In Loving Memory of Emma Lotter: Queen of the “Bonus Years”
This is the text of the message I delivered at my grandmother’s memorial service on April 9, 2011 at the Chapel of the Lake (Lake Saint Louis, MO). On April 4, 2011 she would have been 101 years old. She went to be with the LORD just a few days earlier.
This past Monday, my grandmother Emma Lotter would have been one-hundred-and-one years old. In the first decade of her life, the President of the United States was William Taft. The Titanic sunk. American fought in “The Great War”. Arizona became the 48th state. The Boy Scouts of America was founded. Mark Twain died. Honus Wagner led the Pittsburg Pirates to the World Series Championship. Brand new, newfangled inventions included the fridgerator and the zipper. And on a dairy farm near Charlotte, North Carolina, a baby was born and given the name William Franklin Graham.
In the last decade of Emma’s life, September 11th became the new “day that would live in infamy.” The economy sunk. The United States fought the War on Terror. Facebook was founded. Michael Jackson died. David Eckstein led the Saint Louis Cardinals to the World Series Championship. Words like “blog” and “tweet” entered our vocabulary. And new technology enabled everyone to send texts, photos, and videos all across the world—instantaneously.
The massive scope of the human story that ran concurrent to Emma Lotter’s life is truly awe-inspiring. Thinking about all that she witnessed firsthand—it is difficult to wrap your mind around it. It seems like such a long time. That is why we may be surprised when King David writes in Psalm 144: “Man is but a breath; his days are like passing shadows.” Or again, Moses writes in Psalm 90: “A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death— they are like the new grass of the morning: In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered.”
In other words, when all is said and done, we don’t have a long time here on earth. Life is precious, but it is short.
At a certain point in my grandmother’s life, she realized that. For years, she had the adventuresome, family-oriented, humorous, social butterfly personality that we all knew and loved. But in the mid-1980’s, she suffered two devastating blows: her high school sweetheart and beloved husband Richard Lotter died of emphesema—with much of his life still before him. And her daughter, Elaine, died tragically. Emma responded by entering into a decade-long depression that was deep and grey and during which you and I, quite simply, would have not have recognized her.
And yet, as God so often does with all of us, he allowed Emma to wallow in her dark night of the soul just so long before he finally, graciously brought her to the dawn. When my family moved to Saint Louis in 1993, my parents—not finding an affordable retirement home—took a risk by setting my grandmother up in her own apartment. In one of the first nights in that apartment, Mom-Mom had a life-changing experience.
She had stayed up late to continue to unpack her things. As she began to work her way through photos of family, letters from old friends, mementos of a blessed life, something—or someone—began working in her heart. Early in the morning—perhaps 2:00 or 3:00 a.m.—she said the Holy Spirit spoke to her. And he simply said, “Enough, Emma. Enough. It is time you got back to being yourself.”
Now, Mom-Mom told me she thought the change was gradual. But from my point of view, it was instantaneous. First thing I knew, my grandmother’s eyes were hollow and lifeless, and while she was pleasant, she barely talked to me. But the next thing I knew, she was chatting up a storm, sewing like mad, volunteering for every ministry under the sun, and baking more cookies than I could eat in a lifetime. In fact, when I was at Wheaton College, I told my newly revitalized grandmother that Dr. Lyle Dorsett, one of my professors, loved dogs—especially Airedale Terriers. About a week later, I got a care package that included cookies for my professor—baked in the shape of Airedale Terriers.
Later on, I discovered that my grandmother had read a passage in the Bible she found very meaningful—Joel chapter 2. In the Book of Joel, the people of Israel had rejected God and strayed from the straight and narrow. For that reason, he sent judgment upon them. He sent a swarm of locusts that devastated everything in their path. But when Israel repented, God mercifully proclaimed: “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locusts have eaten…you shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you.”
In other words, they wasted their years—but he gave them back.
This was my grandmother’s hope. She prayed for “bonus years.” And boy, did she get them!
In my opinion, the message of my grandmother’s life is this: that while you have breath, it is never too late. Though you have frittered your life away in the things that don’t please him, God is gracious—and you have only to turn toward him and he will, in his grace, restore your life. He will give back to you the years that the locust have eaten.
My grandmother’s life also reminds me that no matter how dark and tragic your life looks, there is always hope. Hope for personal healing. Hope for the mending of a broken relationship. Hope for the restoration of a marriage or the reconciliation of a family. Hope for love and peace. “I remember my affliction and my wandering,” the author of Lamentations wrote, “the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Of course, Emma’s ultimate hope—and all of ours—is Jesus Christ.
I’ve been reflecting on Mom-Mom’s homegoing in its proximity to Easter Sunday. As we approach Easter, we need to remind ourselves that on good Friday, the disciples hope had died. Everything they held dear, all that promised a bright future, had been crucified on a Roman Cross. His hands and feet were pierced, blood flowed from his side, and from the sixth hour to the ninth hour, there was darkness over the land.
Hope was dead.
But three days later, the stone was rolled away, the grave had been defeated, and Jesus Christ was risen! Our hope was resurrected! So, God’s people in every age have been able to proclaim, “dying he destroyed our death, rising he restored our life!” Jesus Christ, the Jewish carpenter who was God in the flesh, had the power and authority to grant eternal life to all those who entrusted their souls to his mercy.
Our greatest enemy in life is not a bad economy, the threat of terrorism, or a culture hostile to God. Our greatest threat in life is death. And Our Lord Jesus Christ vanquished it!
For this reason, though we mourn Mom-Mom’s death, we rejoice in her hope! Though we look at the world around us, with all its moral decay and conflict, we do not lose heart. Though we witness a world full of war and racism, murder and rape, rampant materialism and the oppression of the poor, we do not give up. Though we look at God’s people—the Church—and see lukewarm-ness, inconsistency, and hypocrisy—and we know that we are part of the problem—nevertheless, we can still press on. Following Emma’s example, we can hold on to hope.
For, as a great Polish Christian who grew up under the oppression of communism once proclaimed: “Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people. And Hallelujah is our song!”
Thank you, Jesus, for the blessing of my grandmother—Emma Lotter, Queen of the Bonus Years!
The peace of Christ be with you all.