We went to see my 87-year-old Aunt Mary Ellen yesterday. She’s my dad’s last living sibling and only sister, and, suffering from the effects of congestive heart failure and pneumonia, she’s had a very rough go of it the last few weeks.
Mary Ellen is deeply loved by everyone who meets her. Her beaming countenance and unflagging spirit make every person feel as though they are her best friend, and she is so central to her church and social community that any time she has even the slightest need her front door morphs into a revolving one. Never having any children of her own, she adopted my brothers and me, and all our cousins, as her children, as well. She has been consistently present in our lives since we were born, an incredibly beautiful participant (the years being increasingly kind to her the older she became), but more, the most consistent beacon of Christ-like love I may have ever encountered. Every conversation I’ve ever heard from her always comes back around to her faith. Every single part of her life is connected to that central hub and there never seems to be any deviance from it; it is the very air she breathes.
So, when we walked into her room at the retirement home rehab center where she is convalescing, we were taken aback by the tiny, frail figure that met our gaze. No exuberant hello, or beam of sunshine from the typically elegant, perfectly coiffed, independent octogenarian, but a hair-clean-but-undone, plain-faced woman, barely smiling from her bed in the dimly-lit room. It struck a sense of panic in us both, as we bent down to kiss her, and for the first time in all our years didn’t come up with a brightly-colored lip print on our faces.
We went through the obligatory “how are you feeling?” conversation, stilted and uncomfortable for all parties. She was, and is, tired. Tired of being away from home, tired of feeling bad, tired of everything.
I asked her about an exquisite orchid that was sitting on her bedside table, and she said it was from one of the children of an old roommate she’d had years ago. “She and her siblings are all so wonderful to me,” she said, lighting up a little. I asked her about where she was working during those years, before she was married, and she launched into a wonderful conversation about her years with the Dallas Morning News as a young woman, fresh out of high school, as all the boys were marching off to war. With each detail of that time, her face became more animated and she sat up a little taller.
My aunt has not had a perfect life. There have been many losses of people she loved, the disappointment of never having any children of her own, many years of caring for an ailing and often difficult mother-in-law, even in her own widowhood, and the list goes on. But as she was regaling those times of her youth, and the many wonderful, colorful characters that filled them, she stopped and said,
You know, the Lord has always shown me favor. His hand has always been on me, guiding me, showing me the way and opening the doors. I’ve been so blessed.
And just like that, the conversation circled back to her central hub of faith and my aunt was back. Still frail and plain-faced, yes, but radiant. Beaming. Hopeful.
Recalling the faithfulness of the Lord in your life has a way of bringing you back to center, and clearing whatever is clouding the windows of your heart to let the Light start beaming.
I know, because my beautiful aunt has taught me…every single day of her life.
“Trust in the Lord, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.” Psalm 37:3 NKJV