For nearly three years I started my work day with a phone call from Carole Cody.
She had been a member of Christ the Redeemer Lutheran and was acquainted with many of our Life in Christ church family. She called LICL one morning and I took the call. We spoke for a few minutes and then she had to go. End of conversation, right?
Nope. The next morning she called again. The following day, she called. The day after that, she called. And the day after that. And the day after that.
Through our wonderful administrator, Connie Kanzler, I learned that Carole was developmentally disabled. Following the death of her father, Carole was living in a group home west of the church on Thunderbird. The phone was free in the morning and so Carole would call. And, honestly, in the first few years of my ministry here, we were a small, but growing church. I had time to talk on the phone. And Carole kept me entertained.
In fact, I looked forward to Carole's morning check-ins. During the time I spent in my previous congregation on Hilton Head Island, SC, the Lord led us to connecting our youth to minister and witness Christ to the developmentally disabled. We worked with a group called PEP (Programs for Exceptional People) and took our kids every year to "HandyCamp," where each youth would spend a week caring for and being with an adult. God produced an abundant harvest of good fruit through that ministry.
Carole began each call with the same question, "How ya doin, George?" Her biggest area of curiosity was people. Carole had an amazing recall for names so she would usually have a list of folks for which she wanted "the scoop." How were they? How was their families? Her concern was sincere and she would say, "I'm praying for them!" And I believed her.
Over time Carole took an interest in my family. She wanted to know all about my dear, sweet wife and our kids and also about Sherri's mom and dad. The conversation was never about Carole. It was always about others.
After Connie became our church administrator, it was she would would answer the phone and make the first contact with Carole. They would talk for awhile and then Carole would ask to speak to "Number One." Connie would issue some mock protest and Carole would tell her something like, "You're Number Two. But George is Number One!"
In her own little way, Carole made me feel important. Who doesn't like to be thought of as Number One? We all have the need to be cherished. We all need to know that someone cares for us. That I was an important little piece in Carole's life was special.
In late 2008 Carole moved to South Dakota to be closer to her extended family. Occasionally, we would talk on the phone but over time we lost contact with her. Thinking about it today, I wonder why I ever allowed that to happen. Our friendship with Carole was special, a gift from the Lord.
Last week we learned that Carole fell asleep in Jesus on April 19. Her family, while going through her possessions, found some of the names of LICL members with whom Carole was close. They sent us a couple of copies of the funeral service bulletin and included a note with a story about Carole. It was pure Carole!
One of our favorite stories is when we were in Target shopping (one of her favorite things to do) and ran into a young mom who Carole knew. The mom had just adopted a handicapped little girl from Africa. Carole talked with the little girl for awhile and then Carole grabbed the mom's hand and started praying for healing for her little daughter right there in the middle of the store. Then, Carole bounded off to shop for t-shirts. The young mom turned to me with tears in her eyes and said, "No one in my church has ever prayed for my little handicapped daughter...but Carole did!" She loved God and she loved people. Her simple, childlike faith was truly an example to the rest of us. Now she is "home" with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
It was a nice way for Carole's family to end the letter - Carole is now at home with her real "Number One," her Savior, Jesus. I can't think of a better place for her to be.