The after-service pancake breakfast was in full swing. Kids and adults milled about the multi-purpose room chatting amicably and scarfing down flapjacks together as one big church family. I was nibbling on a pancake when I felt someone throw an arm around me and give me a squeeze. I glanced up and saw Joan Hargis grinning down at me.
Joan was a bubbly grandmother in our congregation who never missed a chance to give me a hug and a smile. She plopped down on the chair beside me and exclaimed, “Tammie, you inspire me!”
I hadn’t done anything truly spectacular that morning, other than steal the bacon off a nearby toddler’s plate. But I wasn’t surprised at Joan’s sweet remark. Because she often tracked me down at church to offer a word of encouragement.
I gave her a playful poke in the arm and retorted that she inspired me. And I meant it.
Joan shrugged and wistfully remarked that she was just a mother and a grandma. I reminded her that as a mother, myself, it was absolutely inspiring the way she loved and served her family. Her eyes lit up and she proceeded to share tales of her grandkid’s mischief and wax on about how much she admired her daughter-in-law, my friend Jennie, as a wife and mother. Then she gave me one more hug as we got up to leave.
I didn’t know that was the last time I would speak to Joan.
Joan died peacefully in her sleep the following Sunday. We were all shocked by her unexpected death as she was such a beloved member of our church family. My heart broke for her husband, children and grandchildren who were suddenly left with a huge void in their lives.
I had only known Joan for a couple of years. But she was very dear to me. Not only did she consistently cheer me on in ministry and parenting, she set an example of what it looks like to serve your family and steadfastly offer encouragement to others.
Joan believed in the power of God’s word and it was her mission to share it. She hand-wrote encouraging Bible verses on pretty paper and copied them. She filled mini photo books with the verse papers and framed them as gifts. She carried the books around in her purse and passed them out to friends, family, the checkout clerk, the greeter at Walmart … whoever she felt God pointing her to.
Distributing these hand-lettered verses was her own little ministry of love, and she was well known for it. Shortly after her death, stories filled the wire of loved ones and strangers alike who were impacted by this quiet, unassuming practice.
Joan’s approach was refreshing in an age of self-promotion. She didn’t start a movement. She didn’t brag about her ministry on social media. She didn’t attempt to make a name for herself or start a nonprofit. She didn’t try selling the beautiful cards or turning it into some big thing. She simply hand wrote Bible verses and doled out encouragement and truth wherever she went, one person at a time.
Who wouldn’t be inspired by that?
So often we are wrapped up in our work and our families and our mission and our activity that we miss the simple ways we can shine light into the lives of others.
It doesn’t get any simpler than this: write down God’s word and share it.
Through her joyful, intentional and relentless sharing of God’s word, Joan demonstrated that it isn’t hard to hold out hope in this world, it just has to be a habit.
I hope to make it mine.