Lovely Rheta

We lost someone dear last night. A woman whose faith came down through her family, through generations, and shone out through her with a twinkle that could not be mistaken for anything else. I loved Rheta Stoppel, and I will miss her dearly. We first became close almost twenty years ago, at one of those mission/vision workshops that churches are so fond of and which, invariably, lead nowhere. I was at a table with her and a few others when the subject of heaven came up. I don’t remember what she had said that led my jaw to drop but I do recall my words, “Are you telling me that you were raised to believe that only LC-MS Lutherans would go to Heaven.” I was new to the church and to the faith, but I knew that would not be a lesson I’d be passing on to my kids. Rheta smiled as if just then realizing what she had said and what she’d been taught. “That’s what I was taught” she said. I cannot say what she went to heaven ultimately believing, but what I witnessed in her day in and day out was a demonstrable confidence in the words of St. Paul, that God desired “all people to be saved.” And she showed that by loving people and caring tangibly about what they loved—mainly, their children— in her work for and/or behind the scenes at Venice Lutheran School. Every time I saw her, she would make a point of sharing some observation about Graham or Remy, some little detail of the day that no one else would have observed, but which made my heart sing. I have no doubt she did this for hundreds of moms and dads, loving who they loved, so that they may, in their time, come to love who she loved: Jesus Christ.  “In Him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain even of your own poets have said, for we are also his offspring.” (Acts 17:28)  If you have ever attended a Fall Festival at First Lutheran Church of Venice, you have met Rheta. She would have been wearing a festive orange plaid shirt covered with pumpkin and spider and scarecrow pins. She and her lifetime friend, Suzie Dean, sold the tickets so you could play games or eat or buy things from the bake sale, which she always made goodies for. Rheta knew that the ticket to heaven was the grace of God, and that it was a gift to all who did not refuse it. If she were here today I think she’d say to all those families who weren’t yet so sure about what to make of the whole faith thing: “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” (Hebrews 3:15)  Today, my heart is a puddle as I thank God for Rheta, for her life, her witness, the strength of her convictions, her tireless service, and the twinkle in her eye. I have no doubt she’s with Him now, and they’re enjoying some really good dessert. 

4 Comments on “Lovely Rheta

  1. Thanks, Heather. You said it better than I could. A beautiful tribute.
    Ken Frese

  2. Thank you so much, Heather. You have blessed us with your memories of Rheta and your intertwining of Scripture passages. As I think about Rheta and Susie and Rheta’s wonderful extended family I am reminded of how much the song “Oh, Happy Day” meant to her mother Dorothy. “Oh, Happy Day, Oh Happy Day, when Jesus washed….my sins away. He taught me how …..to watch…..fight…..and pray. And live rejoicing everyday!” Throughout her illness Rheta did watch….fight….and pray. Jesus was real and she bore witness to the inner joy of her faith. Oh, my….what faith….what grace.

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