Swinging open my creaky kitchen cabinet doors, I began loading up our mismatched plates. Above the noise of ceramic clanging together, I turned to my roommate and said, “I hope I’m like her one day.”
I was recounting my night at church choir practice, and trying to explain the wonder that is Jean Stone.
Moving towards the utensil drawer, I grabbed a huge chunk of unsorted spoons and forks and just shook my head in wondered laughter.
Jean Stone is 89 years old. She stands a few inches less than five feet tall with a slightly hunched back, but her smile defies her age. She has a quick wit, a sharp mind, and a vast knowledge of music from her 60+ years of teaching. Jean has been sitting in the front left corner of the church choir loft for decades–and let me tell you, these sweet people do take their places verrrrry seriously. Don’t try to mess with that.
Jean is one of the reasons I love singing with the choir at this little old church.
I love spending time with the elderly, and let’s be honest–90% of this choir has white hair. They’ve been sitting in the same spots in the choir loft for years, they’ve cycled the same anthems countless times, and they speak the same prayer in the same rhythm every Thursday night in rehearsal (I’m still working on memorizing that one). They exemplify tradition, and they’ve stood by this church for a very, very long time. Things don’t change often here at this place, but if and when they do–these people won’t be leaving. And I find that beautiful.
Jean first sparked me as simply adorable. I mean, come on! She is eighty-nine years old, still driving herself to church, still standing up with the choir, and still being the Jean everyone adores. She’ll lean over to Virginia and crack a joke, and back to Dolores to ask how her knee feels today. One day, she was wearing a sweatshirt made by her former choir students–it had a stick-figure Mrs. Stone who was saying “SHHHHH” to the class. Oh boy, I wish I had a picture.
You can imagine that after over half a century of teaching, this little lady has quite a lot of music. She invited me over before rehearsal one Thursday, and she had set out all the Soprano anthologies, art songs, and arias that she had in her collection. She handed me a bag to pick out what I wanted, and said “Go to town!” And then, each time I picked up something that she didn’t think was right for my voice, she’s let me know. “Not that,” she’d say, or “Ohhhhh now, ya think that coloratura is right for you?”
I couldn’t help but laugh. That kind of honesty is refreshing. Jean leaned over to me one Sunday after my solo, and she said, “You know what would make that better?” I chuckled, but I didn’t take offense. Jean had taught voice for three quarters of her life, and she knew her expertise wasn’t outdated.
Don’t you see why I want to be like her one day? She’s resilient. She’s aware of her years, but she doesn’t let them limit her. She’s bold, but she looks out for you.
I got a clearer picture of Jean’s resilience when I met her daughter, Shelly. Similar in spunk but much taller in stature, this woman breathed that same joyful air Jean seemed to be high on. From the time I briefly met her until the end of the service, I spent some time observing Jean’s daughter. ‘Observing’ is a less creepy way to say ‘staring at,’ but she just exuded a beautiful exuberance, and everyone who knew her seemed to be drawn to her.
Shelly was gorgeous, for one thing, with lovely, kind blue eyes. Jean seemed absolutely smitten with her, looking up at her with a big ol’ smile on her face.
But as I watched her in the pews from my place in the choir loft, I noticed how intimately Shelly worshipped. It was evident how deeply personal her relationship with the Lord is, and she didn’t seem hesitant to express it. Her worship wasn’t loud, it wasn’t flashy, it wasn’t distracting–but it was very real.
After the service, Jean leaned to me and said, “My daughter is a survivor.”
Cancer survivor, that is.
Then, Jean leaned closer. “She’s one of six kids. Five of them had cancer.”
My heart sank like an anchor thrown overboard. Whoa.
Resilience is like facing the excruciating torment of cancer five times, but waking up each day with a heart that rebukes cynicism.
Jean is resilient.
It’s instilling faith in your children, so that the hardships of life only bring them to the feet of Jesus.
It’s knowing how to rejoice in the faithfulness of Christ, despite the terrible circumstances.
Jean has seen loss. In her 89 years, she has seen more than I could imagine, and still she’s not crass, she’s not guarded, she hasn’t given up on the goodness of life.
Last night, I walked out of church and noticed Jean starting up the engine on her car. She looked so small in that big, boxy thing. I gave her a big, huge wave goodbye, and instead of waving sweetly back, she stuck out her tongue and honked her horn.
I hope I’m like her one day.
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