In our culture, death and the subsequent funerals are often hidden from view. We do not like to be reminded that our time on earth is limited. We are bombarded in the media with “visions” of youth, and many of us are constantly engaged in efforts to retain our youthful vigor as long as possible! In my case, I am addicted to running. I run most every day and it does help keep me relatively healthy. One disadvantage in my community (George Fox University) is that I am constantly reminded that the “distance” between me and the college students grows greater each year.
Since I arrived at George Fox, each year I have run what has become affectionately known as the “Bruin Run” with the women’s basketball team. It is a mile-and-a-half competitive run by hopeful women who are competing for a place on our very fine basketball team. Fourteen years ago I ran with relative ease and stayed with the best players in the race. This past year (I am now 55 years of age) I was running at the front of the pack and one of the girls came up on my shoulder on the last lap and said, “President Baker, it is time to sprint to the finish!” Well, I looked at her and said, “I am sorry, I am already sprinting!” She proceeded to run past me on her way to an easy victory. I finished 10 seconds behind gasping for air. Yesterday, one of the new players asked if I was doing the run this year? I told her that I had not decided yet. In reality I have been working hard to try to stay competitive, but my times just keeping getting slower. I am no longer 22 (40 or 50 for that matter!). I have a feeling that more than two players will beat me this year. Growing old can be a challenge.
This past weekend I had the privilege of attending the funerals of two great saints of our community: Wayne Roberts and Margaret Lemmons. Dr. Roberts was a physician in Medford who was remembered by all as a servant to the community who was always known by his love for Christ and graceful attitude toward others. Margaret Lemmons was a beloved high school English teacher from Kelso, Wash. Known for her quick wit and care for others, she too had a consistent and clear testimony of her love of Christ.
As the service for Margaret began I was taken aback by the comments regarding her birth. She was born in 1929 in the Portland area, and she had a hole in her heart. At the time, physicians did not know how to heal this condition so they told her parents, “You will have to take her home, we cannot do anything, she will die soon in her sleep . . .”
I could not imagine what it would have been like as a parent to hear those words – deep pain was all that could come to my mind. Margaret’s parents were people of prayer and they prayed (and the community prayed) that God might preserve the child, even for just a little while. Well, as you can guess, Margaret lived and she lived well. Her life was one of consistent challenge. Because of her ailment she could not attend elementary school and was educated at home by a tutor. She could not exercise and her skin color was a shade of “blue” that developed because her heart could not pump her blood through her body efficiently. Finally, while she was in high school, medical science had developed to the point that her heart could be “improved.” She was able to attend high school and later George Fox College where she met her husband, Gerald. Together they committed their lives to teaching and served the students of the Kelso Valley. At her memorial one person noted that she was “always ready with a warm smile and a listening ear – she was a living example of God’s abundant love.”
Margaret Lemmons loved students. One summer she wrote this poem about her teaching experience:
I visited the old school today.
And they were there –
My students –
Crowding the hall,
Traffic-jamming the stairs,
Clamoring to be heard
Through soundless echoes of days long gone.
My echoing footsteps were less loud
Than thundering cheers from the deserted gym,
Clattering dishes in the cobwebbed cafeteria,
And slamming lockers in empty corridors.
I heard the sobs of those,
Who had wept in childish grief,
Or under burdens far too heavy
For shoulders as young as theirs.
Shouts of joy,
And chattered details of a thousand daily lives
Rose and ebbed
Obeying toneless bells.
I head the mockery,
The ribald joke, profanity,
And the cutting cruelty of youth.
In the dim emptiness
I saw the lovers holding hands,
Oneness with another
Did they learn, I mused?
Did any learn what I had hoped to teach?
Not composition, but compassion.
Not grammar, but self-realization;
Not literature, but love.
In the clamoring stillness,
I once again breathed thanks
For what my students gave to me;
Faith in youth,
A philosophy of education,
Joy, and –
– Margaret Lemmons
Her poem brought tears to my eyes for a variety of reasons but primarily because she gave voice to many of us who have chosen teaching as a profession. We wish to be partners with our students in education. We seek not only to increase their knowledge but to encourage them to develop wisdom – to seek higher things. Margaret did it so well.
In a culture that constantly beats the drum – younger, better, brighter – we stand in contrast to say that we have been made for another world. As we grow old our bodies slowly fail and our minds follow. Yet in that process, if we are willing, Christ surely is working in us to make us more like Him. Each day, a little less of us and more of Him if we are willing. In a little church funeral in Newberg, Ore., I was reminded of the importance of lives well lived.
About 700 students will join our undergraduate community this fall. They will be full of vigor – each with a vision for the future. We are committed to partnering with them in the process – focused on education but also on a faith that sees an eternal future, not just a human one.
Read more about Margaret Lemmons’ life and legacy at TDN.com, online home of the Longview, Wash. Daily News.