Sunday, February 13, 2005

don't i know you?

On Wednesday we said goodbye to my Aunt Helen. I want to tell you a bit about her, so that when you meet her in heaven, you can say, "Don’t I know you?"

My first memories of my mom’s younger sister are the flannelgraph stories she told us and the Wordless Book song she sang. When she came for a visit, Mom had her hands full keeping us from barging into her room first thing in the morning to see what magic she had in her suitcase.

You see, Aunt Helen wanted to be a missionary. When she was turned down, she became a missionary to the kids of Saskatchewan where she worked with Child Evangelism Fellowship and organized and taught Good News Clubs wherever she lived.

She took me with her to Regina one summer when I was a kid. There I helped her for a couple of weeks with the games and songs and crafts and even told the odd story. I can still also recall the smell of those kids in that poor part of town (cigarette smoke, grubby clothes - like the smell of a thrift shop - and cooked cabbage).

She was one of my maiden aunts - a single state which, at the time, seemed irrevocable. So imagine everyone’s amazement when she announced, the year she was 61, she was getting married (to an also never-married Dutch farmer from Grande Prairie, Alberta). "I’m sweet 61 and never been kissed," she said with a self conscious giggle.

You never saw a more in-love couple than Uncle Dick and Aunt Helen. She was a little bit of a thing - about 4' 10" and under 100 pounds. Uncle Dick said about her: "She’s a little woman, but she fills the house." He was always telling corny jokes in his Dutch accent - and she rewarding him with her twinkly blue eyed smile. Together they supported missionaries all over the world with money, prayers and hospitality. She prayed for her nieces and nephews - and there were many - mentioning each by name at least once a week. She also never lost her adeptness at finding a place in conversation to slip in a question about how things were with you and the Lord, and then giving you a tract from her plentiful stash.

She and Uncle Dick would go for an early morning walk every day for years. Part of their route was along Highway 33 in Kelowna, between the seniors complex where they lived and Costco. The pastor officiating at her memorial said, "Any unsaved person walking that stretch of road was marked."

Aunt Helen’s world came crashing down when Uncle Dick died in 2002. Shortly after that, she went blind. But though she never had any natural children, the love she poured into others then came back to support her. Uncle Dick and Aunt Helen years earlier had adopted a young couple and their two kids. Now this relationship bore fruit as this family, as well as my brother, visited her - someone every day - to read the Bible, a devotional book, and then to pray with her.

She died a week ago today. I can just imagine how her face lit up as she caught sight of Uncle Dick, saw all the things her prayers and giving had accomplished, and then met all the people (kids and adults) she’d led to Jesus.

Aunt Helen’s memorial service on Wednesday made me aware, again, that though she was simple and unpretentious, she did many things right. By contrast, I see myself sidetracked with much that is seemingly unimportant (at least in the light of eternity). It makes me wonder, who will be in my receiving line when I arrive in heaven?

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