Psalm 121 (NIV)
It was just over twenty-two years ago that we held the funeral service for Dad Heise. He was taken from us too early it seemed. Today we remember Mother Heise. She lived a full life, a good life, but still it seems too soon to say goodbye. As we went to the airport for Lois to join the family, she said: “I just want to see her one last time!” One of my friends said to me: “Death is never timely.” Sometimes it is welcome because of the difficulty the body experiences, but when we love the one leaving us, we feel the separation keenly. And indeed we love our mother—Mom, Grandma, Great-Grandma, Lois Maxine Engle Heise.
Psalm 121 was one of several favourite scriptures she mentioned to her children as they gathered together over Easter, especially verse 2: “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” This theme—that she trusted in God and found her strength in God’s continual care—bound together all of the Scripture passages she mentioned. It was one of the hallmarks of her life, and it is basic to the legacy she has left for her family. Psalm 121 spells out this trust. God the Creator watches over us and cares for us always. By day and by night God is there. We may sleep, but God does not. As we move throughout the stages of life, through childhood and youth and adulthood, through singleness and marriage and family, through old age to the end of life, God cares for us and gives us all we need. This is the trust in which Mother lived her life.
Although Mother was a woman of deep faith, she had her share of quirks and delightfulness. She was particular about how things were around the house. That’s why I no longer take sugar in my coffee. When Lois and I were dating, Lois brought me home to meet her family. I remember a good meal, with a delicious dessert and with coffee. I took the coffee and added cream, but there was no sugar on the table! None of the family used sugar, so the sugar bowl lived a lonely life in the kitchen cupboard. I finally asked for sugar for my coffee. Mother appeared a bit embarrassed and jumped up and hurried out to the kitchen. Through the doorway I could see her get the sugar bowl down and stir the sugar around to break up the crust that had formed on the top. Rather than embarrass my future mother-in-law again, I stopped asking for sugar! We all have stories we can tell—of acts of thoughtfulness, of games of Scrabble, of gardening and cooking and on and on. I want rather to return to this theme by which she lived: “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”
Mother and Dad both sought for God’s presence in their lives. God gave them just what they needed, if not always exactly what they asked for. This “practice of the presence of God” is something the children were reminded of as they went through Mother’s room and found the prayer list that she used daily. There was a paper with the reminder to begin with praise and then to pray for each of her children in the devotional time with which she began each day. After praying for her family, she prayed for different people each day. This desire for God’s presence was basic to Mother’s life, as it had also been to Dad’s.
One of the greatest sources of comfort to our family is Mother’s awareness of Gods’ presence and strength, and her delighted anticipation of Heaven. That awareness and anticipation is something that her generation of Brethren in Christ took in with the hymns that they sang regularly. Singing the hymns expresses Psalm 121: “Where does my help come from? My hope is in the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Singing the hymns points the way to Heaven.
I opened the Brethren in Christ hymnal and quickly found several that I’m sure mother knew well:
- 419: “Away from the mire, away from the clay, God leads his dear children along; away up in glory, eternity’s day, God leads his dear children along …”;
- 427: “When he shall come with trumpet sound, O may I then in him be found, dressed in his righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne …”;
- 428: “I know not when the Lord may come, at night or noonday fair, nor if I’ll walk the vale with him, or meet him in the air, but …”;
- 439: “All the way my Saviour leads me; O the fullness of his love! Perfect rest to me is promised in my father’s house above. When my spirit, clothed immortal, wings its flight to realms of day, this my song through endless ages: Jesus led me all the way.”
Life is often difficult, and sometimes the mountains are not pleasant and scenic, but threatening and overwhelming. Mother knew that too, but she knew God’s presence and found comfort and strength in him. We do the same as we walk in the valley of death’s shadow, death looming over us like a mountain more forbidding than any Everest. And in the valley of death’s shadow we find peace in God’s presence. As another favourite hymn, which Mother loved and lived, says it: “I’ll praise my maker with my breath, and when my soul is lost in death, praise shall my nobler powers employ. My days of praise shall ne’er be past while life and thought and being last, or immortality endures.”
During the service our family sings the hymn “My Hope is in the Lord”, which Mother asked to have at her funeral. This was perhaps Dad’s favourite of all. As I looked again at this hymn, I noticed how it reminds us that life in God’s love and care is not a right; it is God’s gift, which only God can give. Life outside of God’s care is dangerous. We ask him for grace and mercy, and in grace and mercy he makes us able to trust in him. Then we can sing: “My hope is in the Lord who gave himself for me.”
The Psalmist says the same thing. Danger can come by sun and moon alike. We face danger in all of life, and the only safety is found in God’s love and care. This is what comes through in Mother’s commitment to Jesus, in her regular devotions and prayers, in the love that she showed to her family and friends, and in the life that she shared with her church family. In fact, the hymn draws us back to God’s love and care, to our absolute and fundamental trust in God.
We remember Mother in little stories of food and clothes and pictures and games and many other things from her life on this earth; but Mother herself has found something that rises far above all these. We say, “Rest in peace”, but her rest now is the most joyful of all; the tears and grief of separation are left for us. Mother, whose hope was in the Lord, is home with God.