Paul Hiebert............meets.............Frances Flaming
My Sister Fran
I was in high school when Paul began dating this bright, fun-loving, beautiful girl: Frances Flaming from Enid, Oklahoma. I was enthralled with her. She was the kind of female I wished I could be, instead of serious, tongue-tied when guys were around, and completely naive about how to be a teen in America. I wasn't sure how Paul managed to get her to date him! I soon found I could get Paul really riled up by telling him that I was spying on the two of them. (Dolores says that she tried that on Fran too--must be the "younger sister syndrome.") Fran was a good big sister; she took time to listen to my problems and give me advice on guys and styles, which I very much needed. I remember the time she let me teach her class in the rural school when she was sick---did I ever feel sophisticated!
I was delighted when Paul and Fran got married. I figured Fran would help keep my philosophical, absent-minded brother in touch with the real world. When they left for India, Frank and I got to see them off at Chicago. Eloise and Barbie were little then, and had a good time running around in the station. One of Frank's fond memories is of giving Eloise a pen she was interested in, and having her tell him that she would "keep it forever."
All of us siblings went our own way during much of the next hectic years, as we were busy raising kids. We did get to see Paul and Fran when they were up in Minneapolis; by then John had joined them and was an active little tyke. I remember I was into coloring my hair those days (unlike now.....) and had black, black hair. Fran did me a great favor by suggesting that with my "light coloring, maybe a softer dark-brown would look good." I went home to Batavia and tried her idea---and looked a lot more human!
In the years when Fran and Paul were in Washington and California, we didn't get to see them much, so we were delighted when they moved to Illinois. In the last few years, Fran continued to be a good listener and shared her thoughts and ideas with me. This was so good for me; I needed someone like her at this time. I didn't need advice on guys or styles anymore. Instead we were in the middle of an ongoing conversation about choices we had made and priorities we'd set in our lives. When she died, I felt like I needed to finish that conversation. At the same time, though, I very much appreciated her unselfishness in listening to me while she herself was facing death. Thanks so much, Fran. You were a great big sister to me. I miss you.
In one of her beautiful saris
This is how my mother went to be with the King:
When I arrived on Thursday afternoon, I went to see her in the bedroom. I told her I loved her and that her hair looked pretty. She smiled and chuckled just slightly. Since she was unable to speak, I told her that I would talk and sing to her. I got a rise out of her when I reminded her that she used to say I talked too much. Ingrid and Marie were there to sit with her as well. Throughout the afternoon we encouraged her, telling her that John and Eloise would be arriving the next day.
The hospital bed arrived, and we placed her in it, taking her to the family room where it was brighter and more cheerful (although I wasn't sure if she could see). She was not in pain, except when we had to turn her or lift her.
That night I slept near her. When she stirred I said to her, "I'm here, Mom." The next day Dad went to the airport and Dolores came to be with us. We sang her favorite hymn to her, "My life flows on in endless song...Since love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?" We read Psalm 23, John 14, and I Corinthians 15, about how we will receive new bodies when we are resurrected. We reminded her that she would soon receive a new body! I kept telling Mom that John and Eloise were on their way. I would tell her the time and how many more minutes before they were expected to arrive.
Finally they came, about the same time, with Aunt Gwen (Dad's sister) as well. Mom was able to recognize both of them. Eloise saw that Mom was trying to speak, but was unable to form the words with her mouth. Eloise said, "Mom, I know you're trying to talk, but you're just going to have to wait until we're all behind the pearly gates." Mom's eyebrows went up and formed a little smile. Eloise then said, "Mom, hold that thought." Both John and Eloise hugged her and said, "I love you."
That night we ate a chicken curry meal, a dish Mom liked. Before the meal we sang "Praise God from whom all blessings flow," and prayed at her bedside. Eloise read to her from the Bible. Dad, John, Eloise and myself each took time to weep next to her. We kissed her and scratched her head, as she had done for us many times.
We took turns sitting with her, listening to recorded hymns. When her breathing became very labored, we all gathered around her and put our hands on her, and so we were holding her body when she breathed the very last breath. We waited to be sure. Then we laid flowers and pictures on her body. Before they took her remains, we each kissed her and said goodbye. Mom went to be with the Lord on Friday, April 16, 1999 at around 9:10 p.m., within eight hours of us all being gathered together.
Several people told us how she had said, "I'm happy, I'm going to be with Jesus and with my mom and dad." Her sister, Dolores, told me about their conversation the previous Saturday. Dolores had said, "I'm so sorry, Fran, that you haven't received the healing that we prayed for." Mom's response was, "Oh, but I have received healing."
Mom had many struggles in her life, and so I was pleased that at the end, she seemed to comprehend the absolute truth of God's love for her. Henri Nouwen writes: "From all eternity, long before you were born and became a part of history, you existed in God's heart. Long before your parents admired you or your friends acknowledged your gifts or your teachers, colleagues and employers encouraged you, you were already 'chosen.' The eyes of love had seen you as precious, as of infinite beauty, as of eternal value. When love chooses, it chooses with a perfect sensitivity for the unique beauty of the chosen one, and it chooses without making anyone else feel excluded."
Mom loved beautiful artwork, fabric and music. She strove for women to
have equal recognition in the church. She taught us how to keep a clean
house and cook a delicious meal. But most of all, Mom, I am thankful that
at the tender age of 4, you took me into the bedroom in India, and asked me
if I wanted to accept Jesus Christ into my heart. That is the most
important gift you could ever have given me. Thank you.
With Eloise, Barbara and John when they were little.....and getting bigger
Memorial Service for Fran
April 19, 1999
(Memorial bulletin written by Paul)
Frances Flaming was born on August 22, 1934, at El Reno, Oklahoma, to Menno and Emma Flaming. She had the lasting memory that at the age of four she went to the altar at revival services in her church and accepted Christ as her personal savior. This commitment to following him remained the dominant motivation throughout her life.
Frances graduated from Corn Bible Academy and studied at Tabor College, where she met Paul Hiebert. In 1954 they were married. In 1960 Frances and Paul sailed to India with two daughters to serve as missionaries in Bible and pastoral training. Their son was born during their years of ministry.
Frances completed her B.A. at Kansas State University, her M.A. in Bible at Fuller Theological Seminary, and the course work for the Doctor of Ministries in missions at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. She served on the Mennonite Brethren Board of Missions and Services for nine years, as Director of Women's Ministries at Fuller, and as Director of International Students Affairs at Trinity. She published widely in the area of missions and women's ministries.
Frances leaves behind her husband Paul, three children--Eloise, Barbara and John, three children by marriage--Michael Meneses, Byron Crape and Jane White, and five grandchildren--Bria, Holly, Andy, Mary and Nicholas. Above all she leaves behind the fruit of her ministry which was to serve the Lord's will all her life.
The Red Oak
With John at his wedding
But what a life, what a person. Aunt Fran has always been a significant person to me. I have always admired her for her warmth, her intelligence, her willingness to stick her neck out--in an engaging, not threatening way--for what she believed was right. I have always felt I had a lot to learn from this woman, as a role model for me. I appreciated her faith, and in particular that her faith included, not excluded, women in their own right, as fully created, worthy, responsible members of Christ's body. She didn't shirk from her task as eloquent advocate for us all.
I appreciate Fran as a woman, wife, mother, aunt and grandmother. I always felt comfortable with her, a caring person with many talents as educator, writer, organizer, counselor. I feel deep sorrow that she can not continue to inspire, laugh with, engage us all. Surely, surely, her life was too short. I will miss her presence, not only her physical presence at family occasions, visits etc. but her spiritual presence--that is, just knowing she is there and that, at some point, I will connect with her again. She was truly an amazing and beautiful person.
Ken and I will remember you--Uncle Paul, John, Eloise, Barb--and all the family in these days. I wish I could join in the stories, the remembrances, but at this point all I can do is treasure the ones I have. I also can remind myself that, as an aunt myself, I may well have an important role to play with my own nieces and nephews. For I don't know how much Fran realized that she has impacted me and the direction I want my life to take. But she has and always will.
She was an excellent mother and raised a wonderful family. I wish all children enjoyed the love she showed her children. They are her best tribute. Her patience and kindness often showed in the way she handled her parents, children, grandchildren and students. I was touched by the many international students who spoke of her helpfulness to them.
I also admired her position on women in the church and was glad she spoke
boldly on the issues. She will be missed in this role.
Toward evening Fran's breathing became very labored and we sensed the end was near so we sat around her bed and sang her favorite hymns and read her favorite Psalms. Paul and I added, "I'm Going Home on the Morning Train," which brought back so many memories of India and of Mom and Dad. This was a very moving time and we shed many tears.
Not long after that Fran's labored breathing stopped and we stood around
her bed, touching her and clasping hands with each other as she breathed a
few last breaths and then stopped. This amazingly did not bring tears but
more of a sense of relief for her. We were not sure that she was truly gone
so we kept checking her pulse and Barb put her ear to Fran's chest. Her
skin became cool very quickly and we knew she was finally out of her pain
and had gone to be with Mom, Dad, and Grace. I felt it such a privilege to
be with Paul and his family at this moment. It was truly a spiritual
experience. I had the next day alone traveling to Montreal and was so glad
to have that day to think about this deeply moving experience.
"As long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without ever really going away. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on--in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here."
>Excerpts from "Tuesdays with Morrie" by Mitch Albom
One thing Fran said I won't forget. As I was leaving a year ago I remarked
that I wished her prospects were brighter. She said, "Ultimately, they
are." She seemed not to have the least doubt that in the end all was going
to be well--very well indeed.
I experienced her as a person who carried considerable dignity and who bestowed dignity on others. She will be missed in the evangelical circles; her writings carried a punch. She will be missed in Mennonite Brethren circles for her advocacy of women's contributions and for her probings about Christian mission. But for my part she leaves a wonderful spiritual fragrance, the fragrance of our Savior Jesus Christ.
Life Story Highlights
-Fran received Christ as her Savior at the age of 4. She graduated from Corn Bible Academy; studied at Tabor College. She met Paul Hiebert at Tabor, and they were married in 1954. Paul and Fran sailed for India in 1960 with two daughters, Eloise and Barbara; John was born there.
Illness and Death
Fran's bout with cancer, after years of remission, resumed in 1997; chemo was stopped in early 1999 because it was no longer effective. She attended a full rendition of Handel's MESSIAH during holy week, and last attended church on Easter Sunday, April 4. She found strong support in her local church's women's Bible study.
By Friday, April 16 all the children were home, Eloise having come a day earlier than planned. All children, as well as Paul's sister Gwen, were at her bedside Friday evening, singing, praying, and reading Scripture. Fran opened her eyes, recognized them, smiled. She went into a coma and died at 9:10 p.m. that evening, within eight hours of the total family gathered together. A hospice worker who had witnessed hundreds of death said she had not ever seen anything so peaceful. Paul was greatly fortified by the nature of her death.
The funeral for Fran was held on Monday, April 19 in Village Church (Evangelical Free), with many faculty and students from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School attending. Two women friends read a poem and her life story. Elmer Martens brought a family tribute, and Michael Meneses, a son-in-law, spoke on "Struggling with God" (Gen. 32). During the service, her doctor, an Asian, shared during "open mike" about Fran's strong faith; she indicated that she herself was still in a search mode. A Mennonite group from the church Paul and Fran earlier attended sang: "My Life Flows On" (Mennonite Hymnal, p. 580) and "Praise God from Whom...." (Mennonite Hymnal, p. 118--Old 606), a most moving moment. Fran's body was wheeled out to the strains of a tape made by Wheaton Concert Choir (directed by Paul Wiens, her brother-in-law): "Steal Away, Steal Away to Jesus" This was a dignified funeral for a lady of dignity, and the Spirit of God was wonderfully present.
Later that evening the immediate family gathered for a meal; also present were Phyllis and Elmer, Betty Dahl, Jo and Frank Sorensen, Paul and Dolores Flaming Wiens and their daughter and her husband. Paul, his children and grandchildren left Tuesday for Oklahoma, where the interment took place Wednesday at Enid.
"Above all she leaves behind the fruit of her ministry, which was to serve
the Lord's will all her life."
My life flows on in endless song