Who doesn’t love a birthday party? Celebration and gifts. Cake and ice cream. No one loved a birthday party better than my sister, Joan.
I vividly remember the day my parents arrived home from the hospital with Joan. Mom got out of the car, and I ran forward, happy to finally see the mother my two-year-old self had been missing and eager to meet my baby sister.
“Mommy, can I carry the baby?”
She smiled her Mona Lisa smile. “Thank you for wanting to help, Glenda. I think I should carry the baby.” She reached into a diaper bag and pulled out a bottle of milk. “But you can carry this bottle.” I felt proud and helpful.
The memory of my mother holding the baby close to her heart as I carried a baby bottle serves as a good image for my life with my sweet Down Syndrome sister, whose earthly body we laid to rest yesterday. I did what I could to help my mother, all of my siblings did, and Joan had a special place in our hearts, but no bond is like that between a mother and child.
In the 1950s, people often institutionalized special needs children, but my parents wanted Joan to grow up with her two sisters and three brothers, as well as the foster sister who later came into our home. As we grew, we all realized that rather than Joan being a burden, she was a great blessing.
From the time I was a little child, it was clear that Joan loved Jesus. And with her unique childlike faith, she knew Jesus loved her. When some of the younger grandchildren sang “Jesus Loves Me” at an anniversary celebration for our grandparents, she sang out with all her heart and voice. As an adult, she professed her faith in Jesus Christ and became a full member of her local church, attending faithfully and tithing the money she earned in a sheltered workshop. There is no doubt about Joan’s spiritual rebirth.
Joan loved people and laughter and birthdays, especially birthdays. She liked the presents and she liked the fun and she thoroughly enjoyed the food. Communication was difficult for her. She rarely spoke more than a word or two at a time. She wrote little more than carefully forming the letters of her name and a few simple words. But she knew birth dates. She could recite the month and day for every family member, including spouses when her siblings married and nephews and nieces after they were born. She could even say the dates for a few of the older nephews’ spouses and my first grandchild. Yes, Joan loved birthdays!
Her own birthday was the highlight of each year. Even when she could no longer recite dates, could hardly see or hear, and became completely dependent upon others for care, she would still tell anyone and everyone that her birthday was May fifth.
Her love for birthdays led us to plan a special celebration of her life that included chocolate cake and ice cream with sprinkles and other toppings. It also led me to write a tribute reflecting a bit of a birthday theme and attempting to capture her unique personality, which blessed my family in countless ways.
The funeral sermon yesterday touched my heart and felt like a special present from the Lord. Pastor Sheldon Starkenburg talked about Joan’s childlike faith. He noted how 1 John 3:2 shows it might be better to talk about human “beings” as human “becomings” and linked that to Ephesians 2:10, which speaks about each believer as God’s workmanship. When God translated Joan to glory, He finished her earthly masterpiece.
How incredible to think about Joan seeing Jesus and worshiping Him without her earthly limitations! Someday He’ll come back and raise her earthly shell from that pretty blue coffin, no matter how much both have decomposed by then, and Joan will be truly and completely reborn. With her, all God’s children will experience the final rebirth of the resurrection. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!