She had been a part of my life since I was born.
When I was young, she looked after me in the little square house on Everett St. The furnace roared in the basement. I could hear it through the opening in the living room floor. The house was built with a metal guard over the opening in the floor, and I remember getting on my hands and knees to peer through it to confirm any existence of scary creatures in my imagination. I faced my fears every time I'd walk down the narrow steps to the basement with Aunt Jeri to take care of the laundry. I always felt safe with her. I felt strong when I was around her. Perhaps that was because I saw the strength and big heart of courage in this small framed woman.
At family gatherings, she greeted everyone with a hug and a kiss and always made guests feel welcomed including prospective boyfriends. However, she was clear to point out which boy I should be dating because she thought one in particular was extremely cute. My friends became her "girls". She attended every volleyball and basketball game I had through my high school years, even went to the State Tournament to cheer on the Nampa Christian Trojans! Aunt Jeri was one of my biggest fans in the stands, hollering at my opponents if they were being too rough and making sure the refs knew about it. I knew she would always be there to cheer me on.
As time went on, we didn't have as many family gatherings. I grew up, had a family of my own, and even moved away for a short time. But when I moved back to Idaho, Aunt Jeri was having some health problems. We visited her in the hospital, and I realized my girls were young when we moved away and didn't know her well. She had a beautiful view of the mountains from her hospital room, and we told her we would wave to her from the mountain that afternoon while skiing. Later that day, when we reached the top of the mountain, my youngest said, "We have to wave to Aunt Jeri!" So we went to the highest point and standing as tall as we could, waved our hand back and forth so Jeri could see us from her hospital window.
When Jeri regained her health and spunk, my girls and I would bring over popcorn and a movie for our "Girls' Movie Night". Jeri supplied a wide variety of candy, and there was always pop in the frig. Jeri would share stories about growing up in the 30's & 40's, how she met her husband Paul, and how much she loved the Dodgers. She made us laugh, and she always reminded us of how faithful God is and always will be. The girls grew to love her as much as I did.
He was family...but I didn't know him until three years ago.
I got a tip from a family member that the last living sibling of my grandfather was living only an hour and a half away from where we fish in Alaska. I had to meet him. My dad's parents died when I was very young, and Uncle Elmer could possibly help me know them and learn about my family history. I wrote about my first meeting with Uncle Elmer the summer of 2017 and how I brought my dad to Alaska the following summer to see him ("Strangers to Family -July 2018).
The moment I saw Uncle Elmer walk into the Homer coffee shop, he stole my heart. He was humorous and kind. He had a gentle smile that reflected his tender heart. It was clear he loved his family and treasured the memories he had with them. He would try to answer my questions, but would be interrupted by overwhelming emotions. Happy tears, we call them. Uncle Elmer would try to disguise his tears with a chuckle. It didn't take long to love him.
As a young man, he had a deep faith and love for God and chose to become a pastor. He loved people and his first priority was always to follow God and serve well, but life's circumstances brought on some very hard decisions. Uncle Elmer had to make sacrifices that truly revealed his humble heart and integrity. He always had a pastor's heart, and lived it out every single day, caring for those in his life and his community.
Since 2017, I have tried to connect with Uncle Elmer and Aunt Karen every summer. This last summer (2020), we were not able to go visit them due to COVID. However, I was able to talk to Uncle Elmer on the phone. Again, he had few words, but I knew that behind his silence was his overwhelming speechless love for me. I told him I wished I could come visit him and give him a big hug. He wished that too.
"Don't ever forget that I love you." I reminded him.
He responded, "I love you too."
I knew that was true. Even though I have spent very little time with this man, I knew he loved me and my family, and I had grown to deeply love him as well. I'm so grateful God crossed our paths just in time to know each other and love each other for a few short years. I anticipate our next visit; however, it won't be summer 2021 in Homer, Alaska. It will have to be some unknown date in heaven. On September 9, 2020, Uncle Elmer squeezed the hand of his love, Karen, letting her know it was going to be okay and that he loved her. The next day, he was welcomed into heaven, and I'm pretty sure he heard the words, "Welcome home, my good and faithful servant."
Aunt Jeri and Uncle Elmer's lives really counted. Even though my time with them was very different, what God poured out through them were priceless gifts that mattered. Personally impacting me and making a difference in my life. What counted was their pure love for me and my family. Their compassion, true kindness, unwavering faith, and their prayerful life. They were a sheer reflection of the One they believed in and lived for.
During a time when we are more bent to speak our mind, share our opinions, move forward with our agendas, and eager to express our rights, I hope we can discern what really counts with our words, emotions, attitudes, and actions. When life puts us in a squeeze, what pours out? Whom do we reflect? Will we allow God to pour into us and through us what matters most?
May I live out what really counts as Aunt Jeri and Uncle Elmer did for me.