Growing up, I had loving parents who raised my brother and me to be humble, hard working, generous, and responsible. During my teenage years when my mom was on her own after my parents’ divorce, she showed incredible character by encouraging a strong relationship with our father and refraining from bad-mouthing or criticizing him.
My mother patiently taught me “domestic arts” – sewing, cooking, and cleaning – and practical, household necessities like economizing. They were lessons that I have put to good use as an adult, and I am forever grateful for my parents’ careful teaching.
However, at some point during my elementary school years, a very special woman changed the course of my life with the biblical, spiritual teaching I desperately needed. Her name is Norma.
At the age of seven, I had been saved and baptized at a neighborhood church within walking distance of my house, but my parents didn’t go to church, so I went by myself. I felt drawn to church because of the people there who had something special that I wanted in on, and that included Norma and her family.
With two girls of her own, Norma must have noticed that my family was not at church with me and simply asked if I’d like to attend a Wednesday night meeting of young girls my age. Of course I accepted the offer and became involved in what I know now was a discipleship program with scripture memory and learning about missionaries. But for me it was more about hanging out with nice people who seemed to care about me.
I have no memory of how it happened, but after becoming involved in the program, Norma just kind of became my church connection: Whenever there was an event – VBS, youth group, church camp, etc. – she made sure I knew what was going on and gave me a ride if I needed one. What seemed casual to me was actually very intentional on her part.
Today, the term is discipleship, but for me it was a friendship that developed over time as she poured into my life.
Through the years, and as her oldest daughter and I became friends, I spent time in her home enjoying the hospitality that was her spiritual gift. Norma was masterful at making people feel comfortable, and as I began studying the Bible, I realized she was being obedient to her calling to be like Christ.
At some point during my teenage years, Norma and I began walking together . . . and I mean we really walked together, like speed walking. We lived in the same subdivision and walked a figure eight through the neighborhood streets. There were no GPS watches back then, but according to her stretchy Timex, we did a thirteen-minute mile for three miles, talking all the way about everything and nothing as she taught by word and by example.
At each stage of my life Norma was always there, even into adulthood as she continued loving me then my family. At that point our relationship became about serving in the church where I was raising my family and where she had raised hers. Through the years we planned women’s events and fundraisers together, and one year I asked her to speak at a ladies’ retreat for young moms. I introduced her as “my second mom” and she wiped away tears.
As the church grew, more women got to know Norma and experience her talents, skills, and gifts. But more importantly, they learned what I had experienced from the time I was in elementary school: Norma was a humble servant of the Lord. She was loved by my own daughters and other young girls their age; she was loved by the senior adults that she and her husband ministered to for many years, and she was loved by those who served alongside her.
Even a cancer diagnosis didn’t change her way of making people feel welcome or her calming presence or her outlook on life, as scary as that must have been.
I’m not the only person with a story to tell about her importance in their lives, and mine is simple: Norma answered the call to be Jesus to “the least of these”, as the Bible says in Matthew 25. One result of that obedience was that a little girl was pointed to Jesus then learned what it meant to be a Christian throughout a friendship that lasted 45 years.
As I mourn her passing, I’m also rejoicing that she is with her Lord and Savior. But in my human condition, I have an ache in my heart and soul and wish there could be more years, more advice, and more chances to make sure she understood the depth of her impact on my life. I know that the best way to honor her is to repeat the process of pointing people to Jesus and teaching by example what the Christian life is all about: Loving and serving others enough to tell the story of a redeemed life changed by Jesus’ work on the cross.
“I praise you, Lord, for placing Norma in my life and changing it forever. Fill me with the Holy Spirit’s power to be obedient to do the same. Amen.”