I have been blessed to meet many people over the years. Now I’m at a place in life where it feels like I am bidding farewell to just as many people. Whenever I hear that someone has died, I say a prayer of thanksgiving for their life, for our lives together and for God who has welcomed them home.
Over time I decided to write the names of these loved ones in a small journal to remember them on All Saints Day. I also spend time mourning the lost physical connection. And I cry to wash clean any remaining sadness and make way for memories. But recently I felt that these rituals of grief and remembrance still seemed to be missing something.
Faythe Elizabeth Kalkwarf joined the church triumphant July 5, 2016. I had not seen or spoken to Faythe in years. When I heard that she had died, I instantly pictured her face. Memories flooded my heart. I said a prayer of thanksgiving for her life.
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Faythe and I met when I joined the national staff of the American Lutheran Church (a predecessor of the ELCA) in Minneapolis. Faythe served as vice president of the American Lutheran Church Women (ALCW). The church was struggling to become diverse, and I was a long way from my home and my African American community. In those first few years, I had to learn to find the familiar in new places, and Faythe reminded me of my mom.
Whenever the women were meeting in the national office, I could count on Faythe to find me for that mama hug. She would hold me by the shoulders in that “let me look at you” fashion and assure me that I was in the right place.
For me, this was about more than Faythe’s role as a great mom, woman of deep faith and leader of women. It was about more than Faythe’s serving as one of the mid-wives God used to accompany Women of the ELCA through its birth. It was about more than her part in helping to create the poetry that became known as our purpose statement.
Faythe—encourager, cheerleader, teacher—would always mention how much she appreciated something I had done or written. I thought of all of this as I wrote “Faythe Elizabeth Kalkwarf” in my book.
Later, at Faythe’s celebration of life service, her son Jonathan repeated his mother’s advice to “always stay humble and kind.” At that moment I realized what was missing from my prayer and journaling practice. It was time to look at the footprints she’d left on my journey.
As we wind down another year of violence, mass shootings and racial tension with no solution in sight, her oft-repeated words, “always stay humble and kind,” are just what I need to feel hopeful.
Photo of Faith Kalkwarf