Her name was Irene, though we all called her Miss Irene. She was the oldest member of our church. She had survived all her friends, all of her sisters and brothers, two children, and finally her husband. His death really took something out of her.
“Can you tell me why I am still here,” she asked me. “I know God must have some purpose, but I can’t for the life of me begin to know what it might be.”
We were standing at the door of the church after her husband’s funeral. Miss Irene was leaning on her walker with one arm and dabbing the corner of her eyes with a tissue with the other. There were people behind her, and all around, so I suggested we find a pew to sit on and talk.
“Too hard to get up and down,” she said. “I just want to know why I am still here. I am too feeble to do anybody any good. I don’t have anyone left in my family. Why am I here?”
It was obvious she wanted an answer from me right on the spot. I guess I should have been flattered that she would think her preacher would be able to answer such an imponderable question. Of course, I knew I couldn’t. And that is what I told her.
“Miss Irene, I don’t know.”
A few weeks later I saw Miss Irene stand up and began making her way down the aisle of the church during the altar call. I thought at first she might be sick so I made my way to her as quickly as I could. She brushed me aside saying, “I want to go the altar.”
Standing at the front of the church, leaning on the communion table, Miss Irene seemed to be laboring to breathe. As I drew closer, however, I realized she was weeping.
“I want to re-dedicate my life to the Lord,” Miss Irene told me through her sobs. Among Baptists rededication is a way for folks to renew their commitment, or re-energize their faith. But Miss Irene was one of our most faithful members. I could not imagine that her faith needed pumping up.
Before I could question her, however, she turned to me and said: “I have been feeling sorry for myself since my husband died; I even told God I wanted to die. But ever since I prayed that prayer I’ve felt guilty. God has been too good to me for me to be so selfish now. Just because I’ve hit a hard spot does not give me the right to quit. If God has left me here to do something, I want to do it.”
She died later that year on the Monday before Thanksgiving. We buried her on Wednesday. Only a few friends and church members were in attendance. I told the small gathering about the Sunday Miss Irene rededicated her life and how her faithfulness inspired the whole church. We all cried again.
As a sort of personal memorial, I give thanks for Miss Irene every Thanksgiving. I am thankful for what she taught me about courage. Having every reason to give up and give in to death, she chose life. I am also thankful for what she taught me about hope. Faced with the prospect of living a life of despair, devoid of any clear purpose, Miss Irene found purpose in the renewal of her faith.
Thanks, Miss Irene, for your dedication, or rather your re-dedication.
James L. Evans is pastor of Crosscreek Baptist Church in Pelham, Ala.