In Memory of Our Family Friend Leona

I had the privilege of preaching the Memorial Service message for our dear family friend Leona. I’m posting the message here in an effort to honor Leona
and give glory to the Lord.
Memorial Service Message for Leona
This is the Day Which the Lord Hath Made:  Rejoicing & Gospel Hope
June 8, 2013

The first time I met Leona, I was two days old at St. Joseph Hospital here in Bellingham.  Leona and her husband Al were good friends and ministry partners with my Grandparents, Cordell and Virginia Baker.  There was never really a time in my life, especially growing up, that I did not know Leona, because I would see her every time that I visited my Grandparents whether in Bellingham, Toelle (Utah), or Walla Walla.

My family and I were richly blessed by Leona in more ways than I can share today.  The impact that Al and Leona had on my Grandparents’ ministry alone is impossible to calculate.  Al and Leona moved from Bellingham to Utah to support my Grandparents in home missions.  After Al passed away Leona stayed in Utah for a decade, living in a condo under my Grandparents’ condo for many of those years, until my Grandparents moved to Walla Walla.

She was such a good friend to them that she followed them to Walla Walla and lived there for years before later returning to Bellingham.  My Grandma called Leona her best friend.  Only the Lord knows the ministry encouragement, the people saved, and the spiritual fruit in people’s lives that happened because of her direct ministry to other people as well as her ministry to my Grandparents.

There are six specific traits that I personally remember about Leona as I think back over all of those years:

She was a hard worker.
She was a life-long nurse.
She had more energy than almost anyone I have ever met.
She was never late.
She had a contagious grin.
She had a strong faith and trust in the Lord Jesus.

There are probably very few in this room that don’t remember her smile and nod and her characteristic phrase after any plans were made, “Lord willing.”

That’s why it was no surprise to me to learn from her son Craig and daughter-in-law Judi that Leona’s favorite verse, printed on the front of your bulletin, was Psalm 118:24,
“This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

For Leona, life was meant to be lived with joy and trust in Christ.  Even in times of sorrow, the Apostle Paul’s phrase in 2 Corinthians 6:10, “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” seemed to be a mantra for Leona.

Craig and Judi shared a special time that they spent with her earlier this year.  She was having an especially hard day and the effects of Alzheimer’s were making it hard to say any words at all.  Yet, Leona suddenly declared, “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”  It came out of her soul, an expression of praise to her God even as she went through the deepest trial of her life.

The best way that we can honor Leona today and also give glory to the God that she praised is by agreeing with Leona and the Psalmist, “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

But the kind of rejoicing that Leona expressed and that the Psalmist is talking about is not some sort of vague rejoicing or hope that is grounded on shifting sand.  Rather, it is what the Apostle Paul talks about in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.  For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words.

This is why her son Craig put the words on the front of the bulletin, “Born September 26, 1925 … Graduated to Heaven April 13, 2013.”  Leona knew without a doubt that Jesus had died for her and risen again, and lived in a way that showed her belief.  She could say no matter what was happening, “This is the day which the Lord hath made, we will rejoice and be glad in it” because of the rock solid hope of the Gospel.

She knew and believed, and wanted others to know and believe, what is printed in the bulletin you hold in your hands, that “all have sinned” and that we need a Savior.  We cannot save ourselves.  The Bible says in Romans 6:23 that sin results in eternal death.

We need to repent of our sins, trusting only in Christ’s complete sacrifice on the cross.  The only way that we can have the kind of rock solid hope that Leona knew is by putting our faith in Christ alone for salvation.  Romans 10:9 says, “That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.”

That is why we can grieve–because we miss Leona–but we can grieve as those who do have hope.  The family’s prayer is that each person would leave even this Memorial Service today trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation, believing that He died on the cross for your sins and rose again.  That is why we as Christians would put “This is the day which the Lord hath made, we will rejoice and be glad in it” on the front of a Memorial Service bulletin.

Leona believed years ago what Romans 8:38-39 declares, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, [I would remind us—nor Alzheimer’s], nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Leona loved Christ so much and so looked forward to Heaven that she told my Mom years ago that she wanted her to play the song, “Ship Ahoy” on the piano at her Memorial and that she wanted Wes to sing it.  That love for Christ was in response to a God who loved her and saved her and held onto her.

There’s a truth in this song that Leona chose, that we need to make sure we hear.  Being saved from her sins by Christ Jesus her Savior when she was 30 years old in 1955, the same day as her husband Al, changed her and she wanted others to know and experience this salvation in Christ too.  Listen to these words that she wanted us to hear today:

The good Captain commanded a boat to be low’red,
And with tender compassion He took me on board;
And I’m happy today, all my sins washed away
In the blood of my Savior, and now I can say:
“Bless the Lord! Bless the Lord!”
From my soul I can say: “Bless the Lord!”

O soul, sinking down ’neath sin’s merciless wave,
The strong arm of our Captain is mighty to save;
Then trust Him today, no longer delay,
Board the old ship of Zion, and shout on your way:
“Jesus saves! Jesus saves!”
Shout and sing on your way: “Jesus saves!”

When I think of Leona, I think of a life well lived.  She loved her husband Al for over 43 years, she raised 3 children—Craig, Ross, and Lynn—and she loved her grandchildren dearly and would glow when talking about them.

I remember playing basketball with Leona’s grandson Michael while he visited her for the Summer, and her granddaughters Holly and Heather are both missionaries.  Leona loved serving others and that is evident in her family.  We all remember Leona as a nurse, passionately caring for others and trying to help them heal for over 50 years.

The Lord sometimes placed Leona in just the right place at the right time.  Once she performed mouth to mouth resuscitation on her daughter Lynn from South Lake Whatcom all the way to the Sedro Wooley hospital and saved her life.  Another time she saw a young child chocking in a grocery store with a hysterical mom that did not know what to do.  Leona quickly performed the Heimlich Maneuver and saved the child’s life.

Even after retiring as a nurse in her 70s I remember being amazed but not surprised when I heard that Leona was volunteering at a hospital in Walla Walla.  Some of her caregivers at Christian Health Care Center in Lynden were people that she had trained.  She loved to serve others and that flowed out of the love that she had for the Lord.

Everyone who knew Leona well knew that she was always early.  I remember walking past her car and seeing a suitcase in the back.  When I asked her where she was going, she replied, “Oh, I’m going to visit Bellingham in 10 days.”  I’ve never met anyone who was so early all the time.  If my family was inviting her over to a special Sunday afternoon dinner like Easter and my Mom wanted her to arrive at 1:00, she would tell her that dinner was at 2:00 because we all knew that if you told Leona 2:00 she would arrive at 1:00.

But, Leona was right on time early in the morning on April 13th when the Lord said, “Leona” and she knew His voice as she closed her eyes and stepped into glory.  She experienced at that moment and is experiencing now what she had believed for so many years, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  In Christ, death is swallowed up in victory!

This is why we say even through tears today, “This is the day that the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

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