We buried Sister Butler on Saturday. I call her Sister Butler because we’re both old-school Church of Christ. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I call most people, even people younger than me, Brother and Sister because I’m old-school Church of Christ. Susan Butler is just the first and only one who’s ever said to me in response, “I really appreciate that you call me Sister Butler.” That’s all I need. Just give me a tiny bit of positive feedback like that and I’m a broken record.
I love Susan because she loves my daughter Valerie so much. She taught Valerie at Amarillo High School when Valerie was — how do I put this? — going through a rough stretch. There comes a time in every teenage girl’s life when she needs somebody other than her parents to affirm her beauty and her worth, to listen to her and sympathize, to talk to her, to challenge her, and to believe in her. I thank God that Mrs. Butler and Valerie crossed paths at Amarillo High. I praise him for helping my daughter through Susan in ways I’m just not equipped to help.
Susan sees teaching not as a job, but as a ministry, as a calling from our God to love kids. She’s the teacher who goes the extra mile, who has the extra conversation, who asks about her students’ lives outside of school. She tells her students she loves them, she tells them she’s proud of them. If you’re one of Mrs. Butler’s students, she challenges you to do more than you think you can; she really, really believes you can do it; that causes you to really believe you can do it; and that is really awesome.
She believes in high expectations and expresses them to her kids. She’s not shy about it. She knows how things are supposed to look and how people are supposed to behave: how a young lady is supposed to act, how a Christian is supposed to live, how a wife and mother fulfills her responsibilities. She prayed over her students and quoted Scripture to them. For Mrs. Butler, teaching is about love and relationships and giving herself to others.
She made Valerie fall in love with teaching and put her on the path to becoming a teacher. She kept Valerie after class to ask her how she was doing and to catch up on her whole life. She encouraged Valerie and motivated her to do her very best. She Valerie she was proud of her all the time. Constantly. She hugged Valerie. She loved Valerie. And she changed Valerie’s life.
I love Sister Butler for that.
And I love her because I feel like she was my own personal cheerleader. I’ve only known Susan for a little over five years, but I’ve never doubted for one moment that she loves me. I always felt like she was really proud of me. And I know she wanted me to succeed wildly.
Susan is just so encouraging. Every single word out of her mouth to me — every word! — was carefully selected and measured and spoken to build me up. After a three-minute conversation with Susan, I felt like I was one of the greatest preachers in the history of the world. And it always seemed like she sought me out with a phone call or a text or a “Hey, come here, I want to tell you something” at the very moments when I felt like I was one of the worst preachers in the history of the world.
“Allan, you are really communicating to this church.”
“Allan, that really spoke to me.”
“Allan, you really made me think about that passage yesterday.”
“Allan, God is really talking to me through you.”
“Allan, I prayed for you this morning.”
Is there anything else a preacher would ever want to hear from a member of his congregation? Susan Butler really lifted me up.
When she was diagnosed with lung cancer in the fall of 2013, the doctors gave her only two years to live. Two years? She’s not even 60! It was devastating. It was awful. She was just a year-and-a-half away from retiring, she had those grandbabies coming, the best part of her wonderful life was just beginning. It wasn’t fair. It was cruel.
And there were questions and fears and uncertainties, of course. But she never wavered in her faith in our God to protect her and to provide for her everything she needs. She never stopped encouraging others and loving people and considering the needs of others more important than her own.
It wasn’t two years, it was a little more than three because, well, Susan Butler is also a little stubborn. And when her loving husband Steve and their precious daughters delivered the news last week to Susan, she was good with it. It wasn’t a problem. She was fine. She was ready to die. She had fought valiantly and suffered faithfully and it was time. There wasn’t any anxiety about it — no fear, no questions. She was certain it was time and she was certain she was ready.
Tuesday night Sister Butler passed from this life to the next surrounded by her family, forgiven by her Lord, and wrapped in the loving arms of her God. Friday night the funeral home in Canyon was jam-packed with people, young and old, sharing stories of Susan’s loving spirit and encouraging nature. Saturday the chapel at Central was filled to capacity with her family, her church family, her fellow teachers, her former students, and about a million flower arrangements. The tributes to Susan’s life of sacrifice and service for the sake of others went well into the night. The glory and praise to God brought by her life continues through all eternity.
May God bless all the Butlers with his comfort and peace and, yes, his joy. May God receive sweet Susan into his faithful arms. And may God bless all of us with the strength and faith and confidence that he is able to keep what we’ve entrusted to him until that great day.
In honor of Sister Butler, why don’t you go out of your way to say something really nice to somebody today. Encourage somebody. Tell somebody how proud you are of what they’re doing. Tell somebody you believe in them. It would honor Susan and it would bring praise to her/our God.