Dear Uncle John,
I first emailed you when I was 12 years old. You didn't have to respond -- you could have ignored your pesty little great niece if you really wanted to, but you didn't. You replied, and your enthusiasm and interest in getting to know me sparked such joy in my young life. Every single day I emailed you and every single day you emailed me back. I wrote to you about life on the farm, about my schooling, my music, my interests and silly dramas, and through all of those things you made me feel as if I was truly a unique and interesting person. You made me feel important. You never belittled me or talked above me; you always brought things down to my level and then in turn brought me up to yours. Never once did you let on to the fact that I was bombarding you with novel after novel disguised in email form (even though I know I was).
You told me stories about your childhood in New York State -- about school and church and home. You told me of the Air Force (and you bragged a little, too, by the way... but that is okay). I learned about your years at Moody Bible Institute. You told me about when you first spotted Kathleen and how beautiful she was. You shared how nervous you were when you first asked her out, and then you shared how shocked and surprised and happy you were when she said "Yes!" when you asked her to marry you. Your bits of advice were charming and endearing: you told me the way to a man's heart was through his stomach, and then you suggested that I get to working on that if ever I wanted to get myself a good husband. You always wrote me on Thursdays after sailing at the river and you would give me a full update on the happenings at the sailing club -- even the "too wet" days that involved more swimming than sailing. I also read your stories about crop dusting and how you sometimes had to dodge power lines and trees while in the air. You told me about your favorite airplanes and you sometimes even bored me with some of the details only a man could appreciate in a piece of machinery. I never told you that, though. Never. You see, you once told me that another way to a man's heart is to talk about what interest him and so, like a smart girl, I quickly learned what those interest were for you. I figured if you could listen to me talk about girly things like my hair and my friends and my little hobbies, then I could at least listen to you talk about an airplane (or the lawn mower, or your latest diet plan, or your need to be at your best "fighting weight" .... ha).
Emails, pictures, phone calls, cards, gifts... you name it and it traveled back and forth from Virginia to Florida. You never missed my birthday and I made it a point to never miss yours. During the years I wrote you, I faced some really tough things and life got kind of messy. I knew that even if I didn't tell you details, you would still be an encouragement to me just by being there. And you were. On my good days and on my bad days I knew one thing for certain: I could always look forward to writing my Uncle John. When you knew I was struggling and even hurting, you offered prayers, scripture verses, sweet comfort and godly advice. When you knew I was happy and excited and facing new opportunities and challenges, you were right there to encourage me on to better and brighter things. When I joked, you joked right with me. When I out-smarted you or got to the punch line first (if that ever really happened...) you were the first to say, "You got me there, Sarah. You got me."
States away you watched me grow and mature and become the woman I am today. I grew up and you grew older, yet in the midst of life and its changes I never grew apart from you. I thought at times our friendship would fade away and eventually die down, but it didn't. I graduated high school and went to college and in a way, you did, too, right with me. You heard all about it. You listened when I complained about a bad grade or vented over frustrating classes and overwhelming assignment. You told me over and over how proud you were and you constantly kept my spirits up with your positivity. It was during those high school and college days that we both learned to adjust to longer gaps between emails, but I tell you what... there wasn't a week that would go by that I would not finally come to a point where I just had to email you.
I could have never dreamed up a story of such true friendship like the one God blessed me with. I never realized the kind of friendship we had until I learned your health was fading. I never realized how much I truly cared until I was faced with the fact that you weren't always going to be there for me. When I learned just how fatal you diagnosis was, all of those years finally climaxed into something I never knew I'd get to experience. You see, within me -- years ago -- a seed had been planted and watered. A seed of Christian love. A seed of Christ-honoring compassion. You put that seed there. Email after email, you taught me what friendship could be. And it was through your sickness that our friendship finally blossomed into something so pure and real that it overwhelmed me with a need to be there for you. You told me while I laid by your hospital bed during your final days that, "The greatest of all things in this life is love." Through knowing you and being there with you during your final days, I can now agree full-heartedly with that statement. I found true happiness by giving all I could to help you. I found myself the most content I had ever been when being right beside you until your very last breath.
Within a week's time I met you for the first time ever and I had to say goodbye. I've never felt such joy and heartache in all my life. During your suffering you never lost your care and concern and ability to minister. As I laid by your side, you asked me about my beliefs and my fears and if I had ever truly lost a person I loved. You offered me comfort and peace and you told me with full assurance that I would be okay. You talked to me about church and Christianity and my walk with the Lord. I talked to you about Heaven and told you how envious I was of you getting to see it first. You asked about my future -- about the details of my wedding day that you would never see, about my plans that were to go beyond your living days, and about the life ahead of me that I would have to face without you. You told me to talk and you laid there and listened. You never once lost your sense of humor through all that you went through. Every chance you got you were teasing me and winking and smiling at me. You laughed at my silly jokes and you cried at my obvious heartache.
In those final days, you asked that I stay with you and watch over you. In all my life I have never given so much and emptied myself to the extent I did while with you. Yet, I can also say that in all my life I have never been so fulfilled and alive inside. Your final days made such a huge impact on me as a young Christian woman. I found strength I never knew I had. I found peace I thought was beyond my read. And because of you, I experienced something far beyond amazing: I experienced the beauty of true friendship.
There are words you spoke to me that will forever be engraved in my mind, but more importantly than that, you will forever be engraved on my heart. To me, you were indeed my great uncle. But you were also a grandfather I never thought I'd get to have and a best friend that I will forever cherish. I thank God for allowing me to be a part of your amazing life here on this Earth. I know Heaven is truly a sweeter place with you there.
Love always and forever,