by Leslie Dawson, oneLifemaps Facilitator
“You cannot die badly if you have lived well.” St. Augustine
These words were spoken by the minister during the Memorial Service of one of my closest and dearest friends of thirty years and fellow oneLifemaps Facilitator. Debbie Smith recently lost her life to a Stage 5 brain aneurism while filling a pitcher of water at her kitchen sink. It was sudden, shocking, and incredibly sad for she was only 58. While grieving her loss, the Lord has allowed me to take comfort in the gratefulness, goodness and privilege of having a friend like Debbie.
As she mentored me in college, the beginnings of a long, deep, sweet friendship was birthed. How do I describe her mentoring and friendship? Authentic living and loving as we lived life together. Debbie helped me learn how to abide in Christ because she abided in Christ. Jesus was her first love and the lighthouse who guided her. No matter the circumstance, she sought His light. Debbie and her husband Wayne, welcomed me along with many other college students into their home like family. They were truly my first model of a Christian home and family, loving you in all your beauty and mess. Debbie lived authentically and honestly right in front of us. Her vulnerability about her own struggles and weaknesses allowed us to be real and honest about ours. There was no pretense, but grace met us at the front door of their home and hearts.
Debbie knew holy listening. She has been listening well to the Lord and others for years knowing how to hold one’s story in confidence and tenderness before ‘story’ became the operative word. She knew how to have a ‘soul friendship’ long before the recent flurry of books written on the subject. Her gift of physical, emotional and spiritual hospitality provided space to experience life, living it out while talking and praying about it. It was here where I learned about giving and receiving forgiveness. Because she could laugh at herself and not take herself too seriously, I learned how to laugh at myself when I couldn’t keep it all together, but wanted to desperately. Her laughter at me and with me during these times was a blanket of love she wrapped around me accepting me just as I was. I was a complete mess while flying to her Memorial Service, making all kinds of mistakes along the way and flustered beyond belief. I could laugh in that moment because I pictured her giggling at me with her dimple filled smile.
Over the years, Debbie’s mentoring turned into a treasured friendship of mutual trust, love, appreciation and respect for one another which was deep and fun. Knowing how to give and receive in friendship, she was able to rejoice with you even though she might be suffering. When Debbie and I were first exposed to the Listen To My Life maps in 2007, it is no wonder she was drawn to them and wanted to share them with others, helping hold and unfold their stories with God. The maps became a perfect complement and tangible tool to facilitate the work and listening Debbie had been doing for years.
Debbie sometimes talked with a hint of sadness about never having a degree or certificate; a piece of paper with letters behind her name. But as a friend shared during her service, “She had a degree in people and her job was to love them well.” That is one of the highest and rarest degrees. In fact, because she did this so well and with so many, there is a whole ‘Sisterhood of Debbie’ out there reaching far and wide, all connected by this precious life and the friendship we shared with her. How did Debbie know these things? How was she able to love in this way? She spent time with her Savior and Best Friend. She pursued the things Jesus pursued. She sought to love as He loved. She simply lived well with her Father.
Her oldest son Dale, captured Debbie’s essence beautifully, “My Mama had the most colorful heart.” She loved flowers, nature, animals, beauty, mountains, lakes, making and creating, coloring, the beach, hiking, decorating, baking, entertaining, working in the garden, mowing, discovery, dreaming and facilitating Listen To My Life groups. She fiercely loved her children and grandchildren and adored her husband Wayne.
Debbie, “You are a treasured child of the Most High God. He will bless you to be a blessing.”* Thank you Debbie for blessing us well! As we listen to your death, what a gift to see it is merely a reflection of a life well lived.
*Listen To My Life: Maps for Recognizing and Responding to God in My Story, by Sibyl Towner and Sharon Swing
“I have come that they may have life; and have it to the full.” John 10:10
“Dear God, help me to understand what it means for you to live through me, as me. Show me what it means for me to be my true self. Help me to put down anything that keeps you from living through me as you intend. I know you love me and that means I can trust you. Help me when I doubt the truth of your loving intentions for me. Help me to know great joy and contentment in being as you made me to be, and following your lead in every circumstance. Help me to be courageous to do whatever it is you ask of me in my everyday ordinary life, and in whatever else you might have for me. Amen.” Following Forward, Listen To My Life: Maps for Recognizing and Responding to God in My Story, by Sibyl Towner and Sharon Swing.