I received word this evening of the death of my favourite centenarian. She was a friend, a counsellor, and a true Barnabas, a real encourager. And she was my honorary grandmother.
I met Eleanor when she was but a young thing, aged 77. She was a member of the search team that called me to a congregation I served. At the time I was being interviewed, she was simply another member of that team. But when my call was processed, she was part of the group that came to support the call. After the call was sustained, I escorted the group out of the church where we were meeting, and she said to me, “I’d like to be a grandma to you if that’s okay.”
I readily accepted.
Little did I know how much I would come to appreciate her wisdom, her faith and faithfulness, and even just her presence. She had a spiritual gift of hospitality that manifested itself in countless ways, not least of which were leading and hosting two small groups for the church, and welcoming her Pastor at anytime of the day or night, with the promise of being able to put up my feet, sip on a wee dram, and share what was going on – good or bad.
She was a faithful member of the Session (the elders’ board) during my entire tenure, and always had a wise word to offer to whatever issue was being deliberated.
When the Lord led my wife and me to serve another church, and our house sold and closed the day before my last Sunday, Eleanor put us up for the night before my final service. We have kept in touch ever since. In more recent years, our keeping in touch has been limited to telephone calls, usually on her birthday or mine, since they are a day apart (plus a few years!).
I spoke with her on my birthday, not quite two months ago. I was not surprised I could not reach her on her birthday, since I expected she was being well feted by her caring family, for one who turns one hundred years old ought to be celebrated! And she wisely went to bed early that night.
I have always wished that the Lord would bless every church I served with an Eleanor. In fact, I wish that every church ‘period’ would have an Eleanor, for every pastor and every church need people who will provide calm wisdom, a loving smile, and an open door.
Eleanor provided all that, and more. I will miss her.
I am teary for me, and for her close family and friends. But I am not sad for her. For though she has seen ‘through a glass darkly’ as the old King James put it, now she sees ‘face to face’. The Lord Jesus, whom she served so well, has welcomed her to her eternal home.
As they say good-bye to Eleanor, her family will sing a song that probably is not often sung at funerals. It is a song that I introduced to the church in which we were co-labourers, and one that she so loved that I remember her saying, perhaps 20 years ago or more, “I want this sung at my funeral.”
It’s not a song about being sad.
It’s not about gardens or flowers.
It’s about Jesus.
The Eleanor I knew centred her life on Jesus. So it’s very appropriate that her send-off should include something that turns the attention of those present to the Lord she loved and served.
I’ll append a YouTube video below that plays you the song and displays the Jesus-centred lyrics. It was written by Graham Kendrick, a British Christian musician. It’s called “Shine, Jesus, Shine.”
Jesus shone through Eleanor in a way to which I can merely aspire.
I pray that her family and friends will take comfort in the grace of the Lord Jesus that shone through Eleanor.