(The following are the remarks I made at the memorial service for my dear friend Connie. Connie lived a quiet, many would say traditional life. She never did anything out of selfish ambition. She sought simply to live a life obedient to her risen Lord. She worked part-time at Santiam Christian, raised four wonderful children, and loved her husband. And along the way she touched the lives of hundreds of people. An estimated 600 of them turned out for her service yesterday.)
Larry and Ann take a moment to look around. I want you to absorb what a gift you have given to all of us through your precious daughter.
You created and nurtured and disciplined and molded that little red-headed sprite into a beautiful and graceful woman, a woman who because she had been so fully loved as a child, could love others with uncommon devotion.
Thank you for being good parents. Connie adored you and cherished her childhood with sisters Chris and Sandy and little brother Doug.
Connie was the first friend I made when I moved from Georgia to Oregon in 1975. We’ve known each other longer than either of us have known our husbands.
Mrs. Geri Moore, our Sunday School teacher, introduced us. She had red hair, just like Connie, only hers came out of a bottle. I think Mrs. Moore hoped that some of Connie’s mannerly ways would rub off my rough corners.
Connie grew up in Portland’s West Hills in a home where formality and tradition were respected and instilled. Connie’s Grandma Gingi was a stickler for manners and her mother Ann had passed that along. She also passed along a deep and abiding appreciation for all things beautiful.
I, on the other hand, grew up in an Army brat in a single-parent home where the hem of one’s skirt or the V in one’s t-shirt was considered an acceptable alternative to a napkin.
Connie was a planner. I flew by the seat of my bloomers. She was thoughtful, considerate and kind. I was everything but that. I’m sure Connie was frustrated with me many times but the only time she ever confronted me was a few years ago.
We were traveling some southern backroads somewhere and I was telling Connie about the biggest mistake I ever made as a journalist. The Chancellor of Higher Ed for the State of Oregon was Joe Cox. I’d written an article where I’d called him Joe Fox. This had taken place years ago and I was only sharing it as a detail in some story I was telling at the time.
Connie asked, “You wrote him a note of apology didn’t you?”
“No,” I said. “I may have called him. I don’t really remember.”
“Well, you will write him now and apologize,” Connie said.
It had been years since I had made that error and it wasn’t like it was intentional. It was a mistake. I told Connie that I had no intention of writing an apology after so many years. She was adamant that I needed to do it because it was the right thing to do.
Mr. Cox, if you are here today, Connie was right. I should have written that note. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.
I’ve often pondered over the years why a mannerly girl like Connie would befriend such a redneck girl like me. I think C. J. said it best when he was a teenager: “I can’t believe you and my mom are friends.”
Don’t feel bad about that C. J. A lot of people have wondered the same thing but didn’t have the gumption to ask it aloud the way you did.
Good for you. Gumption is a trait that your mother possessed.
For those of you not familiar with it gumption is an old word we southerners use when we encounter a person with a lot of spunk.
Connie had spunk in spades. She was as resourceful as summer days are long.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Connie’s characteristics this week, ever since I finally got around to reading that book she kept urging me to read.
One of Connie’s favorite books was “Because of Winn-Dixie.” She loved the story of 10-year-old Opal Bolgna and the mangy dog the little girl adopted and subsequently named Winn-Dixie, after the grocery store where she found him.
Opal’s mother had run off when Opal was a baby. She’d left the infant in the care of a distant but loving father, a preacher man.
In the book, Opal works up the gumption to ask her father to tell her ten things about her absent mother. And so the Preacher does. I know this because I finally went out and bought the book and read it this week.
I’ve told you two things about Connie already:
-She did things properly.
– She had spunk.
Connie was also very mule-headed. That’s just a country way of saying Connie was determined. If she set her mind on something, by golly, not even gale force winds would deter her.
Connie swam competitively during her high school years. When it came around to choosing which event she’d compete in, Connie settled on the 500 meter – the longest event. A fierce competitor, Connie knew that others might be swifter than she, but no one would preserver longer than her.
It was a skill that served her well.
Never in all my many travels and encounters as a journalist and author have I met a person who has lived a more well-intentioned life than Connie.
Every. Single. Thing. She. Did. She. Did. With. Purpose. And. Much Forethought and Prayer.
If she said she was praying for you, buddy, look out. I don’t tell many people this but Connie’s prayers saved my marriage. Truth is, her prayers kept me out of more than one mess in my lifetime.
I think it’s those prayers of hers that I’m going to miss most. Where will I ever find a friend to pray for me as diligently as Connie has done over the years? Where will you?
I probably should have considered my dyslexia before I began reciting 10 things about Connie. I’ve already lost count.
Connie saw beauty everywhere she went. And where she didn’t see it, she created it. The simplest gift was always lavishly adorned. The smallest recognition reason enough for Connie to celebrate.
Connie approached life with wide-eyed wonder. A redbird spotted or a magnolia in bloom, or just a break of sunshine in the clouds, was reason enough for Connie to remark, “Isn’t God good?”
She loved sunshine, beaches, warm or windy, and the window-seat of an airplane. Being above the clouds, she said, was like a view from heaven.
Yellow was her signature color.
Connie was a giver, always thinking of others first and foremost. She wanted to know about how your day went, how your kids were doing, how your job was going, how your mother’s health was holding up. Her focus was always on how could she serve you, pray for you, minister to you.
She was woman of hope, who flat out refused to give sway to despair. When she learned that her coworkers husbands got promotions at their jobs, Connie threw a little party to celebrate. She didn’t wallow in self-pity over the fact that Ed had recently been layed off from his job.
Connie loved Ed as much as any woman has ever loved a man. Never in all the decades we were friends did she ever even utter one little whiny word of complaint about Ed. To here her tell it, Ed was simply perfect. She felt that way when she first met him and she felt even more that way after nearly 32 years of marriage.
And I will never forget standing outside her hospital room and seeing Ed wipe away his own tears as he turned to a Santiam student who was visiting and say, “Hopefully, one day you, too, will find someone to weep tears of joy over you.”
If only Opal Bolgna could have had the sort of mother that Connie has been to C.J., John, Edward and Victoria. There was no greater joy in Connie’s life than being your mother. It made her deliriously happy.
I still remember, C.J., when your folks told us they were expecting for the first time. In typical Connie fashion, she invited us over for a lovely meal. Afterwards, when she cleared the table, there was card underneath my plate. A handwritten note, announcing the good news of your impending birth. It was a night so joyous that the gleam of it still shines bright despite the passing of years.
And who could forget Cousins Camp? What woman in her right mind would take on all her nieces and nephews for a week in the summer when she already had four kids of her own?
Make no mistake about it. Cousins Camp was an intentional act on Connie’s behalf. It was her form of indoctrination. Connie knew if she could get her hands on you all for a week, just one week that you’d be tethered to each other for eternity.
She knew that in the years ahead, you all would gather again to talk about that summer that Jack ran smack-dab into the sliding glass door, shattering it, and John turned the tractor over on himself and how even through all that Connie refused to send anyone home early because, well, all the bad stuff had already happened.
Connie used to claim that life was easier for her because she saw everything through rose-colored glasses.
But I know better.
Connie was the way she was, not because she was born gifted with all these traits. Sure, some may have come natural, like her stubbornness. But her ability to see the good in everything was a direct result of her personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Her brother-in-law recalled being on a walk with Connie early one morning when they were in Australia for Roz & John’s wedding, when Connie came upon a local and struck up a 30-minute conversation about Jesus.
“When I would go along anywhere with Connie,” he said. “she always seemed to find someone that liked to talk about Jesus.”
It’s true. As much as Connie loved all of us, Jesus was her everything.
While interviewing Connie for my next book, she put it to me this way, “People often say I am a strong woman but it is not the truth. The truth is I am a baby. I don’t like things to be hard or sad and especially not tragic for myself, anyone I love, or anyone that I don’t even know.
“I am thankful I know the truth about myself. Being frail and weak to the core has made me deeply dependent upon God’s strength.”
Connie was who she was because she made a choice. A choice to trust Jesus, always, no matter what.
As she said, “I use pain, fear and uncertainty as a trigger to practice the presence of God. I have practiced this for years now and it has become a welcome habit but it is not automatic. It’s a choice every single time.”
I was reminded of Connie’s words this week as I drove through Portland.
There on the street corner I saw those people holding up those big boards. You know the ones that say, “Mattress Discount. Closeout Sale.”
How many of you have ever slammed on the brakes and turned into a store because of those placards?
No. Me neither.
Most of the time I drive by thinking, how sad. I’d hate to be doing that. Can’t they get a better job than that?
I noticed one woman, about my age. She had her hand on her one hip and a disgusted look of anger or bitterness on her face. The sort of look I might have if that were my job.
Another block up, I saw a young man, with his jeans pulled down low, his belt apparently holding his knees together. He had a sign too. He looked totally bored. Like maybe he was using the placard as a leaning post for a nap.
But across the street from him, something else caught my eye. It was a young girl in her 20s probably. She was dancing. Not lewdly. Just happily. Like a toddler in a new dress might do. She had her Ipod in her ears and she was dancing with all her heart. That girl was dancing for joy.
I was so taken with her demeanor that I ran through the light. That’s when I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before – her curly red hair.
And I laughed and cried because I knew that Connie was telling me what it was she needed me to say to you today.
We all have a task to do. Something God created us specifically for. Whether we accept the task that God gives us or not or not is up to us.
During the last few hours of her life, Connie told me, “God’s provision is perfect. His joy complete.”
Those were not just words to my sweet friend. They are the creed by which she lived and died.
Connie approached death in the same way she approached life – with that same wide-eyed wonder and with a steadfast heart.
We all get to choose whether we are going to go through this life like the woman with her hand on her hip and the bitter look on her face. Or like the kid who was bored with it all.
Or like Connie. Dancing joyously, with a song on our lips and a heart full of praise, no matter what.
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