Aunt Judy's 100th birthday is on Wednesday. We will be celebrating it on Saturday...
She has been asleep most of the time for several weeks now. When I was there at the end of January, the nurse roused her enough to ask if she wanted to talk with us, and she mumbled, "Maybe in a little while." She lay there, her hands folded across her chest, and just could not summon the energy to wake. It was as if she was just waiting for something and was tired after such a long life. I didn't get the impression that she was ill or distressed.
She has lived longer than anyone else in the family... I often wonder if she has willed herself to live this long. I've never met a more tenacious, purposeful liver of life. I have never met someone so dedicated to holiness--as far as she understands it. I have never met someone who was 98 years old and could welcome a young blind woman into her home and treat her like a capable adult and allow her to touch her most prized belongings--things that normally would be off limits to touch. I have never met someone with such rigid standards of holiness who has been so compassionate toward a divorcee--in fact, toward the one who filed for the divorce.
People in the family are often uncomfortable with Aunt Judy's holiness standards. Taking them seriously would mean facing the truth that we are not very holy. It's much easier to say that holiness is about the relationship we have with God. That's the supposed Church of God line. Yes, it's true. That is the Church of God position. But wouldn't a relationship with God that results in holiness produce an outward change in my life? We call that sanctification. We don't talk about it very much anymore. It would grieve Aunt Judy's heart. She wouldn't be very able to express it as grief. She would give us a holiness lecture. But in her heart, she would be grieving ... and I understand why. It isn't the outward actions she is unhappy about. It is the meaning of the outward actions.
Aunt Judy doesn't do emotional depth, and she doesn't have the vocabulary to put into words what it means emotionally to be saved from the consequences of sin and saved for the joy of everlasting heart-to-heart communion with God. But she feels it. Oh, she feels it! That's what enabled her to play the piano with vigor that I have never known. It's what enabled her to determine in her heart that she would live to be 100 years old--and I suspect that she intended to enjoy every single minute of her journey.
Aunt Judy's 100th birthday party has been a milestone event that she looked forward to. She expressed some feeling that perhaps no one would plan anything. When Mom and I went down to see her a few weeks ago, we intended to talk with her about her desired guest list. We were unable to do so. This won't stop the family from gathering. Aunt Judy may sleep through the whole thing... Personally, I hope she rouses for at least five minutes of the occasion. If she can't, we never know what she hears and understands. I intend to treat her as she treated me: a dignified adult worthy of all the love and respect we have to give. A part of me thinks that she might be embarrassed to have the family partying around her when she is in such a state. But in the short time that I have spent getting to know her, I have learned a few things that I suspect are true about her.
She always dresses up. Why? Because she is God's princess! Not because the world needs to see how beautiful she is. In recent years, she has admitted openly to suffering with debilitating arthritis, hearing loss, failing eyesight, and back pain. "I'm so old that I'm not a candidate for surgery," she said to me once. Yet she did not complain. These were simply matters of fact that altered her daily life. "Ellsworth takes good care of me, although he can't hear too well either." She was not ashamed for people to see her weakness.
She didn't let her weakness interfere with her enjoyment of life. If she needed a nap, she took it. If company came, she received them--not hesitantly but with open arms. She wouldn't allow us to bring her food while it was possible for her to receive us. "Ellsworth will make lunch for us," she said. And make lunch he did: chicken casserole, home-made mashed potatoes, vegetables, rolls with butter, and coffee and pound cake! Mom and I felt like we were being served up a meal for honored guests.
When the family gathered for any purpose, Ellsworth drove her the hour and a half trip from Shelbyville to Anderson if at all possible. She has been a matriarch to us in the years since her sisters have been gone. For some of us, she is the only matriarch we have known very well--and for some she is the only one we have known at all. She could have stayed home in her nightgown and allowed herself to waste away in depression--many elderly people do this, especially when they have outlived their own children and they don't feel that they are really a part of their siblings' families.
Mom and I called to Aunt Judy several times over the moments that we were in her room. In between attempts to wake her, we chatted with Ellsworth. Finally, we began to prepare ourselves to leave. I leaned toward her ear...
"Aunt Judy," I said. "May I give you a hug?"
She unfolded her hands, making way for my hug even in the midst of her rest. I realized then that Aunt Judy was not sleeping. She was resting as she awaited her day. She didn't need to talk about the details of her party. She just needed to have it; and she could rest knowing that we were taking care of it. Ninety-nine years is a long time to control the details of life to ensure that she could participate and accomplish whatever the Lord set before her. Aunt Judy has spent her life teaching others to bless. She now teaches us to receive blessing: not with false humility but with grace and joy.
I want to live like Aunt Judy. I want to live to be 100 years old. I want to dress up and celebrate every day as if I'm at the banquet of the King of kings. I want to be unafraid for people to see my weaknesses. And I want to participate willingly and fully in the lives of people around me, even if I need assistance to do so. I want to receive blessing whether I am able to express gratitude openly or not; for it is precious for those around me to give blessing.
If I can, I will speak to her at her party. I want her to know that she has spoken life into me. I want her to know that holiness still matters, that God still transforms. I want her to know that I have committed myself to the work of the Lord. I want her to know that I will stand beside her one day at the welcoming table. I want her to know that I will choose to trust in God and that I am so thankful to Him for allowing me to know her, my family, at this crucial time in my life. And I pray that whether she is awake or asleep, He will give her ears to hear me, that she will have peace in knowing that her journey here was fruitful.