The Rev. Benton Heisler looks back on his childhood relationship with Aunt Peggy. She nurtured in him a love of scripture and a desire to share God’s grace with others.
Director of Connectional Ministry
I was about five-years-old. She was in her 70s. Everyone called her Aunt Peggy.
Marguerite Bradley was the widow of the pastor that served my parents’ congregation before I was even born. The congregation had built her a home and she lived there until a stroke required her to move to a care facility when she was in her 90s. She and her husband had seen my parents through some tragic life events before I ever was the tag-along with my mom on those visits to her home.
I was easily occupied in the kitchen by some cookies and milk while the two of them would converse. The visits always ended in prayer. Aunt Peggy would place her hearing aid unit on the foot stool in front of us, so my hesitant voice might be heard better. Mostly I listened to her and my mom talk with their best friend, Jesus. I was young, but it sure seemed to me like God was right there in that room listening!
I remember going straight to Aunt Peggy with my newly acquired “third grade Bible” the church gave to me. “Aunt Peggy, where should I begin?” She helped me find I Corinthians 13, and she helped me read through it. “You read those last words again by yourself. You can do it.” So, I did, “And the greatest of these is love.” “Don’t you ever forget that,” she said, in her quiet trembling voice. It felt to me like God was in that room, talking to me through her.
I went on to learn more verses:
Proverbs 3: 5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart….”
Joshua 1:6-9 “Be strong and courageous and do not be afraid….”
Isaiah 43 “Fear not…for I am with thee and will uphold you….”
Jeremiah 29:11 “I have plans for you… a future with hope…”
Memorizing those verses and others, meant all the difference in the difficult days of middle school and a move to a new community. In those same years, the world got even a little harsher as it was discovered that my father had a tumor that needed to be removed, followed by weeks of radiation in a hospital 45 minutes away. Many a tearful night was spent wondering if he would live or die. It was the reciting and reclaiming of those verses that, time and again, helped me feel that God was in the room and that whatever happened, God would remain by my side.
I visited Aunt Peggy when I was in my early 20s. A stroke had affected her capacity to move beyond the bed of her room, yet her faith was every bit as active as my early childhood moments in that house filled with milk, cookies and Love. She schooled me in a few short sentences about God’s abundantly provisional love and that grief was a necessary and important element of that love. It was a tearful goodbye transfigured into more of an eternal “see you later,” as we both sensed that God was in that room.
Life moved on with various experiences of joy and sorrow. In the past ten years there have been three life-threatening hospitalizations for our two daughters. Sitting in the “hospital quiet” of blinking machines, muffled voices in the hall and sleep-interrupting “wellness checks,” I clung again to various verses of promise, hope and comfort. Despite my vulnerability and the unknown future for a daughter in a hospital bed near me, I knew God was in the room.
Our mission as the Church and people of God is unwavering. “Go and make disciples in my name and teach them everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28: 18-20) My experiences noted above are no different than those of countless other persons. There is incredible heartache, brokenness, animosity, and anxiety in our world. Our responsibilities as Disciples is to help others to see and hear in words and actions, that God is in the room. There are next generations to teach the scriptures and promises that will be a compass on their journey, a comfort in their trials, a celebration in their triumphs and grace for every misstep along the way.
I pray that as we leave every encounter with others along life’s way they may sense in us that Jesus was in our hearts, the Holy Spirit was guiding our conversation, and that God was in the room.