My Brother, Sister and I want to thank you all for being with us in this room and on the livestream today March 1, 2021) celebrating Sherry Christenson’s life.
I once heard a speaker (Dananjaya Hettiarachchi) who asked the audience if anyone had a cool dad. He then said, take all of your cool dads, put them all together, and you have my cool dad. As I think of Sherry Christenson (Mom), I think of a special person. Does anyone here have/had a special Mom? Well, take all of your special Moms, put them all together, and you have our special Mom.
Answering the question of what made Mom special is complex. My Brother, Sister, and I, and maybe everyone here, knew Mom as a special mother, a special teacher and a special assistant to Dad’s ministry. When we kids moved away from home, she was still our special Mom, but Mom changed her focus, and became more special. Mom was hurting without kids around; she replaced this hurt with increased reliance on Jesus, and Mom and Dad started working on their marriage which had been a corporation previously (Dad’s definition) where he had his duties and Mom had hers. Their relationship developed into a beautiful and evolving partnership. They would regularly be seen holding hands.
Fast forward, in 2012, Mom almost died after being struck by a car, then, later that same year, Dad unexpectedly died. During this low valley, Mom started to become extra special, increasing day by day until February 21, 2021, when she went to be with Jesus.
I will speak more today about the special Mom since Dad passed. You see, Mom found herself without a soul mate and without the purpose she had in supporting Dad’s ministry and their farm business. Mom had faith in God, but she was incredibly empty without Dad. Through Mom’s brokenness, she learned how to rely on God in new ways.
Psalm 23, Verse 1,2 & 3 (KJ)
23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Psalm 23 had deep and special meaning to Mom. Verse one reminds us that with God; we lack nothing. Mom began to transform as a person, where she had comfort in the security Dad brought to her life; she began to replace this security in a Deeping relationship with God, reminding herself in Psalm 23:1 that with God, she lacks nothing. Mom had a post it note by her computer screen. Zephaniah 3:17. “He takes great delight in you.”
One Christmas soon after Dad died, we gathered at my sisters in Omaha. On a whim, we decided to look at homes for Mom in Omaha. We were not too serious about it as Mom had told us she intended to stay in O’Neill until she was at least 80. Psalm 23:3 explains how God guides us on the right paths. The first home we saw, we all knew was the place for Mom. Close to my sister, backing up to a small lake, this home would give Mom joy and comfort for the rest of her life.
Psalm 23:2 speaks of leading us to quiet waters. Once settled in her knew home, Mom’s next-door neighbor invited her to a bible study. After a few years, Mom ended up hosting the Flatland Bible Study group. Mom found quiet waters, learning about Jesus and building new relationships. Mom also cherished the Lite Care Group at Westside church, water aerobics, and a book club. Mom also enjoyed lunch most Sundays with one of her Grandson. Mom was amazed by the love and care she received from her new Omaha family. Mom was even on the board of the community she lived in. Something that came as a welcome surprise to us.
She continued to keep her ties to O’Neill friends as well, lots and lots of phone calls, also to her sister and brothers, and to Dads, sister, and brothers. After I spoke with Pastor Paul Harder last week, among many stories he shared, this one stood out to me. He said, Allen was a key part of the leadership of Faith Community Church from it’s very beginning, so Sherry was intimately involved as well. One of the big emphases at FCC was and is prayer – so right away in the early days, we started a prayer chain, and Sherry helped lead that ministry. We didn’t have computers and cell phones back in that day, so everything had to be handled personally through phone calls. So folks would call Sherry, and then she would be careful to write everything down precisely, and then she had to call 5 other households and communicate the exact information, and they in turn would start it down their chains. Sherry spent hours faithfully carrying out that responsibility. Mom was a leader in her faith, and was truly special in her devotion and dedication to God and Faith Community Church.
Psalm 23: 4,5 and 6 (KJ).
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Psalm 23:4 speaks of dark valleys, but not being alone, but with God for support and comfort. Mom reminded herself regular to rest in Jesus. I mentioned how Mom is special. Here reliance on God was growing beautifully through this time. Mom had plenty of reasons to be angry at God, to be bitter, to complain, to seek self-pity. She didn’t. She increased the time she invested in others. For Reed, Shelly and me, she was still our special Mom, but she was now additionally a special friend.
Psalm 23:5 talks about taking care of us in spite of our enemies. Pulmonary fibrosis was her primary enemy. This disease was relentless, but this didn’t slow down, Mom. Mom went to her water aerobics class, tethered to an oxygen tank – scuba diving this was not. COVID-19 became her enemy, too, as it grounded her from attending church, going for walks in Hobby Lobby, going to concerts, or flying back east to my family and my brother. Mom referred to John 15:2 frequently. This verse speaks to how God prunes us, trimming off branches, making us more Christ-like. Mom would say, looks like I must have more pruning to go, or how can I have any branches left. Mom wasn’t complaining but affirming her faith in Jesus, becoming a little more special.
Finally, and the best part. Psalm 23:6, we have confidence God will be with us through the ups and downs in life and eternity in Heaven, forever. In the last few weeks of life, Mom was in significant discomfort, not being able to breathe. As she recited this Psalm before she went to sleep every night, she almost shouted…forever, forever, forever, forever, I’ll be in the house of the Lord.
Mom, we will miss you every day, but we have confidence you are in eternity with God, forever. Thank you, Jesus, for making Mom special.