A Busy Beautiful Blessing – Irene

Earlier in February the congregation said good-bye to Irene Straessle. This gracious lady had many talents for ministry and she used them over the years to serve the people of the church. The Scriptures say “Let your light shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Irene’s light never dimmed. The Scriptures also say great generosity will produce thanksgiving to God. Irene was generous. To pay her tribute I would like to think of her generosity with words beginning with “B”. Irene was busy, as someone said at the funeral luncheon, she was a real dynamo.

Irene was often busy with the budget. Her bookkeeping skills were shown as neat and orderly. She looked forward to the monthly bank statements to make sure every penny of the church’s money was rightly figured. I picture her on Sunday mornings in the church office, busy with bill paying and book balancing. Irene had her rules. No reimbursement without areceipt, and if you submitted a bill she wanted to know what it was for. One might get the impression that Irene fit the stereotype of a bookkeeper lost in a sea of numbers without any people or relational skills. But nothing could be further from the truth. Irene possessed the gift of lighting up any room with her smile. She loved to laugh. Busy with the budget was her labor of love for twenty-five or more years at Pioneer Lake Lutheran Church. I think she loved her work not in the sense of controlling the financial doings at the church. What controlled her was the love of Christ. As the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5: 14-15, “The love of Christ urges us on…Jesus died for all so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.”

Irene was busy with beauty. At her funeral it was commented that she had an artistic flair when it came to arranging the flowers that adorned the chancel area at Christmas and Easter. At Christmas the poinsettias were neatly displayed in a Christmas tree form. At Easter, the lilies were displayed in the shape of the cross. Sometimes there were so many lilies at Easter time that some had to be placed on the altar and we would share laughter when I joked that she wanted enough flowers to hide my face when I stood behind the altar. I loved to hear her laughter. Her sense of beauty could be noticed in unexpected ways. I recall her cheese trays for Sunday fellowship. Cheeses of different color would be arranged on a serving platter in neat and appealing rows. When I have prepared cheese slices, I just plunked them on the plate. But for Irene, that would not be her nature. Before we ate the goodies she prepared, we would be attracted by their presentation. Irene’s preparation with beauty in mind did not mean she was perfectionist, something else was going on, and I think I have an idea as to what was in her mind. She told me over and over that she loved the church. The church was a place of beauty. The church’s location by a lake where eagles fly and loons sing speak of the beauty of the wider cathedral of nature. There is beauty in the proclamation of the gospel. The message is God’s love revealed in the gift of Jesus, sent to this sinful world to make it right. Jesus’ love proved stronger than the powers of sin and death, and as the Scripture say people of faith have been transferred from a kingdom of darkness to God’s own marvelous kingdom of grace. Grace makes us all beautiful. Grace means we are not defined or condemned to guilt by our sins. Grace celebrates the good news of salvation, of forgiveness of sins, as entirely a gift from God through Jesus. Grace makes us beautiful because as it has been said, we know whose we are: we are the beloved sons and daughters of God. Irene understood “down in her heart” the beauty of the message of God’s love, inspiring her to give back in beautiful ways.

Irene could be busy balancing budgets, making beautiful displays, and most of all she was busy being a blessing. I speak from personal experience. She spoke words of encouragement to me. She has encouraged many others in ways that provided a needed, healing lift. One must never underestimate the healing power of good words, encouraging words, and consoling words that built people up. I have only known Irene for a short period of time, arriving at Pioneer Lake some seven years ago. I know she had her share of suffering for her beloved husband was growing weaker with Alzheimer’s. Certainly there were frustrations but Irene was not bitter. Filled with the Spirit of the compassionate Jesus, she continued to share a deep sense of empathy with the sufferings of others. Irene was generous when it came to helping others less fortunate. One example was just last -year when the congregation was gathering materials for “Baby Kits” to send to mothers in poor countries. The kits called for cloth diapers. Cloth diapers were not all that easy to find up here. But on a trip to Illinois Irene remembered this need, procured cloth diapers for the project, and generously providing way more than requested.

At Irene’s funeral at Pioneer Lake Lutheran Church, the sound system acted up with annoying “pops” and “bangs” which I admit is every pastor’s dread. A funeral service is to be conducted with dignity, and technical glitches can be embarrassing. But I sensed so much love in the sanctuary that the momentary annoyance did not actually matter. We were able to worship together, proclaiming Jesus Christ crucified and risen for our salvation, comfort one another, and give thanks to God for Irene’s busy, beautiful, and blessed life of being a blessing for others.