Saturday, March 16, 2013


In a recent email exchange with my mom, she said "Wow, Cris, you should write a book. Well, I guess that's what you have a blog for." I can take the hint.

If I were to write a book one day, the title would have to be Why I'm Blessed. Because any story I have worth telling is undoubtedly somehow connected to the many life adventures and sweet relationships God has allowed me to have.

What we were talking about in that particular email exchange was the funeral of a dear friend of mine, JerryHall (that's how he said it, with the two names running together and ending in a fabulous drawwwwwl that rhymes with Hawwwwwl). I am in Brazil, and I had just finished watching my friend's funeral in Texas. Online. In real time. Not singing along to "My God and I" and "The Greatest Commands" because I could hear the congregation singing so clearly and so beautifully that I much preferred to listen. Waving back through the webcam when Jerry's son, Mike, while speaking about his father, waved to me from the pulpit. Sniffling along with the people physically present during the beautiful and thoughtful closing prayer. This story would be a part of a chapter called "How God has Used Technology to Bless Missionaries in Ways You Might Never Imagine."

This was most definitely my first online funeral experience, and maybe it will be my last. It was made possible by the fact that Jerry's family knows just how much I loved him. They knew (and I told them) how I would have given just about anything to be able to be there. They knew that Jerry and I had a special friendship, although from what I can tell I wasn't the only non-family member whom he made feel precious and loved! He made me feel so precious and loved that his family generously called me an adopted family member, and made the arrangements to place me via computer front row at his service, with the best view in the house of the gorgeous arrangement of flowers placed over his casket.

So how did I get adopted into a cowboy family from Springtown, Texas? That would be another chapter called "That Never Happens." Jerry was an elder at the Springtown Church of Christ, who, in 2008, came down to Natal to visit the missionary family they were supporting at the time. Jerry came with his son, Mike, and daughter-in-law, Sabra, for a very quick visit. They came after Christmas and left on New Years Day. The trip to Natal is exhausting if you plan to stay a month, but such a quick turnaround surely wore Jerry right out. But he chugged along and did his elder business with utmost grace and love. He even took a four-hour road trip in an open Jeep to visit the family of one of our members in the interior of our state. He impressed the Brazilians by drinking Brazilian coffee straight, no milk or sugar (no one does that!). That's when I figured out he was pretty special, that and when he told me his wife's name was Tootie and he had met her on a blind date. I knew this Jerry and I should probably be friends.

So on the one Sunday Jerry was here, he spoke at our English worship service. He simply told the story of the gospel, because it was his favorite, and broke down in tears at the end and said "I can't get through this story without crying." After church that day, he came up to me, handed me a piece of paper with his name and phone number on it, and said "I hear you're going to be in the States fundraising for your work soon. Please look us up." An elder. From a church. Asking a missionary to ask them for support? That never happens.

A few months later I was bold enough to do just that. I drove down to Springtown for a fundraising visit and they had me make a presentation to the church then meet privately with the elders. I was in a dress and the elders were in cowboy boots. Previously that day, Jerry had taken me out to see his pasture/farm/land and it was the first time I'd ever been so close to a cow. He thought it was hilarious that I'd never been on a farm before. After my meeting with the elders, I left Springtown to have dinner with a friend in Dallas. During dinner, a mere two hours later, Jerry called to say they had decided to take over my monthly salary. That was all I lacked to return to Natal. I began to cry, and Jerry thought that was pretty great, too. He loved to tell that story. I had all of the support I needed three weeks after beginning my fundraising. That never happens.

Thus began a lovely friendship between the Halls and me. I was blessed to host Tootie on a Let's Start Talking project the following year. I've been blessed to visit them in Springtown several times on reporting trips, always welcomed into their homes and lives like a daughter/sister/granddaughter. When Franciney and I made our trip to the States last year, I was so excited for him to meet Jerry. What I wanted was for Franciney to know him. What I really wanted was for Jerry to know Franciney, and to give him a hard time, but ultimately, approval. Jerry didn't get to meet Franciney because a few days before we arrived in Springtown he got a call that there was a heart for his transplant and to drive immediately to Galveston for his surgery. So he did. He got in the truck with Tootie and drove himself to his transplant. That never happens....

I am so, so, so grateful I got to see Jerry one last time on my last trip. As his son, Mike, has said since his passing, he wasn't living like he wanted to. He held on for his family, but his health was not allowing him to live the way they had all hoped a new heart might afford. When I sat briefly to chat with Jerry in his living room in January, his first question was "How's the church? How's the work?" and was happy to hear that the church in Natal has grown by leaps and bounds and that the work here is being blessed by God.

I didn't love Jerry because he helped me get financial support. I loved Jerry because he supported me, personally, in ways he didn't even realize. There is no unit by which I can measure the amount of confidence Jerry gave me by believing in me. I didn't expect being a single female missionary to be an easy sell, but Jerry didn't seem to even notice that. I didn't expect him to pay much attention to what else was going on in our church when he came for a visit because it was so quick, but he cared enough to find out about the other ministries God was using and wanted to be a part of them. While he was in the hospital for his transplant, I didn't expect him to remember that he had even missed my visit, let alone who had been with me. But when I called him to say hello, he said "Now I hear I missed you in Springtown and that you brought a young man with you..." I told him I was sure he would approve, and he assured me that he thought so, too.

To me, that was JerryHall. Sweet, thoughtful, generous, committed to God above everything else. I've found a good measure for me when I'm making a ministry decision (and other decisions!) is to ask "Would _____ be proud of that?" I insert the name of any of the many elders and supporters I have in the States, but Jerry's is almost always the first one that comes to mind. I'll have to be even more careful now, because if I know JerryHall, I'm pretty sure he's pulled up a recliner for a front-row seat, getting to watch all of what the many people he loved so dearly are up to.

And I definitely want to make sure he's proud. 

I, regrettably, don't have any pictures of myself with Jerry. I suppose he'd be fine with a picture of me with his just-as-wonderful other-half, Tootie. 

Jerry's obituary in the Ft Worth Star-Telegram

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This is a beautiful reflection! Thank you for accepting the "adoption" from all of us. We are blessed to have you in the family. Blessings to you and all....