Happy Birthday, Joanne!
Do people in heaven celebrate birthdays? Probably not, but more important for you (and tragic for me) is that this is the tenth time you have celebrated a birthday in heaven. Another thing I’m not absolutely clear on is whether you are aware of this birthday greeting; whether you are privy to some of the milestones, triumphs, and failures I’ve missed sharing with you over the past ten years. I’ve gotten used to thinking of you as a member of my “cloud of witnesses.” I hope I’m right.
One of the reasons that I’m ok about admitting my uncertainties (that I have not yet developed a theology-of-everything) is that from the time I was sixteen years old, I witnessed your questioning spirit, your curious mind, and your whole-hearted “pressing on to know the Lord.” I wanted to know Him, too, so I trailed along behind you. In fact, I wish I could ask you now if you ever thought of yourself as my “mentor.” Evangelicals weren’t throwing that word around in the seventies. However, they were throwing a lot of other words around, and you were curious about all of them. Journaling, conversational prayer, the role of women in the church — you shared your books with me, we wondered out loud together, and something stronger than heredity was passed along. As we talked, you were teaching me how to think about faith, but I picked up other things as well. When I clean out a mixing bowl, my spatula “chases the batter into the pan,” just like yours did. I wouldn’t be caught dead without a supply of English muffins in my freezer so that when a crowd of teens lands on my doorstep, I can feed them “pizza babies.”
Crucially, from you, I learned to love the Word of God, because of Who it points to and because of the very sound of it.
When I asked how you happened to be quoting Psalm 8 from memory in a devotional, your reply was stunning to me: “I liked it, so I wanted to memorize it.”
“Huh, why not?” I said, and I am still saying it. Whenever I review Philippians 2, I can hear your voice saying it with me over the engine of a VW Rabbit.
When we prayed together, I believed that God was listening. Eventually, I began to believe that He would listen when I came to Him alone.
From you, I learned not to take myself too seriously. Your daughter’s wedding in the apple orchard yielded some amazing black and white photos. For instance, the bridal party and guests with heads bowed in prayer at ceremony’s end, barefoot brides maids in the tall grass, and the mother-of-the-bride with her head thrown back, eyes closed, apparently in deep, thoughtful meditation. “Wow, that was some prayer time, ” I observed.
“I was just trying to keep my nose from running, ” you said.
Another uncontrollable force in your life was the kitchen table, always covered with an assortment of books, mail, loaves of bread, and magazines. Whenever we talked on the phone, you were cleaning off the table. ALWAYS. Here’s what I’ve realized about that:
Like me, you had a husband and four kids. Like me, you were very active in your church. Unlike me, you had a career outside the home.
I will never know what sacrifices you made to spend time with me. So now, on your birthday, I want to remember what I have received so that when the opportunity arises, I will choose availability over “me-time”; vulnerability over “image management”; relationships over the elusive merit-badge in housekeeping.
I have not even begun to build into the lives of others in the way that you did, but thank you for showing me that it can be done, and that the Great Commission is not always fulfilled with a passport and a suitcase. Sometimes two people sit at a messy kitchen table, and the Spirit is there, and disciples are made.
Linking up today with Leah Adams and a great group of writers and thinkers at The Loft.