Oh Death where is your victory, Oh Death where is your sting!” (1 Corinthians 15:55). Well done good and faithful servant. Thank you friend for knitting us together with your love. Thank you for showing all of us that All is Not Lost.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.