This past week, I was honored to part of the memorial services for Anne Jackson Ouisley, a 91-year old saint known in the community as "Mother Love." She was not a member of Oglethorpe, and was not even a Presbyterian; but her affiliation with OPC goes back for decades to old, old friendships. Below is a combination of some of the reflections I shared, both at her graveside and at the worship service we held. The last time I saw Mother Love we shared communion together. She didn't respond much at all; but there was still enough memory to know what communion meant. She took the bread and the cup and then laid back and closed her eyes.
At a graveside, I am often reminded of the 23rd Psalm with its words of comfort that even though we walk "through the valley of the shadow of death, Thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." And that Psalm goes on to talk about a table prepared "in the presence of mine enemies. My cup runneth over." This is the heavenly banquet; communion is just a foretaste, a hint of what is to come.
When Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, he spoke of it as "looking in a mirror dimly," this life lived in faith, as a mere reflection of the full reality of the kingdom of God. And Mother Love, for all of her faithfulness and strength and trust, even she only had a foretaste here and there, a glimpse; now we trust that she knows fully.
How many of us yearn for those words of Jesus, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, or justice, for they shall be filled?" How many of us struggle with the injustice and the unrighteousness we see or even cause? And how many of us, really, have been filled? Most of us, I'm willing to bet, struggle throughout our lives. We know of the promises of God, and we even get those glimpses, but to be filled? Maybe I'm in the minority here, but I'm still pretty hungry.
I think that Anne knew some of what I'm saying. You kind of get a sense of the difficulties your life might face when you're born in a place called Hard Labor Creek, just outside of Rutledge, Georgia. And the things she endured in her 91 years. Her granddaughter shared a particularly powerful story with me, of how she used to sneak up to the front of the Atlanta trolleys in the days of segregation. Being light-skinned, if she pretended to read, she could get away with it (since literacy was often divided by race in the South back then). See, even then, she was crossing unbelievable boundaries.
Her son told me that she had terrible timing. If she had been born twenty years ago, with the drive she had, she could've been a CEO. But to be born a woman of color in the South in 1916? There were obstacles that were far more difficult to overcome. It's not a surprise that she held many regrets. Even though she got a nursing degree, she still yearned for more education. And when a visiting Brazilian doctor offered to move the whole family down to South America so she could help him start a clinic, and her parents refused, that lingered with her.
And yet, she persevered. All of those who attended her services is testament to that. I got to know her through her time working in our Food Pantry and Bargain Shop and women's groups. She was so involved here, even though she never joined, that she was awarded "Presbyterian Woman of the Year" on several occasions and even given honorary membership in the national organization of the Presbyterian Women.
But the story that stays with me most is the one her great-granddaughter shared with me. With Mother Love, no matter what, you always had a home. And when she saw you coming, she'd tell you, "Hey, Sugar." If she was mad or happy with you, it didn't matter. You'd still get a hug, an embrace, a place to call home, even a hint of unconditional love.
And as we look at this stories, perhaps even there we get some of that glimpse. By remembering a woman who always crossed boundaries, we can know a little bit more about the Christ whom we worship and who calls us to tear down walls of division, of prejudice, of hatred, of injustice, of unrighteousness. By reflecting on these stories of a saint who struggled with adversity from Hard Labor Creek to a hospice bed, we can know what it means to persevere in our own faithfulness. And by picturing this Christian standing at her front door, even when she might be mad, opening those arms to us, we can know that we, too, are welcomed into God's arms and embrace of grace, always extended, even when we do rotten things to one another.
Friends, Anne Jackson Ouisley will be missed as she was loved. May these days, with all of their tears, be days of celebration, trusting that Mother Love rests in those arms which have welcomed her home.