Recently I mentioned the job I had in college, serving as youth minister in a small town about 45 minutes from my school. I drove down on Fridays after class, stayed with a family in the church and drove back after Sunday evening services. The town had a population of 450 and about half of them were connected with the Baptist church in one way or another. Almost every kid and teen in town was part of our youth group and it was a wonderful place to learn how to do ministry.
My favorite people in the church were Leon and Jeanne. They were in their sixties, which seemed sooo old to me at the time. Leon had unruly white hair and a constantly grizzled appearance. He could be abrupt and dismissive and at the same time as warm and kind as anyone I've ever met. He loved the kids in the church (unlike many of his contemporaries) and went with us to camp as the boys' sponsor every year. In fact, he was the sponsor the year the boys brought fireworks to camp and were threatened with being sent home, which is how I got to know C, which is another story . . .
Anyway, Leon and Jeanne loved me and invested in me and encouraged me and helped me learn to navigate the world of church politics without being cynical or bitter. I would stay sometimes at their house, a little two bedroom, story-and-a-half white wooden frame home with a wide, inviting front porch. Jeanne did just enough housekeeping to free her up to do the things she really loved--her plants, her dolls, her books, her friends.
The rest of the time, she sat with Leon in the den and talked. I had never seen a couple so close, even though they hinted at difficulties in their early years of marriage, probably due to being so different from each other. They were openly affectionate, even humorously suggestive, and they obviously enjoyed being together. They were the first people I told that I was engaged and showed off my ring. Jeanne talked with me about the importance of commitment and perseverance, telling me that there might be a day when I would absolutely hate my husband (and it might even last longer than a day), but that the rewards of sticking it out would be immeasurable.
She was also the one who told me not to fear getting older. She said, "When you get into your 40s, all of a sudden, you won't care about pleasing everyone anymore. There will be a few people you will do almost anything to please and everyone else can go jump in a lake!" Jeanne was about the only person in those days who could correct me, and I remember a handful of times when she gently showed me that I had been thoughtless or critical or unwise and I was able to listen. I even took Jeanne and Leon home to meet my parents, wanting my favorite people to know each other.
Leon died about ten years ago, leaving Jeanne alone in the old house. I went by to see her and she said that she missed him but that she was happy, that she had many good memories. The occasional visit turned into the occasional letter which dwindled down to the annual Christmas card. This year, my card was returned--"Unable to forward" and no card ever came from Jeanne. I will miss just knowing that she is in the world.