My sweet Aunt Velma was born in 1923. That makes her 92 years old. [Update: Aunt Velma passed at the age of 95.] She is the nicest person I know. Seriously. Aunt Velma never married or had children and I and my siblings became her family. Our children and their children became her interest in the way a grandparent feels about a grandchild or great-grandchild. She was always at every family gathering and holiday. She watched us kids when our parents went out of town. She sometimes went on vacations with us. Our celebrations became her celebrations. Aunt Velma has been a fixture in my life. I love her dearly.
In the past 10 years the relationship between us has developed into something that wasn't there before. It was a close aunt/ niece relationship, but now she has become my role model, my "friend" and my "sister in Christ."
She grew up in a small town and was Valedictorian of her high school class. She went to business college, took the state civil exam, and when she was 20 years old she was offered a job with the state many hours from home. Her father (my grandfather) had to give his permission to the state for her to take the job and move! I couldn't believe that when she told me! Different times.
She built her life around her career, church and friends in that city. Aunt Velma was a feminist - staunchly supporting the ERA and fighting for women's rights. She was a consistent Christian, serving her church in the Presbyterian Women, elder and Clerk of Session, and teaching Sunday School for decades.
Supporting the ERA - Equal Rights Amendment - back row in the middle
Decades later my uncle, her brother, got very sick and she quit her career, left her friends and moved to take care of him; taking an office assistant job that was many rungs below her previous job. He died and then she moved back to her hometown and lived with my grandmother. She took a job at the university in her hometown. Years later when my own mother died, she again switched jobs and moved in with my dad for awhile to help him take care of my handicapped sister. When my dad no longer needed her help, she moved back to her little hometown and got another job at the university. My grandmother then developed Alzheimers and Aunt Velma lovingly took care of her at home until she no longer could walk and had to be moved to a nursing home.
Her whole life was about sacrificing her wants and dreams to take care of others.
This surely puzzles some. That self-sacrificial love for others. It seems by the world's standards that would be an insignificant life. And I suppose on some level I thought that too at the time.
After my grandmother passed away my aunt moved to a small house in her little town, continued working at the university, then retired, and made a lovely life for herself surrounded by dear friends.
I once asked Aunt Velma if she resented giving up her career and life with her friends to take care of others. She said, "Oh no! That is what family does for each other. It was my responsibility."
Aunt Velma started having memory issues and eventually was diagnosed with dementia. Issues started arising like a mail scam and a car accident and I had to get involved. Finally I had to move her to a personal care facility. She had little money in the bank, but she owned her house so I needed to get it on the market and sell it. I made many trips up to clear out her belongings and get her house repaired. People would stop in and help. They wanted to because of what my aunt had done for them. They would continually tell me what a special lady my aunt was. After taking over paying her bills, I found out my aunt gave away 30% of her income to charity. Talk about generous!
Spending time in her little town, everyone (and I mean everyone) had a story to tell me about my aunt. How she took a mentally disabled couple out every Fall at night to go spot deer. How she drove her friends to their doctor's appointments, church events and Bible studies. How she was always "so good" to her neighbor's mentally disabled daughter. How she was the first to cook a meal for someone and visit with them when they were ill or grieving. How she volunteered and served at her church - deacon, then elder, clerk of session, committees, mission trips, officer of the regional Presbyterian Women,... It went on and on. Everyone offered to help me however they could.
My aunt literally had a servant's heart in all she did.
And suddenly in the midst of all of this I found myself somewhat envious of her life. Here was someone who had spent her entire life doing for others. She had given up her important career, her plans, her time, and her money. She lived in a tiny house at the end of a street in a small town. She had never done anything remarkable or been anywhere grand. That had seemed ridiculous to me years ago. But now I found myself longing for what she had - people whose lives had been changed by her and as a result, she really mattered to them. These people who were not her family by blood had become her family through relationship. I had centered my life around my family - my husband and children and my own wants and desires. Had I really nurtured any outside relationships like she had? Aunt Velma had made a rich life for herself. She knew it wasn't about her.
I know Aunt Velma is nearing the end of her life. When she is gone those who only knew her in a cursory way might think her life had no lasting impact. They would be wrong. She may not have had a husband or children, but she loved others profusely. She may not have been rich, but she was generous. She was not self-centered like the rest of us. She poured herself out for others. She impacted so many lives!
Aunt Velma has always loved Jesus. She belongs to Him and serves Him. She modeled to me what a Christian really is - loving and serving others.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,
Philippians 2:3-5 (NASB)
"The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.'
Matthew 22:39 (NASB)
... and all of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.
1 Peter 5:5b (NASB)
..., but through love serve one another.
Galatians 5:13b (NASB)
"But the greatest among you shall be your servant."
Matthew 23:11 (NASB)
What the world values - it is trivial in the scheme of things.
The world doesn't understand what God values.
What Aunt Velma has devoted her life to - being there for whoever needed her - that was what was important. At the end it was what really mattered. It had eternal value. She will have a beautiful crown in heaven.
I am so blessed to have her as an example of a life well lived. A life full of profound significance. A woman who loved the Lord with all of her heart, soul and mind, and loved her neighbor as herself.
She has made the world a better place. We need more Aunt Velmas in this world.
May we all ask God to give us a servant's heart for the time we have left here on earth.