It’s hard to believe it’s been one year since I got a phone call that my spiritual mentor, my second mom, my best friend’s mom was gone. Some of you have heard me talk about her (and talk about her and talk about her…. ;) ) and probably only know her as “Mrs. Nilsa,” but oh, what an amazing woman of God she was. Even in the midst of fighting cancer, she had such strength, courage, conviction and faith. I remember a conversation with her not long before she passed away when I was really struggling with the idea of pain and suffering in general, but also with her cancer. She looked so peaceful as she told me that she wasn’t angry, she wasn’t struggling as much as I thought she should be because “I know my God, and I know His character and who He is.”
Truth be told, I still struggle with it, but often when I think of Mrs. Nilsa and the dignity and faith with which she walked through her journey, I am humbled and moved out of my own self. This is just one of many gifts Mrs. Nilsa gave me, one of many legacies she left and things she taught me.
To list them all would be impossible, but here are a few….
- She taught me grace. She reminded me time and time again – not merely with her words but with the grace she poured out on me and the kids – to give the kids more grace than I often do. She looked at them with such kindness and love, and they felt that. They knew they were loved. And she always had dessert and chocolate to offer them, so that didn’t hurt. ;)
- She was a prayer warrior. Even when some things got too tiring for her to do, she never. stopped. praying. In fact, she told me once that most of her time was spent reading and praying. How I long to be such a faith filled prayer warrior!
- She loved well. She loved her family and her friends, and oh how she loved her God! She was one of those people that made you think you were her favorite person in the world – only to find out that everyone else thought that too! She genuinely cared about you and often would turn the conversation to you even when you tried to make it about her!
When we were in Nigeria, I read something about personalizing Scriptures for people, and so I mailed Mrs. Nilsa a personalization of Proverbs 31, which I had the privilege of also sharing at her memorial service.
Proverbs 31: The Remix, for Mrs. Nilsa
A woman of noble character, who can find?
She is worth far more than diamonds
or even chocolate chips in Nigeria.
Marty has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing in value.
She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
She works with eager hands.
She is like the Publix semi-trucks,
bringing her food from afar –
or at least sending it afar
in packages stuffed with goodies,
sweet treats from home for the blessed receivers.
She gets up while it is still night
(night owl that she is!);
she provides food for her family –
delicious variety, ethnic experiments,
all cooked with love and sacrifice –
and portions for her friends
and the occasional church youth group.
She considers before she buys
to make sure she gets the best deal –
and her garage is stocked to prove it.
She sets about her work vigorously;
even when her arms are not strong for her tasks,
she somehow leans on Him
But she is also strong enough now to admit
when she can’t do it alone.
She accepts help graciously
and shows her gratitude with an offering
that is worth far more than the money she saves:
on bended knee, her prayers
sweet smelling incense before her Heavenly King.
Her lamp does not go out at night,
for it is often in the darkness and solitude
that she cries out:
prayers of gratitude, thanksgiving, praise,
salvation, healing, forgiveness, intercession….
In her hand she holds her Bible
and grasps it with her heart, too.
She opens her arms – and her home – to the lonely,
the misunderstood, the teenagers, the lost,
the ones that society calls “misfits,”
the patients with whom she shares a waiting room,
the high school girl looking for answers
(now a mom still looking for answers)
and finding them in the dark of night
in the patient responses and questions
of the mom of a friend
(now a friend herself)
who was willing to listen and point her to
the One True Answer….
She extends her hands to them all….
When it is sweltering outside
she has no fear for her household,
for the AC is set to freezing.
Too freezing. ;)
She is clothed in fine linen and purple
(or at least she was before she told the Red Hat Ladies
exactly where her priorities are).
Her husband is respected at the church and at work,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the (Disney)land.
She is clothed with strength and dignity,
even when she might wonder if sickness
has taken her dignity away.
(It has not.)
She can laugh at the days to come,
even when the days are uncertain,
and her laugh can make you laugh, too.
She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue,
even when the phone connection
isn’t too clear from overseas.
She offers advice – prayerful, thoughtful advice –
when asked and mentors those blessed enough to be in her life.
She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness
(In fact, she eats hardly any bread or carbs these days –
though she likes them – a testament to her willpower.)
Tammy and Sharli, her children –
and her children’s friends! –
rise and call her blessed.
Marty also, and he praises her:
“Many women do noble things, but you, Nilsa, surpass them all.”
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting –
though her beauty doesn’t seem to fade
because it comes from a joy deep within –
but Mrs. Nilsa, who fears the Lord, is to be praised.
Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works,
the meals she has cooked,
the packages she has mailed,
the friends she has made,
the family she has raised,
the teenagers to whom she has listened,
the people she has brought before the throne,
bring her praise at the city gate.
My best friend wrote the other day that “grief is a circular staircase.” There are days when things feel okay, and there are days when the loss of my dear mentor and friend – from whom I still had so much to learn and am even still learning from in many ways – is just as raw as when it first happened. And there are days, truth be told, when I play this game where I pretend that we’re still in Nigeria and it’s just a little hard to stay in contact what with the time difference and bad internet so of course things have been silent for a while.
The pain of losing someone you love just sort of lingers beneath the surface, though, even when it’s not boldly rearing its ugly head.
But there are also those sweet, precious memories, countless memories… of trips to Disney… talking until 3 am… the time when the kids ran around catching dead leaves that whirled around on a blustery day, saying they were for Mrs. Nilsa – who accepted them with a big smile on her face as if they had brought her a bouquet of roses and proclaimed, though it was March, “You brought fall inside to me! Fall is my favorite season!” – so that to this day they associate fall with her… her voice when she would get angry or frustrated and silently exclaim, “Oh hush puppies!”
And there is the Hope of things to come, too. I am eternally grateful for the time that Mrs. Nilsa took to pour the Truth of God into me because I know that one day I will join her in eternity, a place where there is no more sadness or sickness or pain or tears, and together we will praise our God.