A long time ago, before cancer took her away today, I crossed paths with a woman who changed my life completely.
I was in my late 20’s coming off of a couple years of hell. My dad had recently died and on the heels of that I spent two years throwing away everything I knew about God one joint, drink and cigarette at a time. When the smoke cleared for me, I realized that although I had thrown God away- He hadn’t tossed me at all. In fact, His grip was even tighter and with His loving arms He led me out of my desolation and all the way to Montrose, Colorado.
I moved in with a couple I had met during more “Christian” times who welcomed me -in spite of (because of?) my brokenness. Living in their home were other broken, searching young people and her- this very small, kind, light brown woman with gray, thinning hair and a giant smile. She was related to the couple we were all living with through complicated means: she was an expat from Papua New Guinea and her two children married two of the couples children. David and Kathleen (the couple) had lived in PNG for many years with YWAM where their families crossed paths for eternity. Clara was a grandma (Bubu) to lots of grandchildren, and an Auntie to many, most not related to her by blood at all.
Somewhere in the 4 years I lived with David and Kathleen, Clara became my “black mama”. Maybe it was the nights we spent awake praying for my (unknown) husband and maybe it was the car rides to WalMart, maybe it was the months we shared a room because the house was full: I don’t know where the shift from “someone I live with” to “someone I don’t know if I can live without” came, but it happened. She claimed me as her white daughter and I claimed her as my black mama.
My first memory of Clara is of how meek and quiet she seemed. But then I saw how I could make her laugh and I knew she wasn’t quiet at all. Clara prayed (and prayed and prayed). She prayed in the shower, she prayed when she walked and she prayed while she worked. Every single act of her hands was an act of worship. You want to see true worship? Watch Clara clean a house! You want to see true worship? Check out the plants she mothered and prayed over. I still have plants Clara tended and they are still alive! Clara seemed meek, but I assure you, she was MIGHTY.
When she began her treatment for cancer, Clara would go to the hospital and bring joy to every nurse, doctor and patient she encountered. I knew she was sick, and I didn’t know how sick, so a few months ago when she came over to this side of the mountains to visit her (actual) daughter, I went to see her. I brought her some things to keep her warm (she was ALWAYS cold) and I just told her how much she meant to me. How much she added to my life. I felt silly, because she wasn’t “dying” sick, she seemed healthy even, but I knew the end would come at some point- it always does with cancer- and I knew I needed to tell her all the things she had added to my life. I knew I needed to wipe her feet with my tears. I didn’t literally wash her feet, but I wish I had. I washed her feet with my words. I let tears fall and I told her how special and amazing she was. And I’m glad I did because I didn’t get another chance to do that.
Like a mama, she believed in me, cared for me, cheered for me, waited for me when I needed time to learn something and she sometimes stood amazed at what I could do. And I mean simple things like drive a car or move furniture :). Clara made me feel like I was special. If I could do something she couldn’t- she cheered me. If I learned something new, she cheered me. And she did that for many. She loved and cheered and prayed.
So many of the good things about my life came from the prayers of Clara: my husband, our children- both adopted and biological, mended friendships, weight loss, healthy views of others, seeing work as worship and a deeper understanding of a God who is KIND and LOVING and LOVES to bless his children.
You know that story in the bible of the widows mite? That was Clara. When we were raising money for our adoption- she sent out of her lack, not her excess. When the plate was passed- she gave all- not some. Whether the plate was time or money, she NEVER held back from God because she understood that her all was His.
We, and I really mean a collective we- many, many people- have lost a great woman today. She loved so many, so fiercely and you don’t find that kind of person too often, so when you do, you call her Mama and you hang on until the end. Then you wash her feet and you let her go.
Clara, I have wept all night thinking of you and what we have lost on earth because you’ve left, but then I think about the babies you lost tragically and how you’re holding them and I think about the God you KNEW and loved deeply and I know you are right where you belong. I miss you so much already and I’m so, so sad you are gone, but I am so, so happy for you. You are right where your heart was always set- with Him. You lived one life, but you changed the lives of many and I am so lucky to have been counted among them. See you in heaven, Mama.