A light went out in Lewiston

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Last summer, I moved to the Northwest. New appointment, new city, new life. I never have to wonder if I’m going to like the responsibilities the Army gives me. Every appointment has been both a joy and a challenge (and I love a challenge). What secretly worries me when I get a new appointment is the same thing that worries my children: will I make any friends?

When I moved here, one of the first friends I made was Cheryl Warriner, who served with her husband Don as corps officers of the Lewiston, Idaho corps. I met her at camp. We instantly clicked. She was funny and committed and had depth. She had a passion for ministry, and she had a sense of humor. I liked her.

On October 5, 2004, Cheryl was promoted to Glory. The day before, I spoke to her on the phone as she lay in her hospital bed. She had been through surgery, and seemed to be doing well. Neither she nor I had any idea that she would be gone the next day. I wonder what I would have said to her if I had known that was the last time I would ever speak to her this side of the Jordan River. I think I would have reminded her of a crazy joke she and I shared with our friend Ralph….a joke we loved to retell whenever we saw each other. I would have thanked her for making me feel welcomed and loved in the Northwest Division. And I would have told her what a fine officer, what a fine Christian, I thought she was.

At Cheryl’s funeral, opportunity was given to share memories of Cheryl. Her young teenage son, Matthew, rose to his feet. He said that his mother often took him to WalMart, and he really enjoyed that. Some people chuckled lowly at his sweet comment. Then he said, “It may not seem like anything special to you, but it was special to me.” It was one of the most beautiful tributes I’ve ever heard.

The day after that, a few of us grown-ups sat in a circle with the corps’ teenagers, talking through their emotions. We asked them what they had learned from Cheryl. One thoughtful teen indicated that he had learned how much God loved him simply through the way Cheryl treated him.

It occurred to me that when I’m promoted to Glory I don’t want people to say that I was smart or clever or talented. I want them to say that they saw through me how much God loved them. I want my children to remember the ordinary, pleasant things we did together, like trips to WalMart. I want them to know how much I enjoyed being with them, because I loved them.

I Corinthians 13:1–3 says this: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
The end of that chapter tells us that prophecy, tongues and knowledge will all pass away. One of the only things that will remain is love. It is certainly Cheryl’s love that still lingers with her friends and family. Cheryl possessed many creative gifts: she made beautiful crafts; she was an expert at sewing. She planned fun, exciting activities for the corps. But it was the love that was communicated through all these things that impacted the people she knew. It is her love we remember.
When our earthly lives come to a close, the people we care about the most aren’t going to recite our accomplishments. They are going to remember the trips to WalMart. The little things we did that said “I love you.” Therefore, it’s a good idea to make time for those kinds of things.
I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. I’m just reminding you. And myself.
On October 5, a light went out in Lewiston. A lady who brought joy to so many turned her steps toward Home. But her life was a great success. Others saw the love of Christ in her. Isn’t that what all Christians dream of achieving?

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