Two days after Christmas, our church community lost someone very special.
Bettye Palmer would have been 82 this week.
You probably know someone like Bettye. I hope you do.
Bettye was a widow, and had to use an oxygen tank at all times because of declining health. She was sometimes in a wheelchair, but liked to stand up as often as she could to greet people. Her back was bent, but her face always shone with love and genuine interest in others.
Bettye stood in the front of our church foyer after every service so she could ask all of us how we were doing. She remembered all the details of our lives. She would often ask me about my mother's health, though she has never met her. I could tell that to Bettye, my mother was a real person, not a faraway stranger. On Wednesday nights, Bettye sat where she could take the money for our communal dinner night so that she could talk to people and check up on each of us.
Bettye rarely talked about herself, and you never got the feeling that she wanted to do so. At a time of life when one's own news is often not good--failing health, friends passing away, loneliness-- Bettye found that the secret of joy was in focusing on others. Her body was no longer strong enough to serve, but her spirit and her loving heart were able to minister to everyone, making us all feel that she cared, and she missed us when we were gone.
This Sunday was our first experience of church without Bettye. As I walked in the door, I got a big lump in my throat as I passed the empty spot where she had always stood. I was not alone in this. Of course, someone talked about Bettye during the service today, and many of us wiped away tears.
We all know that our tears aren't for her. We rejoice that she has gone on to a much better place. But it will take a while before we stop feeling that sharp ache when we pass the places in our church where we remember her.
When I walk into the foyer of our church and see that empty place, I will remember this. Bettye was a woman so filled with love, so unselfish, that she literally graced the ground she stood on.
The best way to remember Bettye is to follow her example of grace: to really listen to others, to ask questions, to make certain their lives are real to us, and not to rush so much that we forget to care.
Have you known a Bettye?