Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Miss Myrtle

Today is Miss Myrtle’s 101st birthday (she’s the one on the right). She was born June 24, 1908, during Roosevelt’s second term…that’s Teddy Roosevelt. We honored her in church on Sunday, sang Happy Birthday to her. She still gets around under her own horsepower, though her hearing isn’t what it once was. Four of her five children were there to celebrate with her, including her twin boys, and, of course, a gaggle of grandchildren, great grandchildren, great, great grandchildren, and nieces and nephews too numerous to name.

Miss Myrtle is remarkable both for the quantity of her life and for its quality. Raising five kids to adulthood in those days was an accomplishment in and of itself, and in their own way, each one made her proud. She survived two world wars, the Great Depression, nineteen presidents, and the 60’s! Family and faith have been the foundation and framework of her life, and it shows…still. The church where I am currently serving as interim pastor is celebrating its centennial this year. Miss Myrtle is a walking and talking centennial record of the congregation’s corporate life.

Of course, of course, everybody asks her what her secret to longevity is. She doesn’t like the question and usually won’t venture an answer, but when she does, it’s simply “the Lord,” and she means by that “the will of God.” It’s as though she and God made a deal: “I’ll give you this breath right now, and if you promise to give it back to me, I’ll give you another.” And she does!

Her family will tell you that she rarely, if ever, gets uptight or flustered or agitated. “She just takes it all in stride,” one of them told me Sunday. Though she loves everybody and enjoys most everybody, she is not, nor has she ever been, driven by a need to please everybody, even her own family. She seems inner, rather than outer, motivated. She operates out of some internal set of orders that can’t be co-opted, won’t be manipulated, and refuses to be exploited merely as an extension of someone else’s will. She may be the freest and most secure person I’ve ever met.

It was she, I think, of whom Paul was speaking in Galatians when he said: “For freedom Christ has set us free.” By freedom, Paul did not mean the kind of me-first-ism with which our culture is consumed – autonomy (self-directed). Nor did he mean the kind of addictive need to please everybody that degenerates into the codependent pathology of the “popularity junkies” – heteronomy (other-directed). By freedom he meant theonomy – the kind of God-directed security and liberation that comes from somewhere both inner and Other. It is submitting to the yoke that fits; it is finding the “part” for which you were made and playing it with all you’ve got; it is listening to the Voice that calls you by name. “For freedom Christ has set us free.”

For 101 years Miss Myrtle has worn the yoke, played the part, listened to that Voice. She reminds me of the story attributed to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Heschel says that he dreamt one night that he died and stood before the Great Judge of all and was called to the Dock to give an account of what he had done with the great gift of life he had been given. Heschel says that, to his amazement, he was not asked about what he had done on such and such a day, or any other specific thing. He was not asked why he hadn’t done more with his gift…why, for example, he hadn’t been more like Moses or Maimonides, or David or Einstein. Instead, he was asked one and only one question: “Were you or were you not Abraham Joshua Heschel?” And Heschel says: “Then the Holy One, Blessed Be He, leaning forward to hear my response, said to me words that haunt me still. He said: “It’s important to me, you see, because you’re the only one of him I made!”

Happy Birthday, Miss Myrtle. You’re one of a kind.

1 comment:

Dorcas Carner Burrus said...

Happy Birthday to Miss Myrtle. What a beautiful lady.

My husband's Aunt Nan just passed away this past November 7th. She had lived with us, and I cared for her, since March of 2008. We celebrated her 102nd birthday on April 27th. She carried so much history in her mind and had so many stories to tell that it was better than reading a history book. We could just sit and listen to her for hours at a time. She was such an interesting lady. Now I wish we had recorded all she had to share.

Aunt Nan taught Sunday School to children in a Baptist church in Alabama for many years. Of course, when she moved in with us, she moved her membership to the Capital Heights Baptist Church in Tallahassee, where my son pastors. She was such a wonderful part of our personal and church family, just as I am sure Miss Myrtle is to yours. May God richly bless Miss Myrtle and continue to use her great wisdom in His work.

In Christ,