When I met Esther she easily made the list of women I admired most in life. I met her about two thirds of her way through a ten year battle with terminal cancer. Her beautiful singing voice had already been silenced to a whisper when her vocal cord was accidently paralyzed in one of her multiple surgeries over the years. She was already struggling with constant pain and faced many surgeries ahead still. She knew that eventually the cancer would take her life and there wasn’t a bitter bone in her body. She suffered immense physical pain but she radiated peace, joy and love. She faced everything with humor and the stories I heard of the jokes she made as her doctor laid out the bad news often made me literally laugh out loud with tears streaming.
Esther’s body was dying and yet she cherished every moment with her friends and family as she looked forward to heaven. When the hospice nurse grimly explained hospice process Esther said, “You don’t have to worry – you can’t scare me with heaven.” Her doctor shared how as he explained the choices ahead as her husband Pastor Tom would ask questions, and more question, and still more questions and then Esther would make a joke and then tell them what they were going to do next. My mother was going through heart surgeries around the time I first met Esther and there were so many similarities between the humor that they used to face the surgeries. Maybe that is why I felt so comfortable in Esther’s presence from the first time I met her – or maybe Esther just had that effect on everyone.
Esther’s memorial service was this past weekend and as I stared into the giant footprints she left I pondered, what would be said at my memorial service – what would be said of any of us? Did we live well? Esther lived marvelously. She loved tremendously. She served sincerely. A smile came naturally to her in good times and in struggles. She poured her life into her husband, her children, her ministry at Crossroads Church and missionary work in India, as well as everyone that she came in contact with. She died peacefully while her family and friends sang “Amazing Grace” around her bedside. Nothing could have been more fitting for her departure.
The last time I really visited with Esther was on Valentine’s Day. I was running around the church getting last minute details taken care of for the Steve Green concert the next day. As I rounded the corner she was standing in the doorway giddy like a school girl. I stopped my running and came to a complete stop to enjoy a few moments with Esther. I had learned the hard way about rushing past people years ago. She almost seemed like she would float away, she was so peaceful and excited. She was waiting for her husband, Pastor Tom, to take her to the store so that she could buy him a Valentine’s Day card for him. She made light hearted jokes about making him look away while she found a special card.
She was clearly madly in love with her husband and was looking forward to writing him a love note to celebrate this 46th Valentine’s Day. We chatted for a while more, and then she couldn’t remember what she was saying, so she made a joke about the medication and merrily changed the subject to her daughter’s upcoming visit. I saw her later but this was our last one on one conversation. It is precious to me because I have been so deeply touched by watching Pastor Tom and Esthers love story play out before our eyes. Up until the very last moments Esther was serving Tom and Tom was serving Esther. And both found great joy out of doing so. I loved being a witness to the life they shared.
Esther’s family is intertwined in our lives and we are blessed by the depth of love that she poured into their lives every day. The day after Esther died, Pastor Tom preached the message he had pre-planned for that Sunday at Crossroads Church – When Your World Collapses. His son, daughter-in-law, daughter and grandson sat in front of us in church that day. I think it is because of the strength and faith that Esther planted and nourished in them with her encouragement, example that they could carry on.
This week at her memorial service we celebrated her life. It made me take inventory – if only I could live with half the courage, a portion of her smiles, a slice of her faith, an ounce of her service, and smidge of her humor – I will have lead a good life. How about you are there people you look up to that pull you forward? Esther will always pull me forward and upward. Have there been times in your life that you have taken inventory and made a change? I didn’t even know Esther but for a fraction of the time that she walked this earth, but she changed me, she changed my perspective and I pray my future.