And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. I Corinthians 13:13
From youngest childhood I remember being told that my birthday fell on the shortest day of the year. It never made sense to me. Did this mean I got a shorter birthday than everyone else?
Only years later would I come to understand the shortest number of daylight hours is the reality of the Winter Solstice. Being someone who loves natural light — so much so that I refused to purchase curtains in the house we had built for many years — the placement of my birthday seemed rather cruel. As the years progressed, I learned to embrace creative lighting features. Step lights on the stairs, creative use of string lights — and of course — candles galore. The over one hundred candles that would be lit in just the dining room and living room alone were always quite the hit at dinner parties.
The power of light is immeasurable. Years ago in a National Geographic article, I read of a solar light developed for use in rural areas. One tribe member declared, “Where there is light there is courage.” And so it has been in my life. The light of unconditional love that was brought into my life from the beginning has left a glow that will forever be emblazoned on my heart.
At birth, a couple who made a large impact on my parent’s lives were asked to be my Godparents. A term that evokes different expectations among a wide swath of observers. For me it was mentors committed to investing in my spiritual development, cheering me on and loving me unconditionally. Ralph and June Schmidt devotedly served this role.
Only one sweet soul has ever called me by my given first name. Named for both a great-grandmother and a cousin, the hyphenated moniker was only used when I was in trouble — the full name employed as parents often do. Since my great-grandmother’s name was simply Kate, I adopted this at an early age, despite my family’s insistence that all nicknames were simply off limits. The irony being that only the name before the hyphen was used.
It is said that you know you are loved when your name is safe in someone’s mouth. There was no sweeter greeting than to hear, “Katharine-Karin, this is Godmother June!” The uplifting words to follow were filled with encouragement, wise counsel and spiritual guidance. Even funny stories and amusing anecdotes were sure to make an appearance. Every time.
I have saved every letter she ever wrote to me and her words on the phone were no less quotable. She was able to see my gifts, while inspiring me to continue to develop my God-given abilities. Tendencies I had sublimated, since others told me I did not possess qualities I sensed were there. When I first began speaking to groups, her words were emphatic. “From youngest childhood, your gift of leadership has been evident.” After the birth of my first child, I called to tell her his name. She responded with the prophetic words, “Samuel Jaymes - a name of great strength.”
The greatest gift she gave me was love that knew no bounds.
Love that refrained from playing favorites. Love that was not performance based; and, most of all, possessed no limits. Visiting my Godparents house in Texas always felt like going home. A safe place where these precious people, though not related by blood, had become family by choice. Whether by phone or in her presence, I knew I had her full attention, concern and care. She served as a warmth to my soul, and to all those she encountered.
Her great faith, cultivated over a lifetime, was always gently on display — never in a self-seeking, self-promoting or over-bearing way. With great humility she shared how Jesus showed her love. A love that was reciprocated and in turn spread out to all around her. Her first name, Alva, was not one she embraced growing up. Later in life, realizing the name inhabited the heart of the word salvation, she celebrated the love Jesus had for her and all people by dying on the cross and rising from the dead. Love God offers now and a place with Him eternally. In John 8:12 Jesus proclaimed, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of light.” In those long, dark nights of the soul, that light has sustained me — even when as a teenager I wanted to extinguish my life. That brightness was more powerful and showed the way toward hope. How grateful I am for the role she had in pointing me toward that glow when I could not see it.
Godfather Ralph left the world just a week before the accident that would change my family and the course of our lives forever. Marking the beginning of a dark time. Eight years later, after the birth of our public journey navigating the healing — just days before Christmas — Alva June Schmidt passed from this life to the next.
Despite her graceful exit from this earth, she lives on through the powerful and inspiring legacy she leaves behind.
My goal has been to make a difference in the lives of others; and that each person I encounter would feel the love of God as I have in her presence. In a past marked with more failures than successes when it comes to this area, I am still motivated to emulate this great woman.
As Samuel and I embarked on the journey of casting light on the scars left by the wounds of survivors, we happened to be in Dallas for the Phoenix World Burn Congress. No trip to Texas could be complete without a visit to Godmother June. Those brief, precious moments did not disappoint as she once again spurred us on in this endeavor.
“There are those who don’t want you to do this, but you must,” she declared. “No one else is talking about this, and it’s about time someone did...think of the hope and healing your story will bring...”
Alva means brightness or exalted one. To a girl born on the darkest day, the spark of faith lit the light of hope which casts the glow of love that will continue brightly.