This is part two of a series about Vannen and his wife, Eleanor. Vannen was admitted to hospice at age seventy-three with end-stage Parkinson’s disease. In part one, we read how a vague definition of love leaves us without a clear purpose or intent. We witnessed Vannen’s love for Eleanor, how he laid a path of 424 concrete blocks from the house to their fish pond so Eleanor, who had “bad ankles”, could walk there on level ground. When I commented on the enormity of the job, Eleanor just smiled and declared, “He loves me!” You see, Vannen loved Eleanor “on purpose”. He was “benevolently intentional” and “intentionally benevolent”. He knew what brought her joy and cared enough to do something about it. He was dedicated to her highest good.
Living “on purpose” has applications for all our relationships. Here’s a story, in Eleanor’s words, that illustrates the point: “About two months after we both got saved, Vannen asked me, ‘How would you feel about going down to the church at Eifort? I asked Vannen, ‘Why would you want to do that?’ He said, ‘Well, the church here in Oak Hill has plenty of help, but the church at Eifort doesn’t have much help.’” Eleanor reflected, “Vannen had a way of looking ahead. He never got excited. He thought things through.”
Eleanor continued, “It wasn’t long before Vannen became deacon at the church at Eifort…He maintained the building and oversaw the building projects…Vannen could fix anything…and he even filled in and taught when the pastor was out.” Eleanor has also been the church secretary and clerk for over 40 years. She added, “When we didn’t have a piano player, I thought I’d take piano lessons. I thought I would just learn enough notes to play, but when I told the teacher what I wanted to do, she took me straight to the song books.” Eleanor concluded, “I think the first thing a person should do after they get saved is to look for a job in the church.”
Typically when people are asked the reason they attend a particular church they reply; “I like the teaching”, “I like the style of worship”, “I like the fellowship”, “The people there are friendly”, or “I feel comfortable there”. Do you notice the distinct contrast between these reasons and Vannen and Eleanor’s purposes? Let’s also compare our reasons with some of God’s purposes for our attending church: “…for the equipping of the saints, for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ (the church)…according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of its self in love.” (Ephesians 4).
I’m reminded of the words of President John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Self-centeredly, many of us ask, “What can my country, government, church, employer, school, spouse, parents, family or friends do for me?”
Against the south wall of Eleanor and Vannen’s kitchen, sits the old wooden deacon’s chair that Vannen sat in during church services for over forty years. Eleanor explained, “When we bought new furniture for the church we brought this old chair home.” The word, “deacon” comes from the Greek word “diakonos”, which means “servant”. Vannen not only sat in the chair, he fulfilled the mission.
“Whoever desires to become great among you let him be your servant…Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Jesus-Matthew 20:26-28)
Loren Hardin is a social worker with Southern Ohio Medical Center-Hospice and can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 740-356-2525.