It was on February 20th, 1911, in Montevideo, Minnesota, where temperatures could plummet to 50 degrees below zero, and the wild winds almost steal your breath away, that she was born. It was on June 28th, 1996, in Pomona, California, near the beginning of an oppressive heat wave, where smog could sear your eyes and the torrid temperatures sap your energies, that she died.
And in between lands of contrasts and temperature changes lived a woman known to grandsons as "Grammy Lenz," or "Ba"--a woman of contrasts we know as Ruth Lenz.
Born to a mother who was a school teacher/homemaker and to a father who was a funeral director and part owner of a furniture store, Ruth felt special being born book ended on one side by Abraham Lincoln's birthday and on the other by the birthday of George Washington. "I secretly thought I was special," she said, "and then when Congress messed up the calendar making legal holidays into long weekends they tarnished my secret glory!"
It was no secret, however, that she became an active, capable, reliable, sometimes stern seeker of truth and knowledge, and good works. At 14 she worked as a telephone operator. Living by now in Akeley, Minnesota, she graduated Valedictorian in a class of eleven and doubled as Class President.
A woman of learning she also was a woman of the earth, loving her home state with its many lakes and glaciated formations. Home was where there were pine-covered hills and "thinly populated areas" with blue skies reflected in blue waters--"God's country," she called it.
Taking on a curriculum in education, she graduated from a college in St. Cloud, taught elementary school in places like Kellogg and Grinnell, Iowa.
Ruth met a man of the soil named Ernest Lenz, who enjoyed talking about pig production and corn yields, the training of a team of horses named Whitey and Josie, and why Franklin Roosevelt would trounce Herbert Hoover in a November election. They married June 11, 1937, and for good measure, climbed Half Dome in Yosemite on their honeymoon.
Children blessed this marriage--wonderful, talented children: Elnora, on April 18, 1938, and Karen, August 10th, 1939. Church worship and Sunday School became soul-shapers. The mind began being stretched at Roosevelt Elementary School. Gifts were discovered, natural ones, so Elnora and Karen expressed themselves in music: Elnora with violin and viola, Karen on the clarinet, and both on the piano.
The two children grew, married, had children of their own bringing joy to Ruth and Ernest. Then contrast reared its fierce effrontery in tragedy. In November 1965, Elnora died of melanoma cancer. "It was," Ruth said, "the most devastating experience of my adult life."
But life is relentless, firing itself at point blank range and with its flow, though imprinted with pain, went Ruth Lenz.
After years of teaching, in June of 1971, she retired and so did Ernest, giving up his position as maintenance custodian of Trinity United Methodist Church. The traveling bug bit and travel they did--for 2 months, touring the United States. A die was cast. Travel was a given, taking them to lands of contrasts: from Stonehenge to Seattle, from Houston to Hawaii.
In time sadness again crossed RuthÕs life. The good-natured, honest, sweet man many of us knew, Ernest, died on January 20th, 1993.
From here we tell the rest of RuthÕs story in potpourri fashion: writing long letters was not her long suit, but as she once said, she "wrote lots and lots of notes." Off and on during a five year period she was editor of the church newspaper. In addition to meeting here, when I was on staff for several years, Ruth and I met in a writing class at Joslyn Senior Center in Claremont where we could appreciate and respectfully critique each othersÕ writing stabs.
She loved this church, serving a stint as President of the United Methodist Women. Of special significance was the Friday WomenÕs Bible/Study/Prayer Group of which she once wrote, "We know each other so well and trust each other so much, we can share personal problems and hurts." It was on Friday of last week that the group meeting at Bonnie's house was having a going-away party for Vivian Figueroa. Ruth couldn't be there, so the group was signing a card for Ruth, saying things like, "We miss you...," "So sorry youÕre ill...," "Wish you were here...," "You will remain in our prayers." Ruth died before she could read these well-wishes....
This woman who loved to smile, who always baked her own bread, lovingly labored with "Meals on Wheels", and knitted sweaters for practically everybody in sight, once wrote in her autobiography about feeling unworthy, not measuring up, and being uncomfortable about being bossy and domineering at times, and having been demeaned by poverty, nevertheless, was proud of her family, acknowledging the differences in families and writing for all of us to ponder "God must love differences. Each and everyone of us in the whole earth is different." It reminded me of what Abraham Lincoln once said, "God must have loved ordinary people; he made so many of them."
Ruth Lenz, who so often thought of herself as ordinary, leaves a legacy of something in Life that is extraordinary...
And in the vacuum created by her leaving we mourn. We can weep for what was and what might have been. But always remember, "When youÕre standing on the shore straining for one last look, as she sails out of sight and thinking, "Oh no! There she goes!" there are others standing on the opposite shore straining for that first glimpse and saying, "Oh look! Here she comes!" Others perhaps like Elnora and Ernest and the loving Christ of her faith. Amen.
O God, we acknowledge you as the spark and fuel of compassion, the eternal enervating spirit of the universe, and the tender Mother/Father to our wounds. Be now, for RuthÕs family and all of the rest of us, the Winged One of Peace, sheltering and giving us rest under your wings as you have given shelter and rest to Ruth. As she has found refuge and strength and joy with you, so let our restless souls find that holy friendship with you as we steer our souls through the shoals of grief, richly remembering a life we were privileged to share.
As she has found peace, so bring peace to us.
As she is dazzled by the wonder of Life so dazzle us.
As she shares your love, so also prepare us to live long and well until that day when we may join the Master Jesus and the whole company of saints that have gone on before us to that land where the only language spoken is the language of love...
I do not wish you joy without sorrow; nor endless day without the healing dark; nor brilliant sun without the restful shadow; nor tides that turn against your bark. I wish you love, and strength, and faith and wisdom, Goods, gold enough to help some needy one. I wish you songs, but also blessed silence, and GodÕs sweet peace when every day is done. Amen.
Two voice scripture: John 14: 15-21, 25-27
E: If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
D: And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another counselor, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.
E: I will not leave you desolate: I will come to you.
D: Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also.
E: In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
D: He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me;
E: And he who loves me will be loved by my Father and I will love him and manifest myself to him.
D: These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you.
E: But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
D: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.
E: Let not your hearts be troubled.
D: Neither let them be afraid.