My mother-in-law passed away on 5/12/12 at the age of 86. Her death was sudden and quite unexpected as we all used to always joke that she would outlive us all. But life has a way of showing you not to ever take anything for granted.
Her memorial service was this past Saturday and what a memorial service it was! Instead of a funeral, it was a celebration of an extraordinary life. I was in awe of how many lives she had touched personally and how many she had touched beyond her. It is a testament to her character.
As I wrote in a previous post, I regret not spending more time with her and asking questions about her German history. My intention was to write the story of her life during WWII and the Nazi regime. But apparently, there is more to the story than I realized at the time.
A native German from Bavaria, she lived through WWII and the Nazi regime in Germany. She was bombed out of her home three times and left homeless, with only the clothes on her back. She and her family scraped for food and stood in the long lines at the food banks, only to receive a ration of bread and potatoes. Often, their only meal of the day consisted of a boiled potato in water to make “soup.” She was accosted by United States soldiers in Germany who had rape on their minds but was “saved” by a General who happened to be driving by. She and her mother traveled secretively into Russia to visit their Uncle who was wounded in battle. She swam over four miles in a lake on the dare of her friends for a case of champagne. She was engaged twice to men in Germany, both who died during the War, before she met the U.S. Airforce pilot who became her husband. She was a translator and researcher for the United States military for over 12 years. This was how she met her husband.
After she married, her first son died as an infant in Germany. She then immigrated with her husband to the United States and became a U.S. citizen in 1959. She proceeded to have three more children who are still living on the East Coast. She fought cancer, bravely trooped through the deaths of her husband, and many of her German friends, and so much more.
The events go on and on…yet never did you hear her complain, lament her past, say “woe is me,” or allow pity for her circumstances. There was a consistent theme during her memorial service – forgiveness, grace, compassion, and love. It didn’t matter who you were or what your circumstances were, she loved you and would give you a warm meal and the clothes off her back if that was what you needed. She had a gentle touch, a pure heart, and a giving spirit. I often think of 1 Corinthians 13, which is a Biblical passage usually read at weddings, when I think of her.
1 Corinthians 13 (The Message)
The Way of Love
1 If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. 2If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. 3-7If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love. Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
8-10Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.
11When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good. 12We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! 13But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.
Powerful words. This was her legacy. Person after person could describe the ways in which she loved them and was a light in their lives. This is not to say she was perfect. No one is perfect, as we all well know. But she lived her life with grace and bore truth to that grace.
Her story has become something larger than I ever imagined or knew. It is not only a story of her survival during WWII and the Nazi regime…it is a story of love. I may have missed my chance to tell only the German part of her story, but what I’ve gained is far beyond measure. I can now tell her full story of love, compassion, and grace. God held the story until it was complete. Until I could understand the entire scope of her life and what it means for those of us who are still here in this earthly world.
This is the story that I’m meant to write about her.