Leah died at home one year ago this week on the Lord’s Day. She stepped into glory as the rest of the saints at 2RP in Indianapolis were stepping into the church building. She struggled with chronic illness, so we knew her days on earth were coming to an end. Her death was not a surprise, but her life was a delightful surprise.
You see, Leah changed a lot as she aged - a lot more than most people do in their 60s. Jay Adams frequently reminded us that, it’s true, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. It’s also true that we are not dogs! Instead, we are image bearers of God, and Christians are being conformed to the image of Christ. We can and do change because God changes us. Leah became more and more sanctified through faith in Christ. It’s worth remembering her life, God’s grace, the change in her and in the people who served with her.
She came to us in her mid-50s after spending a few years in another faithful church that had ministered well to her. Sadly, that church was forced to close its doors. It was another hard chapter in a life with many challenges. Leah’s childhood wasn’t easy. She faced some physical irregularities, others had often marginalized her, her personality had some rough edges, and not all of her relationships in life had been smooth. Administratively employed, she had supported herself as a life-long single, but she never had much materially. She smoked cigarettes extensively and had developed other unprofitable habits that shaped her life for the worse.
Along the way in life, she had tasted the grace of God in Christ and had embraced Jesus by faith. Leah was understandably grumpy about her former church closing as she came to us, and she settled in slowly. A couple of members in the congregation demonstrated their love through persistent hospitality. One peer, in particular, made it a point to become Leah’s friend.
As Leah’s chronic diseases intensified and as her consumer debt rose, she reached to the church for help. A pastor, a deacon, and a couple of others in the church came alongside her. Her circumstances were something of a ticking time bomb. To this team of servants, she humbly opened her life, her financial records, and her relationships. Often, people don’t respond well when they are told they must change their ways. But, to our great delight, this sixty year-old woman did change. The team helped her restructure some debt with a plan to eliminate it. She agreed to quit the cigarettes, especially as she considered the cost, and she followed through. With help, she restructured some relationships. More and more, she had a sense of how God’s grace was designed to change her. The doctrine of election was her favorite; she knew that if there was anyone who didn’t deserve to be saved and anyone who wouldn’t have chosen the Lord on her own, it was her.
The deacons helped organize several major projects and improvements on her modest home which was in some disrepair. People helped out of love and a holy sense of obligation. Leah’s progress was slow but steady as her life changed on the outside and on the inside.
As her health slowly declined, faithful church members stepped up more to care for her by providing rides to church and to doctors’ appointments. They shared meals together and deep friendships deepened. Leah became more connected to the congregation in heart, even if she wasn’t always present. Being high-risk for cold and flu, she only came to evening services due to its smaller crowd. Even then, she sat as far as she could from anyone other than the lady who had become her faithful friend and who drove her to worship week by week. Leah made social-distancing “cool” until she died at the end of 2019. Little did any of us know her example was preparing us all to social-distance in 2020!
Humor helped carry her through tough circumstances of life. She could laugh at people, life circumstances, and even herself. She really liked Sour Patch Kids candy. She was honored to be compared to those candies: a little sour on the outside, but pure sugar on the inside, by God’s grace. Of course, her sanctification wasn’t quite complete. She was thankful to receive DVD copies of worship services she missed. And she liked getting them that way too because then she “could fast-forward through the boring parts.” I’m not sure anyone ever felt the courage or necessity to ask what the boring parts were. The Lord was still working on other areas of her life too, as he is with us all. He was working, however, and that was evident to all.
Her final years were marked by increasing reliance on the Lord, deeper friendships, enthusiasm for the church, appreciation for the pastor and his wife (except when she thought the pastor’s wife wasn’t feeding him enough), a desire to give what little she had, an increasing perception of people and their needs, a love for children, and a desire to grow in the Lord.
Profound sadness settled over the congregation that December morning when she died a year ago, even as we rejoiced in her gain. The memory of her life encouraged us that the Lord's word is true: “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Sanctification knows no expiration date for the believer here on earth. God’s Spirit will transform us all.
We committed Leah’s mortal remains to the ground in the hope of the resurrection and remembered her life as a daughter of God together in a memorial service. But, the Lord had one more gift to encourage us.
Quietly, Leah had bequeathed her estate to the church. Because she changed her daily disciplines and habits over the last decade of her life, she had a lot more to give back than was expected. The amount she gave in death probably would not have paid for what the church gave her in life: the man-hours of sacrificial service, the house-repair expenses, the transportation costs, and more. But, on the other hand, the gift was worth far, far more than we had invested.
God tenderly gave the financial gift to simply remind us of how much more he had given us when he gave Leah. She was a gift of inestimable worth, and through her, the Lord worked great riches in our own souls as we served alongside her. In particular, God has given us a new sense of expectation that he will indeed keep working in all of his children, regardless of age, until he is pleased to take them home.