August 23, 2011
Dearest Children of God,
We are here to celebrate the life of Ruth Margie Van Leuven, a descendant of some of the first settlers of this region. Like her forebears, Ruth was a hard and conscientious worker, one of those whose steady commitment to their job and their family keeps the community going. Ruth had dreamed of becoming a model. She certainly had a beautiful figure and was accepted at modeling school, but because of an accident that was not to be. Instead she became a nurturer, in her paid work and beyond.
She was always buying presents for the children she knew. She cared for her brother Walter’s home and those of many others. She’d do anything for anybody. She was good to her neighbors. She’d take them on errands. Does it matter that sometimes she’d get a bit annoyed when they asked her to take them to one place and ended up asking her to go to four or five? She was a woman of strong feelings. Her neighbors probably knew that finally Ruthie wouldn’t say no.
The bottom line for Ruth was always to be there for those she knew. Her heart was as big as this world. If you were a little short, she gave you money. She loved to cook: her family remembers her mac and cheese and her fried chicken, even though she herself stopped eating meat years ago because she could not bear the suffering inflicted upon the animals used for food. She loved to go fishing, but never brought fish home because she would usually let them go. One hobby that she dearly enjoyed was doing ceramics. Her class was every Tuesday night. Should we be surprised that she made animals and angels? She loved her church as well, and was a shining light in the Church of the Nazarene in Kingston until it closed. More recently she began coming to this church and would have continued except that her illness made it impossible.
Ruthie’s first love was her family. She took care of her parents when they became ill. Her nephew Jimmy remembers the wonderful Sunday drives that she, he, and Walter would take. They’d go to Vermont looking for antiques or to Lake George where they could enjoy the horses, or to Connecticut, and they’d have a nice meal on the way. In time, she began looking after her sister Elaine in Port Ewen. First, she would have coffee every morning with her sister Eloise who lived around the corner from her in Kingston: coffee in the morning and a little visit and TV at the end of the day. Even after she became ill, she continued going to her brother Walter’s house to care for Elaine. She did not shirk her responsibilities.
Her three-year fight with cancer was terrible and so hard to accept. Why would this happen to such a good, upright, and caring person? There is no easy answer. She did not deserve to suffer. Anger at this ending of a life is fully understandable. The hole that she will leave in the hearts of her family and of those of us who knew her is huge. But we must be thankful that her suffering is finally over.
Now bear me out and understand the comparison I am going to make. Ruth had a little dog named Chance, who is still alive and well at Walter’s. Chance was a rescued dog, so named because Ruth knew she was giving her a second chance. That is what God does for each one of us. We no longer see Ruth, but she is not gone. God takes each of us from wherever we are in this hard and sometimes harsh mortal life. God surrounds us with a divine love and care and mercy that we can hardly imagine. God gives us a second chance. This is our faith and this is our hope.
Ruth is now resting safely from her pain and her labors. There can be no doubt in my mind that she is a lamb of our Savior’s own flock. She has been redeemed by our Savior’s own life and terrible death among us, and freed by our Savior’s mighty Resurrection and glorious Ascension. Christ destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light. Our faith tells us that Ruth has been received into everlasting peace and into that glorious company of the saints of light. She has been raised into new life, a life that everything in her life among us was preparing her for. This is cause for celebration and for praise, and this is why, despite our terrible grief, we know there can be joy in this day.
I must say of Ruth what I love to say of each blessed departed soul: She now knows so much more than we do. She is in the presence of the one Beloved. We are still pilgrims with miles to go, but Ruth has finished her course, living in her heavenly home for eternity. We sing Alleluia--Praise the Lord--with the hope and faith we can muster, but Ruth’s hope and faith have finally been fulfilled. Her song is richer than we can yet know, but we can join her in saying tegether: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia. So may it be, Lord Jesus. And let the people say,