By Lisa Jernigan
How did you celebrate your last birthday? Did you have a big party, or maybe a quiet celebration with family and friends, or was it just another ordinary day? Was it a time of reflection of the past or anticipation of the future?
I recently celebrated a birthday that kinda’ stopped me in my tracks! Though it wasn’t a “milestone” birthday (that’s next year!), it did grab my attention and cause me to take inventory of my life.
People are often asked who their heroes or role models are. When I am asked that question, several people come to mind. At the top of my list is my mom, but there are other significant women who have left an impression on my heart and in my life. One of those is a woman I never spent much time with, but her legacy and influence in my life are profound. From the world’s lens she was just an ordinary woman, but in my eyes she was extraordinary! Her name is Vera.
The day after my birthday I attended Vera’s memorial service and life celebration. Earlier that week I had visited Vera in her home. She was confined to her bed and had stopped eating, drinking, and verbally communicating. Doctors said death could come at any time. Knowing it would probably be the last time I would see her on this earth was hard, but I couldn’t help but feel excited for her and where she was going! At 91, she had lived life well. In talking with her two daughters I discovered some extraordinary things about Vera that I didn’t know, which didn’t surprise me.
Why would someone like Vera choose to love and give and sacrifice for others? Why would she choose not to become bitter even though she could have? You see, life wasn’t always easy for her. She lost a grown daughter in a car accident (she was also riding in the car) and she outlived her beloved husband. Grief and hardship were no strangers to her, yet she remained faithful to God and didn’t give up on living well and being positive. She continued to touch lives all around her.
What makes someone extraordinary? There are three aspects of living an extraordinary life I want to share (and as you read them, imagine what our world, even our churches, could and would look like if we all embraced these):
We all need to give and receive unconditional love. People are hungry for it, and what better place to find it than inside the church? But too often it is absent from our churches. Instead we extend love with limits, conditions, and a little judgment. We wonder why people have such negative attitudes toward God and church. Could it be what they see and experience? Are we any different from the world?
My friend Vera loved and loved well. At her service I spoke to a younger gal who had become like a daughter to Vera in recent years. You see, when this gal first came to church, she was a little beat up by the world and her teeth were in poor shape. Vera immediately extended unconditional love and rallied other women to give her “new teeth.” These new teeth represented much more than a new smile, they were a gift of love and acceptance. At Vera’s service, the woman spoke words I will never forget: “It’s not that I loved Vera, but that she loved me! Now there is one less person on this earth who loves me!” Wow.
“We love, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Corinthians 9:6, 7).
We often hear this verse in the context of giving tithes and offerings. It also applies to the way we choose to live our lives and use our time and talents. Our busy lives are constantly being invaded with more and more time constraints and expectations. It’s becoming harder and harder to get involved and help others. We want to, but life screams for our attention.
To really make a difference in this world requires sacrificial living. We must be willing to give when it is not convenient, when we don’t feel adequate, and when we are low on resources. It means stepping outside our comfort zones and allowing God to supply what we need in order to give. Basically, it’s the realization that life is not just about us!
At the age of 70-something, Vera purchased plane tickets and set out to raise funds for a ministry that reached out to Native American children on the reservation here in Arizona. She was passionate about children and making a difference. At a time in life when most people want to sit back and relax, Vera was on the move. Not only was she willing to sacrifice her time and money, she also sacrificed her lifestyle.
In the end, Vera reaped what she sowed. All that love and sacrificial living came back to her. She was deeply loved and cared for.
A Giving Heart
Every time I saw Vera at church she would tell me she was praying for me, my husband Cal, and my children. When I was sitting at her bedside for the last time, her daughter told me Vera often wrote about our family in her prayer journal. That’s a gift I will never forget!
We obviously weren’t the only recipients of her love. Her daughters said that in her final year, someone voluntarily stayed with Vera 24/7. You see, people wanted to be with her and take care of her. Don’t you want to be with people who love you and make you feel good about yourself? That was Vera, and that love was with her until the end.
As I take inventory of my own life, I am driven to live like Vera, who lived extraordinarily well until her last breath.
In John 10:10, Jesus says, “I came that you may have life and have it abundantly!” He sacrificed his life to make it happen. Go ahead, live sacrificially, love unconditionally, and give whenever you can. And when it’s all said and done, may it be said of you, “Now, there is one less person on this earth to love me.”
Lisa Jernigan is cofounder and chief visionary officer of Girlfriends Unlimited (www.girlfriends-unlimited.com). She lives in Mesa, Arizona.