(In Loving Memory of Elsie Matus, c. 1910 – 2003)
I met Elsie Matus in the late seventies at the Arcadia Church of Christ in Southern California, where I served as a minister. She had over forty years on me and had been a widow for nearly three decades. When I led a Bible class that brought teens and senior saints together to build love and understanding across a large age gap, Elsie was always there loving our teens and supporting me. A priceless long-standing friendship was just beginning.
Elsie always made me feel like a prince. After moving to Connecticut and then Minnesota, I continued to see Elsie during my annual trips to California. The last time I saw her was in 2002. She served cookies and then we went out visiting other old friends together, wonderful friends like Jerry and Grace Kilmer. What a blast from the past we had together.
Another fond memory of one such visit was watching Elsie in her kitchen preparing a snack on my behalf. She had strategically placed stable step-stools in her kitchen but still needed help reaching objects on the upper shelves. She had a small frame but a HUGE soul! What a manly pleasure it was to be needed by Elsie to reach higher cupboards. Dunking a basketball is nothing compared to that (actually, I would need a step-stool myself to test that comparison). Seeing Elsie navigate her kitchen was almost as endearing as the conversation that followed. She raved over how much she enjoyed a class I taught long ago on the book of Isaiah. One compliment from Elsie trumps a hundred complaints from others. My ministry career has been kindly supported by too many saints to count, but no one did more to build my confidence than Elsie.
Elsie and her cat had an understanding. Her cat liked to rest in high places in the kitchen and Elsie knew where to stand to aid the cat’s descent. Elsie’s slumping shoulders became the half-way point for such descents. Sometimes, her cat would just remain at the half-way point and snuggle around Elsie’s neck during her kitchen duties. For this cat, only Elsie’s shoulders would do. When not taking care of her cat at home, Elsie was often reaching out and giving rides to elderly souls much younger than her.
Elsie shined with love for her church. No one and no thing could un-glue Elsie’s heart from her church family. She saw many changes over the years, but her love and support was one constant her church could not lose. Ministers and loved ones came and went, but Elsie remained. Worship styles changed but Elsie held firm. She knew the church of Jesus Christ was a precious gift of God and she loved her church and her Lord with all her heart. When her declining church decided to disband, Elsie was heartbroken. She held no blame or resentment for anyone and saw only the best of intentions in her fellow believers, but she did not know where to turn. She eventually found a home for her faithful heart at the Temple City Church of Christ and we who loved Elsie remain grateful to that family of faith.
Elsie was heartbroken again when her dear friend Terry Giboney passed away after a battle with colon cancer. I recall her saying in grief, “The Lord is closer than we think.” She was groping for something to hold on to at that moment of despair and she found that anchor in the closeness of the Lord.
“What would I do without you?”
In one of my last conversations with Elsie, she recalled a time long ago when she was outside in her yard and a bush began to rustle. It frightened her and she went running back into the house to her husband of some twenty years and said, “What would I do without you?”
As it happened, he died soon after that day. I can only imagine her pain and shock over this loss. Here’s what she shared with me some fifty years later; “After my husband died, the Lord took over.” She reflected to me on how the Lord had helped her through all those years that followed his death in 1952. She earned her livelihood as a school teacher and thus had plenty of opportunities to live on in love.
Elsie was widowed and retired long before I met her. Yet her life was so far from over. Indeed, in the twenty-three years I knew her, her life filled me with so much hope and love. I thank God for Elsie’s unselfish ability to rise up from heartbreaks with grace. It was God who gave her that grace and she knew it. What a gift Elsie was to those of us who came to know her late. May Elsie’s life evoke one question in our hearts: “Where would any of us be without God?” That’s a very Elsie-like question.
The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.