What a Pearl
The luscious aroma of coffee brewing and bacon frying drifted into my nostrils rousing me to semi-consciousness. A joyful voice from downstairs faintly penetrated and sleep escaped. Whose voice is that? I listened intently to a lady with laughter that sounded like music. Auntie Pearl! I raced to pull jeans and a sweater on and bounced down the stairs excitedly.
Auntie Pearl was Mom’s older sister. She’d never married and roamed the world all her adult life. Mom called her a free spirit. Dad lovingly called her a nut. She was a little eccentric but she was also fun! She was like a big kid – never serious about anything. She’d “drop in” almost every summer but we hadn’t seen her in a couple years. We never knew when to expect her – she never called but just showed up.
Mom and Auntie Pearl were sitting at the kitchen table. Mom looked sad but my beautiful red-headed, greened eyed Aunt was smiling and seemed to be comforting her.
“Jennifer darling, how are you? Look at you!” She twirled me around. “You’re all grown up! What are you, fifteen now?”
“Sixteen, Auntie Pearl.”
“Sweet sixteen! And beautiful too! I bet you’ve got the boys running after you, don’t you darling?”
I blushed as she hugged me tightly. I caught a whiff of her Chanel Coco scent and the warmth of her presence filled my heart.
After we hugged Mom asked me to sit down because Aunt Pearl had something to tell me. She was plainly distressed. That alarmed me momentarily but as I looked at my Aunt all I saw was peace and joy on her face.
“Jenny, honey I have something very serious to tell you. My doctor recently discovered I’m terribly ill and have only a few weeks to live. I want to spend my last days with you and your Mama.” She calmly said. “I have already talked to your Mom and Dad and they agreed I should stay here until....it’s time.”
“This is a joke, right?” I searched her eyes for evidence of her typical prank but saw only peace and concern. Mom let out a stifled sob and I knew....it wasn’t a joke.
That summer was the most bittersweet time of my life. A summer I’ll never forget. We had Auntie Pearl for two short months before God called her home. During that time....I found Jesus. All my life I’d heard people asking ‘have you found Jesus yet?’ There He was all the time - living inside my Auntie Pearl’s heart! As she opened her heart to me and shared of all He’d done in her life, I opened my heart to Him.
I discovered she’d surrendered her life to Missions and had been in Africa for two years. When asked why she never told us, she said she didn’t want to “toot her own horn” - it was all about what Jesus was doing in Africa, not her. While there she’d contracted a deadly disease caring for dying children in a make-shift hospital. Long into the night she would tell me captivating stories of the natives and their desperate poverty. There were stories of dying little children who only wanted to be held and loved by anyone who would take time to comfort them. She cried unashamedly when remembering the children and called each one by name. The stories broke my heart but also made me proud of my Aunt for her selfless service.
We sat in the porch swing on summer nights and she’d sing a haunting melody in the Swahili language. She said it was an old hymn called “The Love of God.” I didn’t understand a word but as she sang it...I always felt God’s love even before knowing the name of the song. It was powerful.
Toward end of summer her strength waned. I realized it was time. On a warm August night as I held her one last time, she said goodbye and peacefully drifted off to the waiting arms of Jesus. I cried for a very long time. Then it hit me. My Aunt came to me with a message. I knew Jesus sent her. The message was: Go. Go to Africa and continue the work for Him.
It’s been years since that bittersweet summer. So much has happened. As I write, I’m holding a dying baby girl in my arms with beautiful black eyes. She just loves being held. I call her Pearl.
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