|Alta and I at my brother, Kory's Wedding in December 2000. |
There was a RAGING snow storm, but that didn't stop Alta from
making sure she was there for that important ceremony...
and she stayed for the Reception and Dance after wards!
I think part of the reason Alta had such an impact on me was that Alta wasn't like any of the other adults I knew growing up.
First off, her hair was a pinkish hue...I think it was naturally red and she dyed it and it sorta got mauve. I thought it was lovely...you can see in the photo she always styled it so prettily and loved a good hat or head piece. I never thought her to be vain, but rather respectful in making sure she presented her best self.
Second, she never really walked anywhere...she always sort of scampered and when she was out and about she wore sensible heels all the time. (At home, she wore pants, button down shirts, hankies over her hair, and off-brand KEDS, but that's another story).
Finally, she just DID things differently than other people. She was beyond frugal; writing down every mile driven, gallon of gas put in, and using a decrepit wallet that she held closed with a rubber band because it was still quite good except for the zipper. She called at the break of dawn to run ideas past people or make sure things were in place for whatever WELCA activity was happening next. She didn't dilly-dally on the phone gossiping or taking up your time; she'd simply say, "Thank you for now" and she'd be off. She typed EVERYTHING...lists, letters, notes...always typed perfectly on her typewriter. Her house was tidy as could be, but it was like a museum...she had curiosities all over...shells, shark teeth, rocks, etc. She would take time to talk to you about each item, but if she was busy getting your snack together you could learn about them yourself because they each had a little typed note either on, or near them, that told you what it was, where she'd gotten it, and any other interesting tidbit. She'd always let you touch them. She was our church organist and she was so great...no dragging hymns for us! Her preludes were timed and started EXACTLY that many minutes and seconds before the service was to commence. She wrote on her hymnal the dates of when the hymns were sung...I'm not sure if she helped plan the services and wanted to make sure we didn't "over sing" anything or if she just liked to know. Her postludes were always spunky and reminded you of a carousel or old-time skating music. She talked so fast that she lost most people in the process and would talk of good stewardship, justice for others, and how we might care for "the least of these". She remembered every story and could recall who she had given piano lessons to and when. She called me her "Young Friend" and while I'm sure there were times my teenage self wasn't totally "into" going to an organ concert or other outing with Alta, I always went and enjoyed myself immensely.
Sadly, she passed away October 4, 2002. She was sick and I happened to be home from Southern MN. I called her in the hospital and told her I wanted to come see her, "No need!" she'd said. "I'm heading home tomorrow!" Instead, she ended up getting worse, being taken to Fargo, and passing away in the night. I was devastated. I stayed and went to her funeral. I remember sitting up in the balcony; our little country church was PACKED. The sermon was the story of Dorcas/Tabitha from Acts. Pastor Smith correlated Tabitha and Alta...her mission work and sewing she'd done for the Hospital Auxiliary, her work on the Historical Society for Polk County, her service at the church and the countless ways she had worked to make our community better. He talked that although Peter raised Tabitha on the spot, Alta would need to wait, but SURELY she would be raised again and would continue to testify to the world about the greatness of her God. Since that day, that story has been my favorite...and, like Alta, an inspiration and encouragement about how I want to live my life.
If you're in an ELCA Congregation, your first lesson today was Acts 9:36-43; the story of Dorcas/Tabitha. As I sit in my chair this morning at our church in West Fargo, ND, I couldn't help but grin and think of Alta. Yes, I got a little sad as there are still times I sob as I miss her so terribly...but mostly I smiled to myself about KNOWING someone who was so much like Tabitha...someone who helped the poor and gave of herself so fully. As I was listening, I realized something about Alta that I had never realized before--Alta didn't apologize about who she was. Yes, I'm sure she apologized when she did wrong, but I don't ever recall Alta apologizing for who she was...for her quirks or how she did her life.
As a woman who works part time at the church, juggles 4 kids, a husband, an established business, a fledgling business, and the roles of sister, daughter, friend, and confidant; I find myself apologizing a LOT....for things I can't really control, for having an opinion, for being convicted in a certain way about topics. Should I apologize when I do wrong? Absolutely! Should I apologize for who I am? For what I believe God has put into my heart? Uhhh.....
I've been thinking about this all day today...while I finished up services, got the kids in the car, had lunch, drove them to music lessons, got groceries, drove home, helped with homework, read books, made supper, did laundry, and the myriad of other Sunday afternoon activities I do to make sure the week runs a bit more smoothly and I think I realized WHY Alta didn't apologize for her quirks....
I don't think it was the fact that she had gotten old enough not to care. I don't even think that it was the fact that she knew that she KNEW herself. Rather, I think it was the simple fact that she and God had spent enough time together that she KNEW His voice. (If you're ELCA; the Gospel in John was about this today). She knew who He'd made her to be, she knew what He needed her to do, where He needed her to serve, and how He had equipped her to do it. And she did it. Sure, what she told you might sting a little, but not out of malice; Alta was one of the first people to tell me that being honest with someone can be done in love...if it is received it in a different way that isn't yours to control.
If you know the Shepherd's voice, you don't need to apologize about being His Sheep.
Today, at the end of worship, a couple came up and told me how much they enjoy my accompanying the services, "You play with such zest, we just love how you spice up those hymns". I admit I beamed as I thanked them, after all, I learned from the best how to play a good hymn....but tonight, Lord, I pray that I will know you SO fully that I need not apologize for being your Sheep; for doing your will and helping those in need continually. And...if you can, when you come to raise us all, can you make sure Alta and I get a seat at the table near each other? I cannot WAIT to spend eternity in your presence with her....we've got SO much to catch up on! Amen.