In my life, I have been blessed with the acquaintance of the most extraordinary people.
Most of them are not lauded in ways the world tends to celebrate people, but they have influenced my life, and I'm sure the lives of others, in very rich and profound ways.
Three women in particular - all of them passed on - inspired me the most. I'd like you to know them, too. One is celebrating her first birthday in heaven today. Her name is Hollis Ford.
I wote about Hollis many years ago, for the FAITH section of The Herald-News. It wasn't a typical Christian-centered piece, rather it chronicled the courage of this marvelous woman who, after enduring years of abuse on every imaginable level, fought and overcame a brain tumor.
But Hollis' victory was not this triumph over a tumor, especially as her health continued to decline through the years. No, it was the way she tackled a life that hadn't always been kind to her. She did it with her own brand of humor, an upbeat attitude that saw the good in others and the positive in any circumstance, and an overflowing heart of love.
Hollis was never rich the way others count wealth, but she always had something to give, and she gave to me, too: experimenting with various down-home substances and a toothbrush to remove the squueze Parkay stain my oldest son had dripped onto an intricate piece of needlework as I was constructing it to be a family heirloom; a wonderful meal of ham hocks and beans, greens, cornbread, and fried potatoes (with leftover French fries in the mix); and a real joy to see me and spend time with me that no one before or since has shown me.
Because of circumstances not of my making, I didn't spend as much time with this lovely woman as I would have liked. I didn't know until the day of her funeral that she loved to sing, You Are My Sunshine. God blessed that day with plenty of sunshine, and then He blessed a second day with plenty more it, that day in October when I took a letter I had written to her to the cemetary, stood before her smiling photo, and all things I had wanted to say to her in life.
But Hollis had one last gift for me. At the funeral lunch, I didn't know many people. I wasn't family, and I wasn't a close friend. So I finally decided to make the rounds and introduce myself. When I stopped at one table where two older women were speaking, one said she had met me years ago, when I was enjoying a visit with Holllis at her kitchen table.
"I had stopped by," the woman said, "and Hollis had introduced you as, 'My friend, Denise, who works at the newspaper.'"
I was stunned, too moved to speak. Then the woman continued, "She was SO proud to know you."
God, I was proud to know her, too, more than anyone, except perhaps Hollis, ever knows.
Happy 59th birthday in heaven, Hollis Ann Ford!