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My Tribute to Connie

Posted on: February 10th, 2016 by Christy Jansma

Dear Church,

After worship on Sunday I came back to our house and to the vacant family room that was Connie’s “home” for the past nine months. She wasn’t there to ask me about church … or about the message … or whom I’d spoken with. The happy sounds of grandchildren greeted me as I entered, but Connie’s absence screamed more loudly. She’s gone. It’s permanent and irreversible. So final. The empty family room was a stark reminder that she’s not coming back. This nightmare began ten months ago with her cancer diagnosis, and last weekend I awakened to the harsh reality. I miss her dearly and I’m beginning to understand why C. S. Lewis described the loss of a spouse to be like an amputation.

Our marriage was not perfect, but it was very good. In some ways marriage is like a crapshoot, and I won. Big time! We never really know who we’re marrying until some time has elapsed. There are indicators that a prospective marriage has chances of succeeding or failing. But I didn’t know about those markers, nor did I care much, when I asked Connie to marry me. A recent interaction with a friend prompted me to think about why I married her. Here are the things that attracted me to her:

•She had a heart for God and desired to serve Him.
•She and I shared values from similar families of origin.
•She admired me, showing respect from our early dating.
•She desired to be married and have children, as I did.
•She was attractive, both physically and in her personality.

Today as I reflect on our life together and anticipate standing by her grave tomorrow, my heart swells with pride and is broken with sorrow. Here are my written words of tribute rather than a blubbering, incoherent attempt at her funeral.

Devoted Wife – She loved me more than I deserved. She cheered me on and encouraged my dreams. She was always ready to support me on the next adventure, even when it was a cost to her – a new ministry, further studies, ministry trips. I have a library of joy-filled memories of our years together. We’d often laughingly say that we had enough sex to last 2 lifetimes (sorry if that’s TMI). While we lived relatively independent lives in our respective ministries, we were devoted to each other and enjoyed our times together (usually). While money was short, in the first 25 years especially, she never once complained or resented it. While she had preferences and dreams she was never demanding. Three of her dreams remain unfulfilled and that leaves me disappointed – a cruise vacation, a new house, an encore trip to Hawaii. Thankfully she would never hold these against me.

Nurturing Mom – She often said that her greatest accomplishment in life was her five children. I had a front row seat to see her deep commitment to mothering. She chose to remain at home for 20 years to fulfill that calling. Rearing five children on a modest single income forced her to be resourceful. She knew how to make a dollar stretch, and somehow was able to create rich memories for our kids. She proved that money is not a requirement for enjoyment. Family camping trips were memorable shared experiences, although requiring extra work from her. She committed to know and understand the unique personality of each child and then attempted to develop it. When the time came, she embraced each of the spouses our kids chose and loved them as her own children.

Engaged Grandma – She began her role as grandma at 48, with energy to burn. Although not present at the actual birth, she made a point to visit each family soon after the arrival of each grandchild. She viewed the delivery as a sacred moment to be shared by each couple, and would say “I wasn’t there for the conception, so I shouldn’t be there for the delivery”. None of our grandchildren lived in Lethbridge, but she ensured that our home was a welcoming place for them. Boxes of dolls and toys, dress up clothes, lego, craft supplies all neatly stored in their place. Cousin Camp, with its extra work, was a recurring event for 7 summers. Birthdays for each grandchild was always acknowledged. One of her disappointments in recent months was the realization that she will not be present for Ruthie when she gives birth, Lord willing. How she wanted to be there! For Ruthie, and to hold her babies.

Student of the Word – While I’m proud of her domestic achievements and her deep commitment to family, her life was more than that. We were both students at Briercrest Bible College when we met. She went back to school in her 40s to finish her B.A. While I was studying at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) she audited all the classes she could handle. She noted with sadness this past October that this is the first fall in our married years that she was not leading, or at least attending, a Bible Study. She loved the Word. During my student days in Chicago she felt privileged to be in a study with Olive Fleming Liefeld (one of the four missionary widows with Elizabeth Elliot in 1956). Jill Briscoe was a cherished mentor. She constantly had at least one book on the go and had a collection of titles she’d loan to those she was mentoring. She learned to enjoy watching the news with me and then to connect the dots between current events / trends and theology.

Pastor / Mentor / Friend – I well remember the weeks before her first day “at the church” as she was beginning her vocational ministry. She was wondering with me what she would do and how she would fill her time as “Director of Women’s Ministry”. After being at home for 25 years it was a daunting challenge. She quickly caught on to shepherd the hearts of many women. While her formal role was half time, she was often unable to limit it to 20 hours. She loved to watch people’s lives transformed by the Spirit and the Word. She touched the lives of many, often in crises. Over these ten months of her illness the number of cards and letters to her was remarkable. I’m pleased that she had these months to capture a snapshot of her impact. The outpouring of tributes on Facebook over these months is a public sampling of the appreciation. I’m immensely proud of her. Our church will miss her and her ministry.

While it may appear otherwise to some reading this tribute, our marriage was not perfect. We annoyed each other with regularity. It was a surprise to me that in recent months while walking through her cancer journey the annoyances continued, albeit in muted tones. Over the years she was annoyed by my aggressive driving habits and my impatience on the road. She was often irritated when out for a walk with me and I’d be half a block ahead of her. We would disagree with each other about details of stories from the past, although they were inconsequential. I was irritated by some of her mannerisms that now don’t matter. Over the years we had recurring conflict between us on the use of money. Forgiveness was routinely needed by both of us as we committed to our relationship, rather than to being right. I share this to assure you of our humanity. I worry about those reading this tribute who are living with your own regrets. Any impression you have that ours was a “perfect” marriage may tempt you to give up. Please don’t. I encourage you to keep going and to create a renewed marriage with fewer regrets. It’s worth the effort.

I’m forever grateful for a memorable final conversation that I had with Connie early Monday morning, on February 1. Rachel and Ruth, who were sleeping on the floor near her, were awakened because she had “things to say to Dad”. The girls woke me at 3 AM to summon me to her bedside. As I bent over, she wrapped her arms around my neck with all the strength she could muster. Her words were garbled, some of them incomprehensible, as they had become in the previous week. She told me that she was at peace and ready to go. She thanked me for our 40 years together. We spoke of our children and the blessing they are to us. She told me she’d asked them to care for me. We spoke about our mutual love and commitment. Reflecting on “our verses” in Hebrews 12, I told her she’d run her race well and was almost at the finish line. I reminded her that we, her friends and family are coming right behind her. Wanting assurance that she was acceptable to a holy God, I reminded her that Christ is our Saviour and that only He can save us. Christ does not redeem us on the basis of the measure of our faith, because a little faith in a great Saviour is sufficient. I ended our conversation reciting the Aaronic blessing from Numbers 6 over her. After those 20 sacred minutes I went back to bed, treasuring our conversation as it echoed in my mind. Words fail to describe how rewarding it is to arrive at this point in our lives with no regrets.

Remembering with thankfulness,

Ian

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