I doubt I could have been much more than three years old, but I can still remember how I was slouching down in my car seat, trying to soothe the stomach ache I had from being homesick.
My brother and I were staying with my Aunt Elaine and Uncle Ken for the weekend so that my parents could have a little vacation “up north,” as the Michigan parents tend to do. This is the first memory I have of being away from my parents for more than a few hours, and I distinctly remember feeling a little unsure about the whole idea.
Aunt Elaine had already picked up on to my separation anxiety, probably long before I was aware of it myself. I remember staring at her reassuring smile in the rear view mirror as we ventured toward our picnic in the park—it was a little-known cure for homesickness that my aunt had up her sleeve.
When we arrived, my aunt pulled out the quintessential checkered blanket from her picnic basket that she had packed with special treats she knew we’d love. I remember the bright, pink jam she made herself and the refreshing lemonade she poured into glass cups that sparkled in the sun. The scene was like something out of a movie on a sunny afternoon in June… and it was just what my heart needed.
I soon learned that this was my Aunt Elaine’s super power: she could turn any ordinary circumstance into a magical moment that made you feel like the most important human being on earth.
She was always busy in the kitchen preparing something wonderful for someone. But it wasn’t just her cooking abilities that made people begin to feel better (although that surely didn’t hurt)—it was the love and joy with which she did it.
And that day at the park, it wasn’t actually the picnic itself that I remembered most. The drive home is what has remained etched in my mind for over 30 years. It was one of the first pictures I had of the love of God that met my 3-year-old heart in the middle of my homesickness.
As we pulled away from the park and onto the dirt roads, we passed beneath a canopy of oak trees overhead. The sunlight weaved through the leaves in tiny little specks that danced all over the car windows. My brother and I let out squeals of excitement over the beauty of it all.
“Do it again! Do it again!” We exclaimed.
“Alright, let’s do it again,” Aunt Elaine said, chuckling. And with that, she turned the car around to make a second trip beneath the magical tree canopy.
Looking back, it must have been ten times she turned around and drove back down that road again, laughing and squealing with us the whole way.
I’m sure she had a long list of things she could have been doing that day, but instead, she chose to honor the seemingly futile requests of her niece and nephew, just for a little more joy and little more laughter.
My aunt knew these little gestures would one day help my brother and I to understand the kind of joyful love our Creator had for us. And I saw over the years how she wanted every person she met to know this same kind of love—that they were worth driving the extra mile, even if she already driven it ten times prior.
As I grew up, my aunt continued to show me what genuine love for another human looks like—the kind of love that meets a person right where they are with no expectations at all.
I began having social anxiety very young, even at family events. I remember choking my dinner down and asking to leave the table so I could go play in my room alone where it was safe.
But Aunt Elaine would always find me. She would get down on the floor with me and play with my dolls, or maybe start singing, or doing a little dance until I started to laugh… and the fear would begin to evaporate.
I didn’t realize it then, but she was on a mission to convince me I was still worth loving, whether I stayed at the table or ran to my room alone—I was still worth seeking out.
The artful way my aunt loved people brought a little of God’s kingdom here on earth. And now that she has gone home to be with the One who taught her how to love so well, I have been reflecting on how I can continue to love like she did.
Very unfortunately I didn’t inherit her skills in the kitchen, outgoing personality, or crafty homemaking abilities. However, I can tell you I did inherit her goofiness and desire to see others laugh their way to peace and freedom. My aunt wasn’t afraid to be silly and I believe this was one of her most powerful tools for bringing healing to others—it certainly was for me.
Vincent van Gogh famously stated, “The more I think, the more I know, there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.”
When I look at my aunt’s life I can see this love-art so clearly. There is no formula she followed for loving someone well. Like art, her love was colorful, fluid, moment to moment, and always new.
My aunt’s life taught me that loving someone is simply using the gifts you have been given to go the extra mile (or ten) through the wooded road. It’s meeting someone right in the midst of their anxiety to make them laugh, or sing, or dance, or squeal with excitement. These are the artful moments they will always remember… the moments that will help them to believe how very much they are worth loving.