May 21 03:00 AM

Giving love away and watching it return

March 26, 2008
Another giant has fallen. Death comes to all of us, but when it happens to a much-loved neighbor and friend like Bernard Ettema (Barnie to many of us) it should not be allowed to just sneak in, stake a claim, and take off again with all our joy in tow.

And it hasn't. Let me share a couple of things about him which his last 24 hours with loved ones seemed to tie together like a gift package of comfort.

Whether you're used to seeing him crisp and handsome in a suit and tie, or on the seat of a John Deere with muck and sweat adhering to his brow, these little stories will enhance the picture you carry around in your heart.

Already back when I first arrived in this community, I remember that he and his wife Elaine were the first to welcome me and help me get acquainted with folks here. When Elaine died a decade or so ago, I wondered how Barnie was ever going to make it—he was so not made for living alone.

Others recognized that also, and friends in Grand Rapids introduced him to Marguerite Schepper, who had been a widow for many years. Now, to appreciate where this is going, you have to know that when Marguerite told her kids she had met the one, they said, "a farmer, from where?"

Anyway, you can take a man off the farm, but you can't take the farmer out of him. Marguerite wisely recognized that and agreed that when they married she would move here. Knowing also that being a farmer's wife was unfamiliar terri- tory for her, she early on in their marriage began filling in the long, lonely hours a farmer keeps by volunteer-ing at Imlay City Christian School. The first day, the teacher asked her what she would like the kids to call her. Mrs. Ettema sounded formal, Marguerite sounded too familiar, so she said, "How about Mrs. M.?"

And so it was. She became a much-loved grandma figure at school. Some-times Barnie and Marguerite would go away during slow seasons on the farm, and when they came back, they would bring little souvenir gifts for the kids. Some-where along the way, Barnie started coming to school with Marguerite to help her pass out the little gifts. Innocently, the children dubbed Barnie Mr. M until someone explained. Anyway, it wasn't long until he was as hooked on this relationship with the little ones as Marguerite was, and they had an intensely personal relationship with many of them.

The last Sunday Barnie was with us, Mike and I went up to see him. He was pretty much just sleeping by then. Marguerite said he had said to her earlier in the day, "Heaven is so beautiful." Which indicated to her that the end was very near and that he must have been given a preview—an incentive to

him and a glorious comfort to the rest of us.

Topping that was a little experience the next day. A mom of two of those little school friends picked up the kids from school, saying they had something special to do. She had been keeping tabs on Barnie from a medical perspective, and knew it was almost time to say goodbye. They came up to the house and the kids sang Jesus Loves Me. For all anyone knew, Barnie was sleeping away his last few hours, but as the kids sang, Marguerite noticed tears. He was experiencing all that love he had been giving away-coming back to him. Plus more. The kids were ministering to him. They were also ushering him into the very presence of the One who would hold him as he crossed over from death to life.

What a precious picture to carry along with the ones we already had.

Castle Creek
Milnes Ford
05 - 21 - 19
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