Today I was honored to serve the family and friends of Mary Evans, a true saint of the congregation I serve as Pastor. Today, we wept and we laughed as we remembered a good and full life. Below are some of the comments I made at her funeral this morning. (For context, it may be helpful for the reader to know that last July during cosmetic surgery an accidental fire burned Mary’s face severely. Before the accident she was bowling and golfing regularly and a very social 84 year-old.) May God bless her family.
Mary was baptized into the Body of Christ at Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) on April 9, 1939 in Kankakee. Mary was a faithful and devoted member of Central for just shy of ¾ of a century. She served the church in many capacities including greeting worshipers, leading worship, serving at the Lord’s Table, Leading the Cheerful Survivors breakfast group, and serving on the church board and several groups and committees. In 2011 she was honored with the highest recognition of our congregation as an Elder Emerita. Mary loved her church and her church family loved her. She lightened the room bringing laughter and joy with her each opportunity she was given to be in the presence of the Lord. No one hugged like Mary and no one was left out of her famous hugs. I will miss her every Sunday hug and kiss on my cheek. I was honored to serve as one of her pastors.
Mary’s faith was deep, strong and sincere. She had a patient hope, knowing like the Apostle Paul that nothing would ever separate her from the love of God in Christ Jesus. When faced last summer with what for most of us would have been an insurmountable recovery, Mary proclaimed God was with her and God’s strength was enough to see her through.
Several times over the course of those eight months beginning in the ICU of Loyola University Medical Center, when after being heavily sedated, she awakened and could speak, Mary declared to me her confidence in the Lord. She was living and breathing her faith literally.
As the days and weeks at the Miller Rehabilitation Center turned to long months with three surgeries and what must have seemed like endless days of waiting for the next step, waiting to return to her own home, to her church, to her social circles, I sat down with Mary on several occasions to care for her only to be the one cared for. The struggle to regain her strength, her independence was toilsome and difficult and at moments overwhelming to be sure. Yet just days before she returned home in March, she testified on camera to her faith and to the strength of the church in her life and her recovery – her gratefulness to you, her family and friends. Mary was convinced that God and Christ in the church had brought her through.
And, she returned home on March 15th. She attended church on Palm Sunday March 24th where she was surrounded by her family of faith who welcomed her home with hugs of their own.
Mary was right, you know. Her faith, her trust in God’s mercy, love and grace was her strength, the strength to rise up with wings like an eagle as the Prophet Isaiah proclaimed of those who wait upon the Lord. Her ability to forgive, even those who may have directly or indirectly harmed her, was her strength. Her “can and will do” spirit was her strength. Her love for people, was her strength. Her humble hospitality was her strength.
Whenever we would talk about her recovery, she would say I don’t know how anyone does this without God, without faith, without a loving church. And I would simply agree. Me neither, Mary, me neither.
She achieved many of her goals during the past 10 months. She stayed in her own home for a brief while. She attended church for a few weeks. She socialized at the Moose and went shopping. She even drove her Ford Escape for a few days. She was amazing.
And as amazing as she was, she was human, like you and like me. Vulnerable yet strong, tenacious yet humbled, full of life yet faced with mortality. The last two weeks were filled with more health challenges for Mary. Another missed trip to Las Vegas with a dear friend. She told me she didn’t think she’d golf anymore. She was tired, still ready to meet the next challenge in spirit, and tired in body. And, on Saturday. May 11th our sweet Mary died into the loving arms of Jesus her savior, friend and eternal companion.
She trusted God and she had confidence in the promise of eternal life.
Angels were one of Mary’s favorite things. She collected them and several are displayed here. Mary indeed was one of God’s messengers through her life’s journey here with us. Her faith radiated from her and her attitude about life was a result of her hope in the redeeming work of the Lord – the same hope she wanted you to know and have in your life as you face each day.
Thank you Mary for blessing my life and countless others with your tenacity, hope, faith and love.