Eulogy – Lois Clarissa Andersen
Lois Clarissa Andersen was born on September 13th, 1923. To paraphrase Genesis 25: 8, on June 21st, 2010 “she breathed her last and died at the ripe full age of 86 years, satisfied with life, and she was gathered to her people.” She died suddenly of heart failure sitting in her favorite chair in the lounge. She was granted her wish to die at home. If any death could be called sweet, it was a sweet death.
We are gathered here to pay tribute to this woman and to reflect upon her memory. We are her friends. She has influenced us. She has had a good impact on our lives that has left us better persons. We have been blessed in knowing her.
Kathryn expresses it beautifully. “My Mum was made of awesome. You may think that Martha Jones was made of awesome, but that's just peanuts to my Mum.”
We are grateful for mum. We are grateful that we had her at all! For mother was born with a congenital heart defect, a transposition of the heart such that the larger right ventricle fed blood to the lungs to be deoxygenated, while the smaller left ventricle circulated blood to the rest of the body through the aorta. The life expectancy for people with this condition is 25 years. Mother lived 86. So the first thing we can say about mother is “You beat the odds.” This provides a different perspective on her death, one where I am grateful for a bonus 61 years. What did she do with these years?
The most important thing to us is she gave birth to five children, David, Martin, Nedra, Kathryn, and myself. In turn that gave rise to 7 grandchildren, Sean, Vivienne, Erin, Lindsay, Lalita, Tiria, and Michael. We are all bonus kids! But there is much more than that.
She became an accomplished doctor. A pediatrician. A pioneering achievement in the 1950’s when women were expected to be married, at home, raising children. Being a doctor gave her status that she did not feel she had merely as a woman. I remember many times when Mum would solemnly declare, “in my medical opinion…” And I knew what whenever she trotted out that phrase, she REALLY meant what she was saying, and no point arguing… I better just hear what she was saying and do it. The value she placed on being a doctor made it even more impressive that she willingly laid that down when she chose to follow Dad to California. She could not practice medicine there, and that was a tough loss for her. But it showed up what her priorities were when it really counted.
After God, Frank came first. Mother remained deeply in love with dad. She devoted her life to supporting him, caring for him, being his companion in everything. Mother and dad really had a loving marriage. They were gentle with one another. The greatest gift my parents gave us was a loving stable home at the heart of which was a loving devoted marriage.
I remember standing in the front hallway of our home in Berkeley and watching my dad bend down and kiss my mother on the top of her head. I made a decision at that point to marry a wife who was the same height as I. Deb was ½ inch shorter, but that was before taking into account her curly hair. We cannot be grateful enough to our parents for the impact of their faithfulness and devotion to each other. It is supremely fitting that the last act of their marriage was Dad quietly caring for mother’s needs in an ordinary way, in getting her a glass of water. It was an act of care that characterized their marriage.
And over the years, their lives became intertwined. There were many strands to their relationship. Lovers, parents, colleagues, fellow travelers in their journey with God, play mates, companions, intellectual sparring partners, theologians, teachers.
My parents always talked to each other – theology, politics, sexuality, bible, theology, D&M’s, and often we would be drawn into the conversation. Often family dinners were times for table talk. These conversations were formative – we learnt to think, to examine the issues in a balanced way that appreciated the complexities, we learnt to examine the Scriptures carefully, to form and hold our own opinions. Kathryn particularly will miss having mother to talk to. Just last Wednesday, Dad said that what he will miss most is no longer having mother to talk to.
An unexpected blessing from the interruption of her medical career was mother turned to studying theology. From that she also came to be a teacher, and they increasingly would teach together. At one point they were both members of the faculty at New College, where mother was Associate Professor of Christian Studies. She taught in the areas of Christian spirituality, sexuality, practical theology. She and dad taught together on suffering. The beautiful thing was that they were able to do it together. Mother integrated her medical and theological knowledge, teaching from both a medical and biblically based viewpoint. In their course on suffering, she asked, “What is the main cause of disease?” Germs! - I mean, what would you expect from a doctor?
She also wrote a number of books. The latest one was Paul the Man. Let me read a quote from the end of that book. It captures the earthy flavor of mother’s theological thought.
“Often the way God works and the way we would do things are starkly different. Why on earth, with only a few years left to establish the young church before he died, did the Lord allow Paul to waste four of those years in prison?
Presumably, what the Lord decides is important, and what we tend to regard as success, are very different things. The New Testament emphasizes that God is vitally concerned in changing people, giving priority to his children being transformed into the likeness of Christ. So often the quality of life in Paul was shaped and tempered by the things he suffered. It is the drawing power of a life changed and dominated by the love and compassion of God that shines out most clearly in a dark world.”
That was true of mother, herself.
Mother really lived life well. For mother, living was an art.
Mother loved beauty, growth, living things. Mother loved gardening. She could create a garden anywhere. I remember bluebells, daffodils and fuchsias in California, rhubarb and celery in New Zealand, palms, ferns and water features in Sydney, coleus and cannas in Brisbane, succulents and primula’s in Melbourne. She was magic with indoor plants. In California, Mom would buy African violets as a reward for herself, and she found the perfect spot for them to grow on the window ledge near the kitchen sink. African violets are VERY fussy plants. They need just the right amount of sun-light, warmth, and moisture, or else they would just not flower. They required a lot of care. That was typical mum. When we moved from Sydney to Brisbane, Mother’s cherished orchids had to move as well.
Mother always had time for people. Even when life was at its most busy, even when she did not have time, she made time. When we were living in California, mother raising 5 kids, life was so flat out, that she would repeatedly comment that what she wanted on her grave stone was “all I wanted was a cup of tea!” Nevertheless, she always had time for people. When we needed to talk, she would stop, she would listen, she would sympathise. Sometimes she would give advice, but mostly we would talk it through, and she would give wise counsel. It was always worth listening to mother. She always made time.
As a family we played together. Countless games of 500. There are many life principles one can learn over a game of 500. For example, Pam Garrett kept the Joker when playing a Double Nullo hand because she did not have the heart to pass it to her partner. From her I learnt the principle of self-sacrifice for the sake of one’s partner. They still lost. From Elizabeth when she excitedly bid 12 hearts, I learnt the value of exuberance. From Chew, who almost never failed to make 6 hearts as his opening bid, I learnt the value of reliability. We still call 6 hearts the Chew bid. From dad, and the many times he bid “on the smell of an oily rag” I learnt the principle of “just go for it!” From Peter and Stuart Andersen when one night they just won one Open Mesire hand after another I learnt, “If you aim for nothing, you will get it.” Nothing fazed mother – going out the back door, her partner’s bid going down in flames, I learnt the principle of “Graciousness in the face of adversity.” In recent years my parent’s days would begin with prayer and end with playing cards.
And mother showed graciousness in the face of adversity throughout her life. She came down with tuberculosis in her internship year. Confined to bed for 18 months with the prospect of the end of her medical career, and if that was not enough, having to lose countless games of chess to a tall young man named Frank, who was wooing her at the time, it was “Graciousness in the face of adversity.” And tough stuff happened in her life. And she would weep, and then dig deep, summon her resources of faith and optimism and wisdom, and turn her pain into strength. But the most awesome thing about Mother in her later years was that she was cheerful. She had every reason to be a misery guts: legally blind (she only had peripheral vision), dodgy heart, leukemia in remission, dodgy knees, couldn't cross the street without assistance, N different pills to take each day, both for her conditions and to control the side-effects of the medication for her conditions, blood tests, medical appointments - all that, and she was *cheerful*. Kathryn asked her once why she was so cheerful. She said she laid all her cares on Jesus. She didn't say that in a pious manner, she *meant* it. Mother was never pious or sanctimonious about her faith. She was intelligent and thoughtful about it. Thoughtful and heart-full
But it was not just family. Lois also was involved with many people, she had a constantly evolving circle of friends. Lois practiced soul hospitality. She made people welcome, invited them into her life, offered friendship, and gave them time and attention. She said once that everyone has a story. Mother had this ability to connect with people because she would listen, draw them out and be intently interested in getting to know them and finding out what interested them. She was such a brilliant listener, empathic, supportive, non-judgmental and reflective. So you felt you could come to her with any issue or problem and receive help and understanding. She has always been our role model when it comes to relating to people.
She could organize both a big party and an intimate dinner party for a visiting academic. Nedra learnt so much from her ability to be organised and prepared for people so that when they came she could focus on them not on the event or the food or other issues. Because of her example and training we are equipped today to reach out to people, open our home to others and be hospitable as well.
What prepared David for becoming a missionary with Wycliffe was the exposure our parents gave him to many cultures when he was growing up. Living in America, New Zealand, New Guinea and Israel gave David his multicultural background. Mother adapted to living in many cultural settings, and she embraced where she was. “Bloom where you’re planted” she would say. She was a role model for being accepting and appreciative of other cultures. She was not critical. Suree especially appreciated the deep loving acceptance that mother extended to her as a daughter that disregarded racial and cultural divides.
Mother’s faith in God was profound, deep and grounded in the reality of everyday life. Mother would tackle the challenges in her own life or in the world by “digging in” (one of her favourite phrases) to understand the issues, analyzing, discussing, and then looking to see what the Bible had to say in response to these issues. She loved the honesty of David’s psalms, especially Ps 42 and 43 which were so formative in her teaching on suffering. Mother taught us very early on that you can talk to God about anything, you can pray about anything, you can share anything with God. Phil 4: 6 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything make your request known to God and the peace of God which passes all understanding will set your minds and hearts on Christ Jesus.” This verse sums up one of mom’s key teachings about our relationship with God, that we cast all our burdens and issues on him and he can deal with them. Mom collected her “treasures”; books which had profound impact on her faith. Her love of books and reading was another legacy she passed on to us.
Jesus was the central and most important person in Lois’s life. He was the sun she orbited around. It is therefore fitting to let Jesus have the last word in my eulogy for Lois. From John 6: 39-40.
“And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of those he has given me, but I shall raise them up on the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”