In our troubles and challenges, God sends us people who help us grow in our faith and live as his children.
Dawn E. Schulz
Every once in a while, God brings someone into our lives who changes us because of how they’ve been changed by him. They wrap their arms around our shoulders, redirect us to Jesus, and walk with us through the tough times. Through encouragement and consistent reminders to stay focused on Jesus, they help us get a firm footing on God’s promises. When we reflect on God’s goodness through them, we realize the best way to say thanks is by doing the same for others.
Anne La Salle would say that person was her mother-in-law, Viola La Salle. Viola saw Anne through many difficult times with a loving, encouraging, and generous spirit that always pointed to Jesus.
Help in difficult times
Anne’s parents emigrated from Scotland when she was a baby and settled in the greater Toronto, Ontario, area. Although Anne’s mother grew up in the Catholic Church, her husband was an agnostic. So the family did not attend church.
This didn’t stop Anne. From the age of seven, she remembers having an interest in church. She joined a nearby Anglican church and attended off and on throughout her teenage years. Unfortunately, a Christian lifestyle was difficult to maintain without supportive parents. By the time she went away to a university in Ottawa, she was spiritually drifting.
But while at the university, Anne met her husband, Charles. He was a member of St. Paul in Ottawa. Anne soon became a member and developed a relationship with her mother-in-law, Viola.
From the early days of their relationship Anne says that Viola saw her through the “curves and bumps” in life and was there to “steer her in the right direction and cheer her on.”
What Anne was so graciously referring to are the difficult circumstances she experienced as she entered her adult years. Anne’s unbelieving father was a difficult man to live with, and eventually her parents divorced. There was no one in her family to guide her through life’s challenges.
While Anne was pregnant with her first child, her brother died. Emotional turmoil continued for Anne as she aged. Her marriage suffered under the stress. Anne considers it one of the most difficult periods of her life.
These devastating heartbreaks can leave a person flat, without hope or direction. Only those experiencing these things know the hard questions and faith-challenging uncertainties that relentlessly attack a soul.
Only that person and God.
Viola was God’s blessing to Anne at just the right time. Viola helped to ground Anne. As a young woman dealing with these difficulties, Anne needed purposeful words that pointed to Jesus and gave peace.
Then her life became even more complicated. Anne became a single working mom with three young children. Viola was there to help with these curves and bumps too. She didn’t take sides or judge but instead gave meaningful and authentic support. She shared God’s words and encouraged Anne not to dwell on the grief, remorse, or guilt that comes with loss and difficulty. Instead, she helped Anne see it wasn’t about her at all. It wasn’t even about the other person. It was about God. “All of life points to Jesus and is part of God’s plan.”
Encouragement in daily life
Viola encouraged more people than just Anne. Viola lived her Christian life in a career in health care, but more important was her role as a child of God, then wife, mother, grandmother, and friend. Even if Viola and her husband had done nothing else, their presence in church at every worship opportunity alone was a fine example. There was never a complaint about aches and pains or weather. You could tell that they concurred with David, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD’ ” (Psalm 122:1).
Viola found opportunities to encourage her church family, both locally and abroad. She served on the altar guild and was president of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS) and Ladies Aid organizations. She was always a hard worker, often toiling behind the scenes. But even more, she shared her life. She always had time for a conversation or an open invitation for Christmas dinner. She always had the words to weekly encourage a missionary through handwritten letters.
Anne tells the story of Viola’s intervention in the domestic issues of a neighbor. The husband across the street was abusing his wife. One day, seeing the neighbor beating his wife on the front lawn, Viola called the police, even though it would have been easier to close the curtains and look the other way. Viola expected the man to be angry.
Instead, the husband was appreciative and brought gifts to show this. Over time Viola was able to be a Christian role model to their family.
Inspiration for humble service
About six years ago Anne was diagnosed with an immune disorder called sarcoidoisis and was hospitalized. The disease and a subsequent heart attack damaged her heart, leaving her with a chronic condition that needs constant monitoring. Anne had to change her lifestyle and diet to avoid further damage. At the time, Viola was in a senior home, living with her own heart failure. As often as she could, Anne would visit Viola, and they would share a diet-controlled meal and talk. Discussing heart health issues, they spoke about the new “normal” they were both living.
Viola encouraged Anne to share open and honest statements of how she was feeling and the fears of uncertainty that plagued her. Anne says that Viola helped her “get a grip on everything and see my life’s not over. I’m not going to die today. And even if I do, my Savior is going to take care of me.’”
Knowing that she could do little to care for Viola’s earthly needs, Anne decided to follow the path her mentor had laid out so many years ago and give to others. Anne got involved with the women’s group at St. Paul’s and the LWMS. She currently spends time volunteering at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, counseling and supporting women dealing with the effects of heart disease. And she tries to be a role model to her children, who know how important her church family is to her.
This is the impact Jesus intends when he said, “You are the light of the world. . . . Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
Viola agreed. She told Anne repeatedly, “You are here to give glory to God. You should remember that in everything you do. Everything you do. As much as you can. And when you fall away, you can repent and come back because you’re saved. It’s all a good story—it’s all good news.”
On Oct. 25, 2013, Viola went to heaven. Anne, family, friends, and members of St. Paul miss her dearly. However, her memory continues to encourage a focus on Jesus. Her stories continue to inspire humble service. And the thought that Viola is perfectly giving glory to God in heaven continues to bring a smile.
Dawn Schulz is a member at Divine Savior, Delray Beach, Florida.
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Author: Dawn E. Schulz
Volume 105, Number 7
Issue: July 2018
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