In the last 10 months, we have had many, many goodbyes—some only for a season, but some for as long a life we have on this earth. Saying goodbye doesn’t get easier as we get older. But, as we mature in our faith, we cling to the promises of God’s Word not with a grasp that merely “wishes” those words are true—rather we grasp them tightly knowing them to be experientially true, tested, and proved. We can trust that God is good and His Word is true.
This is my beautiful Aunt Karen, or as my kiddos call her, “Aunt Kitty.” I reflect upon thousands of memories in my life that have her in them. I think about Sunday mornings at church where we would often be the first two to arrive to “our pew”—at least it seemed like our pew because as our family grew over the years with husbands joining the family and then kids, we took up the entire row or sometimes two. These Sunday mornings in our pew were short little moments that we shared, but it was a sweet time of catching up from our week. Then, there are countless memories of sitting next to each other in church, worshiping our Lord Jesus together, singing praises to Him and listening to His Word. Many Sunday afternoons we would gather together as a family at one of our homes for lunch or a simple Sunday snack filled with chocolate chip cookies, a hot coffee, and of course Rick Steve’s Europe.
I think farther back in my life when I was only 8 years old and my aunt first moved to Norman. One of the earliest memories I have from that time was when she took me, my mom, and my sister to see the Ice Capades at the fairgrounds. We had such an exciting time and then driving back home, we stopped to enjoy a delicious milkshake—a treat that my aunt truly loved!
When I was nearly 9 years old, I began playing basketball. I played in local leagues, AAU competitive leagues, off-season, and in-season for high school. For 10 years of playing the game, she was always supportive—coming to countless games along with my sweet grandmother, clapping and cheering me on from the stands with the rest of my Peetoom family entourage.
When I went to college to study art, again, my aunt was supportive—coming to my art shows and keeping up with how things were going for me. When Neil and I had the crazy idea to open up the first gelateria in the area, Aunt Karen was there encouraging us all along the way. She was there as we were scrambling to finish the build-out of our space, there on opening day with a smile and complimenting our creation, and there day after day buying our gelato to support us in our business. It was always a pleasure to be working and then enjoy a surprise visit from my aunt. We would enjoy such special little conversations over a cup of gelato at il Dolce.
During the 5 hard years that Neil and I struggled with infertility (that incredible story is for another post), Aunt Karen didn’t need to fill the space with empty words. She encouraged me just by being near and being available. She would offer me a hug and a smile and that was often all I needed. When the Lord abundantly blessed us with both of our boys, she was so very excited for us. She loved spending time with us watching the boys giggle and play. One thing she loved brings us back to Sundays at church. After the service was over, she couldn’t wait for us to go get the kids out of the nursery. They would come wobbling into the sanctuary and be bombarded with adoring hugs and kisses.
When I was little, I spent hours in her home trying to sit with good posture at her lovely piano taking lessons. Steccato, Fortissimo, Crescendo, Good Boys Do Fine Always, and All Cows Eat Grass. She was so patient with me, because let’s face it, I just didn’t practice like I should have. Oh, how I wish I would have listened to her and stuck with the lessons for longer than I did. Now, I can only poke around at the keys and play a bit by ear. She, on the other hand, played magnificently! Several years for Christmas in our church, she played the piano to Oh Holy Night as my sister and I sang. It was so much fun to sing and play together.
She loved music—loved to play it, sing it, and she breathed in the movement of it. There were several special nights when our family would be spending time together that she would request the boys to play their guitars. My dad, Neil, and Adam, (my musical and very artistic brother-in-law) would all put on quite the jam session for us as we would sing along. I remember one evening during the holidays very vividly. I can see twinkling lights on the tree in my parents house that I grew up in. I can smell the aroma of cinnamon, apples, and pumpkin lingering in the air from my mother’s baking. I can see the faces of the ones I love, full of warmth and smiles full of joy. I can hear the strum of the guitars, the fullness of each key on the piano, and the carols of voices celebrating the Savior who came to earth on Christmas day.
Because my aunt had a relationship with Christ and wanted to see other people in the world have a relationship with him, it’s no surprise that she was again supportive of me and Neil when God called us to move to Rome. When we began making preparations to move and selling all of our belongings, the hardest part was saying goodbye to those we deeply loved. The last time I saw my aunt was a year ago last Christmas. She gave me the biggest hug I’ve ever had from her. As tears filled our eyes, we knew that no matter what the future would hold, the God we served is in control and is always good!
Just two months ago, my aunt was diagnosed with cancer. I have listened to the testimony that she lived as she faced this brief but strong battle of cancer these short 8 weeks. She didn’t complain. She didn’t ask “why me.” She trusted her God and praised His name. She is a role model for me. I pray that I can be like my precious Aunt Karen—living a life that guards the words that come out of the mouth, encourages and supports others, and praises God in the most difficult of circumstances.
“The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for in God the Lord we have an everlasting Rock.” —Is 26:3-4
I am so blessed to have spent 26 years growing up and living life side by side in the same town as my Aunt Karen. My life would not have been the same without her in it. I rejoice that I have the confidence in Christ that I will see her again some day. The next “jam session” we’ll have together will be filled with instruments that play melodies and sounds that we’ve never even heard as we sing praises together along with the voice of the nations worshiping the One True King.
I love you, Aunt Karen!