Sorry I’ve been so quiet. I told a friend it feels like all I’ve done since March is say goodbye: launch kids, weather long hospital stays that eventually end in burials, and clean out homes. Have done a lot of deep processing, but too raw yet for here. Instead, I want to share part of the eulogy I was asked to write and share last week for my sweet mom-in-law’s goodbye. I’ve taken out some specific names and facts–this is the Internet after all–but endeavored to leave the heart of what I shared. My hope is to honor the woman who gave me my husband and who loved her own so faithfully.
Fencine was born on March 3rd, 1925, in North Dakota. A twin, Fencine was the youngest of eight children, two brothers and 5 sisters. Raised on the family farm, originally homesteaded in North Dakota by Fencine’s dad and his brother who emigrated from Holland, Fencine often talked about the joy of growing up in a busy household where an older sister was assigned to each of the twins to help them as the family went about its chores.
As Fencine grew into womanhood she captured the attention of Ray, who heard about the sisters, who lived in a Dutch community north of him and were renowned for their singing abilities and godly character. Fencine, Fennie, and Catherine formed the Sacred Melodies Trio, and sang in churches throughout the area, as well as on several radio stations. Ray and his buddy Elmer began making trips to visit the twins. The German settlement didn’t appreciate two of their eligible bachelors traveling to those Dutch girls when there plenty of fine German girls available, but Ray and Elmer were not to be deterred.
Fencine said the foursome would take walks, and Fennie and Elmer would hold hands, but she wasn’t about to let Ray take hers! To keep him from trying she swung her hands back and forth as they strolled. But Ray didn’t give up on winning Fencine’s heart, and when he proposed, she said yes. Fencine’s father asked her to wait to marry until she was twenty-one. Always desirous of doing the right thing, she endeavored to honor her dad’s wishes—and scheduled the wedding for her twenty-first birthday.
Though she would have enjoyed an engagement ring, Fencine wanted to do everything she could to support Ray’s calling as a preacher. The community where Ray was raised didn’t believe in jewelry, so Fencine told him she didn’t need a ring if it would inhibit his ministry. Years later the family got her a mother’s ring, which she treasured. Fencine’s resolve to support Ray in his ministry was tested early on when her wedding day was postponed multiple times due to a successful evangelist tour that went longer than expected. Fencine never wavered, and these early sacrifices established a pattern in which she consistently put her husband and his ministry first.
Ray wasn’t sure if he should have children. He wanted nothing to hinder his calling as a pastor. But Catherine’s husband convinced Ray that raising children unto the Lord was also the calling of a Christian man. Soon the happy couple enjoyed the birth of four children. Together they poured love and faith over them, bringing them up with high standards, a determined work ethic, and a focus on God and church.
As a young mother Fencine’s faith held her through many days of caring for the children while Ray was traveling as an evangelist. She clung to God when Ray’s return home would be delayed by a longer-than-expected revival or a Canadian snow storm. Left with hungry children and little resources, there were times she pretended not to be hungry so the children had enough food, times when Fencine prayed one of the farmers in their church would think of them and share their eggs and milk, times when she turned on the vacuum cleaner hoping its noise would drown out her need to cry.
Along with these struggles and the typical pressures of a young mother and wife, Fencine weathered the extra pressure she felt as a pastor’s wife. Anyone who knows Fencine and her excellent, above-the-norm house-keeping skills will be surprised to know she weathered criticism as a young mother of four from some in the congregation who felt she didn’t keep things tidy enough. But Fencine persevered, always doing her best to raise her children well and support her husband’s ministry. She was never a complainer.
The family’s faith went beyond the church doors and into the daily fabric of family life. When their son almost died of spinal meningitis it was natural for the couple to invite their community of faith into their home and intercede for his life. Though only five-years-old at the time, he remembers hearing the passionate prayers of his parents and their friends asking God to heal him.
An excellent speller and grammarian, Fencine always edited Ray’s writing and sermon notes. She eventually served as a proofreader for her church’s denominational publication.
Ray and Fencine were always hospitable, reaching out to the church families. Fencine became known for her famous chocolate cake, which she prepared faithfully every Friday—along with fried chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans.
The couple moved often, from pastorate to pastorate, even after the children were grown and married. Ray and Fencine had a strong sense of family, and those who married into the clan were firmly welcomed. Their son-in-law, Larry, always appreciated the love and open welcome he and his children received. He was particularly blessed by Fencine’s Godly example. He said, “Fencine truly walks the talk as the saying goes. Until that point in my life I had not been close to or witnessed a person like her who studied the bible daily, had daily prayer, put worldly stuff aside and God first. She definitely helped me gain a better understanding of what life is about, not through one-on-one teaching, but by her example.”
Fencine delighted in Ray’s “retirement” years when she was finally able to travel with him instead of holding down the home front. The couple based in a retirement community in California but flew throughout the United States and several neighboring countries on a special pass from Continental Airlines. Ray knew no barriers, racial or otherwise, and was well received into not only English speaking churches, but also into Spanish speaking congregations. Fencine would often provide support to the women in those churches, and she and Ray enjoyed doing marriage counseling as they traveled. During these years they also enjoyed touring Israel and later traveled with all the children and grandchildren for a vacation to Hawaii.
Fencine was rarely idle, always working hard. As a mother she wove relationship into the daily fabric of chores. If she visited in your home, she was right there, doing dishes or laundry or helping cook the meals. She was even known to clean when she babysat her grandchildren. Much to their chagrin she would clap her hands and say, “Let’s clean the house for Mommy!”
Ray’s failing health eventually moved the couple closer to family. Ray and Fencine delighted in their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Highly competitive, Fencine was not the kind of grandma who let you win. She was ruthless at games. The grandchildren didn’t stand a chance at Uno or Frustration, and at eighty-years-old during a family Thanksgiving celebration, she soundly beat several grandsons in a game of horse. You should see her shoot a basketball!
After Ray’s death in 2001, Fencine worked for a time in an office. Not only was she admired for her strong work ethic and organizational skills, but the women she worked with were amazed at her agility. Though in her upper 70s she climbed stools or squatted on the ground as she did the filing. She is remembered in her small town as the woman who was daily seen getting her exercise, walking with perfect posture, erect and quick, swinging her arms at her side. When she couldn’t walk outside, she walked at the community center, finishing her exercise routine by using the stair-stepper. This continued into her 89th year. Even during her short stay at the nursing home during her last few months she wanted to walk. The staff mentioned that she would take grasp their arm for a walk down the hall, then take off at such a quick pace that they would be surprised and struggle to keep up. Many of Fencine’s children and grandchildren enjoy athletic ability and a competitive edge sure to be inherited from her.
Over the years Fencine offered many hand-written notes of affection to her family in the birthday cards she never failed to send. Fencine’s outlook on life was decided, and though a strong woman with strong opinions, she always supported her children and grandchildren as they made their own way in life. She was quick to offer advice on the best way to clean or cook or the right way to spell something, but also quick to learn from and offer support to her loved ones. Even when her own approach to life differed from that of her children or grandchildren, she found a way to appreciate the common ground. Her prayers for her children and grandchildren were consistent and treasured, and her unwavering faith and determination to do right was a solid example for all.
Throughout her 89 years Fencine epitomized faithfulness to the God she loves and to her family. She weathered good times and bad with an unshakable belief that God was with her. In her years of health she was selfless, working hard to serve others. She stood beside her husband even when he spent long hours in ministry leaving her to shoulder much responsibility. She believed in him and the work he did and saw her sacrifices as her own offerings to her Savior. Fencine leaves behind a legacy of integrity, kindness, selflessness, loyalty, and faith.
She will be greatly missed.