Celebrating the life of Irene Nepstad ~ November 14, 1914 - August 5, 2017
Texts: Psalm 23, Colossians 3:12-17 4:2-6

There's nothing quite like grace to shape our lives into something beautiful. It might show up in some experience of care-- this thing called grace. It might show up as generosity unbidden, or as the help you prayed for with all your might, not really expecting anything to come of it. Grace might arrive at your door in the form of a hot casserole when you didn’t have the strength or the wits to prepare a meal; or a cheque in the mail when you didn’t know where the rent that month was going to come from. Grace might be carried in the sound of a note, or a fragrance or a smile that somehow was just the thing to help you slide past the trouble you thought was insurmountable. Grace might come by way of a word --a word of truth, a word of hope, a word of welcome, of warning, a word of scripture … this thing called grace --this goodness, this gift that slips in quite apart from our own doing, to save us … to release us … to remake us.

You get the idea? It’s like Grace is infinitely resourceful …finding just the right touch to reach us, sometimes soon and sometimes much later, but whenever it comes, and we allow it to touch us … well, there’s nothing quite like grace to shape our lives into something beautiful. Beautiful like the picture painted for us in that letter Joyce read, of a people clothed in garments of compassion, of kindness, humility, gentleness, patience.
Take a moment to imagine putting on kindness … I wonder what colour it is … what’s the texture … what do you notice in your being as you wrap yourself in kindness? And then there’s the garment of gentleness … and this one, patience. And these ones, humility and compassion. And don’t forget this one, that ties it all together, love.  Imagine being clothed like this.

Do you know that experience of seeing something beautiful on the hanger that catches your eye … you’re drawn to it -- the cut, the colours, the weave … but then you realize it’s not really me … it would look so much better on someone else.  Here’s the thing about these beautiful garments of compassion, kindness, gentleness, humility, patience, love … we are made for them. But here’s where the language of garments falls short … because were not really talking about the likes of something hanging in our closet, but way of being. What we’re really talking about is being clothed in Christ … which isn’t a thing at all, but a life! It’s not a layering on from the outside but a companioning that transforms us from the inside out. What we’re talking about is Jesus’ presence, his Spirit, powerfully at work in us, through God’s grace.
And there’s nothing quite like grace, when we let it touch us, to shape our lives into something beautiful.

How’d Irene come to be such a beautiful soul? I’m guessing it’s not just that she had a bit of time! But she did start early! In her early teens she joined CGIT … Canadian Girls in Training. Their pledge, which Irene was able to quote right to end, was Cherish health. Seek truth. Know God. Serve others. Focus on those things, reading her bible, praying and being thankful … these are the things Irene said, that gave me purpose and meaning.

It is striking to me that right through to the end of her life, with its share of trials and losses, breaks and pains, Irene remained so thankful.  “How did you come to be so thankful?” I asked her one day. “I don’t worry about tomorrow,” Irene told me, with that Irene shrug of the shoulders that conveys a certain freedom and ease in her spirit. “I let each day come, trusting everything will be ok … and sometimes of course it’s not,” she said, “but still, we come through.”

Maybe when you recite the 23rd Psalm every night before drifting off to sleep … maybe when those words become part of you, when they lay down their tracks within you --maybe that’s part of it … how the soul comes to trust there’s more at work, that there’s an attentive Other in whom we can rest easy. Maybe when you recite the 23rd Psalm every night for those many, many nights, maybe you begin to see reflected in the still waters that touch, those events in your life that have restored your soul. Maybe you begin to see your life presided over, as a gift given, quite apart from something you carefully engineered yourself.

In another visit with her, I asked Irene, “I wonder if there have been some moments in your life, some experiences that you would say  ‘if there was only that, it would have been enough!’ ?  Just like that she said, “well I married Ed.” “How did you meet each other?” I wondered. She told me the story of how she was teaching up in Wembly, Alberta --a remote place up north in the Peace River country, far from home. Once the snow fell, that was it for months … you were more or less cut off. She came home in the summer, and her parents were so hoping she could find a teaching position closer to home.

It was Irene’s mother who one day spotted an add for Clyde Collegiate. How perfect would that be! So, as I heard it, Irene obligingly submitted her application … noting that the add clearly mentioned they were looking for a man. “So that was safe!” Irene said. “Safe?” I wondered. “Yes!” she said. “I hadn’t resigned from my job in Wembly.” The application was for her mother’s sake!

A short time later, she got word that they had hired a man, Ed; but that they wanted to keep Irene’s name on their list. That summer before Irene headed back to Wembly, didn’t a call come from Clyde Collegiate asking Irene to come. Another teacher was moving and they needed someone for that class. It wasn’t long after, that Ed and Irene were married. Ed who, it turns out, was an exceedingly caring man.

How does Irene come to be such a thankful soul? Well, just as in stories like that, there’s been grace upon grace. Even breaking her hip in recent years was finally cause for thanksgiving according to Irene. “All the care I received,” says Irene, “it was wonderful! People were so good to me. So much so that I have only happy memories of that event!”

The last stretch of Irene’s life presented a whole new phase … from a life of significant involvement in the community, in the church, the curling club, the Sierra club ... from a life of doing, of caring, of being there for others, Irene ultimately became completely dependent on others … for pretty much everything. And while that wasn’t easy, she found a way into this place of gracious and grateful acceptance.
What made Irene such a beautiful soul? There it was again, that receptivity to grace that was her way through so much of her life.

Toward the end of one of our last visits, Irene said “it’s been a wonderful, wonderful life. Sometimes I wonder what is to come … but that’s ok,” she says. “I know how I’ve got this far.”  At that point, neither of us needed to say it … Grace upon grace.

No wonder Irene was such a beautiful, thankful soul.  She made of her life a home to grace …so much so that her cup overflowed. No wonder to be in her company was such a blessing.  For to be in her company was to know that grace is for real … and a very present thing.

For all that shines in you, and all that you show us, Irene, thanks be to God, for the gift of your dear self among us.