A New York Times article called Barbara Bush “soft power in fake pearls.” Many of our nation’s first ladies have worn pearls, but none as famously as Mrs. Bush. In fact, her famous three-strand necklace is still sold by Kenneth J. Lane on his website. (I provided the link in case you are in the market!) The former first lady once teased that if she removed her pearls “her head would fall off.” She was wearing those pearls on the evening I had the privilege of shaking her hand. That was a BIG moment for me!
I like the message her three-layered strand of faux pearls said about her personality and character. She wore them to the inaugural ball in 1989 with a designer dress and an old pair of comfortable, inexpensive shoes. Her “ensemble” was a picture of who she chose to be as a first lady and as a person. She was more interested in having values than owning valuables.
A lot of things have been said about Barbara Bush since her death. But I have been most impressed with the things she said while she was living. As I read various quotes attributed to her, I realized I was reading genuine pearls of wisdom. Jesus told a parable about living life on earth for the sake of heaven. He said, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45–46). In the ancient world, a pearl and the mother-of-pearl from the shell were highly esteemed for ornaments and decoration. In addition, the word pearl also symbolized wisdom of great value.
King Solomon said, “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight” (Proverbs 4:7). So, as a way of honoring the life of Barbara Bush, I wanted to share a few of Mrs. Bush’s “pearls of wisdom” and the biblical wisdom from her words.
Barbara Bush wanted to live life without regrets. She is most often quoted with these words: “At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict and not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.” Romans 12:9–10 says, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” In honor of Mrs. Bush, who could you spend some extra time with this week?
When Mrs. Bush lost her young daughter to leukemia, everything in her life gained a different perspective. She grew to understand more fully the blessings in life that matter most. She said, “When all the dust is settled and all the crowds are gone, the things that matter are faith, family and friends.” We have been inordinately blessed, and we know that.” The apostle Paul was at the end of his life when he told Timothy, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:5–7). “Faith, family and friends” is a good list of the things that matter most.
At the end of her life, Barbara Bush said, “I know there is a great God, and I’m not worried.” Mrs. Bush had the gift of knowing that her life was coming to an end. I like to imagine her picking up her Bible to find strength, comfort, and encouragement for herself and her family. I imagine her reading Jesus’ words to his disciples when he said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1–3). Mrs. Bush knew God, knew Jesus was her salvation, and knew heaven was her promise.
You might wonder if the quotes above were simply parts of a speech that had been written for her. How do we know that Mrs. Bush truly believed in what she told others? I read an interesting article written by one of her former Secret Service agents, Jonathan Wackrow. The article told several stories about Mrs. Bush that described her life as consistent with her words. I think those things were summed up in the last piece of information he gave. Mr. Wackrow said, “The United States Secret Service code name for Barbara Bush was ‘Tranquility.’ It exemplified her demeanor and its calming, humanizing and gentle effect on those around her. She will be forever missed.”
If Barbara Bush could say one more thing to us today, I think she would want us to know her most recent joy. As she walked through those gates of pearl and saw her daughter again, and all those other people she has loved, she also saw Jesus. If she could leave one more pearl of wisdom for this world, I think she would repeat the words of Paul and Silas when they told their Philippian jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household” (Acts 16:31).
That knowledge is the truth about God’s kingdom and the genuine pearl of wisdom that is worth everything we have.