Saturday, January 25, 2014
Saturday, January 18, 2014
I stood over the couch and looked out the front window and then around the room. There was a plastic shelf that had family pictures—some framed and some unframed--scattered on it. I didn’t recognize all of the faces in the photos but I knew it was various members of their family. Her parents; her kids; her grandkids.
She had died on that very couch twelve days before. Completely unexpectedly. The last meal she ever cooked still sat on the stove—a baked chicken wrapped in tin foil,a macaroni and cheese casserole, and a pan of dirty rice. Judging by the huge numbers of servings, she had expected her whole family home for dinner that night. But instead, here I was, depositing the molding food into trash bags and cleaning out the dishes. The happy family meal would never happen.
The kitchen was not particularly clean—but in her defense, she hadn’t expected me to be there. She hadn’t expected her life on earth to end so suddenly. And certainly not that day.
I fished a container of Chlorox wipes out of my trunk. I love Chlorox wipes. I began to wipe down the cabinets—mostly just for something to do. I was waiting for her family who was cleaning out the closets. There didn’t seem to be much else I could do to help.
It was a sober time. The family worked quietly and I said little. I didn’t really know what to say but my brain was busy just thinking. The brevity of life is never more real than in a moment like that. In an instant, your life can be over.
I remembered just a few days before relaying to a friend and laughing about a ridiculous funeral I saw on TV. A man dressed in a white suit and a tinsel halo pretended to play the harp. And when the song was over, he reached down and clicked off the CD player.
Two people came in dancing to the wedding march and carrying the urns of ashes of the deceased. They had put clothes on the urns—a veil on the wife’s and a small tuxedo on the husband’s. And that was just the beginning. Of course, the dancing urn carriers were also wearing tinsel halos. I don’t know how anyone in the room kept a straight face. Honestly.
But now back to reality. Nothing funny about this scene. Nothing fake. Nothing staged. A box of instant oatmeal and another of Cheerios sat on the refrigerator. Otherwise, there was nothing to look at but dirty cabinets and a trash bag full of this lady’s last cooking.
My thoughts were serious, but not morbid. It was a reminder that we are just passing through. We’re pilgrims. Not royalty here to build our kingdom. Not pack rats here to fill our nests. Not super heros here to build our legends.
It was a reminder to me to travel light. Redeem my time by investing it in things that are going to matter. Give away what I can’t keep to gain what I can’t lose. Love hard. Follow hard. Put my trust in the few things that are going to last forever.
And when my last day comes and when people look around at the pieces I leave behind I want them to be able to look around my empty kitchen and think “it’s okay. She was just passing through.”
"So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom." - Psalm 90:12
"So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom." - Psalm 90:12
Tuesday, January 07, 2014
I’ll never forget what attorney Curtis Bostic said to me on our first meeting. “Wait until you meet my wife.” He said proudly. “I smacked that one out of the park.”
And when I met her, I knew instantly that he was right.
She was beautiful. Not in a fake “Hollywood wanna-be” sort of way, but in a classy, contented sort of way. She radiated a joy that was mature and gentle.
Two weeks later, I packed my suitcase and moved to Charleston. My job started Tuesday and when I left the office Friday, the weekend stretched out in front of me and it hit me that I was in a new city. All alone.
That was B.C. (before cell phone) for that matter, there was no internet or TV in the little home I shared with Miss Sandra—who worked all the hours I didn’t.
I don’t know why I checked the answering machine when I got home—no one I knew had the number, much less a reason to call. When I did, however, I heard Jenny’s cheery voice inviting me to dinner. She also encouraged me to bring “a pair of pajamas and a toothbrush” and spend the night.
I hesitated. This was my boss’ family. As to spending the night—I didn’t really know the Bostics and I was a little old for slumber parties. But after piddling around the empty house for a few minutes, I found myself pulling the pajamas and toothbrush out of my suitcase.
I’ve often wondered since then if Jenny would have still invited me if she had known that I would stay the next five years.
But Jenny was gracious and hospitable. She went out of her way to make me feel welcome in the family’s double wide which was neat, clean, and tastefully decorated.
The more I got to know Jenny, the more amazed I became. She was intelligent, educated, and gifted—an excellent musician, fantastic cook, organized home-school mom, amazing housekeeper, and devoted wife. She jogged faithfully and ate healthfully; yet didn’t criticize those who didn’t. She worked hard; yet didn’t make others feel bad about taking time off or having fun. In fact, despite her many strengths, she didn’t come across arrogant at all. She always treated other people like she had all of the time in the world. Though she didn’t.
I remember one time shortly after that the she took me to downtown Summerville just for the fun of it. She bought me a milkshake at the drug store even though (for health reasons) she could not have one herself and showed me some of her favorite stops and shops.
Jenny was probably up until the wee hours of the next morning making up the lost time on a Saturday—folding clothes and doing all the things that keep a household functioning. But the pressure of those chores had not kept her from taking time with me. It is humbling to think about even to this day.
Perhaps that is what I find so incredible about this dear friend. Some people give from their surplus—not Jenny. Some people give until it hurts—not Jenny. Few people give until they have nothing left to give. Even fewer still give beyond nothing left—but that is Jenny. You’ll never know when you exhausted her limits because she won’t show it; she will just keep giving.
After getting to know her some, I thought I wanted to be just like Jenny—always joyful, always patient, always selfless. But I wasn’t. Not even close. It frustrated me, but the more I tried the more hopeless it seemed.
Gradually it sunk in to me that the spiritual maturity is not inherited or won, it cannot be had for the asking. It is earned. Even a tree planted by streams of water will grow undetected—slowly, painfully, quietly. Jenny had persevered through some storms in life—choosing joy over depression, forgiveness over bitterness, meekness over her own way.
Over the last nine years that I have known Jenny, my respect for her has continually grown. We have been on many trips together and at first it surprised me that she would bring along a book about being a godly parent, an excellent wife, or a better Christian. She could have written all of those books and then some. But that wasn’t her mentality—she was still growing and learning.
In fact, she hasn’t written any books that I know of; doesn’t have a full speaking schedule, a TV show, or even a blog. From what I’ve seen, much of Jenny’s time during this season of life is filled with the thankless tasks of loading the dish washer, teaching reading, solving math problems, grocery shopping, scrubbing bath tubs, and driving kids to karate.
When I thought about her life, I was reminded of Mary and the costly perfume that she spilled on Jesus’ feet. Many criticized the offering as resources wasted—a year’s worth of labor gone in a few short seconds benefitting no one but Jesus.
But Jesus saw the act of selfless worship as a great gift—so much so, that the God of the universe took the space to write it down in His short book so that her life and action would be read and remembered for years to come. Her perfume was not wasted; it was given.
Likewise, a life given in simple, selfless ways is not wasted. It is invested.
Jenny’s daily routine is not wasted to the five kids who call her mom or the husband who calls her “sweetheart.” And it is not wasted to the hundreds—perhaps thousands of people whom she has taken time for, listened to, and encouraged.
I know many who would say that they are a better wife, a better mom, or a better Christian for having known Jenny Bostic and I would count myself in that number. Her gentle, quiet spirit convicts and motivates me on an ongoing basis.
And I can’t wait to see the incredible things that are to come for a life so freely given and so gently sustained as Jenny Bostic’s.