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Thursday, March 10, 2016

I Knew Rosie the Riveter . . . and She knew Jesus

We called her Susie, not Rosie, and the life she lived went far beyond helping America win a war. She fought the good fight and kept the faith.  And now she has won her final battle and heaven welcomed a faithful daughter on March 8, 2016.

Velma May “Susie” Smith entered this world on July 25, 1925. It was the Roaring Twenties and there might have been a little extra noise on that summer day when this remarkable lady bounced onto the stage of life. There were seven siblings in the family of Martin and Adeline Andrews which in those days likely wasn’t considered an unusually sized family. I don’t know a lot about her childhood except that Susie was a fragile child and because of problems with her spine, had back surgery at a young age. This surgical fusion of bones resulted in a difficult posture with which she struggled for the rest of her life. But if her body was bent, her spirit was beautifully formed.

Susie had many gifts. She excelled in art, notably painting; she had a remarkable memory, focused on the Scripture; she had a strong worth ethic, in a variety of jobs; and she was a comedian, at least to those of us who knew her well.

I came to know Susie in 2011 when our family moved to Massillon to minister to the congregation of the Massillon Wesleyan Methodist Church. Susie had long taken up residence on the end of the third pew on the piano side. She sat right behind me. And that is where I came to know and love her.

She was a colorful person, and I always enjoyed talking to her before and after church services. She wore zip-up print dresses and her hair was always coiffed in a spray of curls on top of her head. She was continually amused at my teen daughters’ colorful assortment of high-heeled shoes and many Sunday mornings would ask to see “what shoes you are wearing today.”

Susie had many Bible verses committed to memory, and she recited them every morning. Many times, during a group discussion in Wednesday Bible study, I’ve heard her comment on a certain Scripture being highlighted, “That’s one of my verses.” Often she would start quoting it at just the mention of the reference.

She kept me laughing with the little quips and assessments of life that she voiced from behind me in church.  Once during Sunday School class when we were talking about wicked King Ahab, she said in that little undertone of hers, “That King Ahab – he was a bad egg!” She was unflaggingly kind in her support of the pastor’s wife’s piano playing and singing, often commenting when I returned to my seat, “That was good.” And perhaps she took that a little far. Once when I came into church and walked down the aisle past her, I heard her singing softly, with a little twinkle in her eye, “Here she comes. . . Miss America!” Oh, Susie, I miss you on that plain, hard bench behind me in church!

Susie had an interesting life, though long before I knew her. She was a real “Rosie the Riveter.” During World War 2, she worked in a war plant which provided parts for Boeing bomber planes. She told me she actually drove rivets into the metal; I think she said they were B-29s. Imagine! And when we were once talking about the different jobs she had held in her lifetime, she remarked that she first saw the carnage from the Nazi death camps when she worked in a local drugstore where returning soldiers were getting their pictures developed.

Susie liked painting. There are two pictures in the sanctuary of our church which are gifts from her hand, literally: renderings of Christ kneeling in the Garden of Gethsemane and Christ Standing at the Heart’s Door (she told us that she was always frustrated because she wasn’t done with the detail on the roses but the pastor at the time told her it was good enough; I don’t think she ever quite reconciled to that! Obviously, it was still bothering her years later every time she saw it in church.)

But though she painted with lavish color, her own life was simple and quiet. She never traveled outside the state of Ohio. She lived without frill, sleeping on a bed that she “got a good deal on” but that was terribly uncomfortable from the descriptions of others who were appalled when they saw it. She never complained. She didn’t have extravagant taste in her cooking either. Her Sunday dinner of choice was frozen tray dinners. She and I would often discuss which selection she was having on that day; some she liked and had tasted before. Rarely did I hear her say she didn’t like something.

For several years until she was no longer able, Susie operated the card ministry at MWMC. It was a delight to receive a birthday card from the church which meant that Susie had remembered your birthday and had taken the time to send out a greeting on the church’s behalf.

Susie was very close to her sister, Evelyn Mays. They were confidantes and prayer partners and friends up until the end, calling one another every day and sharing bits of life with each other. They usually spent holidays together. Though their four brothers were gone, these sisters held onto one another and tried their best to support their other sister, Pauline, who had long since been in a nursing facility.

But the most remarkable thing about Susie was her relationship with Jesus. She loved Him and talked to Him daily. He was her Friend in her lonely times and her comfort in her hours of pain which were many toward the end of her earthly life. Because she had been redeemed by His blood and kept by His power down through her life, she is with Him today. We know, as the Apostle reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:8, that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” She is there now, happy and free from the pain she suffered so long. One day, on that glorious day of Resurrection, she will have a new body, an upright, whole one in which she can spend eternity with the Savior she loved and the friends and family who loved her. I look forward to seeing her there. What a great day that will be! Until then, I will hold close in my heart all the lovely things about my sweet friend, Susie, and I don’t think that spot on the end of the third row will ever be right without her in it. Farewell, Susie. I’ll see you soon and we’ll laugh some more and thank Jesus for the reality of eternity in His presence.  Keep looking for me. . . 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Looking for a Hero


It isn't that strange. Not really.
It's built into our psyche, this delight in a champion.

But, for most of us, it's a surreptitious search. Because it makes us feel silly. We were okay with it as children when we could latch onto a strong persona and no one thought anything of it. It could be anybody from an older teen we admired to an athlete, celebrity or musician. When we stumbled upon someone to whom we could look up and aspire to be, we were hooked. If one was blessed to be born into a committed Christian family, the stars who attracted attention might have been preachers or missionaries, Gospel singers or historical patriots of the past. They made us trust in their abilities and character and presented us with a winsome example to follow. 

People are hardwired to be drawn to a strong and appealing person. And they are further designed to feel a sort of proxy satisfaction when the hero accomplishes the goals set out for him or her. That is probably one reason why the Old Testament story of David and Goliath has strong appeal for children and for all of us. We like the idea that even a disadvantage of size and experience and personal power cannot hold back the hero. We like knowing that David had the guts to accept the giant's challenge. In some surrogate way, we feel as if we had those same "guts" too. We identify with the hero and his achievement becomes ours. The pages of the Bible are filled with stories of men and women who were put in place by God at a certain time to be the catalyst and the courage for others.

And in the same vein, many of the books we have loved down through the years have centered on a hero-like character. And in the dawning of the 20th century, old time radio dramas and Hollywood began to play to this area of human psychology. Remember those old characters? The husky, honest, hardworking, courageous yet courteous men who conquered the West or fought organized crime or solved dangerous mysteries or prevailed against the elements of nature? There was the Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet, Roy Rogers, The Rifleman and Perry Mason, the dedicated officers from Dragnet, stalwart mountain men and even strong family men like Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Pa"who couldn't be bought or bluffed, weathered the onslaught of the wilds and always stood for justice. All of these heroes, and the countless others in books and on film, evoked in us not only a sense of security but a celebration of righteousness, truth and liberty. 

And how could we not be drawn to this type of story? It is in our eternal DNA as well. We were made for relationship with the Creator, the best kind of Hero if one can call Him that. And when humankind messed up the perfect Plan, God already had the provision in place - He sent His Son to be the Redemption for us all - the greatest Hero Prototype ever. He embodied all those traits that we subconsciously seek in human champions. He won the final battle. Every other battleground for right merely mirrors His. 

And so it is no wonder, in an election year, that we are looking around for our hero. We don't expect him to be the Messiah; not if we are truly followers of Christ. We know that 1). the only Savior is Jesus; and 2). it is much more important to live one day in the heavenly Kingdom where we will be part of the majority. But still, we are looking for an earthly man, a human like us, who will be our voice and our will and our power in the realms of government over which we have no daily influence. We are yearning for the cowboy in the white hat to ride in and punch out the bad guys. We are wanting to see the officer handcuff the dudes, watch the lawyer indict the culprit or see the head of the family act like one. But since it is the Presidency we are talking about, we want to see a principled, determined man of accomplishment and dignity stride into the Oval Office and conduct the affairs of Washington D.C  without regard for popular opinion or cronyism or threats from rogue nations. We want a hero who reflects, in some dim way, the Champion of the Heavens and who affirms our deep convictions about the way things ought to be. 

These days, we rarely get our earthly hero. There aren't even tin star badges or club membership cards in cereal boxes now. Times have changed. And the heroes who do appear in the twenty-first century arts and literature are far from the stalwart greats of yesteryear. The superheroes of today's cartoons and comic strips tend to be plagued by bad judgement, nasty attitudes, goofy personalities and character flaws. We are told today that our heroes and heroines have to be "real," have some flaws. And I suppose that is true to life. And certainly we will never elect a politician who has no backstory or doesn't demonstrate some unique idiosyncrasies. But we should never dumb down our checklist. It never hurts to expect as high a threshold as humanly possible. After all, once in a while, a man or woman of above average ability and character appears on the stage of life and performs spectacularly to the benefit of the nation. If 2016 is the year in which that happens, great would be the rejoicing. 

Yet, I can't help but express a word of caution that, should that be case, we not make an idol out of him. We cannot throw all of our hopes and devotion into an earthly man or woman. That kind of misplaced worship is the path to cyanide-laced Kool-aid or to cattle cars headed to death camps. It might not be that dire, but it will result in destruction in some way or form. We don't need a demagogue; we need a hero. I think there is a difference. The best hero is the one who deals deeply in the currency of humility. Why the Lone Ranger who graced the airwaves of long ago often didn't stick around for the accolades of his latest accomplishment! The echo of hoof-beats and the fading cry of "Heigh Ho, Silver"told us that he was gone, off to fight the next battle rather than attend a crowning ceremony.

Yes, heroes are needed. We need them. God has often chosen to use them. And a generation of little boys and little girls who can't find badges in their Wheaties are depending on us even more to look for the next lineup of heroes, or just maybe, be one for them. 
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