Saturday afternoon, one of my sheroes went to be with Jesus face to face. I can only imagine the huge welcoming embrace he gave her. They were close friends, she and Jesus.
Laura is one of those people that immediately makes an indelible impression. It takes only a few minutes with her to realize that she is someone incredibly special. Though she has always been gorgeous, her laugh contagious and her smile like sunshine, it's not those things that stand out most. She is a presence. Her soul is so deeply beautiful and so powerfully evident it shows through to the outside.
The first time I met Laura, it was in the entryway of my parents' house. We had just moved in, and I was an awkward seventh grader trying to adjust to a new school, new city, new home. She had a plate of brownies in her hand, and had swept in like a warm breeze to welcome us to the neighborhood. She hadn't planned on crying in a complete strangers' house that evening, but I'm so glad she did.
She of course asked us the usual things, what brought us to Omaha and all that, and when my dad shared a little snapshot of our story, her whole demeanor changed. On learning that Dad was a pastor and that God had led us here (totally would have freaked most people out), she broke down in tears and kept saying "you're kidding!" It turns out that she had been praying for the people that would move into that house (us), and that God would send good neighbors. She went on to tell us some of her story, that she had lost her mom to cancer and that the grief journey had been complicated and brutal. I'll never forget that night. It was such a gift that this complete stranger would open up her heart and life to us like that. I don't take it lightly that at a moment when we were all feeling vulnerable and somewhat alone, God sent Laura.
That night of sharing hearts and life stories was the doorway to years of close friendship for our families. I spent cold winter afternoons eating warm molasses cookies at her house, countless days after school playing horse and football and four square in her driveway, spent nights in her house and in the fort in her backyard. My dad did the wedding ceremony of her daughter, and she was an invaluable part of making my wedding day as special as it was. I remember feeling overwhelmed and stressed on the day before my wedding, and had some really personal minor health issues I was concerned about. My mom asked if it was ok if she told Laura, and without hesitation I said, "of course." Laura came upstairs where I was curled up on my parents bed, laid her hands on me, and prayed. And God answered. I feel certain that she's discovering how many millions of her prayers changed things, now that she's with Jesus. I will forever treasure the millions of times walking through my front door to find her in my kitchen or on my back porch with my mom. I am so thankful my mom had a friend like Laura. There is no one like her.
She is an artist, and her whole life here on earth was full of color. She lived exactly like she created: brightly and brilliantly. Everything she touched was made beautiful: her art, her garden, her home. I always envied her house and swore one day I'd have a house like it--where every wall was painted a gorgeous bright color, perfectly chosen by her. When Audrey was a few months old, and Ben and I were ready to buy our first house, we did what we called "the great house swap". Laura's daughter, Lauren, and her husband needed more space and wanted to move closer to her parents, so they bought my parents' house (my parents had been living overseas for a couple years and were ready to sell the house permanently), and we bought theirs. The house they were moving from was just right for us and in our very neighborhood. So we did a little game of musical houses. And when we moved in, I made sure every wall in that house on Chicago St. was a brilliant color. In some ways I know I was trying to be like my shero.
When I was packing up the last of my parents' things and clearing out their house, Laura came over to help. I'm forever grateful for her maternal presence as I said goodbye to my home, to the place where I had made so many memories. She cried with me as we stepped out onto the back deck--the deck where we had all spent so many hours together. I'm so thankful that it's Lauren's home now, and that they're making their own years of memories on that back deck. On many occasions, her hugs and her love have sheltered me, as I know they have countless others.
Laura is truly one of the most beautiful people I have ever met. Her beauty was evident on the outside, but it radiated from within. She was the easiest person in the world to sit and chat with, but her depth went far beyond the surface. She was a deep well of wisdom, some of which I feel privileged to carry with me today. She carried the type of beauty that called out the beauty in others, and always brought out the best in people. She walked with grace and ease, the kind that comes from knowing God and walking with him closely. She loved everyone around her well and fully, and she opened her arms the way I imagine God does to all his children. She walked with God so closely that I imagine her homecoming probably felt like the most natural thing in the world, though we all grieve it deeply. She has left an irreplaceable hole, but I'm so very thankful for it, if it means I was able to know her.
*This tribute is part of a series of tributes to incredible women--"sheroes"--who have had an impact on my life. I want to celebrate, lift up, and express my deep gratitude to women who have inspired me and encouraged me, and changed the way I live my life. Laura is undoubtedly one of those. My heart is heavy with sadness but full of gratitude for the privilege of knowing her.