I was on a train to Dundee. As the countryside sped by, I couldn’t help but wonder how this was happening. I was supposed to be flying back to the USA and instead I was headed to a memorial service for my Aunt. Only ten months earlier, I had been in England and seen her at a celebration for our ministry and she had seemed fine. Now, she was with her heavenly father and she was only seventy years old. As my Uncle would say, cancer is a monster. Despite that reality, our family was gathering in Dundee and we were going to celebrate her life.
As I arrived at the church, I was greeted by the early arrivers as I had gotten there an hour early because of the train schedule. The little ensemble orchestra was getting ready to practice and the audio engineer was working on the sound system. Soon the pastor saw me and welcomed me expressing his condolences to our family. Though my Aunt and Uncle had only attended this little Scottish church for two years, it was clear that they had made a difference in many people’s lives. People began to stream in and take their seats and there were many tears shed even before the rest of my family arrived.
My Aunt Jan was a remarkable person. As a teenager, she had helped to lead a Bible study for her peers and as a young adult she was actively involved in The Bible Club Movement that made biblical teaching available to public high school students. It was through that ministry that she met her husband Tom. While my Aunt was a very busy person raising three children, ministering alongside her husband as a missionary in three different countries and learning a new language, she always had time for individual people. She cared deeply about what was going on in our lives and constantly prayed for all of us. I was often amazed at the small facts she remembered when we would see each other again and that she had been praying for me and my family so diligently.
As my family arrived at the church, we embraced and cried some more. This was not what we had expected to be doing on this Saturday afternoon. The young pastor opened the service with a personal greeting and made it clear that Jan had touched his life too. As I sang along to the songs that had been chosen for this occasion, I put my arm around my mother who had lost her only sister and prayed that she would have the strength to give her remarks. Right on cue, God answered that prayer and many others. With a sudden resilience, my mother spoke of the special relationship she and Jan had enjoyed from the day she was born until the moment that God took her home. Each of Jan’s children shared heartfelt remarks and my Uncle got up to speak. I could hardly imagine how he could be able to do this without breaking down.
Before he gave his remarks, Tom thanked several people for coming to the service and as he did so he turned to a person playing in the little orchestra. Surprising to most of us, Jan’s Oncologist was playing an instrument and participating in this celebration of her life. What a special gift she was that day. It seemed that no matter where Jan was, she had touched people deeply and they wanted to say so publicly. Tributes to the impact of her life poured in over Facebook and via e-mail and phone calls. Her son Jeff summed it up best when he said that she had the gift of “paying attention”. She could focus on you and your needs like you were the only person in the world.
In leaving us so early, Jan left a hole in our hearts and a legacy of faithfulness. She always pointed us to her savior and was constantly looking for ways to introduce Jesus to people that did not know Him. Even in her later years, she joined a ministry called seeJesus and was excited about the prospect of using their materials to introduce more people to the one who had so radically impacted her life. The truth is that none of us knows the time we have on this earth. Our life’s journey is unpredictable and many times unexpected events intrude. In the words of the famous missionary pioneer, C.T. Studd, “Only one life, ’twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” My Aunt Jan made every day count for her Lord and Savior and left us a compelling example to follow.