The past few months have been hard for my family. Just over a month ago we lost my grandmother, and this past Monday my aunt passed away after decades of battling cancer. Hers is a miracle of a story, but not in the way you’d expect. Hers is not a miracle of physical healing, but spiritual healing. When she was a little girl, her favorite movie was The Sound of Music. In one of the famous songs, Maria the governess sings of “whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens,” and all her favorite things that she thinks of when times are bad, “when the dog bites, when the bee stings.” My Aunt Annie lived her life with the ability to “not feel so bad” through enormous trials, and to help others “not feel so bad” through the remembrance of favorite things. Throughout most of her life, her very soul radiated with the persistence of love and fondness for people and the good things they bring, despite a lifelong assault of pain and woe.
I’ve never known such an unadulterated optimist as the sister of my mother. She brought laughter and sunshine like no Hallmark card could describe. When others would give up, Annie would hold fast to her blessings, her loved ones, her fondness for the beautiful things of creation, her love for God, and her hope of an eternity without tears. I know this about her inner life because I saw it reflected in her actions and words toward others. Whenever I visited her, she would always ask how I was doing first. She kept up with my life. On random occasions she would think to send me a card. When I was a kid in my first years at camp, she wrote me a letter, even if I was only gone a week. Even in her later years when she could hardly leave the house or keep busy too long, she found ways to send gifts to other people. Lives have been touched by her gestures of welcome and well wishes, from cards to baskets to phone calls and hugs. Like her mother, she found value in the small gestures that filled the small cracks in our lives, keeping our sad days from overwhelming us.
Our family and friends for some time have sent countless prayers to God on behalf of Annie’s suffering. It would be easy to let her suffering define her, but this is not the case for the woman we knew. Annie will be remembered for who she was, and who she sought to be, despite her suffering. Oh, she had her bad days, her days of complaint and tears and even doubt. But I for one know I could have have been as strong as her had I passed through the fire she passed through. Was this the same woman I was talking to, just having had a major surgery and in great pain? Why did she sound so wistful? So pleased to see me? If suffering is an argument against a just God, then what do we make of my angelic aunt, who held daily to her faith in the God who made her, saved her, blessed her, and would bring her home?
We read of stories of Christ healing the lame, the blind, the leprous. “Arise and walk,” he would say. Today we see so many people of great faith who do not rise up and walk, whose skin is not clean, who cannot see. Yet sometimes the marvel of the glory of God is not found the touch of a physical cure, but a spiritual one. The great marvel, the miracle, even, is that in spirit Annie could arise and walk every day! She taught me that I am without excuse in all my troubles. She teaches me this still.
Annie, you were so sweet. Sweet to all of us. A part of you never grew up. I didn’t know you when you were a child, but I always saw the child in you. Perhaps that is how you held so strong in your faith and love all this time. You humbled yourself as a child before God. The easy thing would have been to live bitterly through a life like yours. Your bright eyes focused on the blessings, the joy, the love. Your struggles did not define you. Your faith surpassing your struggles defined you. We love you, aunt Annie, because you gifted us with your life and dedication that inspired us all. You remembered our favorite things, and reminded us of them. And there is one passage that you remind me of today, drawn from Paul’s second letter to Corinth:
“We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
When life troubles me, I think of how my Aunt Annie’s body underwent a long fight against perishing, a fight none of us will ever win. But her soul sought renewal in her God and in service to others, even when her own troubles seemed to limited her, she went out of her way to serve. Annie, you fixed your eyes in what many of us too often failed to see, that there is too much sweetness in this life, and an abundance in the life to come, for us to be bitter in this life. You brought us joy, by being joyful against trials, and by seeking to bring us joy despite your trials. Annie, I am glad you can now see the eternal joy that has awaited you for so long. Be at rest. Be at peace. When I think of you, you are one of my favorite things, and I don’t feel so bad.