It was a chilly February afternoon when I pulled up to my house on one of my trips back and forth into town bringing kids to various activities. It was just me in the van gathering snacks, bags, my purse. When I opened the door I realized a gentleman was patiently standing in the driveway waiting for me. Curiously, I introduced myself while juggling the contents of my van. He quickly tried to help me make the connection of who he is, probably because of the questioning way I was looking at him.
“I think you know my kids. And my grandkids go to school with your kids…” He gave me their names.
“Yes! My son Everett is good friends with your grandson. Nice to meet you.”
“Yes. Now why I’m here… this involves other connections. Your grandfather used to pastor the church that my father attended.”
“Ah! Yes, in Everson in the 1950s. We go way back, then!”
“Yes. My father passed away…”
“I’m sorry to hear that-"
“And as we’ve been going through his things, I discovered this stack of letters.” Holding them out he explained, “These letters were written by your grandfather when your grandparents were missionaries in Nigeria. They sent these letters to my father. Some of them were read to the congregation.”
I accepted the faded envelopes, unable to adequately express how much this meant to me. “My Beppe–grandmother–has hospice care right now. I just heard from my dad this week that it won’t be much longer. This is amazing timing.”
After a few more words, he left and I was inside my house in a whirlwind of homework, activity, and dinner prep. I couldn’t resist opening the first letter and discovered it was a report of my dad’s birth. I’ve heard stories for decades about the terrifying birth of my dad–born breech in Nigeria in a missions hospital–and my strong Beppe who held onto Jesus' peace through pain and unknowns. Reading my Pake’s straightforward retelling and obvious joy over having a first son after three girls, made me emotional even as I had to get back to my busy evening and put the letters on hold.
Less than 48 hours later my dad let us know my Beppe had passed away. I got the message as I walked into my Bible Study a few minutes late. They were singing The Old Rugged Cross. I didn’t even try to stop the tears.
The letters were a gift; a gracious tool for grieving. In the couple weeks leading up the funeral, I couldn’t slow down. Sean was traveling, the kids had countless activities, I was working. My only “catch your breath” moments involved a cup of tea and reading a letter. I forced myself to take the time, even if it was small doses. My very full world slowed and quieted as I read about a very different life more than 60 years ago:
I read from my Pake’s perspective what it was like to have the native people bringing him orphaned babies, hoping my Beppe could nurse them and give them medicine to save their lives. I heard the weight in my Pake’s tone when he said they couldn’t take more in–their own children and a few extras were already spreading them too thin. Then his reconsidering when he walked into their bedroom to find Beppe on her knees crying out to God on behalf of these starving babies.
There was my Pake’s struggle with malaria, how he reconciled not being able to save a man in the middle of the night bitten by a poisonous snake. Then grieving alongside the man's brother when he lost another family member to a crocodile not long after.
My grandparents were younger than I am now and their faith was fast tracked. They were faced with a lot of brokenness as they grew to know God as the Healer. They had to break down deep faith into simple terms to communicate the good news of Jesus through language and cultural barriers.
I live in a culture that values comfort, safety, and wealth. Reading letters about my grandparents who didn’t care much about any of those things almost made me chuckle, and it certainly put my busy life in perspective.
My dad called to ask if I would speak the day of the funeral. He mentioned the theme (because if you have something like 8 pastors in your extended family…you end up with themes for your funerals) was Fearless Faith. Fearless faith characterized Beppe. But her fearless faith wasn’t because that’s just who she is. It characterized her because of her relationship with Jesus. In fact, our principle for the weekend (like I said…pastors….) was, “Fearless faith comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
The day my kids and I drove over the mountains to Eastern Washington for the funeral, it was snowing. We were nearing the top of Snoqualmie Pass when I saw I had a message on my phone. It was Darla’s high school saying school would be cancelled at least until the end of April. Darla was riding shotgun and we looked at each other with wide eyes. We had been so consumed with funeral preparations, I hadn’t realized this might be coming. “Life’s about to get weird.”
By the time family and friends arrived at the church the next day, we were all discovering our lives had been cancelled. We were discussing it amongst cousins, aunts and uncles, but still aware that we were gathering to celebrate and grieve together.
Listening to everyone over the weekend brought back many memories and things I know about Beppe. The faith Beppe modeled for me was simple, yet completely transformative.
She grasped “Jesus loves me” more than most. I know this because I saw her act with that love. She loved people who hurt her. She never gave up in her prayers for others, no matter how much they deserved a door shut in their face. I saw her look past people's sin straight into the person God created them to be.
She deeply loved people; without qualifiers. Her heart was committed to Africa from the time she was a girl, but she also deeply loved India and its people–although as a 6 foot tall Dutch woman, she stuck out comically. Her compassion led her to a master's degree in counseling. Her practical faith enabled her to raise 8 children when ends didn't quite meet.
The confidence she had in Jesus and His love gave her courage to face rejection, courage to dream big, courage to do things she had no idea how to do because she trusted God would equip her on the way.
She suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for most of her adult life. It was often debilitating and severely restricted her. Yet, even if she was down and unable to garden or paint, she had confidence God had a plan in the waiting. She waited, asked God what He wanted to tell her, and used even the most mundane to be used by Him. He united her to Him, in her suffering.
One of the last people to share at the funeral was my Aunt Billie. She and her adopted twin, Harold, are the babies of my dad’s family. It is Billie who shares property with Pake and Beppe, Billie who takes care of them, Billie who was with Beppe when she passed away. We had talked about Beppe’s fearless faith in life. Billie spoke about Beppe’s fearless faith in death.
She shared a memory. You know when they (Pake and Beppe) first moved to Spokane, they weren’t used to the heat we get in Spokane. One day I went up to their house. They were sitting on the back patio and it was triple digits. I went to have hot coffee with them on a hot day. Mom (Beppe) was sweating. Really sweating. I mean, you could see the sweat droplets coming off her little ringlets.
I went, “What the hell, Mom?! You have air conditioning. Why are you sitting out here sweating?”
And she laughed and said, “You know, when Dad and I lived in Africa I learned that you could just relax…” she smiled… “and sweat”.
We all laughed, easily imagining how relaxed Beppe could be, even when everyone around her was uptight.
Billie went on, “You know what? She suffered so much in her life and somehow dialed in the ability to relax… and suffer. Relax… and experience real physical pain.
The way that God chose to take my mom was really by the inch. It was really annoying. It was frustrating for me especially on those days that I knew she had a lot of pain.
One day in the middle of that she was in a hospice bed. It was dragging on forever. She had a lot of physical pain and I asked her, “How is it that you have peace through this? While you’re hurting?”
She looked me square in the eyes and said “You know, Billie”–she whispered it. Her voice was very soft. She said, “You know, Billie, when I was really little I learned that Jesus loves me… and He really, really loves me. And that makes me happy.”
Somehow the truth of that allowed her to let her body do what her body needed to do in the dying process. That woman was filled with peace. Unriled.
She didn’t ask the questions I wanted to ask like, “Why the hell is this taking so long? Why does it hurt so bad? How much longer?”
Not once. Not one time was that her attitude. She just simply accepted what God had decided for her. I’m telling you, that was really instructional for me.
Death is not one of those tests you can cheat on. You can’t cheat on it. You either got it when you’re facing it or you don’t have it when you’re facing it. It was an amazing privilege to take her hand and walk her all the way home. Mom died like she lived. Relaxed and full of faith.
All that celebrating, grieving, squeezing family members, staying up too late reminiscing…and the next thing I knew we were headed home. Headed home to cancelled lives.
The next week, reality sunk in. Digital homeschool is tricky. One of my kids is in public high school which has meant no structure and no academics; a stark contrast to my younger kids who were immediately given structure and content. Sean’s job turned into a completely different job overnight. What was a traveling, relationship building job turned into learning phone sales from a teeny home office in our garage. Our side hustles are on hold, as are the income streams from them. My plans for cool projects halted somewhat when we learned quarantine would have tighter restrictions than we first understood.
Even stranger is watching the fear. Fear of the virus, fear of the economy, fear of itchy buttholes (as is evidenced by t.p. shortages). As I scroll through my facebook feed I imagine everyone’s voices a little more shrill; on that verge of panic, meltdown, or detached sarcasm (my personal go-to).
Then I shut down the voices. I cracked open an old envelope postmarked 1957, pulling out yellowed paper with faded typewriter marks. I need a bit of perspective, a bit of faith, a growing of roots that sink down into the earth and wiggle deeper every time the wind whips, every time the sun rises, every time the Spring comes back around.
Deep, wind-whipped, sun soaked, resilient, fearless faith isn’t born in an instant. But crazy circumstances can fast track it. It’s by God’s sweet grace that the fallenness of the world can open our eyes to our need for Him. When we see His sovereignty against our lack of control and ability to hold it together, we can let out a deep breath. We can relax…and sweat. In our suffering…His peace. In our fear…His assurance. In our need…His provision. In our identity crisis'...Jesus loves me.
When we sang one of my Beppe’s favorite songs to open her funeral, I had no idea how much I would dwell on these words in months to come:
What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
And what a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer
Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer
Just throwing myself out there a bit...