Recently I received the news that Lois Long had contracted pneumonia and then, several days later, I heard that she passed away on May 4. As I awaited the news of her arrangements, what I feared occurred. The visitation and funeral were scheduled on days that meant I could not attend because of numerous commitments, including my son's graduation from college.
So this past weekend, even as I celebrated the joy of my son's accomplishment, I was mourning both her loss and the inability to be with so many others I love who were remembering her life and influence. I take solace in spending time now quietly reflecting on the woman who was a spiritual mother to me and to so many others in the kingdom of God. Like Deborah, she was a mother in Israel (Judges 5:7) who lovingly and strongly blessed many.
In the summer of 1985, I was a relatively new Christian, an incoming graduate student to the Mathematics Department of Purdue University, and an engaged young man eager to be married that August. Starting my coursework with a class that summer, I needed a place to live for those two months before I married. Through friends, I was given the names of Bill and Lois Long as those "who often have students live with them" (I heard recently over 40 students through the years had done so). On a campus visit that spring, one meeting with Lois in her home was all it took to convince me this was the place to stay. Her zealous sharing of Christ, loving nature, and hospitality won me over in a heartbeat. The picture of her with Jared accompanying this article captures so well the infectious joy she spread.
What a glorious summer that was! After I moved into a bedroom at the end of their hallway on the second floor of their Victorian home on 9th Street in Lafayette, my days were filled with a wonderful rhythm. After being sent off with breakfast and hearing enthusiastically from Lois what she was reading in the Scriptures, I biked across the river to my class. Finishing up and returning home around noon, I would eat sandwiches Lois had prepared then head out into the summer heat. In the process of having the exterior of their beautiful home stripped down to the wood and painted by their son, Bill and Lois paid me generously to dig the layers and layers of old paint out of all the crevices and corners with a heat gun and putty knife. At the end of the afternoon, I would shower then join Bill and Lois at their kitchen table for my favorite time of the day.
Sitting down to a tasty supper prepared by Lois, Bill, who at that time was working as the chairman of the tax board in Indianapolis, would share the latest news from government with us. Discussion would then flow into stories of Bill's days as a state representative and before that a pharmacist, accounts of their children and grandchildren, testimonies of God's work in people's lives, and life in the Reformed Presbyterian Church that I knew little of. They often spoke in glowing terms of their new pastor, Dave Long, who was beginning to befriend me. Lois was always beaming as she shared excitedly about a Bible study she had led that day, a person in need she had visited, or a stranger she had befriended and spoken to of Christ. Having only had the experience of zeal for Christ among college students, I was amazed at these older folks who were filled with such love and energy for him.
As supper concluded, we had times of family worship together, which I had never experienced before. After dinner, the evenings were filled with further discussions, dessert, watching a baseball game and learning of Bill's career as a player at Purdue, or us all quietly reading a book. Usually the evening ended with us watching the news and Lois, finally winding down after a day filled with service (She even did my laundry!), nodding off in her armchair. I felt so at home with them.
Some of those evenings, I would go up to my room and write my fiancee Miriam about my experiences. After explaining how much I admired and appreciated Bill and Lois, and all that they were doing for me, I would often make a similar comment. I would tell her that after we were married and settled in the area, we would have to find our own church and not be pressured to go to their little Reformed Presbyterian Church, which was meeting in the dingy basement of a house on the edge of Purdue's campus. As I traveled every weekend up to Michigan to see Miriam, I had never worshiped at the church and imagined we would attend a "real" church meeting in a "real" building.
However, the first Lord's Day as a married couple we decided to attend the Reformed Presbyterian Church. Seeing a congregation of people of several generations hearing, singing, and obeying God's Word together, and experiencing the love of people like Bill and Lois, made us forget our dingy surroundings and won us over that first day. I still have etched in my mind a picture of Lois sitting in front of us, sharing a Psalter with a grandchild whom she was joyfully helping to sing. We never visited another church. Again, I felt so at home.
A tapestry of my life, of the years since that time and now, would show the loving and supportive threads of Lois, as well as her family, woven through and through my story. The rejoicing, affirmation, and hugs from her when I shared with the elders in their home the Lord's call on my life into the ministry. The constant encouragement she gave me in those early years of an internship and then seminary as I learned Reformed theology and how to preach. She and Bill at times drawing me aside and quietly correcting me, my very own Priscilla and Aquila. How she would welcome my family like family when we returned for a visit while in seminary. The two weeks Miriam and I with our two young children lived with Bill and Lois at the end of a summer internship back in Lafayette. The support and fervent prayers she offered for us while we were church planting in Kokomo, with her children and grandchildren working alongside us. Hearing her share stories of women she was working with through the church's jail ministry and being challenged to have such an evangelistic spirit. Watching her truly mourn when Bill was called home nearly two decades ago now, yet as a widow twice also maintain her faith, joy, and service through those years. Returning to preach in Lafayette and looking for her, then feeling her motherly embrace and that touch of embarrassment as with joy she would tell a new person in the church about me (Lois never stopped being the cheerleader she had been in high school!). Hearing stories and testimonies of many others who were loved similarly. Receiving innumerable cards and letters through the years catching me up on the latest kingdom news and always, always telling me of her prayers for us.
Just a month or two ago, we received such a letter at RPTS. A brief note in her unmistakable handwriting, it is filled with her characteristic enthusiasm. Telling us what an encouragement it was to hear of our latest report. Thanking us repeatedly for a gift of thanks we sent and for keeping her updated. Underlining those phrases that you know that, if she were speaking to you in person, she would have highlighted with her irrepressible smile, loving eyes, and touch of your arm. Reminding us once again that she is praying for us. Giving a shout out to the new president (there's that cheerleader coming through again). Ending the note with the strong words of encouragement, "You are all doing a most powerful job in many ways." How her love abounded even in a short note!
Many more things could be shared, but I will end with this final thought. Jesus said he came to give his people life. Abundant life. Joyful life. Soul-flooding rivers of life. Life bursting with the fruit of the Spirit. A life of loving unlovable people. I know that is true by faith because Jesus said it and by experience because I had the privilege of knowing Lois Long. How I thank the Lord for leading me to Lois' door and into her motherly heart. And as I feel the pangs of her absence, they also remind me of the overflowing joy and love that yet awaits us when we truly go home. Lois in so many ways helped us to taste heaven; that she's there now only increases the longing for it.