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It certainly wasn’t unexpected. We had heard the news that she was now in hospice care. But when I glanced at my phone after a lunch meeting with a friend and saw several texts and emails with her name, I knew immediately. What I didn’t know is how unprepared I was to hear this news. I felt like I had been punched in the gut. And when I drove to my favorite spot at the park to take a walk, I couldn’t catch my breath.

She and I weren’t particularly close, like you are with a friend you converse or have lunch with on a regular basis (at least in pre-COVID times). But now I can’t picture life without her - I can’t picture this world without her. She was a life force unlike anything most of us have seen or experienced.

We first met many years ago when my husband and I walked into our first Wednesday night dinner at our church. We didn’t know anyone so we felt a little uneasy about the whole thing. But she didn’t hesitate to walk right up to us (she never believed in the idea of a sense of personal space), introduced herself and said she and her husband had also lost a child who was older, but as she quickly added, “there’s no good age.” And when she put her arm around me and looked me right in the eyes, I felt understood, loved, special. How had she helped me experience so many feelings of connection and understanding with just those few words?

I guess some people would refer to her as the proverbial “church lady.” But that doesn’t begin to describe what all she was to so very many people. One of the sentiments I’ve heard most often is that it feels like losing a family member all over again. THAT is a great description. And not surprising, since she was more like a “church mom” to so very many of us. I grew up attending church every time the doors were opened, but it took this “church mom” of mine to help me really know how to love and belong to a church. With that twinkle in her eye, she would saunter up next to me, dressed perfectly and smelling of rose perfume, and pitch her idea or request. You walked away never knowing what hit you. And usually with a smudge of bright red lipstick on your cheek in case you needed a reminder not only that she had shared this important message with you, but that you were indeed loved and special.

That is the other know how you are occasionally blessed to meet those rare individuals who just make everyone feel like they are special? This was genuine - you just can’t fake it. Now, don’t get me wrong...she could be very serious and insistent and a little demanding at times. But all of us (her church “students and children”) listened intently for instruction and knew we had just encountered something more than your typical to-do list. We learned the importance of working hard toward a goal and making sure it is not only complete but done well, whether it be for ourselves or the church. This was kingdom work; you knew when you were being gently (or sometimes not so gently) nudged to change something or try something new, but it would be later before you would wake up and think, wow, what just happened?

Admittedly, at times I was a little resentful when I felt like we, as a church, had plenty to celebrate and we should just sit back and bask in the glory of some good, spirit-driven work or activity. But, inevitably, she would come back with, “Now, what we REALLY need to do is…,” and you were swept back up again in this life-giving energy. I didn’t always sense approval, but I never sensed judgment or discouragement. There is a difference. She was excited to see people interested in becoming involved in ANY part of the church; so much so that many of us kept seeking that special stamp of approval - maybe we got it right this time. And, when she greeted you with that huge smile and kiss on the cheek, you figured you were at least close.

She encouraged blooming where you are planted, but only within the areas you feel comfortable or gifted to lead. And, a lot of times, she saw things in me that I hadn’t seen in myself. Being more of an introvert and behind-the-scenes kind of servant in the church, I found myself signing up for lay speaking courses, joining a chorus, trying out for parts, leading children’s ministry and VBS, and volunteering for almost everything where there was a dotted line and a pen. And through that, I learned the things I felt God was really leading me to do; the things that brought endless, fulfilling energy, even when my children were small and required a large portion of that energy. And she made sure the whole family felt like a part of things in the church. She helped all of us raise our children to know the value of volunteering - working toward something bigger and more important than ourselves. She instinctively knew that by encouraging each of us to grow individually, we were in turn encouraged to pass this on and move toward growth and new life in the church.

You wanted some of what she had...the perfect description of evangelism. And her ongoing faith and strength made us all strive to do better, to do more. I wanted to say so many more thank yous...there was so much left unsaid. I would like to say that I hope you felt how much we loved you and still do. As I’m writing this, I have your obituary and beautiful picture next to me for inspiration. And it’s like that smile is just for me; I think in this moment it is. And I can hear you saying in that wonderful southern accent, “It’s alright!” Thank you for letting us share in your special light. I only pray that we can use your life as an inspiration to never give up on the church, or our neighbor, or on what we can accomplish when we are united in love for God and each other.

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A beautiful tribute!! You described our friend and mentor beautifully. Thank you for writing about her and the impact that she had on your life, it helped me to recall all she did to encourage and support my faith journey.

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