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July 28th, 2018

You can learn a lot about a person from their favorite quotes.  You can learn a lot about a Christian from their favorite Bible verses.  Recently my wife and I spent a week in the Caribbean as a gift from our church family for our 40th wedding anniversary.  We spent part of each day remembering favorites – our favorite dates, vacations, and so on.  One evening we shared our favorite Bible verses.

Claire Adams left no doubt about her favorite Bible verses.  She wrote them down, and shared with her pastors and her sons that she wanted them to be read at her funeral service.  It was just one of the many gifts she gave to her children.  May I suggest that for you as well?  You’d be amazed at how many people pass – even people who have been believers all their lives – and I ask their family, “Did she have any favorite Scriptures or hymns?” and they have no idea.  We knew Claire’s heart from the faith legacy embedded in her chosen Bible verses and songs.

Claire loved several passages from the Psalms, and we will include this at her graveside service.  For now, let’s focus on the texts we read earlier in the service.

Isaiah 43:1-2 – “Do not fear…I will be with you.”

This is the text Claire chose not only for herself, but for her husband Harold’s service in 2010.  The reason this passage is so memorable and important is because it was written during a very dark time in the history of the nation of Israel.  God’s people had been overrun by the Assyrians and Babylonians over a 150-year period, and it seemed to them with all the death, carnage, and captivity that God had forgotten his promises and abandoned his people.

In that setting, God reminds the exiles, “I created you.  I redeemed you.  You are mine.  I know you by name.  When you face floods or fires, I will be with you.  I am Yahweh, your God.  I am the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

That’s all a believer needs to know.  There’s no promise that life will be easy – there will be floods and fires.  But you will never face them alone.  Claire believed this, and she clung to her faith and to her God through all the ups and downs of life.  And there were many of both.

Claire was born in North Wilkesboro, the fourth of six children.  I don’t think I ever knew that about her.  I’m the fourth of five children and my wife, Linda, is the fourth of six.  I often joke that the fourth child in a family of more than four is the perfect child.  No wonder I loved Claire so much!

She was a child of the depression, that “great generation” we are rapidly losing.  Her Dad was an inventor; her Mom a full-time Mom.  Claire grew up in the Baptist church, and her home and church life were typical of those who were raised in that era, learning values of faith, family, responsibility, and frugality, values that remained with her all her life.  She believed in self-sufficiency, which included growing a garden, working hard, staying active (she was a regular at the gym right to the end!) and not spending money carelessly.

As her Sunday School teacher, Fonda Brittain, noted, Claire always showed up on Sunday morning “looking like a million dollars.”  But when Fonda would compliment her outfit she would say, “It’s just old stuff I put together.”  And it was true.  I suppose frugality never showed up more clearly than in her 1981 Toyota Corolla station wagon, which she drove until she broke her hip two weeks ago.

What was unusual about Claire among women of her generation was that she wanted an education.  She went to college at the University of Miami (Florida), then got a job at Boeing in Seattle, Washington, far from home.  From there she was hired by Superior Cable (now Corning), and that brought her back to North Carolina.  She married Harold; they were both around 30, a little older than many in their generation married, and she then focused on being a wife and a mother to Greg and Doug.  When the boys were old enough, she went back to work, this time at Lenoir Rhyne College as Assistant Registrar.

Through all these years Claire had her share of disappointments and struggles, but the reason Isaiah 43 was a favorite is because she always held on to the presence, the promises, and the power of God.  She belonged to him whether in “exile” far from home or in the coziness of her own home, cleaning and cooking and reading.

Micah 6:8 – “Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly.”

The second Scripture Claire chose is so timely because it’s actually going to be the theme verse for our church’s sermons in the month of August.  Our Board of Elders has been reflecting on “justice,” a theme often missing from our worship and priorities.

Micah prophesied before the exile, warning God’s people of judgment to come.  In Micah 6, the prophet presents God’s “case against his people.”  They have abandoned not only their God for idols; the result has been moral depravity, including injustice toward the poor and the widow and the immigrant, the most vulnerable.  Then they think they can cover it all up with a few burnt offerings.

Micah hears the people asking, “Well, what does God want from us?  Can I make another sacrifice?”  Micah is indignant.  “He has shown you what is good.  What does the Lord require of you?  Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly.”

Claire loved that verse.  She loved the Bible, all of it.  I think she and Alice Davidson were the only regular members of the Bible study I’ve been leading for 25 years on Wednesday mornings – the last few years with Pastor Lori as well.  The Bible study started before I came here, actually, and, other than Sunday School (which Claire also attended all these years) is the only constant in our small group schedule across three decades and more.

But studying the Bible can do more spiritual harm than good if the result is filling your head with spiritual knowledge that doesn’t impact your love for God and others – basic values of justice, mercy, and goodness.  Those who knew Claire best knew all that was true of her.  One clipping she had shared with me that I still had in her file had this quote highlighted by her:  “The truth of the living God is found in God’s loving deeds, not in the ‘words’ of the Bible.”  I could quibble with that quote theologically, but it reaffirms for me that Claire’s focus on God as well as us is more on actions than just words, even if they are Bible words.

Donna Myers, one of our newer members to the church and to the Wednesday Bible study, noted that Claire was “so welcoming and friendly.”

Bob Spuller, whose tenure as LR’s Academic Dean overlapped with Claire’s in the Registrar’s office, worked right across the hall from her.  Bob said that both students and faculty “loved her for her smiling face and her willingness to help them.  She was a wonderful example of a true friend and a helping hand.”

Alice Spuller added, “Back in the day, the women of Corinth met in Circles to study, share your favorite dessert, serve the church through many projects and to build loving relationships that have lasted over the years. Claire was one of those faithful and loving relationships that I treasure from those wonderful Circle groups.”

It seems a little cliché, but I can’t remember anyone ever saying anything negative about Claire.  She was kind, caring, considerate, willing, gracious, and just plain good.  I think everyone should aspire to be a fourth child!  No, that’s a joke.  What was really operative in Claire’s life was grace, and that brings me to the third Scripture she chose.

John 14:6 – “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

The passage from John comes in a very different context from the Isaiah and Micah passages.  In this case, Jesus is speaking to his disciples the night before he died.  He knows so much more about what lies ahead than they do, but they are clearly anxious about what is coming and realize everything is about to change because he said he’s going to leave them.

“Don’t be troubled,” Jesus assures them, “You trust God, so trust me.”  This hearkens back to Isaiah’s assurance, but it’s deeper.  Jesus knows our deepest human need is for relationship – knowing and being known, loving and being loved – and for eternity.  “He has set eternity in the hearts of men,” Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:11.

Jesus makes no promises about short term happiness or prosperity.  Here on this critical night he knows they will need a message not only the next day when he hangs on a cross, but for their whole lives.  The message is, “This is not the end.”  The “this” is whatever they face.  It’s not the end of their story.  “In my Father’s house are many rooms,” Jesus says.  He evokes a family metaphor to describe eternity with the Lord – a place of safety and security where you are unconditionally loved and completely known.

This is a perfect metaphor for Greg and Doug, but for all of us.  Claire loved being a Mom, and mothered her sons until she died.  She loved being with them, cooking for them, talking to them in person or by phone.  Whatever else she was to all the rest of us, she was most precious to her family.  In that way, we get such a strong sense of who she was.

The disciples, of course, want to know the way to this place of eternal family and rest that Jesus is talking about.  “I am the way,” Jesus answers, “and the truth and the life.”  He’s all we need.  Trusting in him fulfills our deepest longing.

Nothing was more important to Claire than knowing her family would share in this hope of eternity through Jesus.  Her husband Harold, though also raised a Baptist, was not as verbal in his faith or as committed to Bible study and devotional life.  When he neared the end of his life, Claire’s one key question was, “Do you believe in Jesus and that he died for your sins and that we can go be with him?”  When he answered, “Yes,” she was satisfied.

Likewise Greg and Doug said about their Mom,  “We can take comfort knowing that Claire is with the Lord.”  That, more than anything else, says all we need to know about her.  Amen.

Reflections, by Rev. Lori Blocker

I walked into this community almost seven years ago.  I came at the invitation of my family.  I had one image of what my new life here in Hickory was going to look like, but that image wasn’t coming to fruition; God had a different plan.  That plan included my new friend, Claire Adams – and first Doug and although Greg and I had met, we have bonded more closely in these past couple weeks as we’ve stood together, with his brother and mother.

Claire was my first friend here in Hickory.  I arrived at church alone many Sundays for various reasons.  My habit in past had been to join the choir right away, but that wasn’t possible as I was fighting a bad cough that kept me from singing – and many of you know that’s something I love to do….Claire saw this lost newcomer and invited her to sit with her.  You know she always had that seat on the end open.  So, I just slipped right in beside her – on the end.  She graciously smiled – something many of you shared that she always did with you as well.  It took me a couple of weeks, of Doug climbing over both of us, for me to catch on, that the end seat, she was saving for him.  I moved….And such began a new friendship that has continued through Sunday, July 22, when I held her hand – and Doug and Greg are only hearing this now, but I think, I felt her last heartbeat.

What a holy moment.  To be in the presence of your friend and her family, who have also become your friends, as she enters into the presence of eternity, peacefully to be with Jesus.  Psalm 62 says, “In God is my salvation and my glory, the rock of my strength and my refuge is in God.”  And David writes in Psalm 68, both of these Greg and Doug chose for their faith and their mother’s, “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.  Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.”  While Claire struggled in life and these last couple of weeks, both she and her sons, looked to their God, their Savior for their strength and He, who saves has helped Claire escape, eternally from the grips of death.  One moment she was breathing; the next she wasn’t.  Doug had prayed for an answer that allowed from God – clearly.  I, pray to God, Doug and Greg, that looking back that this allows you to see that answer and be at peace with each and every choice, that you and Greg made in love for your mother’s care.

I remember times that I sat with Claire and we talked about her faith.  She was clear that God had and would carry her through.  She had such a giving spirit about her.  In the bible study that she faithfully attended as she was able – and really the only time she didn’t come was really cold weather or because her car, an 81 Toyota that she didn’t want to give up and Greg helped keep it running, I mentioned one time that we were gathering linens and other household items to send to Kenya.  Claire promptly went home and cleaned out her linen closet.  She said, “I’ve had these for years; you could tell by the patterns that she had.  But they were still useful, and it was a large bag of sheets and towels along with some baskets from fruit baskets that she had received from Corinth at Christmas that I loaded along the other donations into a container for an orphanage.  She didn’t want to waste anything and she said, “she had plenty.”

This sharing spirit carried over into other areas of her life.  I spoke with one of her lifelong friends, June.  They played bridge for a while weekly; I think now it may be more monthly.  There was a list of these ladies that have been together for more than 50 years.  They have shared life.  June joined when they moved in next door to Harold and Claire.  Soon after they became neighbors, Claire was helping June with her draperies, or as June said, Claire made them and I supervised.  Claire was hanging those drapes, both of them expecting their boys, Claire, Doug and June, Jeff, one morning and then Claire went to the hospital that afternoon and delivered Doug that evening.  June laughed; she said, “that was Claire.”  Doug relayed that Claire’s mother thought at times that she wouldn’t be able to care for all the children that were at her home – his cousins ended up being in her care apparently a lot.  He said, she fixed pizza and that was that…I think also, that with the neighbors, there were always others to help keep an eye on those kids.  June relayed, “When we decided to play bridge, we took the kids outside, set up the card table in the carport and played out there.”  Shared tasks of parenting and meals, and life together over many years.  Road trips and probably hospital trips, telephone calls and weddings and now funerals.

I was out this week when I ran into June and a few others of that bridge group.  Lives that continue to overlap in other ways.  These ladies also taught together; they were having breakfast.  They were sharing stories as they have shared life.  Claire shared life with each of these and with each of you.  As I’ve heard some many places, she loved, she lived, she was full of smiles.  I know I will miss Claire Adams.  Even as I wrote these words, I had to take a deep breath and breathe in comfort from the Holy Spirit, for my faith is from the same God as Claire’s and I draw on the same words that she did, “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”  (Psalm 100)

One of the ways we can all draw comfort is from the hymns of our faith.  The hymn was written from a poem after a day of storms and clouds and then rainbows and nature sounds that came in the coolness of the evening afterwards.  It also is loosely inspired by Psalm 8.  It was one of Claire’s favorites.  Would you stand and join me as we sing this glorious hymn?  It’s on the insert in your bulletin.

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