Most people don’t get to have two moms, but I did. Before Miss Jan was my mom, she was my kindergarten teacher. Now, for a kid, good kindergarten teachers are some of the coolest people in the world. In our kindergarten class, Miss Jan put teeth in coke and let us watch them rot over a couple of weeks. She had rodents in the classroom, and we got to pet them. She brought in an incubator with eggs. She was awesome.
The summer after I was in kindergarten, my other mother, Betty Marshall, died. She and Miss Jan were close friends, and she was trying to get Miss Jan to teach me how to swim at the time of her death.
I didn’t like putting my face in the water to learn to blow bubbles. Miss Jan finally had to lure me to get my face in there by dropping coins on the pool steps for me to fetch, if my face was in the water. I was greedy enough that that strategy worked, but we didn’t progress much beyond that. I’d practiced kicking a bit, but I was a reluctant student.
And then my other mother died.
So Miss Jan told this story, that I don’t remember but know is true. Shortly after the death, someone else took me to Miss Jan’s house for a swimming lesson, and I said to Miss Jan, “My mother wanted me to learn how to swim so I am going to learn how to swim,” and I jumped in the pool. Now, I immediately started flailing around, since prior to this I hadn’t gotten very far beyond getting paid to get my face wet; but she jumped right in after me, hauled me out, held me; and then she taught me how to swim.
Years later, she said she remembered how afraid I looked when I jumped in.
She’s been rescuing me and teaching me ever since that day, and one of the deepest lessons has been, don’t be afraid.
And my friends, my family: that is so biblical. Angels in the Bible say all the time, do not fear. Jesus tells us all do not be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.
And that was at the heart of so much of the wisdom I learned from my mom, Miss Jan.
We were very different. I’m an introvert, and looking back, I always have been. When my parents got married, right here at Christ Church, I was 8. I liked to spend time locked in my room playing with glass animals and reading. She constantly told me, “Go outside and have an adventure!”
I hated that. Which reminds me of something else: she used to tell me, “Don’t hate, honey.” She taught me to use the words “loathe” or “detest” instead. “With ‘loathe’ you can dramatically drag out the vowels,” she said, “and we all know you love to be dramatic.”
I did love to be dramatic, but I loathed being told to go outside and have an adventure. I wanted to stay in my room and read. I realize now that some of that was rooted in fear. “Go outside and have an adventure” is another way of saying, don’t be afraid.
Whether we are introverted or extraverted, we are called into community. Miss Jan encouraged me to go out and be part of a community, whether it was my family or new friends; rather than locking myself away; rather than being a scared little girl who lost her mom.
One of the things I will miss the most is her laugh. As a kid in Iron Springs, I could always tell where she was in camp by her laugh. It carried very well up there, and as an adolescent, honestly, I found that embarrassing; but over the years she taught me, through that laugh, the power and importance of laughter, even during difficult times such as those we are experiencing now. My siblings and stepsiblings have all shared a lot of laughter in the past difficult days, and I know that pleases her.
But there’s something even deeper than the power of laughter. Jan taught me through her loud laugh not to be afraid to laugh the loudest. It’s something I’m still learning; I’m not as good at it as she was. She was not afraid to stand out, to share her opinion, to be herself, to laugh the loudest.
She lived out the biblical mandate, do not fear.
One of the biggest fears of all of us is death. What happens after we die? What happens to our loved ones after they die?
Miss Jan once said, when we were sitting around telling stories about my dad, that she thought heaven would be like that: sitting around a campfire sharing stories. I hope she’s right. Stories bring a lot of laughter. We can get a little foretaste of that in just a few moments. Jan’s four children are going to speak, starting with Scott, and will share stories about our mom. Later, in the parish hall, there will be a microphone set up, and others may have stories as well. I hope so, because that’s how our mom, Miss Jan, envisioned heaven.
We can also hear something about what comes next from our Scripture readings. I love that the Revelation reading has a great multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language. It is going to be a joyous reunion. Miss Jan will be reunited with my dad, with her friend my other mother, with her parents, and with all the people she has lost in her life.
And God will wipe away every tear from her eyes.
One reason this line particularly strikes a chord with me is the way Miss Jan died. Her son Scott, who had scarcely left her side for an entire week, had stepped out of the room. Jan’s beloved sister Pat was in the room with her, and Jan’s breathing had become unbearably labored. Pat told her, “it’s OK, you can let go;” and Jan did, shedding a single tear.
I can picture God taking her gently from the arms of her sister and wiping away that tear. No more painful labored breathing. No more pain. The scripture says no more hunger or thirst. The scripture says no more scorching heat, but for Miss Jan, that wasn’t a problem, as she kept her home at a temperature that her children and grandchildren found scorching.
But she is beyond that now. She feels perfect.
Jan asked that the twenty-third psalm be read today, and the line that sticks with me most today is yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.
We do not need to fear death, because as Christians, we pin our hopes on the resurrection. Miss Jan would not want us to worry about what has happened to her, because she was not afraid. She listened to God and the angels when they told us, do not fear.
Do not be afraid. Learn to swim. Go outside and have an adventure. Laugh the loudest.
Don’t be afraid.