The ringing of the phone interrupted an uneventful Sunday evening. I picked up to hear my mom’s strained voice on the other end. Things weren’t looking good for Joyce Smiley, her friend of 30 years and my second mom.

And I don’t use that term flippantly. Our families were intertwined for the majority of my childhood. Vacations, holidays, Christmas tree cutting, peppermint ice cream, Sunday night dinner after church, birthday parties, late night rounds of Kick-the-Can and long Saturdays harvesting veggies from the garden. We were both neighbors and friends. And, over time, we grew to be family. The best kind of family. So the news I received Sunday night felt like a gut punch.

Though diagnosed with Lymphoma at the end of May, it was always understood Joyce would recover. There really was no other option, so we didn’t even consider the alternative. Maybe naive on my part, but others I’ve spoken with over the past week thought the same. Including her family.

She recovered alright. Only one week later. Monday, November 3 at 2:45 a.m. Her earthly clothes were exchanged for heavenly ones. And though I always considered her beautiful, a trademark smile a regular addition to her face, she is now beauty perfected, reflecting the glowing face of her Father.

Hundreds of people gathered at Eastview Christian Church in Bloomington, IL on Thursday night. The visitation was scheduled to run from 4 to 8 p.m. taking into consideration the large number of people expected to file through. When I walked out the door with the last of the family, the clock read 10:23 p.m. Many waited for hours, sitting in long, packed pews watching a DVD presentation of the life of one incredible woman. Some cried, others laughed at funny memories (like the ketchup she put on EVERYTHING). but nobody complained.

I remember when I first discovered Joyce was raised as the only child of deaf parents. A talkative child myself, I thought it sounded like a type of hell. Only child? Deaf parents? What did they do during dinner??? Joyce took it all in stride. In fact, she took everything in stride, growing up to be a beautiful blend of loving tenderness and dogged determination. She could comfort us kids with a gentle hand, but could command us to obedience (during our less precious moments) with a word. Or a look. We all knew Mrs. Smiley meant business.

This is probably why she’s hailed as an amazing teacher. I can still picture her kneeling on the floor, talking eye-to-eye to some needful child. Regardless of age or size, she treated each child like a little man or woman, on their level, as if fully deserving of her respect and patient attention. The result is hundreds of kids, now grown, who once walked through her class believing anything was possible.

In the end, Joyce even took death in stride. Conquering it, in fact, though not quite like we’d hoped. Cancer may have taken her body, but Christ long ago stole her heart. He was her very breath, and is now her  eternal life.

The Smiley Family

June 13, 1943 – November 3, 2008. And, as they say, the dash represents far more than I will even attempt to capture in this post.

Joyce Smiley, I’ll miss you like crazy.

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