In the Eye of the Storm
It didn’t surprise me that Ruth Covington died during Hurricane Rita. She had grown so weak during the days before the storm, her passing was not unexpected. In fact, it was only appropriate that she passed away during the midst of a hurricane. She had lived such a full life in her 78 years and was so full of life that death needed a little extra help to get her. Just as it was said after former president Teddy Roosevelt died in his sleep, “Well, that’s the only time death could get on even terms with him… by sneaking up on him while he was asleep.” So death came to get Mrs. Ruth Covington when she, and everyone else, was distracted by a hurricane.
Some folks will say that she lost her battle with cancer. But I want to clear up that misconception—Mrs. Ruth didn’t lose her battle. Instead she won the prize. She won the prize waiting for the faithful follower of Jesus: Being able to hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
She didn’t lose her battle with cancer. Many times over her last decade as cancer, or Big C, seemed to be her constant companion, I would jokingly tell her, “Mrs. Ruth, I know Big C is bad, but I’ve still got my money on you. You’re a pretty tough old girl.” She would laugh, and in her smile was a grim determination to see this fight through to the end.
Dr. Bernie Siegel, a well-known writer and oncologist, tells of sharing with patients who’ve been given a terminal-cancer prognosis. Their question is always, “How long do I have, Doc?” His candid but standard reply was, “Well, I’d say you’ve got ten thousand miles left on your odometer.” Mrs. Ruth’s odometer rolled over several times, even after her first breast cancer treatment ten years ago.
As folks read her obituary this week in the American Press, the most common comment was, “Was there anything in life that she and her husband Mr. Bill didn’t do?” They lived life to the fullest… they drank every drop of coffee in the bottom of the cup of life.
That’s another misconception that we need to clear up: The misconception that Mrs. Ruth Covington died. Nope, Mrs. Ruth didn’t die…she lived. And did she ever live! She was “Hurricane Ruth”—full of energy, always on the move, and nothing or no one was the same after she “blew past them.”
Her and Bill’s lives were full… They had a lifelong addiction to volunteering and serving. At their church they were involved in everything, and she was the long-time church secretary.
They loved to travel all over North America in their R.V. Bill shared a wonderful note Mrs. Ruth wrote him on their last anniversary together. She said, “Bill, thanks for taking me all over our country. I enjoyed it so much.”
At Dry Creek Camp, we believe the best trip they ever made was when they decided to drive their R.V. one hour north and stay with us. They adopted the Camp as their specific ministry and worked countless hours beside our staff. She is greatly missed by our staff who valued her as a faithful friend.
That fullness of life always meant that Ruth and Bill were the life of the party.
Anyone who knew Ruth knew this: You knew exactly where you stood with Mrs. Ruth Covington. Frank, honest, and sometimes blunt, she said what was on her mind.
This is probably everyone’s favorite story on this aspect of her personality: The Covingtons were members of “the Agin’ Cajuns,” the senior adult ministry sponsored by Sulphur’s First Baptist Church. This fun group had traveled to Branson and was enjoying the sights and sounds of this favorite city of senior adults. It just so happened that the Sulphur group was seated next to a senior adult from a large urban church. A lady from the big city church began to brag about all of the nice things their group had and done: four big trips per year, a huge budget, a large new building.
The Southwest Louisiana group had just about heard all they could stand from this bragging Midwesterner. Finally she ended her crowing with the statement, “We’ve got a brand new $400,000 bus that we came down here on. What kind of bus does your group have?”
There was a silence from the Agin’ Cajuns until Mrs. Ruth could no longer hold her tongue. She pointed toward the Sulphur bus driver, Johnny Peel.
Johnny is a big man—about 6 foot 6 inches tall and looks as if he could still play tackle in football. With her dry wit, which she aptly could use as a weapon she replied, “Well, I’m sure you all have the best in everything, but I guarantee you our bus driver can whip your bus driver.”
Ruth Covington was a great lover. Most of all that love was directed toward her family. She and Bill were wonderful examples during their marriage of _____ years as to what faithfulness and dedication are all about. Our young people on the summer staff saw a good example of what lasting marriage is all about.
She loved her family–her children Billy and Carla, and her grandchildren. It is so appropriate that their family chose to be together at home as Hurricane Rita came through. In death as in life, she was surrounded by family…
And didn’t everyone love her back… We loved that sweetness she had… of loving to help others. And we loved her “sourness,” that bluntness—that dry, wicked sense of humor. It was like a wonderful Chinese dish: Sweet and sour. Sour and sweet.
That sweetness and sourness made us love her. No one wanted to disappoint her. We wanted to be at our best. No one wanted to disobey her. We all had a “special wonderful dread” of disobeying or disappointing her.
So many folks have commented, “I would love to have heard what she would say about passing away in the midst of a hurricane and being put in ‘cold storage’ for three weeks before her funeral was held. Mrs. Ruth, being of thin build, was always cold and carried a sweater even during the warmer times of the year.
There is one last misconception… Here it is: That Ruth Covington is dead… No way! In fact she is more alive today than she has ever been before. She is in the very presence of God… In a place where there is no sorrow, no tears, no chemo, no radiation…only the sweet presence and peace of God. Not for a day or a week, but forever…
She wouldn’t come back even if she could. And if we knew what she is now experiencing… we would cry tears of joy for her; tears of sadness that we are not there with her.
The last time I visited with her was three days before the hurricane and her death. She was so weak and everyone, including her, knew her time on earth was short. She sat propped up in her easy chair right by the living room window. This is where she spent her days. She loved this spot because she could watch the birds around her feeder and birdbath.
Mrs. Ruth could tell about each species as they flew back and forth enjoyed the bird seed Bill kept supplied at the feeder. On this final visit, her window was full of flying and fighting hummingbirds as dozens vied for the red-colored sugar water in the feeder.
Even though she was so weak she still commented on the hummingbirds and how she enjoyed watching them best of all.
On the morning of the storm when Bill called, I knew when I heard his voice that she was gone. Throughout the rest of that windy and rain-swept day I kept thinking about those hummingbirds. It concerned me as to what Ruth’s hummingbirds did during the hurricane.
The next week the Lake Charles American Press had a feature on birds and hurricanes. In this article, staff writer Andrew Perzo shared, “As hurricanes move ashore, some birds flee, some hunker down, some die, and some get carried farther inland…” The following comes from Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Book of Great Disasters: ”The eye of the hurricane is the relatively calm interior around which the deadly winds circulate. Our feathered friends often hitch a ride in the eye of the storm and travel far from their natural habitat.”
It was easy to see Mrs. Ruth’s hummingbirds flying along to a place they’d never been before. Off on a journey…just like her.
In closing, the official reports will show that the eye of hurricane Rita came ashore somewhere just east of Sabine Pass on Saturday 24, 2005. It then began to drift westward over Sabine Lake and up through the extreme eastern edge of Texas before weakening and finally reentering north Louisiana and the Midwest U.S.
But the true eye of another storm—the place where there is peace, rest, blue skies, and the very absence of confusion and pain—came to settle that same morning at a house on Sam Dunham Rd. in Calcasieu Parish in the community of Houston River. The eye of the storm came to rest on the soul of Ruth Covington.
Even though her life ended at that point, her joy really began. Where “Eye has not seen nor has ear heard the things God has prepared for those who love the Lord” (2 Cor. 2:9).