A River Runs Through It

For all of my adult years, I have enjoyed a constant flow of life-giving love and encouragement from a small town, Idaho farm girl. She passed last night from this life into heaven.

Like a river, Jan Feil Dean ran through my life for over 34 years, beginning when I was in high school and fell in love with her brother. She welcomed me into the Feil family even before I was a Feil, and long after I no longer bore that name. When I was injured in a serious truck accident shortly before my wedding day, Jan brought me home to her house from the hospital and tenderly cared for me. She was my maid of honor and helped me plan our wedding, and I counted it a privilege a few years later to attend her wedding to her hero, Wendel, an honorable, true and simple gentleman.

Birthdays, Mother’s Days, Father’s Days, Memorial Days, Thanksgivings, Christmases, family reunions, barbecues, graduations, weddings, births and funerals piled up over the years like gold in the treasure chest of my heart and always, Jan was there. We moved away, but Jan’s love and support moved with us, wherever we went.  She was the first person who made me believe I was special and beautiful and worthy of love, and continued to make me believe it when my life shattered and I was a broken, desperate mess. She taught her children and grandchildren to honor and love me, and thereby allowed me the joy of loving them, too. She was, in turn, my friend, nurse, mentor, confidante, counselor, mother and sister, as well as an aunt and, after her own mother passed, a grandmother to my children.

Jan never lectured me, but instead taught through her example how to be less selfish, more giving; less angry, more kind; less fearful, more trusting; and to experience less pain and more peace. She lived the truth of Exodus 14:14: “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

It is pathetically inadequate to say I was blessed to have known Jan. But say it I must, for her light illuminated many of my darkest places. Much of the good in me today is a result of spending years watching and trying to be like this sister of my heart, who I held up as the gold standard of what it meant to be a Christian wife and mother. Jan would have been the first to tell me how misguided I was in seeking to emulate her imperfect model, rather than that of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who we both knew and loved. Eventually, I came to understand that it wasn’t Jan I wanted to be like, but the Rabbi she resembled and tried to follow.

Scripture tells us that the evidence of our salvation is found in our changed lives, as demonstrated by certain characteristics of the Holy Spirit who lives in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22. Jan was not perfect, but she possessed these qualities in increasing measure as she grew closer to meeting her Maker. I saw her fruit and I wanted my life to produce the same bumper crop of righteousness.

God blessed me by planting me in the rich and fertile soil next to the river of life that was Jan, that I might drink from her soul and become kinder, gentler, and more loving than I would have been otherwise. I am overwhelmed with gratitude to God for his gift of this life-giver. I will miss her sweet presence every day until the day God calls me home and we are reunited in heaven.

Perhaps you have someone like Jan who runs through your life, a person who imperfectly but dependably follows the example of Christ, loving God, loving others and loving you. Someone who lifts you up and fills your cup with her kindness, who leaves you better than they found you. If so, be refreshed by your loved one’s presence, and then seek and find the true Source of their fullness and joy, Jesus, so that you may not just drink for their lifetime, but for eternity.

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