Thank you, for giving to the Lord ...
Tuesday, December 5, 2006
At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.
Aunt Mary died Sunday morning. Mary Lou Brummer, not quite 79 years old, was, I am sure, happy to go. Heaven came down, and glory filled her soul.
So many memories with Aunt Mary at the center. And that's true for my sister and brother, too. But Aunt Mary's family stretched from sea to sea. She did everything but adopt a young boy in St. Louis' black community, where she lived for twenty years and served as the youth and worship minister at Christ Lutheran Church. First as a correspondent and later as his spiritual director, she became close friends with Carson, a long-term inmate recently released from the Illinois Department of Corrections. In Lincoln, the town where she was born and where she also died, several local ministers considered her their "minister." She sang, played hymns on the piano, and sometimes preached at church services, first at her retirement home, and finally at her nursing home.
Graduating from River Forest's Lutheran teacher's college, Aunt Mary spent much of her life with little children. In Arkansas, Illinois and St. Louis she discovered what Jesus described: the "good pleasure" of God's revelation in the songs, drawings, stories and prayers of children. She wrote children's books and Christmas programs for Concordia Publishing House. Though she went back to school at age 50 and became a nurse for several years, she was always a teacher.
In St. Louis Aunt Mary took us to a charismatic prayer meeting, the first one I'd ever attended. We sang a song I've sung ever since, in prisons and churches, on campus and at home ..."I've got a river of life flowing out of me, makes the lame to walk and the blind to see, opens prison doors, sets the captives free...spring up, O well, within my soul."
I was in grade school, and Aunt Mary and I took the train to Chicago. We stayed at the YMCA Hotel on State Street. For an afternoon change of scenery she took me to lunch at the Allerton Hotel's French restaurant, Jacques, where we dined well and I drank up the finger bowl.
That evening we headed down State Street to the Pacific Garden Mission. No finger bowls. Gospel songs and drunks, preaching and soup. I grew up on a farm, and this was all new to me.
Aunt Mary accepted the world as it came to her. She loved people she encountered in practical, simple ways. She learned to pray for the sick and watch some of them get healed. She developed a prophetic gift. She knew the Bible very well and could put together a sermon quickly if needed. She sang sweet songs and laughed heartily and often.
When Aunt Mary moved into Friendship Manor, her seven-story retirement home, she bought copies of Prison to Praise by Merlin Carothers for everyone who lived there. She gave me a copy too. She gave a copy to my sister Mary Kay. We talked about that last night. Carothers wrote, "I have come to believe that the prayer of praise is the highest form of communion with God. Praising Him is not something we do because we feel good; rather it is an act of obedience. Often the prayer of praise is done in sheer teeth-gritting willpower."
Not many of them can be at her funeral tomorrow, because the people she touched are all over the country. Her "adopted" son's own son was recently killed in St. Louis by a drive-by shooter. I don't know if he will be there. But I'm glad I can be.
Aunt Mary broke into my world and changed me. My self-centeredness collapses even now when I think of her. Not, of course, that she didn't have her own selfishness-es. But she modeled the genius of Jesus, the most important message: that guilt AND forgiveness can co-exist alongside each other in my life, now and always. God's love was the pre-eminent reality in her life. Nothing less. And I am so thankful to be learning that too.
Lord, thank you taking Mary and making her who you wanted her to be. Do the same with me, Lord.