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Thanksgiving Break – Part 3 – A life well lived…

Okay…so I haven’t posted Part 1, 2 or 4 yet–but there are definitely 4 “share worthy” parts of our family’s Thanksgiving break. Some how though, I feel this part is the most important, and I feel like I NEED to write this one down first…

For over a week my great Aunt Thelma had been touch and go. She turned 101 this June…and dispite her age, she has been living at her house and never had to go into assisted living or a nursing home. BUT she recently took a turn, and she requested to stay at home–and it was just her time…and she was ready. Things took their turn just before last weekend after another hospital visit–and each time I thought about tossing the kids in the van to drive down to Clanton, Alabama to see her…to just say good-bye…I would get the news that she was unresponsive and it might be just a matter of hours. SO…I chose to stay here and not put all 4 kids in the car or risk taking a sickness there with us. NOW…you might be thinking “GREAT aunt”??? Seriously…how could anyone even KNOW their great aunt…let alone love them like a grandmother?! WELL, ask any of the grandchildren or my aunts and uncles…and my Aunt Thelma was MORE than just an aunt. She helped raise my dad and his siblings…and she took the role as another grandmother to all of THEIR children and eventually all of our children too.

We decided to go ahead and go to Tennessee for Thankgiving to be with Richard’s family–and then as I was drying my hair at 9:30 on Friday morning (the morning after Thanksgiving) my heart became heavy–and I felt a rush to just go see her…it no longer matter what state she was in–I just needed to go for myself. I packed my things–I ran to tell Richard I needed to go–then I ran to my van to plug in my cell phone so it could charge for me to call my dad. I called him just after 10:15 and my parents talked me through whether I should leave our Thanksgiving visit or not (even though my heart had already decided)–and finally I decided Isaac and I would leave while the others stayed. I said my good-byes, filled up a bottle of milk for Isaac and took off. I called my dad again around 10:30am to tell him I was on my way, and I’d see him there–and if he left right then he’d be there before I was…and that is when the other line rang…and we got the news that Aunt Thelma went to be with Jesus. (I sat there stunned…and even amazed thinking that I bet the very moment the Lord put on my heart a rush to see her…was actually just a way for the Lord letting my heart know she had gone.)

I thought about turning around–what could I do there…but I knew my dad and my siblings could probably use a dose of Isaac’s big smile and belly that are sure to make any sad day end with a smile. I thought I could use the three and a half hours to reflect a bit…

If you ask any of my dear cousins, aunts, uncles, siblings and parents about Aunt Thelma–it won’t take long before you realized the place she holds and will always be reverenced for in our family. To each of us, she made an everlasting impact…for she lived being the hands and feet of Jesus in so many different ways.
Aunt Thelma was a school teacher. She never married. And instead–she invested tirelessly into the hearts and lives of countless children. And boy did she love children!!! She never forgot a face. She never forgot a name. And she had the ability to make each of us feel like we were each deeply loved not only by her–but also by God and that we each had such value. For so many she stood in the gap…whether it be a time of crisis or simple need of encouragement. We shared many talks about missions…and my–how this daughter of the King had a heart for missions!!!

She would ask me stories about Africa…or China…or India. Whatever country I was visiting or living in doing mission work–she would read and save my update letters…and upon my return bask in every detail. And after EVERY visit and story–she would tell me the SAME thing, “Andrea, I used to always pray and pray and pray that God would call me to be a missionary. I wanted to be a missionary SO badly…to go across the world and share the gospel…but He had me right here. I never got to be a missionary, so I just love these stories…” And my response would always be the same, “Oh–you’ve been a missionary alright. RIGHT HERE. You have been a missionary in every sense of the definition.”

I’ll never forget when I had to raise $25,000 to go to East Asia with Campus Crusade for Christ. That amount seemed so overwhelming. I remember getting down to the wire…I had just a couple of weeks to finish raising my support to go serve. I was barely touching $20,000 and I was praying and praying and praying. With just a few days left–I got a few last envelopes with checks in the mail to go toward our mission trip…and the last was a letter from my precious Aunt Thelma…out of no where as I didn’t even send her a support letter. YET…she kept up with every one of her great nieces and nephews…and her letter went on to explain why she was giving. She said it wasn’t her giving–but it was the Lord that told her to give. She told me again in that letter that she had always wanted to be a missionary–and this was her way of going to the world to spread the gospel. She told me it was a JOY to give and I was moved to tears when I opened up the check to see every penny of this mission trip had now been provided for. I thought of this retired single, school teacher…living alone in a modest brick house–yet she was storing her treasures in heaven. There I was about to board a plane at 23 years old to go be a missionary with my 91 year old aunt had been the final person to send me off. Each month I sent her letters to tell her about my journeys and what God was doing…and I don’t doubt that every day she prayed for my safety and for the Lord to accomplish much through me. I would have never told that story before now as I know she wouldn’t want credit for being my biggest supporter during my year in China–but I figure–now…she is enjoying her treasures in heaven…so it’s okay.

Parker and Laney loved Aunt Thelma…and I’m quite sure if Frank and Isaac could have been a little bit older they would have too. We did our best to Skype from Ethiopia…and I know she prayed for us while we traveled across the world again…but this time to bring home a great, great nephew. She lived 101 years—and on Friday…I drove to her house for the last time. Isaac entertained my aunts and uncles who had been there for days watching her breath, and they even had Thanksgiving in her living room so they could be with her and watch her as she listened in her sleep. And about the time I felt the rush to go see her all the way in Tennessee…she closed her eyes and went to be with Jesus. Now with her siblings…her parents…and I know she’d say most of all her Savior.

I can ONLY IMAGINE the sweet rejoicing that has been happening upon her entering the Kingdom. But oh–so many will miss her here! Aunt Thelma, you will always be dearly loved by so many. Your impact was great. And while you were a sister, an aunt, a “other mother” and “grandmother” to so many…you were, indeed, a missionary too.

Before driving away from her home for the last time on Friday night–I looked across her front yard and saw the most beautiful sky. I couldn’t help but smile thinking how much more beautiful her view now is…or to think she had told God, Himself, to dabble it with a little bit of pink and something pretty so we’d see it when we drove away.

Part 1 (our day with Kristi and Lucy Lane), Part 2 (Isaac’s FIRST Thanksgiving) and Part 4 (Dance Party night at our house…featuring Frank’s serious moves) to come…

kristi johnson - November 28, 2010 - 1:14 am

oh, i love your aunt thelma…what a wonderful lady!! kj

ellen silva - November 28, 2010 - 7:17 am

I am so very sorry for your loss! She sounds like she was a wonderful lady.

GAP - November 28, 2010 - 10:04 am

How could it be ANYTHING but a PINK sunset? Pink was HER color. Thank you for this sweet, sweet post! It was amazing to sit and listen to her go on about the children. I never tired of it. Jesus’ love shined though every word. She was awed when she saw your face on that Skype call from Ethiopia. We will all miss her very much. She is in a better place. She live a full life and was able to pass from this life at home. She was blessed, but more than that, she was a blessing.

Lara - November 28, 2010 - 3:09 pm

She sounds like she was wonderful. Thanks, I’m all teary now.

Kathryn - November 28, 2010 - 3:33 pm

I am sorry for your loss, she sounds like quite a special lady!
My Grandfather came from a family with 13 kids and it has been a blessing to have known many of my Great Aunts and Uncles very well over the years. It is almost like having several extra sets of Grandparents. =}

Bobi Bobbitt - November 28, 2010 - 9:31 pm

Andrea, what a precious post and a precious lady! I got chills when I saw the beautiful picture you took of the sky! Also could not help but think of my Great Aunt who we plan to name our daughter after! She, too is a ray of sunshine to all around her, my Aunt SADIE! (: