Saturday, May 28, 2011

Meditation for Esther Whitehead Jackson

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand…

So say verses 17 and 18 of Ps. 139. The Psalm Tiffany read for us and which Esther loved.

How precious are your thoughts…

Here are some thoughts I found expressed in a book of poetry and quotations kept by Esther.

From the Keswick Hymnal,
When I stand before the throne
Dressed in beauty not my own,
When I see Thee as Thou art,
Love Thee with unsinning heart,
Then the Lord shall I fully know,
Not til then…how much I owe.

From Elizabeth Elliott,
The whole purpose of life, I believe, is to learn to know God. This is life eternal.

From a prayer by Phillips Brooks,
Oh Lord, by all Thy dealings with us,
Whether of joy or pain, of light or darkness,
Let us be brought to Thee.

And at the very opening of the book Esther has written,
Into Thy hands I commit my spirit.

You learn much about a person by what they note and quote.
When Esther quotes Dante saying,
The Lord’s will is our peace.
…She reveals much about the inner disposition of her soul and her perspective on life.

Quotes and notes can also act like marker stones along the path of one’s journey.
For example we know that Esther, with husband Leslie and family spent many years in pastoral ministry which included several parsonage stops along the way.
One dog eared page in Esther’s book has this quote from Flora Thompson,
Poverty is no disgrace, but tis a great inconvenience.
We can only imagine how this line might have applied to the various parsonage situations the Whiteheads experienced through the years!
Or how about this delightful peek into Esther’s family life?
Esther tells a story from Christmas 1951 while living in the parsonage in Vancouver B.C.
She writes,
Les and I talked with Mark about baby Jesus and the stable and why he was born there because there was no room at the inn.
After Jane was born (two weeks later), Mark was all concerned and wanted to know if there was any room for her at the hospital.
…A footnote on that same page says that this story was later included in a Christmas sermon by Dr. C. Dorr Demarary.

We could spend hours reading through Esther’s precious thoughts and would find spiritual treasures a plenty in them.
One thing her notes make clear is that Esther’s thoughts centered on God’s thoughts.
How precious are your thoughts O God.
It was God’s thoughts which Esther pondered and which she shared with others.
And she drew on those thoughts from scripture.
Like her book of quotations, Esther’s Bible was filled with notes and quotes.
When you open her Bible you see that Esther has filled every available blank space on the cover pages with quotes, verses and references.
Its’ as if she was already busy engaging the text before she even got to Gen. 1:1!

Another thing we see in her Bible is that on in the margin of each page, Esther has the date she read that page. Follow the dates and you see she daily read her way through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
Esther loved the Bible.
She quotes Billy Graham who says,
The Bible is food for the soul.
Esther was a biblical nutritionist.
She was constantly feeding on God’s word and serving it up to others.
Throughout her life we know that Esther led numerous Bible study groups large and small.
She took time to be with others in the word.
Matt told me that he and his mother would enjoy 3 or 4 phone visits a week and they always included scripture sharing and discussion.
Esther wrote notes to family and friends using the scriptures to encourage, instruct and speak to people’s situations from God’s point of view.
She also helped grandchildren and others to memorize verses, psalms and chapters.

Hers was the Wesleyan practice of scriptural conversation.
John Wesley asserted that Christians should be so familiar with God’s word that their very language should become a blend of common speech and scripture.
I have personally had conversations with Esther where she would seamlessly move back and forth from speech to scripture. It was like warm music being played in our conversation.

I discovered that Esther had the lovely practice of reading the Bible through in a year for someone.
She would pick a person like Matt or Jane or Mark or perhaps a grandchild then buy a Bible for them and read it through.
While reading it she would fill the pages with notes and comments and then when finished she would gift that Bible to the person for whom she had been reading it.
Isn’t that wonderful?

Scripture was the script for Esther’s life.
God’s word oversaw the goings out and the comings in of Esther’s daily life.
In response to the One who was familiar with all her ways, Esther was becoming intimately acquainted with all the ways of that One through scripture.
The path of her spiritual journey was being lit by the lamp of God’s word.
For example Ps. 139 in v. 7 asks,
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
This is the affirmation that God is everywhere.
There is nowhere we can go where God is not.
…Even the darkest most remote places on earth…like a crowded refugee camp in Tanzania for example.
Scripture scripted Esther’s walk toward social justice.
Because God is just and in Christ is reconciling all things unto himself, Esther made sure she was involved in that reconciling reality!

For several years Esther worked with World Relief to help settle refugees throughout the Pacific NW.
While living in the Warm Beach Senior Community she worked tirelessly with the African Refugee Ministry team to visit churches throughout the state presenting the refugee camp needs to congregations and taking love offerings for that work.
Those offerings were mostly small ones from equally small sized churches and yet in time Esther helped to raise over 100,000 dollars in support of the refugee ministry.

Like Jesus, Esther took God’s love to the marginalized. She was about redemption for the last, the lost and the least.
And like Jesus, she found such work an uphill climb.
A revealing note in her book reads,
A Xenophobia revival is making the task of organizations which support refugees particularly arduous.
…Esther was no Xenophobe…she held no aversion in her heart to strangers and aliens.
Esther suffered from redemptive colorblindness which limited her to only seeing people with the vision of God’s love for them irrespective of their ethnicity.

Esther knew from Scripture that she lived in a world where the darkness of sin endeavors to hide people its’ cloak.
But she knew from her favorite psalm that with God,
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
Esther believed that God can see in the dark where we can’t. That in fact God turns night into day and brings dawn to hopelessly night engulfed situations.

I specifically asked that when Ps. 139 was read in this service that the entire psalm would be read including verses 19-22.
I recall that during one of the first times I made a hospital visit to someone when a student pastor I read Ps. 139 to the patient.
After reading aloud all those great verses about God’s thoughts, light and presence with us, even from the womb to the end of our days, I got to the last verses and was suddenly reading the psalmist’s venting of wrath against God’s hated enemies and the look on the patient’s face changed from bliss to concern!
She even said to me after the reading…
Oh I never read those last verses…they just ruin the psalm!
I made a note to myself then and there never again to include those verses among my texts for pastoral care with people!

What was the psalmist thinking here?
Why ruin a perfectly good psalm with stuff about hating enemies when later in the gospels, Jesus would clearly be against doing that…right?
Well the point here and why I believe Esther read and applied all the verses of Ps. 139 to her life, is that when the psalmist says,
Do I not hate those who hate you, LORD,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
The psalmist is standing with God against sin, wickedness and all the unrighteousness of fallen humankind.
These verses aren’t a so much a vindictive against people as they are an affirmation about committing to stand with God on the side of right.
They are about making God’s cause our cause.
And the fact that these verses are followed in vs. 23-24 by a plea for God to search the heart and life of the psalmist in order to make sure he is right with God, tells us that verses 19-22 need to be read in the context of a humbleness of spirit.
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
This humbleness of spirit permeated Esther’s life as she walked the paths of social justice and of soul winning.

Justice and Evangelism for Esther were both scripted by God’s word and guided by God’s heart.
In sharing the saving news about Jesus Christ with others, Esther never did so with a holier than thou attitude. She was never condescending in her soul winning.
In fact, Esther was the perfect fisher of people.
She knew that God included all types of fish in his catch and she was always aware and grateful that she herself had been caught in the net as one of those types!
Esther had a marvelous openness to people always seeing them as included in the sphere of God’s love no matter what type of fish they were…common or odd!
Like Acts 17 and Paul in the marketplace of ideas, Esther went where the people were and connected with them and their contexts.
She was a relater of the good news…showing people how God’s saving work in Christ was relevant to their lives and situations.
Wherever people were at, cynical religionists, tentative seekers or avowed unbelievers, Esther was always operating in I Peter 3:15 mode.
She was always prepared to give an answer to everyone who asked her to give the reason for the hope she had in Christ.

With the way everlasting as her concern, Esther was always cultivating relationships with people.
Her sister Eunice told Matt that when she herself arrived to begin living at the Warm Beach Senior Community she soon met nine different people who each told her they were Esther’s best friend! Esther had made each of them feel that special.

In the ER after her fall while everyone was showing their concern for Esther, her one concern was that someone would contact the young woman she was to have Bible study with and tell her Esther couldn’t make it this week.

Esther loved people because God so loves the world.
And like God who gave his son for the world, Esther gave herself for others that they might know him who loves them.
Scripted by God’s word, Esther was a new creation conversationalist.
She was an illuminated witness to the God who lights the darkest places and brings hope to the hopeless.
Esther leaves us with the sure witness that God had created her inmost being…God had knit Esther’s life together from the womb to the end of the days which were ordained for her.

How vast were the sum of God’s thoughts in Esther’s life.
In her own words of testimony Esther writes,
I gave my heart to Jesus when I was a child of 6 years old…Although I was very young, I understood that I had not given my heart to Jesus. I remember speaking to my mother and telling her I wanted to be “saved.” She knelt with me by our library table and I prayed and entered the family of God.
There have been bumps along the way and many trips to the altar, but there was solid ground under my feet and that first decision has held firm.

This would be Esther’s desire for each of us.
That we would each know the One who saves and make him known to others.
And now as we are parted from her for a time we are assured by her favorite psalm that when she awakes she will still and ever be with her Lord.

May the life and witness of Esther E. Whitehead-Jackson be an encouragement to each of us to trust in the God who is present in all things…bidden or unbidden, he is there…Esther’s life assures of this.