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Dearly Beloved of God,
We are gathered together this day to mourn the passing of Mrs. R.J. Knox.
Mrs. R.J. Knox passed away on Tuesday, January 5th, 2010 at the age of 100. Many will remember her as the little old lady who pulled the red wagon through the streets of Burnet, Texas for so many years.
To us, she was a woman of extraordinary endurance, and perseverance, who expressed a deep love and reverence for the Lord, Jesus Christ, and who endeavoured to live her life in obedience to God to the best of her understanding.
Born on July 31, 1909, Willie Valentine Knox, was married Mr. R.J. Knox, a Burnet insurance man, after the death of his first wife. Mr. Knox died in 1956, and Willie never remarried, living as a widow for 54 years. Having no children, Mrs. Knox is survived alone by three nieces.
Our family first came to know Mrs. Knox in 1996 when there came a knock on our door one hot summer day. On the porch stood a thin sturdy 87 year old woman... asking for work.
She told us she could do gardening and bookkeeping, behind her, in our driveway, sat a little red wagon full of gardening tools.
As many of the residents of Burnet well know, Mrs. Knox was a very independent lady. She would not take a "hand out", as she called it, and was opposed to all forms of government welfare.
Understanding her deep conviction to the principle of hard work and self reliance, and her conviction to take nothing from anyone's hand without payment, we agreed to hire Willie to tend to a flower garden beside our house.
Later, feeling almost embarrassed to have an elderly woman pulling weeds in our flower beds in the July Texas sun, we decided to hire her to cross-check calculations on our bank records and tax returns.
With the little money she would accept Mrs. Knox bought canned goods from the local grocery store and then gathered sticks from the front yard of her home on Vanderveer, where she would build a fire in an iron kettle on her front porch to heat up a pot of soup or stew.
The first time we came to Willie's home we were shocked to find her living without electricity, heat, or even running water. A local gas station owner had been kind to her for many years permitting her to fill up a five gallon bucket of water every week to take home and use for bathing, cooking, and laundry.
Mrs. Knox would pull her little Red Flyer wagon that quarter mile from her home each week with a 5 gallon water bucket in the back, and then pull it back home again, but never on the Lord's Day.
Many Burnet residents tried to help Mrs. Knox over the years, but, set in her ways, she refused almost all assistance.
In the winter of 1998 we learned that Willie had been struck by a car on Highway 281 and was in the local Hospital. When the call came in we were told that Willie had listed our family on the medical records as her "employer". It was around this time that my wife, Sandra, whom she had come to trust, became her legal guardian.
We enjoyed our time with Mrs. Knox when she came to live with us for a short time that winter. It was then that we learned a bit more of her life's story, and the terrible things she had endured as a young lady, especially after the death of her father, and later as a young woman in the state hospital.
The pages of her life were strewn with afflictions and griefs, and the abuses experienced by a young woman who did not have the protections she so desperately needed. Throughout the trials of her life, she remained faithful to the Lord, and was an example to all of incredible endurance and perseverance. A passage she underlined in pencil in her Bible reads, "Thou hast known my soul in adversities."
When we first entered her home we were amazed to find everything so clean and orderly despite the fact that Mrs. Knox had none of the comforts of modern life. Her sole source of heat and light was a "coal oil" lantern that did not even have a glass bulb. She used this lantern at night to read her Bible and take the chill off on a cold winter's eve. A thick black film of soot covered the surface area of her living room and kitchen as a result.
As we walked through her home we noticed that many of the books in her book cases and on her shelves had been partially eaten by rodents. It was heart breaking to realize that her old Victorian style pedestal bathtub had not known hot water for several decades. It was hard to imagine how she survived the many cold winters alone after the death of her husband.
Several men from our church worked on her house for a couple of weeks, while she was in the hospital and recuperating at our home.
We drove out the mice, painted, and plumbed, and installed a gas heater in her living room. When she came back home she refused to allow the electricity to be kept on since she could not afford it.
I mentioned how Mrs. Knox's previous form of heat was a single "coal oil" lantern that she used for warmth and light at night to read her Bible. I will speak again of her character, of her love for Christ, and of her devotion to God and His Word.
One day, while Mrs. Knox was living with us, after the accident, our family was gathered in the living room and I was reading the Scriptures to everyone. When I finished I laid my Bible down next to me and before we could go on to prayer I heard Mrs. Knox say under her breath, "some people have no regard for the Word of God". And it struck me immediately, she was right. I had set the Bible, the Word of God on the floor. We do not even allow the flag to touch the ground or the floor, how much more should we reverence the very Words of Almighty God? From that day forward it has been a law of sorts in the Hopkins' home that the Bible should never be so ill treated.
Besides being known as the little old lady who pulled the red wagon around town, Mrs. Knox was also known as the woman who brought the Secret Service to the little town of Burnet, Texas. Being passionately opposed to the Social Security System, Mrs. Knox had written letters of protest for years to every elected official she could get an address for, and in the 1970's that included then president, Richard Nixon.
As the story goes, Mrs. Knox picked up a telephone at the Burnet Library on the square and made a long distance call to the White House in Washington D.C. threatening the president of the United States if the government continued to send Social Security checks to her home. According to those familiar with the story she told the person at the White House who answered the telephone, "if you keep sending me these checks, you're going to regret it". Well, this telephone call resulted in a visit to the city of Burnet by Federal Agents who found, after a little investigation, that Mrs. Knox was indeed quite harmless; a widow living alone in a small Texas town without utilities and no means of transportation.
One thing most would agree on concerning Mrs. Knox is that she was from "the old school", as they call it. Here was a woman who wanted to make her own way in this life without intrusion or even assistance from others. Without the influences of television or even radio, her ideas remained strongly grounded in a previous day and time. Her presence in the streets of Burnet for so many years was a haunting reminder of the vigorous life of an age now almost completely forgotten.
Upon entering her home on Vanderveer one's attention was immediately drawn to an old walnut vanity where rested her two most prized possessions; her marriage certificate framed and standing, and a photograph of her mother and father.
Mrs. Knox's favorite hymn was "Rock of Ages", and in church, while she was able to go to church, we had heard her sing every verse of that hymn line by line without every glancing at a hymnal.
Adjusting to her many eccentricities was quite an experience for our family. I remember the day we took Mrs. Knox to formal dining in Austin in honor of her birthday and how our oldest son was shocked as she casually reached over with her fork and picked something off of his plate. She once said that when she was a little girl the men ate first, then the ladies, and if anything was left over, the children would eat!
The one thing that stood out with Mrs. Knox, however, and that greatly impressed our family throughout the years that we knew her, was that she had a firm belief in right and wrong. If Mrs. Knox believed something was wrong, nothing in the world was going to make her compromise with it. To illustrate this I will leave you with a final illustration from her life.
When we first came to know Mrs. Knox we found her sleeping on an old tattered mattress on the bare floor. Promising to use her own money for the purchase, we were able to convince her to let us get her a bed. Mrs. Knox insisted on a bunk bed, as she was certain that one day her mother might drop by for a visit (of course her mother had been dead for decades).
So we bought Willie this sturdy solid oak bunkbed with 4 by 4 inch posts and assembled it in her bedroom.
A few weeks later when my wife came over to check on her, she found her sleeping on the floor again... the bunk-bed gone... completely gone. When Sandra asked her where her bed was she told her that she was sure that a woman of ill repute had slept in that bed, and because it had been used for such evil purposes she would have nothing to do with it.
When Sandra inquired as to where the bed was Mrs. Knox told her she had chopped it to pieces with a hatchet, carried the chunks into the back yard, set them on fire, and burned them to ashes. In the back yard we found only an area of blackened dust where Mrs. Knox had beaten the ashes to powder with a shovel and raked them into the dirt.
I've wondered at times what our world would be like if every professing Christian had such zeal for right and wrong. The Bible is clear that for a person to do something he believes to be wrong, even if what he believes to be wrong is not morally wrong, for that person it is a sin... for he has sinned against his conscience.
Mrs. Knox was true to conscience. In her love of Christ she obeyed the Lord according to her ability to understand His will.
When I thought on the diligence and zeal of a 92 year old woman destroying a set of bunkbeds with a hatchet and obliterating every trace of them from face of the earth I was reminded of words from the Old Testament.
The children of Israel were told of God in Deuteronomy Chapter 7 concerning the pagan nations around them... "... ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire. For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God..."
And again in Chapter 9, after the people of Israel had sinned by making an image of a golden calf it was written...
"And I took your sin, the calf which ye had made, and burnt it with fire, and stamped it, and ground it very small, even until it was as small as dust..."
Have you every considered what sort of world we would now live in if every person in America today would so separate themselves and their lives from that which they believed to be an offense before God and man?
I mentioned earlier that Mrs. Knox's favorite hymn was "Rock of Ages".
In this hymn the Gospel of Jesus Christ is presented with perfect clarity.
Written by August Toplady in 1776 we read the words of one who understood that the only refuge from sin and guilt, and death, and the abiding wrath of God upon sinners is in fleeing to the riven side and arms of the Crucified One.
"Nothing in my hand I bring", the hymn reads, "... simply to Thy cross I cling... Naked, come to Thee for dress... Helpless look to Thee for grace... Foul I to the Fountain fly... wash me Savior or I die."
Mrs. Knox's favorite hymn clearly portrays the state of man; naked, helpless, foul, and destitute of that grace and washing, without which the soul of man is destined to die an eternal death.
I can still hear her trembling voice faintly singing those well penned words...
"Not the labors of my hands can fulfill Thy laws demands..."
She understood that no good we could ever do in these frail sinful human shells could ever appease the wrath of God due the sin of man... for all have sinned and fall short continually of the glory of God and the law's demand for a perfect righteousness unattainable my mere human merit or effort.
"Could my zeal no respite know... could my tears forever flow... all for sin could not atone...", no matter how zealous we are for His law and holiness, no matter how many tears we may shed for our sins... nothing short of saving grace... the grace that comes to us by Jesus Christ, can save us... and so the verse ends rightly... "Thou must save and Thou alone...".
Ah, but how is this saving grace laid hold on, but by trusting in the Word of Him who freely gives it?
Even as it is written in the Scriptures... �he that believeth on Him shall not be confounded.� Whoever trusts in Christ Jesus will never be put to shame.
The death of our mortal bodies is just a bridge from life to life for those who have rested their hopes on the Son of God.
Our Lord emphasized this when He said in John, Chapter 11, verse 26...
"I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:..."
The hope of eternal life... and the resurrection from the dead is a hope grounded in the "certaintly of that which is expected", for every man, woman, or child who dies resting in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, the righteousness of God, and life everlasting.
And so here today, as we are about to lay our sister, Mrs. R.J. Knox, to rest, I ask every person present to search his own heart. Have you trusted the Lord for salvation? If not, trust Him now... flee to Christ... do not delay... close with Him who is the Rock of Ages. Believe on Him, trust His Word, hide yourself in the cleft of the Rock... even as the closing words of that great Gospel hymn conclude...
"Rock of Ages cleft for me... let me hide myself in Thee."