Christians often live quiet, humble lives, but their lives matter.
How do we measure the value and importance of a Christian life? We gravitate to those who have done great things. Sometimes we focus on unusual circumstances a Christian has overcome.
The noteworthy are not hard to find in the Scriptures. Peter, Paul, John, Mary, Lazarus, Martha, and Thomas come easily to mind. But there were three thousand unnamed souls welcomed into the kingdom of God on Pentecost. Stephen emerges from those souls and so do the seven deacons chosen by the growing church in Jerusalem (Acts 6:5). They are named, but so many ordinary believers remain unknown to us.
Even when we celebrate church or synod anniversaries, we find names that help us tell the story—pastors, presidents, professors, and others. The local and synodical histories punctuate the course of time with names that seem to stand out above others.
But history is made by the people who remain unnamed—the ordinary Christians who pray, attend worship, contribute to the preaching of the gospel, and participate in the work of the congregation and synod.
I want to tell the story of one of those ordinary Christians. She has a name—Vera Luella Mueller.
Vera came to my attention through a story in the Minneapolis newspaper. On March 23, she celebrated her 104th birthday in quarantine because of the virus. Family members could wave, clap, and celebrate with flowers and balloons, but she was behind glass windows.
Then COVID-19 entered her 104-year-old body. She was put on oxygen, and the outcome was in doubt. Her son, Bob, remembers watching through the window one evening, not sure she would make it another day. “I could see her lips moving, and I just knew she was saying her prayers,” he says. “She prays every day.”
Vera recovered and was cleared of the virus on April 6. At the time she was one of the oldest people in the country to recover from COVID-19.
Notoriety was an uncomfortable and unfamiliar dress for her to wear. She would rather wear a humbler, more ordinary one. Her pastor said there wasn’t anything special about her—no exceptional accomplishments or contributions to the world or her church. Her family agreed. “There’s no story here,” I heard everyone say. But I persisted for that very reason.
Vera was born in 1916 in Plainview, Minnesota. She was baptized and later confirmed. Her best friend growing up was Dorothy Froehke, the daughter of the first pastor of St. Matthew, Winona, Minn.
Vera married Gerhard “Von” Mueller in 1940, four years after graduating from Winona Senior High School. The young couple made the church a living part of their everyday lives. Baptism, confirmation, and marriage are ordinary for us all, but we ought not forget the everyday blessings God gives.
Vera and Von were in church every Sunday and were eventually joined by their three children—Jeanne, James, and Robert. There is a story here, but it is an ordinary one: Faithfully hearing God’s Word and receiving his sacrament sustains us throughout life. The Holy Spirit continues to work through the gospel to sustain faith and to help God’s people serve him as we face challenges and temptations at every stage of life.
We may not think there is much of a story here, but the ordinary life of each Christian is important.
We must be careful not to minimize God’s power and work through Word and sacrament. It’s not unimportant. Vera and Von wanted to be in God’s house. “They were always there and did not want to miss a service for anything,” her son remembers.
Vera lived through the First World War. She was an infant during that war, but in the hands of God as his child through baptism. He placed her in a loving family that cared for her. Why do we take all these things for granted? Perhaps we only notice them when they are missing or threatened. She also lived through the Depression, the Second World War, the Vietnam War, and Afghanistan. At every step the Lord sheltered her with his love and care. During those days she had health issues, but the Lord had plans for her.
Those plans were never grandiose. Family and church were the most important part of her plans—and God’s. Von was the St. Matthew’s school board chairman when the congregation started an elementary school. Vera sang in the choir and taught Sunday school. Vacation Bible school became part of Vera and Von’s routine in the summer, getting snacks ready for the children and helping in whatever way they could.
Vera was active in the Ladies Aid and was president for many years. Her son especially remembers the ice cream socials. It would be easy to find her in Bible class or at Lutheran Women Missionary Society or WELS senior gatherings.
The Lord took Von home after 52 years of marriage. Vera remained confident in the Lord’s promises for her husband and the Lord’s care for her. She continued to serve as part of the Sauer Health Care Auxiliary, pushing the cart down the hallways with snacks for the residents and making hundreds of rosette cookies at Christmas.
Eventually Vera became a resident at that facility. She couldn’t attend church as she used to, but each day she read her Bible. She kept Meditations, Forward in Christ, and her Bible within reach. One night a nurse asked her what she was reading. She said she was reading her Bible. The nurse said, “I haven’t opened it yet.” Vera suggested that she should start reading it. On another occasion she shared Jesus with an older man at the facility. The next day he died. She thought it was as if God was using her to get him ready for meeting Jesus.
Her church was never far from her mind. She waited to see the church’s services on Sundays on her television and read and reread the printed sermons sent every week. She wanted to continue to give her offerings, and she found a way. Bingo was one of the activities at the care center. Winners would receive a dime, and she would collect her dimes and give them to the church.
She kept pictures of family and friends with their names written on the back. She was especially happy when family came to visit. She loved to hold her grandchildren and great-grandchildren on her lap. Her granddaughter gave her an iPad for her 100th birthday and taught her how to use it. She cherished the photos of her family that filled the tablet. It was hard not to notice how cheerful and confident her faith made her.
We may not think there is much of a story here, but the ordinary life of each Christian is important. It is a miracle that we believe in Jesus. Each day God gives grace, comfort, and strength through his Word quietly and faithfully just as he promised.
Yes, Vera recovered from COVID-19, but 12 days later the Lord called her home. She fell asleep in Jesus and has joined the countless voices of heaven, as she praises God for making her his dear child.
Even long after her name and the names of countless other Christians are forgotten, the Savior will not forget them. Their names are all written in his book of life.
Author: John Braun
Volume 107, Number 08
Issue: August 2020