The girl couldn’t ever remember actually meeting her. There were vague memories of an earlier relationship; when she was just a little one, toddling along with chubby legs, round green eyes and a fly-away clutch of blond wispy hair. Other muddled snapshots flitted about in her psyche; with the timestamp of youth capturing the moment, but not the full memory… climbing trees in the backyard, chasing bees that hung out in the big pinkish flowered bushes, munching on tender yellow and red peaches at the kitchen table, (and suffering with prickly skin from all the peach fuzz). There was the faint smell of dried eucalyptus leaves in the front receiving room, the memory of her intense snapping blue eyes when she laughed and the surprising shock of gray hair that even Einstein would covet. These are the girl’s impressions of their “before-life”.
Aunt May, the sister of the deceased “Tommy” (only southerners would have the temerity to name a very pretty woman who) always took a special interest in “Billy”, Tommy’s only son. His kids were afforded the same measure of affection. She was at once larger than life than her true physical presence accounted for, her sharp mind and intelligent Southern lady persona was the embodiment of a steel magnolia long before the movie coined the phrase.
When the family came to visit her in Orlando, she would jubilantly embrace this rare journey, chatting enthusiastically about the comings and goings of her extended “people”.
Beading in on the girl and her two older siblings, a sister and brother, Aunt May’s even-toned drawling voice would charm them into answering a myriad of questions about their friends, accomplishments, school life, sports and the like. Squirming about in their seats (mentally willing an escape to the sunny outdoors), the children dutifully responded with the requisite yes ma’am and no ma’am, expounding when necessary to meet the expectations of polite southern society; children must be able to speak when spoken to by an elder and show respect, engagement and knowledge. Anything less, was downright rude and showed ignorance and poor up-bringing.
Since Aunt May didn’t get to see Billy and his brood often, these visits could run long until she got every last tidbit of information. The interview often ended with wizened advise offered for all youthful circumstances and then she would joyously pronounce that the good Lord had blessed “Billy and Anne” with such a beautiful family.
It was years later that the girl returned to see Aunt May, who was quickly approaching octogenarian status. The girl, a 16 year-old rising junior in high school, was in the full throes of puberty, confused and struggling with her changing feelings, appearance and abilities. Not fully a woman, but no longer a girl, she found herself excited yet confused and sometimes uncomfortable by the impact her blossoming appearance could have on others. Stares, whispers and sometimes inappropriate comments were not uncommon for her to hear. Struggling to find some level of “fitting in” and companionship in a boyfriend, the girl found herself in deeper trouble, with a push from friends to follow the (party) crowd, sexual pressures and an underlying insecurity of just not living up to the expectations of peers, parents, and teachers.
Teenager life felt incredibly stressful.
So it was one late summer afternoon the girl found herself alone for her visit this time. What and how the conversation came to be is still a mystery and a gift. Though it began as an obligatory visit to an elderly relative, the time spent with Aunt May was one of female kinship and love shared to and with a clueless adolescent…somehow MY Aunt clairvoyantly recognized the turmoil of my heart and mind and targeted the source of confusion very quickly.
We sat and talked about a myriad of things, only ending our chat when the shadows began to grow long across the flowered pattern of her settee in the front room. I don’t even know how or why I was there without the rest of my family. Looking back, it seemed God-ordained. It was weeks later I received a multiple-paged letter from Aunt May, filled with wisdom, kindness and scriptures reminding me of the love and goodness of God, His character and His desire to forgive.
It has been many years since Aunt May has passed; I only shared this same story recently with my Father, her “Billy” who is now an octogenarian himself. I don’t know why I never told anyone, I guess it was because it was an intimate and very private memory… It happened only once, but to be sure her bold outreach to me (a teenager lost in the voices of my day) as a mentor, not a judge was astonishing. The difference in our ages and experience was huge (after all, my Aunt was born somewhere around the turn of last century) – but the common bond of womanhood and understanding of the vagaries of youth was enough to build a bridge over that gap.
I have lost that letter due to the many moves of my life. But its tone and tenor never left me, and the well-meaning seeds sowed into my spirit over time finally bloomed. I have heard it said that all of us are born with a God-sized hole in our hearts, spaces that only He can fill. As humans, we spend so much time trying to fill that hole with things, people, pursuits or ideas. My great Aunt May understood that, though I did not at the time. She pointed me to that truth, and that God is the only thing that can fill us up and make us whole. It would take years for me to finally learn that lesson on my own – but I am certain she had a hand in the planting and watering.
I have had enough life now to be retrospective and recognize the fingerprints of God touching me throughout it and guiding me to my destination in Him. It saddens me to think how long I walked away from Him, and humbles me how long God waited for me to come back. I often think of one of my favourite scriptures, “In his heart man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps” Proverbs 16:9. I also like the Yiddish version, “Man makes plans, and God laughs.” Hah, isn’t that applicable to us all?
So as I end my story of remembrance I pray it will inspire and encourage others. Are you praying for a changed heart or circumstance for someone? For you?
We are told that what seems impossible with man is always possible with God. This is just one awesome example of how God can use one old woman to impact the heart of a foolish child for His purpose.
So, take some time and ruminate over your own life and trace the evidence of His fingerprints on you. He is right there, planting seeds in each situation, bringing along someone to water it, someone to prune and in time, another will harvest. Aunt May knew this…and now, so do I. 😉
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. Isaiah 55