I graduated from Marion High School in Marion, IL in May of 1995. The majority of the 213 classmates that walked the stage with me that night had been my classmates since we were in kindergarten. That’s part of the beauty of growing up in a small town – everyone knows everyone and few people leave.
I did not see that beauty in 1995. No, seventeen-year-old me thought it was painfully boring. But now, as my kids grow up in the city with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of classmates, I sometimes long for the quieter and simpler days of living in a small town. There is safety in knowing everyone. You know your friend’s parents and where everyone lives and build memories through relationships that last a lifetime.
When I was in kindergarten or maybe first grade, I became friends with Jennifer. She had the most gorgeous red hair that fell in long curls, was a dancer, and so, so smart. Jennifer was everything that seemed wonderful to me and we became fast friends. When I met Jennifer’s mom, Camille, I realized why Jennifer was the way she was. Camille also had amazing red hair, magical freckles, and was one of the kindest and gentlest human beings I had ever met.
Camille hosted slumber parties in their family basement every year for Jen’s birthday. I got sick and had to leave about four years in a row. Camille would stroke my hair and offer a wet washcloth in the middle of the night as we waited for my mom or dad to pick me up. She also volunteered to chaperone just about every choir contest or trip we ever went on, as well. I have so many memories of Camille as a steady and calming presence in my life.
One of my favorite memories of Camille is simply of her face watching us all sing. She loved to hear the choir sing. One year, I think we were in 8th grade, Jen and I sang with our friends Erica and Hillary, the Christmas song, “Still, Still, Still.” We sang acapella and our young voices were angelic in four-part-harmony. We ended up reprising that song numerous times over the years and I so wish I had a recording of it to play for you.
A couple of years ago, Alzheimer’s made its presence known in Camille. As her memories slipped away and pieces of her personality faltered, she never lost her sweet disposition. This unholy disease that strips people of their dignity and life has taken too many people I love. Camille fought hard though and she never lost her sweetness. She never stopped loving her daughter, who took such loving care.
Last week, as Camille began the swift decline into her final days and hours, a group text between Jennifer and a few of us who were so close through all the years picked up speed again. We shared memories of Camille, prayers for her body to be pain-free and at peace, and prayers for God to give Jen the strength she needed to face the last moments with her mom.
On Friday night, I attended a Christmas concert for my daughter’s Chamber Orchestra and when they played “Still, Still, Still,” I quickly raised my phone to record the music. My chest clenched up and my eyes glassed over as I remembered Camille’s doe-eyes watching us kids sing so many years ago. I could feel her sweet smile in my heart and I suddenly longed for her to meet Jesus, the one the song is about. I longed for her to dream, dream, dream of the joyous day to come when she would be enveloped into the arms of her Savior. After the concert, I sent the recording to Jen and asked her to play it for her mom.
Camille got to meet Jesus Monday night. It’s heartbreaking for those on Earth who have known and loved her for so long and yet it’s joyful knowing she is whole, healed, and complete in Heaven.
And that’s what makes this season so hard. The Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are ones to be filled with happiness. Or at least that’s what the commercials tell us. But life doesn’t stop and troubles don’t go away just because it’s December. Happiness fades and dwindles as schedules get crazy, as family is difficult, and heartaches continue to fall our way.
We can have joy in knowing that God loves us so much that he sent his one and only son for us. Jesus left the perfection of heaven and entered this world full of sin and brokenness. He came as a helpless baby to save us who are helpless if not for his saving grace.
My prayers for you, dear reader, are that you would be able to return to joy, even when happiness betrays you, that you would find gratitude, even when the world seems to take away all you hold dear, and that you, like Camille, can find time to smile and listen to the music of the season.