January 8, 2013
Dear Friends in Christ,
So many of you have expressed your condolence or held our family in your prayers upon my mother’s death that it seems fitting that I express my gratitude and write to you about God’s graciousness in how she passed. It was a good death. My sister, Pam had been caring for my mother as she has lived these past nine months in a Christian Retirement Home in California. The week before her death she aspirated and developed pneumonia. Unable to swallow either food or liquids my sister took her to the hospital for some tests. When it became clear there were decisions to be made my mother still in possession of her faculties chose to be released from the hospital to my sister’s home under hospice care. With all that was transpiring here my sister and I talked about when I should fly to California. When she called on Monday, December 10th to inform me that my mother was failing very quickly Allison and I immediately booked a flight for the next morning. We flew to LAX arriving just before noon, rented a car and made the three plus hour drive up the coast, all the while praying that we would arrive in time.
When we got to my sister’s house in Santa Margarita my mother (having insisted my sister have her up) was sitting on the couch with our daughter Adelia, who lives nearby. We spent an hour and a half together talking and laughing. She was lucid and in possession of her faculties, though it was an effort for her to speak. Around 5:00 p.m. she requested to go to bed. Our daughter later told us she thought my mother was going to die some 45 minutes before we arrived but she gently shook her awake and said, “Hold on grandma they are nearly here.” Later I went into her room and read some psalms to her. My brother-in-law soon joined me—I sitting on one side of the bed and he on the other as I read one psalm after another. At one point George and I began to talk about the current challenges the diocese and I were facing with the Episcopal Church. It soon became obvious my mother was listening. I had told her of the various developments in the past months so we she was aware of the challenges. I should tell you I grew up at Trinity United Methodist Church. My mother had been “Mrs. Methodist”—a delegate to District and National Conferences, President of her United Methodist Women and a recipient of the Bishop’s Award. So I looked at her and with a smile jokingly said—“Mom, I guess you were right, I should have stayed a Methodist!” She looked up at me with that knowing look, unable to say much, gave only nod. After dinner I went in and prayed with her the Lord’s Prayer, the 23rd Psalm, parting Prayers, and kissed her good night. As Allison observed later her body was entirely spent. By 5:00 a.m. the next morning, December 12, 2012 she had passed through the curtain that separates this life from that which is to come and into the glorious company of the saints in light.
Her funeral was that Saturday at Trinity United Methodist Church, her home parish where we her children were raised and where she had served for so many years. I preached the sermon and gave the prayer of commendation. It was a grace-filled time for which I am grateful. For the prayers of many; for the chance to see and talk with her while she was still lucid; for time to pray and read the Scriptures with her; for time with family and long-time friends I give thanks. But most of all I rejoice in this: For the opportunity to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ and the hope of the Resurrection—recalling those influences that had helped to shape her faith. She had several phases in her spiritual journey during which she read writers such as Evelyn Underhill, Richard Foster, Henri Nouwen which I mentioned in the sermon. But finally I focused on the most important of the influences (excepting of course the Bible) John Wesley’s life and writings. To bring Wesley into the mix was to speak of the New Birth, Assurance of Salvation, the Atoning Work of Christ, the Resurrection, and of course the doctrine of Justification by Faith for unworthy sinners—and Wesley’s heart strangely warmed.
It is with a heart strangely warmed that I write to express my gratitude to our Lord for these tender mercies and for the prayers of so many of you here in South Carolina and further afield who have lifted both Allison and me—and my mother, Bertha Ann Coombs Lawrence—before the throne of God the Father and the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit to await the Blessed Hope of everlasting life.
Gratefully yours in Him,
+Mark Joseph Lawrence
XIV South Carolina