Margaret is still with us as I write, so this is not an obit.
I just wanted to express more fully the appreciation of our family for the faithful prayers of countless friends far and wide who have lifted her and us to the Father since Margaret’s massive heart attack last Friday around noon.
Friday morning perhaps around 11 am, Margaret had driven herself to the nail salon for a pedicure.The ladies there say she had just seated herself on the chair when she began coughing. Then, she passed out.
They ran next door to the laundromat and asked for help. Someone called 911. The Harahan police station is a block away, and they responded immediately, followed by the firefighters. They started CPR, and rushed her to Ochsner’s Hospital, some three miles or so to the east.
The hospital called my house. “Sir, you need to come to the emergency immediately.” Daughter-in-law Julie had to drive me since we have only the one car.(I was afraid Margaret might have been in an accident. She’s driving very little these days and has been getting around with a walker or cane. But this drive was short and the parking was easy. Still, I was concerned.)
“Your wife went one hour without a heartbeat,” the emergency staff said. “The only oxygen she received was from the compressions in CPR.” The doctor said, “We have no idea how much oxygen her brain received during this time, but it was not enough.”
Thereafter, they did a hundred things to try to save her life and stabilize her.
THAT WAS FRIDAY. THIS IS MONDAY NIGHT.
Margaret is receiving the best care imaginable. But she is not responding at all that I can tell. They have eliminated the sedation and returned her body temperature to normal (after initially cooling her down), and she is still unresponsive. Today they did a second EEG, and we will hear the report of that Tuesday morning.
The hospital staff has all kinds of specialists who work with Margaret and then report to the doctor in charge, who compiles the data, analyzes it all, and then talks to us.
Today we were told, “This is going to take several days, possibly weeks.” That is so discouraging. Those who have seen their loved one lying there with all kinds of tubes and IVs, their chest heaving, medical people in and out all the time, while we alternate between tears and prayers, talking to family members and medical people and visitors coming and going—well, the continual stress is overwhelming.
I WANTED TO TELL YOU A LITTLE ABOUT MARGARET.
I met Margaret Ann Henderson when she was a high school senior and I was a transfer sophomore at nearby Birmingham-Southern College. West End Baptist Church (1133 Tuscaloosa Avenue in West End) was her home church. I joined it in September of 1959 and was baptized there. We sang in the youth choir together.
Now, Margaret was eye-catching, no question about that. But there are plenty of those around. What struck me about her was the day she gave a talk of some kind in Sunday School. She stood before 30 or 40 of us and blew me away. Not only was she wonderful to look at, she was articulate and bright, well-spoken and confident.
It was probably a year before we started dating. (I am one fast worker, huh?)
We married in April of 1962, just after I graduated from college. She knew I was going to be a preacher, but neither of us had a clue what that meant or where it would take us. We went into the ministry the same way we married: by faith.
When we began dating, I was surprised to learn that her self-esteem was extremely low. A teacher or two along the way had demolished her confidence by calling her stupid. She was anything but stupid. When we began pastoring in Greenville, Mississippi, she and friend Pat Odom decided to try college. They drove the 30 miles each day to Mississippi Delta Junior College in Moorhead and took entry level (i.e., easy) courses. Both made A’s, and she was off.
Some years later, Margaret graduated with honors from Mississippi University for Women in Columbus where we were pastoring. She helped to found a shelter for battered women and later was hired to run it. She taught women in Sunday School and frequently directed the church’s drama program. When we pastored in North Carolina, she ran a television camera.
But there was a problem.
Margaret has battled depression much of her adult life. Sometimes it was severe, other times not so much. She has had wonderful counselors and Christian psychiatrists, and was hospitalized a couple of times.
One result of all this is that in the last 10 or 15 years, she has lost a lot of memory. Sometimes, when I’m back in a church we once pastored, women will ask about her. “Oh, I used to be in her class. She was the most wonderful teacher. I’ll never forget the time she…” and they will tell me something she said or did.
I’ll tell Margaret when I get home, but she remembers none of it.
Because of her health issues, she almost never accompanies me when I go to speak in churches. When pastors say, “And will your wife be with you?” I just say, “No, she’s heard me” and let it go at that.
During our earlier pastorates, Margaret reached out to young pastors’ wives to encourage them. Once she discovered that they battled the same feelings of helplessness and inadequacies that she did, she was able to connect with them and make a real difference for several. (To this day, I urge pastors’ wives to reach out to one another. Something inside them wants to believe that the others have their act together, that “you alone” are the only one having trouble with the demanding church, the overworked pastor, the expectations on you, the needs of your children, and the tiny budget. But when the wives reach out to one another, God does some amazing things.)
Margaret remembers none of these things.
In our last pastorate, First Baptist Church of Kenner, where we presently belong, she and I team-taught the auditorium Bible class. Eighty to a hundred people would sit across the auditorium while she and I sat on stools at the front before two microphones. People would say, “Brother Joe will tell you what the Hebrew says, but Miss Margaret will tell you what it means on Tuesday.”
She was a wonderful Bible teacher.
But you can’t prove it by her.
She remembers none of it.
But here’s the thing…
It’s not necessary for my wife to remember all the people she taught, the pastors’ wives she encouraged, the churches she blessed, or (ahem) the sermons she wrote.
“God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love that you have shown to His Name in having ministered to the saints and in still ministering” (Hebrews 6:10).
God remembers. And when Margaret gets to heaven–whether it’s this week or 10 years from now–she will be so surprised to learn that the Father has kept every tear of hers in His bottle, that all the pain she endured trying to find her way to serving Him and dealing with this impossible husband of hers, it was all precious to Him and her rewards are enormous.
She will find that out. And no one will be more surprised than she.
She has no clue how much she has meant to so many along the way, the difference she has made for Jesus’ sake.
I think of her lying in that hospital bed and my heart breaks. Today when no one else was there, I stood by the bed and held her hand and sang hymns to her in between my tears. And I gave her to the Lord once again.
When my grandmother Bessie McKeever was lying in the Birmingham-Princeton hospital at death’s door, I drove several hours to get there. Her large family filled the room, and yet when I walked in the door, she spotted me. She held out two hands, just wide enough for me to place my face there. She kissed me on the cheek. I said, “Grandma, I know you have a scripture on your heart today. Tell me what it is.”
In that tiny little voice, just hours before crossing over to the other side, she whispered, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
I almost laughed out loud at the wonderful absurdity of that. She has dwindled away to a shadow of her former robust self. She cannot do anything. And yet, she can do “all things” through Christ.
But she could. Make no mistake about that.
At that moment, the only thing the Lord Jesus wanted Grandma Bessie to do was to lie back in His arms and let Him take her to Heaven.
And she did that so beautifully.
Soon, my beloved wife of nearly 53 years, she who is my heart, will be doing that. It saddens me more than I can express. And yet, as I used to try to say to my mama after Pop left us in 2007 and she would say how much she missed him, “It won’t be long.” And it wasn’t. In 2012, she joined him at the throne.
And so shall we ever be with the Lord.
For this mortal must put on immortality. This corruption must put on incorruption. This humble must put on the glorious.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.