I lost my beloved friend. And the world- her world, her sphere of influence- lost a beacon of charity in its truest definition. Charity is the pure love of Christ. In the hours since that early morning phone call, memories and descriptive phrases have been composing themselves in my brain.
She didn’t have to.
But she did.
And, oh, how I am better for it!
So, I write. That’s how I grieve. And how I honor Jean.
We first met about 35 years ago when I started elementary school in Las Vegas. Back then, she was Mrs. Lawrence to me, an aide in our elementary library. She could have just done her job of re-shelving books and tracking checkouts and not paid any attention to me. But she didn’t.
For reasons still inexplicable to me, she took a special interest in me. And not just in me, but in all of my family. I was #2 in a long line of 7 kids that marched one after the other through the halls of Twin Lakes Elementary. And she cared for each of us individually, not just then, but on through the decades. She adopted us for life.
Every time I walked into the library (being a voracious reader, that was usually several times a week), she would greet me with warmth and her latest book recommendations selected just for me. Thanks in large part to her, I developed a love of many classic authors and stories. With a special gift in my last elementary year, she gave me my own copy of a volume I had read on her recommendation. By introducing me to Anne-girl, she gave me the gift of a lifelong love—and shared connection with her—of Green Gables.
To borrow Anne’s language, Jean and I were “kindred spirits” in our love of books. Not just the stories that elevated thoughts and opened ideas, but the actual physical artifact of books: the smell and feel and weight of a good book in your hands. Just a year or two ago, she called me. I can still hear her voice.
“Hilarie, it’s Jean. My kids are wanting me to go through stuff and get rid of things. They don’t want all my books. I know you love books. And you have a library to keep them. Will you give some of them a home?”
It was my pleasure and privilege to visit her and pore over her vintage volumes as she filled two heavy boxes for me to take home. Since then, they’ve held a proud place in my home library.
In my later elementary years, I struggled to find my place and identity, and tested the waters with a mild rebellious period at school. Though Jean probably was aware of my antics, it didn’t matter to her. But I mattered to her. And she continued to generously befriend me, serving as a steady, trusted source of unconditional love even when I didn’t feel too loveable. Quite simply, she made me feel special.
Remarkably, Jean’s interest in and support of me continued after I left elementary school and didn’t have occasion to see her. She and her oldest daughter, Sarah, for some reason I still don’t understand, chose to love me. They enfolded me in their family culture of generosity and genuine kindness without seeking any reciprocation.
Charity is kind. Charity seeketh not her own. Charity is the pure love of Christ.
Jean and Sarah were there at my milestones of high school performances and graduation, later for my wedding, and later still for my babies. With each milestone, Jean showed her love and support for me by sacrificing hours to make beautiful gifts, and driving long distances to attend a church service not of her faith where my baby was blessed.
Her handmade gifts are true treasures, gifts of the heart. My cherished afghan for my wedding wasn’t the only one. Mine was one of the six she made for me and my siblings at our weddings from 1994 to 2010. And there were precious crocheted baby bonnets and jackets hearkening back to a simpler, more gracious time. Oh, the hours she must have spent in my behalf… And that doesn’t even include the absolutely beautiful and delicious variety of Christmas delights she baked and delivered every year. I think including our family on her list may have meant she had to double her output! As in all aspects of her life, she was very generous and always brought a large platter overflowing for us to enjoy as children!
Though our connections became less frequent when I reached adulthood, our occasional visits, cards, and calls always left me amazed and humbled with Jean’s love and interest. She uplifted me. I will forever be grateful I was able to attend the special celebration for Jean and Duane’s 50th wedding anniversary, and that my children were able to know her.
Jean left a legacy of kindness, generosity, seeking out the one, and genuinely, unselfishly caring. She embodies many attributes of our Savior Jesus Christ. She showed by her actions what is truly important—people, and love, and goodness. To me, she left a legacy of charity.
I may not ever logically comprehend why Jean chose to love me. She didn’t have to. But she did.
And, oh, what a difference she made for me!
Who has made a difference in your life? Sometimes it’s an unexpected person that gifts a major impact. I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please comment below.
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Don’t leave your tale untold…