Reflections on Jan

Jan Fowler Huff passed away on August 19, 2012. She and I worked together at Grace United Methodist Church in Natchez for five years. This week's post is the eulogy that I had the honor of writing and delivering at her funeral on Wednesday.

How can we summarize the impact of one person's life in a few minutes? How can one voice adequately describe our memories of one person?

When it comes to Jan Fowler Huff, the truth is that we can't. One voice in a few minutes only scratches the surface. But we can try. What we can do is to remember the ways that Jesus lived in her.

If there were one word that described Jan's calling, I think it would be "caretaker." She not only took care of her family but also made a career or taking care of children. Our offices were about ten steps apart, and when she was directing the daycare, I frequently heard children coming and going from her office. But I always knew when one of "Nana's Angels," her grandchildren, had come in. Her voice went up about an octave, then she said some variation of the following:

"Do not climb on the desk..... I said "no...." Do not climb.... Oh okay... you're on the desk.... Well, just don't fall."

"Stay in here. Do not run to Pastor Darian's office. Sit down....Oh well..." (Then one of the grandchildren would appear in my office. I truly miss those impromptu visits.)

She lived into her calling as a grandmother by letting those kids do anything they wanted to do! However, there was one image of Jan the caretaker that stood out most to me. About four years ago, a little boy on his first day at the daycare was crying. None of the teachers could calm him down, so they brought him to Jan's office. The crying softened, and I walked over to see what was going on. I found Jan sitting at the desk, surrounded my financial statements and church bulletins, and on her lap was the little boy. She was cradling him, holding him closely, and saying, "It'll be okay. Don't be scared. It will be okay." I remember looking at her and thinking: this was exactly what the church is supposed to be! Holding one another when we're scared. Comforting one another in pain. Cradling each other in love.

As the church secretary, her care extended beyond little children to big children--also known as the members of Grace United Methodist Church. In July of 2007, a frightened, big-haired, 25-year-old recent seminary graduate arrived to feel the daunting role of PASTOR. For my first week in the office, I was in and out of her office constantly, asking questions. How did we do this? What was I supposed to do with this information? It would have been easy for her just to give me an answer or fix the problem. Instead, she told me each time, "You're in charge. That's your job. You're the pastor." Before long, the questions ceased. She believed in me before I believed in myself and encouraged me in my calling as she lived into hers.

The last time I saw Jan was two months ago. I was preparing to move, and she, not surprisingly, had a gift for me. It was a bottle of air freshener "for my new home." This past Sunday, when I found out that she had moved to her "new home" with our Lord, I sprayed some of it. The mist vanished, but a beautiful fragrance remained. Even though I couldn't see the mist, I was surrounded by its beauty. In the same way, we no longer see our friend, our mother, our grandmother, our wife, our daughter, and our sister. But the memory of her is an aroma of love. St. Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus: "Live in love as Christ loved you and gave himself as a fragrant offering." A fragrant offering. A life that loved as Christ loved. May the same be said of each of us as we go forward in this life, that we too are fragrant offerings of Christ Jesus, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.