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Titus 2 Lived Out: A Tribute to Marjorie Hale

An unexpected privilege of having been a pastor’s daughter and now being a pastor’s wife is that I often get to attend funerals. Now that may sound odd! But time and time again, as I sit and listen to eulogies and summaries of a committed believer’s life, I find myself thinking, “I am so thankful to be getting to hear this! I wish everyone I know could!” This was the case recently during the memorial service of Marjorie Hale, beloved mother and grandmother of our dear Hale family. I asked Sarah Ramos (one of Majorie’s granddaughters) if she would allow us to share some of the memories that she and her siblings have. May Marjorie’s example of faithfully loving the Lord by faithfully loving the people in our lives, living out the truths of Titus 2 in vivid colors, encourage and challenge you as it has me.

- Sheila Pennington

I love words and their power, but words seem absolutely powerless to sum up Grandma. This is in part because her actions spoke so loudly. More than specific conversations, we remember a lifetime of wise, gracious, loving faithfulness. She was truly a woman whose behavior adorned the gospel in every respect.

Grandma was a teacher, by trade and at heart. From our earliest memories, she took great care to match her instructions, her activities, and even her handwriting to our developmental level. Each of us has a large and treasured collection of the handwritten, personal letters she often sent us from California to Texas. The letters she wrote to me in kindergarten and first grade are in large, perfectly formed printing with simple sentences. Then I have notes she wrote me after January of 2nd grade, when one SHOULD learn cursive, in neat school-girl cursive. Once I was older, she wrote her notes to me in her beautiful script, which, as Grandpa liked to remind us, was so beautiful that it garnered her awards in college.

For my sister and I, our dearest memories with Grandma center on doing rather ordinary tasks together. Grandma taught by saying, “Come do this with me.” We spent two summers in California when I was in elementary school, and I remember making beds, moving laundry, cleaning bathrooms, making lemonade from the lemon tree in their back yard, making strawberry jam from the strawberries she bought on the side of the road, cooking three meals a day. I thought I was a really big help. Looking back, there’s no way I was actually very helpful – I was 6 or 7. But she knew how to scale her tasks to involve me, and made it seem like the very best thing in the world to do every morning after breakfast was to make beds and start on chores! Grandma also knew how to praise and give us a sense of accomplishment for our role, however big or small, in accomplishing a task.

I saw this from a completely different angle in the last few years. When Grandpa and Grandma lived in Grapevine, my kids and I would go have lunch with them once a week, and we often did some crafting or cooking – both things that Grandma loved to do but that had become hard for her to do as her eyesight failed. So with a five-year-old and a two-year-old in tow, and pregnant, I was trying to coordinate cooking cookies. If you’ve tried that before, you know that it’s a lot to manage. Well, Grandma showed me up. She taught my eldest daughter how to crack an egg and moved the Tupperware cups to a cupboard where my younger daughter could reach them to set the table. When my kindergartener was learning to read, she’d open a Dove Promise, turn to her and say “Oh,I can’t see to read this – will you read it for me?” She was still teaching, still scaffolding, meeting her great-grandchildren at their developmental level and helping them learn – by putting her hand over theirs and doing it together.

Before mindfulness and intentionality and simplicity had their own genre of books and Instagram accounts, Grandma practiced them. She was always fully present in whatever she was doing or whoever she was with. Nothing was more important than the moment. The pleasure of being with Grandma was that you were important, you had her attention and care whenever you were with her. She was able to maintain this calm, unrushed demeanor and lifestyle because of the diligent, well-ordered life she cultivated. She lived each moment uncluttered by cares that should have already been dealt with, because she had already dealt with them at their proper time. She made wise plans for the future, like the excellent woman described in Proverbs 31, “She is not afraid of the snow, for all her household are clothed in scarlet.”

Grandma gave the most menial and mundane of tasks a sense of importance. She used them as an opportunity to communicate great love without saying a word - carefully folding Grandpa’s underwear while humming hymns. She understood that love was not merely a sentiment or a once-in-a-while big action, but daily kindness, preferring others. Grandpa was the special recipient of her love, but everyone who entered her home received this love in her food, the iced tea or coffee she’d prepare, and the invitation to come sit. We her grandkids received her love through the way she always kept up with what we enjoyed and what we were doing. My brother remembers how Grandma always had treats like candy and nuts that we were free to enjoy. When the boys began helping them regularly with house, lawn, and car care, she started stocking the flavors of Gatorade they liked best.

Because Grandma showed love through the menial and mundane, the menial and mundane became lovely around her. For example, every object in her home had a reason or a story or a person behind them. Her possessions were special to her either because of their sheer practicality or because of who they represented.

Grandma created special and lasting rituals and routines around meals and time spent together. My girls have fond memories of Meals on Wheels dinner rolls, not because they are amazing, but because Grandma would always share hers with them, with butter that was perfectly soft because she knew just when to get it out of the refrigerator before lunch time. The boys’ favorite memories also center around enjoying these sorts of rituals and Grandma’s unparalleled skill as a hostess and a cook. My brother characterizes her home (and it was definitely Grandma’s domain) as the focal point and hub for our entire extended family, and where he really got to know and spend time with them. It’s no secret she was an incredible cook, and that she reveled in having everyone together in her home. She created an atmosphere of love and made sure that each person was welcomed, cared for, included, and extremely well-fed with at least seconds, and probably wrapped leftovers, unless you really wanted to hurt her feelings.

Grandma saw the potential for beauty everywhere and turned the ordinary into treasures. When my sister was in college, she remembers Grandma saving tiny scraps of wrapping paper as we opened Christmas presents. The next week, we each received a beautiful thank-you card from her, decoupaged with the wrapping paper scraps.

While Grandma was a sweet, gracious woman, she was also incredibly tough, adaptable, resilient, and had a sharp wit that never ceased to amaze and amuse us. She moved several states as a girl, spent her wedding night on the side of the road in a broken down pick-up truck…accompanied by her little sister, moved to LA for a chemistry job for Grandpa with two small kids in tow, camped in Europe for a year, moved to Texas after 40 years in Los Angeles, and moved alone to Wichita Falls in 2019. And each place she found herself, she made a home. Everyday life and technology changed dramatically from her childhood to the present, and she never stopped learning and growing. My sister remembers helping with chores as Grandma recounted how these household tasks were done when she was younger – and oh, did she have stories. She plucked chickens for supper and lived in a dugout house as a girl, and used a cable TV remote in her 90s.

Grandma aged with the same resilient grace and adaptability that characterized her entire life. She quickly compensated for and made jokes about brief lapses in memory and little slips of the tongue. My brother went to see Grandma in May, around her last birthday. She was telling him a story about a teacher she’d worked with for years, but their name escaped her. She started to bemoan the fact that she was getting old and losing her memory, but before she could complete her sentence, she remembered the teacher’s name. My brother laughed ironically as he related this story – he can’t remember the teacher’s name or even the specifics of the story she was telling.

When she could no longer cook the way she once had, she remained an unparalleled hostess. Even when it became difficult for her to get out of her recliner, she still loved to host, and planned ahead far in advance to make sure the time together would be special, rituals and traditions honored, the food delicious, and each person welcomed and cherished.

Grandma lived a life of love, not with words only, but with actions and in truth. We, her grandchildren, were so blessed to be recipients of her love.