When remembering birthdays, I always think about gifts. When remembering birthdays, I don’t always think about the gift of encouragement.
Today is my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday. Earlier this week I asked her to think back over the years about what had been most important, what still is most important. As you would imagine, her response was where to begin.
Phyllis was born in 1931. At the time, the country was in the middle of the Great Depression. We were nearing the end of Prohibition. We’d just adopted the Star-Spangled Banner as our national anthem.
When I asked Phyllis about early memories, she talked about walking home from church one Sunday and people on the street telling them that we were at war. She was 10 years old and that morning was the horrific bombing of Pearl Harbor.
I thought about the woman who’d seen the progress of World War II on newsreels, who’d watched men land on the moon, who’d been part of the Digital Revolution, one of the great crossovers in human history, but when asked about what was most important, she referred to family again and again. And with every reference to family were examples of love and kindness.
When talking about our own marriage, my husband Kurt started with the example seen in his parents. Phyllis talked about the example seen in her mom and dad. They modeled love and kindness in the respect shown to each other and to Phyllis and her sister.
Phyllis’ mom and dad had high expectations, but they were always there with support and encouragement. As a family, they cared for each other.
Phyllis couldn’t think of a time when her mom and dad had argued—about anything. No bickering. No verbal sparring. They looked for and found the positive in each other and in the situation—whether it was a time of great celebration or a time of great challenge.
Phyllis and her late husband George shared that same respect, that same support and encouragement—for each other and for Kurt and his three sisters.
The Gift of Encouragement
You’ll often hear me talking about walking the WOLK, walking the words of loving kindness. I’m a passionate advocate for words of loving kindness, remembering that God’s loving kindness was/is our saving grace. That’s from Paul’s letter to Titus that we find in the Bible’s New Testament.
Phyllis and George met in a history class at PLU. She talked about the walks they used to take together, adding they were not dating at the time, they were just walking, just talking. Their words of loving kindness were a part of their life then and throughout their marriage.
And during this time of when our country is so divided, when the volume keeps getting louder and louder, Phyllis reminded me again and again that words of anger were never part of their repertoire. Anything and everything could be figured out and resolved respectfully, kindly–with encouragement.
And speaking of respect, Phyllis also talked about how their respect for each other included respecting what each one of them needed to do. She and George had just moved into a new home in Issaquah when he was asked to take the principal’s job at Snohomish High School.
It was not the easiest move for their family of six. Kurt was starting high school. His sister Jill was a year behind him. The little girls were in grade school. All of them were very involved in school and community activities.
Phyllis reminded me that the family (together) respected what Dad needed to do. Yes, George and Phyllis walked the WOLK every day in every way, a walk that included not only words, but deeds.
Phyllis and George believed in service, in giving back to their church, their school, their community. Phyllis taught Sunday School. She sewed quilts for Lutheran World Relief. Together with George, she was part of the Wednesday night kitchen crew, serving meals to those in need.
Without acclaim, without having to be asked, Phyllis found ways in which to be there for her family, neighbors, and friends.
Phyllis has shown me the power of unconditional love, the joy of longer meals together around the table, the fortitude that comes with an unwavering faith. I’ve learned how much can be said in very few words, how encouragement comes from acceptance, not judgment.
Yes, our nation is deeply divided. Our communities are struggling to figure out how to care for each other. I think Phyllis would want us to focus on what we can do, not what we can’t, what brings us together, not what pushes us apart. She would want us to value the moment, treasure those around us, and be grateful for God’s love and faithfulness.
Last Sunday Phyllis wanted to be in church. She always wants to be in church, but last Sunday was especially important, because it was Pastor Doug’s last worship service. He’d been serving their congregation while they look for a new pastor.
Not only did Phyllis want to say goodbye, but she wanted to share her gratitude with Pastor Doug, because that’s who she is—always grateful.
In church that morning she got to sing one of her favorite hymns, “I Love to Tell the Story.” It begins “I love to tell the story of unseen things above, of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love.”
Phyllis loves to tell that story. She told it in words to her children and her Sunday School children. She showed it in deeds in her 4th grade students. She told that story sewing Christmas nightgowns for her granddaughters, in bowls of applesauce for her family. She sang that story in the church choir, also in lullabies shared with great-grandchildren.
In his letter to the Hebrews, the apostle Paul asks that we encourage each other to love and do good works. Phyllis’ life is a storied one of love and kindness and service. Phyllis’ life is that encouragement.
On this, her 90th birthday, we thank her for the gift she’s been to all of us.
We thank You for Phyllis and for surrounding us with lives of love and kindness and service.
Now may their examples inspire us to encourage others.
Be encouraged to love and do good works.