Yes to the Shepherd

Recently, I was privileged to give the eulogy for my friend Joann Blanch at her memorial service. As I thought about her life, I realized it was characterized by saying yes to the invitations in Psalm 23. Saying yes shaped who she was, defined the qualities she lived by, and resulted in blessing everyone she knew!

King David wrote the well-known, well-loved Psalm 23 from the perspective of a sheep whose shepherd is the Lord. It is a small piece of his testimony, and it is a small piece of Joann’s testimony as well.

The Lord was her Shepherd. As a young teen, Joann said yes to a life of faith. That decision influenced all the choices that came her way. She chose to attend Multnomah Bible College in Oregon (now Multnomah University) as a way of feeding her faith. While at Multnomah she attended the church where Jack Mayhall was the youth pastor. Upon graduation, the Mayhalls invited Joann to live with them. She said yes, and during that time Joann was introduced to The Navigators.

Joann’s life of faith was anchored by Hebrew 6:14 (ESV), “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” God faithfully worked that through her life in many ways. I’m thankful to be one who was blessed by Joann’s friendship.

He led Joann “in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” Saying yes to a life of faith led Joann to say yes to the sovereignty of God. Her subsequent journey took her from Oregon, to Washington, to Colorado, to California, to Germany, back to Washington, to England, to Spain, back to California, to north Africa, and back to Colorado.

Saying yes to the sovereignty of God led to full-time mission work as a single woman. During the early ‘60s Joann provided leadership for The Navigators’ women’s ministry in Los Angeles.

It led to her marriage to Jack in Pasadena, California, in 1962. It led to having three children born in three different countries. And it led to 17 years of ministry in Spain, where she and Jack raised their children.

Saying yes to the sovereignty of God led to saying yes to living her God-created design. Joann was feisty and fun. She loved the games of Rook and Pit and invited their friends in for weekly tournaments in Spain. (Joann always won.)

Joann was an elegant lady. Her mother groomed her well in etiquette, saying if she was ever invited to dine with the queen of England, she wanted her to know which fork to use. The invitation from the queen never came, but in Spain they were invited to dine with dignitaries on several occasions. Joann was always very comfortable in that setting.

Joann was a wise counselor to her friends. She said yes to speaking honestly when invited to help another with life issues. She loved enough to share truth, but she held back from attempting to fix the issue. She trusted God to speak to the other.

“Even though I walk through the valley . . . you are with me.” Even in difficulties, Joann said yes and God’s presence was real to her. She knew the reality of trusting God to provide food for her growing family. On one occasion in Spain a neighbor came over when their refrigerator was bare. The neighbor said she was leaving on a trip and asked if Joann and her family would take the food in her refrigerator. Experiences like that cement the goodness of God in your heart. “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5, ESV).

“He prepares a table . . . in the presence of my enemies.” Joann said yes to the price of hospitality. According to Phillip Keller in A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, noxious weeds are one enemy that could harm the sheep. It was the shepherd’s responsibility to clear them from the tableland. Joann considered her American culture a weed in her home. She adapted to whatever culture she was living in and learned how to prepare welcoming tables for their friends. In Spain, she decorated her home with a Spanish motif; when Spaniards were in their home, she served Spanish food, and she and their children spoke only Spanish.

God blessed her all the days of her life. Joann said yes to finishing well. Although she lived with Parkinson’s disease the last 20 years of her life on earth, she continued to love well. I often would ask for her wisdom regarding situations I was facing. Her words always spoke life to me.

I sometimes heard her conversing on the phone in Spanish with friends from her missionary days. She never lost her heart for the Spanish people.

She would often accompany Jack to Manitou Springs, a small town near Colorado Springs, to talk with people about God and to give away Jack’s books. Her gift of friendship made it easy to sit in a coffee shop and start conversations with the baristas.

Throughout her life, in good times and difficult ones, Joann said yes to her Shepherd. Joann followed Jesus as a wife, as a mom, and as a missionary. I imagine if Joann were looking over my shoulder, she would ask me to share this testimony with you:

 Surely goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life,
and I am dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.—Psalm 23:6, personalized

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