The Eulogy for Alma M. (Snyder) Westbrook
One of Alma’s favorite activities was to watch the birds that came to the birdfeeder outside her window. The image calls to mind these words of Jesus in the sermon of the mount:
‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,* or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?* 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God* and his* righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
34 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
I was struck talking with Dave, Barbara and Charlie yesterday about the experience that Alma lived through of the great flood that struck this region back in 1955. Following two hurricanes, the rising waters took the lives of an estimated 175 people who lived in the lowest lying regions of this valley. Alma was a young mother with two small children at the time. It took several days afterward to account for all the extended family members. It was a truly terrifying thing to live through.
Hearing of the flood, I am reminded of a verse from one of my favorite hymns, “How Firm a Foundation”:
“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
the rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
for I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.“
There was, I am told, an unshakable calm to Alma; perhaps it had something to do with having lived through that great flood. It had the effect, I’m sure of impressing upon Alma the true treasures of her life, her family and her faith. She was never interested in travelling far from home; she lived her whole in just a couple of homes within two miles of each other in East Strousburg. Her days revolved around home and church, where she taught Sunday school to toddlers for over thirty years, and where she started and sustained the altar guild.
She had eight aunts and uncles, and every Friday night the whole extended family would come over to Alma’s house, and during weekdays her Aunt Peg as well as her uncles Al, Dick and Harry would often stop by to share a cup of coffee over the kitchen table.
In the summertime Alma hosted family reunions in her back yard where as many as eighty people would be on hand; happy times indeed.
To the end of her life, Alma was, I am told, a little fanatical about the care of her house. She took care of the repairs and the painting that needed to be done; she was determined to make sure the gutters were cleaned out. The story is told of her climbing up a ladder at 81 to clean out her gutters, after dark, in fact, so as to not be noticed by her family next door. She took pride in mowing the lawn on the riding lawn mower. Weighing in at all of 96 pounds Dave and Charlie had to rig the rider mower to override the child proof function so that Alma could ride it.
She had a very strong sense of home.
The night before Jesus died, he gathered around a dinner table with his friends and said to them,
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe* in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?* 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
In the end, in spite of our best efforts, we are never truly “at home” in this world. Our true home is in heaven, and the good news is, Jesus has a place prepared for us — for Alma — a place of peace and joy. The Promise of the Holy Spirit
“I will not leave you orphaned;” said Jesus on that last night of his earthly life.
We all have burdens to carry in this life. Alma’s great burden was that, in a certain sense, she lived this life as an orphan. Her mother was a troubled woman, whose capacity to offer the motherly love that Alma deserved was severely limited by her own personal heart wounds. Marriage to Alma’s husband did not set her free from her mother’s brokenness; in fact, from the very first day of their marriage Alma’s mother resided in their house, jealously vying for Alma’s attention. It was hard for Alma, and it surely kept her from living life in the abundance that Jesus promises. Nonetheless, she faithfully cared for her mother, as well as her father, in their final years.
Our ultimate healing waits to the life beyond this life, and we trust that in the great by and by our Savior heals the wounds of our hearts – the brokenness of her mother’s heart, and now, all the wounds that Alma carried in her heart as well.
Jesus will not leave us orphaned. “I will come to you,” he promises. “””Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
An auto accident in 2006 demonstrated that it was time to retire the car and the independence that went with it. Alma grew very tired as her life wore on. “I’m ready,” she’d say. The body was giving out.
At the end of the Bible, the apostle John writing as a prisoner on the island of Patmos describes a vision that was given to him, in which he saw “a new heaven and a new earth”, and the promise is made that God will dwell with his people, wiping away every tear from their eyes.
“Death,” he declares, “will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
And God declares, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
And so now Alma herself has been made new. And if there are kitchen tables and coffee in heaven, Alma is there, with all those who have gone before her. We will all one day be made new as well, and one day you will see her again, transformed in the radiance of God’s pure light.