I don’t recall ever crying on Christmas until this year. The closest I came was probably the year I turned 11 and my brother got a boom box and I got Christmas dishes. That was the same year I met Beth. It was my first rafting trip, the summer before I would enter middle school. A poorly timed practical joke pulled on our raft by Beth’s raft almost left Beth floating down a class 4 rapid, but I anchored her to the side of our boat and we made it to the side of the Rouge River before Blossom Bar.
Sorry these pictures look weird - the computer wouldn't let me put them in except in a bitmap format....the one on the left was taken in 1996 on a Cause beach trip (my sixth grade year) and the one on the right was taken in 2003 on the high school senior retreat.
When I entered the middle school youth group a few months later, Beth was there again. It’s always fun when you already have a history with the cool 23-year-old leader. To say that I was an annoying middle school student would be a drastic understatement. All middle schoolers are annoying. I was the disrupter, the entertainer, the kid who tried to make her friends laugh out loud during communion. Most of the leaders just watched me like a hawk to try and catch me before I became a distraction. Beth just shook her head and smiled THAT smile. She had a great smile.
You should have seen the van Beth drove back then. A boxy blue Astro van might not have been the coolest for a 23-year-old, but it was awesome for hauling us girls to Roth’s for doughnuts in between church services. For months, Beth paid for our doughnuts out of pocket, until we started taking up a collection. I’m pretty sure she still threw away a lot of money on maple bars and bear claws, but she was always happy to stuff us with sugar before we had to sit through Pastor Ron’s First Peter marathon back at church.
Beth turned 24 that next January. In April, when I turned 12, I proudly told Beth that she was twice my age. I was trying to impress her with my math skills, but she just laughed and never forgot the day I started making her feel old.
Every radioactive middle schooler like me needed someone like Beth in their life. Beth was easygoing, but I knew she cared. I wasn’t much for sentiments; reciprocating my love by stealing her floppy sailor hats and making up new variations of her last name: Bartruff. Despite my antics, she never gave up on me.
Funny thing is, even though I always thought I was Beth’s favorite middle schooler in the entire world, I bet there are hundreds of people who felt special in similar ways because of Beth. She made us feel significant – that our problems mattered. For a woman with so many trials of her own, Beth never belittled one of my struggles. She was gentle, and she taught me how to care about others.
I got older, and so did Beth. Eventually, I realized that she needed to be taken care of too. Her fragility only came out at night, when she’d remove her Birkenstocks to reveal swollen ankles, or open up her menagerie of pills to be consumed before bed. In my scrawnier years, I’d walk on her back (upon request), cracking it under my toes, or I’d rub her ankles, if only to provide momentary relief. In the end, I couldn’t fix her; not even with the Jamba Juice I brought her two weeks ago. She was craving Orange Dream Machine that day.
Through it all, Beth was a servant. Her sickness was her thorn in the flesh. Maybe that’s what kept her so humble. She just wanted to serve, and did so by my side on seven mission trips as I transformed from an immature high schooler into a semi-responsible staff member.
She taught me how to tactfully tell a student they needed to dress more appropriately. She taught me how to get people moving when showers were taking too long on mission trips. She taught me how it was ok to laugh at myself. On the day I got married, she was there taking pictures at the reception. I didn’t even have to ask.
I grieve the fact that my baby girl will never get to meet Bethers until Heaven someday, but she will know who Beth was and what she meant to me. Thank you, Beth, for never giving up on me, and helping God turn this loudmouthed middle school rebel into a pastor’s wife who loves her family and the Lord. Fourteen years ago, you stepped into my life, and you never stepped back out. Your physical heart might have failed you here on earth, but I know your true heart of service and unconditional love was strong, because it molded me into the woman I am today.
Happy Birthday Jesus. Your present this year is Beth. Take care of her, because she always took care of me. Tell her we miss her, but understand that miracles don’t always happen when we want them to. Beth’s work here is complete, but the true miracle she leaves behind is that myself and many others will continue on in the Lord’s work, better equipped because of her faithful service.