I met John and Nancy Kimmons when I was around nine years old and my family began to go to their church (Covenant ARP on Greenbriar Rd.) They were very different types of people and I had very different relationships with each of them.
I consider John Kimmons Sr. to be my first adult friend. When I was in high school and whoever was appointed to be our Sunday School teacher never showed up one semester, we spent about six weeks or so on our own….our high school Sunday School class was very small, usually only three or four of us at the most, and we would just hole up in our room (which was in the corner of the church basement) and hang out. One day John popped his head in the window and saw us there without adults, came inside, and became our self-appointed teacher. Well, teacher of sorts. No curriculum. He just talked to us. Like people. He shared his shortcomings, his humor, his faith. Like I said, he was a friend. He was quite open and honest about everything. More than most adults would be with teenagers. An alcoholic, he told stories of where he had been. What it had done to his family. The regret he had that his children had grown up with that man who drank. He talked of his days as a salesman. He introduced me to contemporary Christian music, and would loan me his albums. He had long conversations with me about dating and marriage (I don’t think my perpetual singleness has anything to do with the promise he made me make about making sure I was cherished….and not just loved….when I decided to marry.) He made me laugh often, made me think, and I always felt he had the very manner of Christ. I saw Jesus as a better friend as a result of that relationship.
But oh, Nancy…..Mrs. Kimmons…..our early relationship was a bit different. She had the demeanor of the teacher she was. I kinda always felt like I was getting in trouble when I was around her. OK, often I was usually in trouble. There were a few lectures. When John was laid back and funny and I would have easily done anything he requested of me, Nancy made me want to rebel. Of course, I didn’t. She was tough and I was a bit scared of her!
While John taught me to think about the goodness and forgiveness of Christ, and taught me how to be comfortable with my faith, Nancy challenged me in a different way. For example, I hated….really hated….having to be in the kid’s plays at church. They made me physically ill. I had a tendency to start giggling uncontrollably in my nervousness, or talk with a voice shaking with fear. Not what you want people to see at the point in life where you are approaching adolescence.
It was time for play practice to begin one Christmas and Nancy was in charge. When I told my Mom how much I dreaded it, she said I didn’t have to be in it if I didn’t want to (Mom hates that sort of thing, too.) I went to Nancy and said “Mrs. Kimmons, my mom said I don’t have to be in the play this year.” Nancy knew my issues, I know, and I believe most adults would have just agreed and said it was OK. I thought she was going to give me a hard time and was surprised when she said “If that is what you want to do, Kim, that’s fine.” It was one of those times you turn around and want to do a fist pump. Score! But as I walked away she said “But you say you are a Christian, and you know that God says where you are weak, there He is strong.” Pow!
With great strength I just continued to walk away, but I guarantee there was horror in my eyes. “Why is she doing this to me?” “Isn’t that emotional blackmail?” “I hate her.” Yeah, I think that was the general train of my thoughts. But I kept thinking. And I started praying. And I cried out to the Lord to make me not have to do it. In the end, however, I couldn’t deny that she was right. Yes, I was in the play and yes, it was hard, and yes I had to pray a lot, but it was OK. It was a day of reckoning. If I trust God, sometimes I have to do things I hate, that I am not good at, that don’t come naturally. Sometimes my minutes should be sacrifices, times where I deny me and my comfort, and let God work through the great weakness. (So OK, my whole life should be like that….but yes, I am a sinner. God gets that.) It is a lesson I carry with me to this day and am still trying to perfect. I’m not there yet, but I haven’t stopped trying.
John died when I was in college, and while it was one of my greatest losses, I also was prepared for it. He prepared me. In one of our talks he said “This heart isn’t going to last forever and one day you will hear it has given out. When it does, know that my body will go over to Winston so that medical students can learn from it, and my soul will be more content than ever.” His was a presence just made for heaven, so I was always able to find comfort in that. My life suffered loss when he died, but because I knew how much better he felt having shed that body and damaged heart, I had to rejoice.
During subsequent years, I saw Nancy going about life, seemingly so strong and capable through everything. Yet now I know from talks with her how difficult it was. I know she missed John every day. But she also knew God wasn’t done with her yet, so she spent her time well. She invested in ministries and people. Her first few years moving to Greensboro were difficult, but she knew it was best. She had already learned “When we are weak, then He is strong”….so she put it into practice. I always just thought she was strong naturally. It was pretty amazing to learn how much she had to lean on God, too.
These past few years,, as she was in her 90s, I have seen a difference in Nancy, a vulnerability. She was shakier on her feet, shakier in her confidence. I think she was at the point where she felt she was a resident of heaven, and an alien to earth. As several mentioned at her memorial service, Nancy probably got to heaven and said “What took you so long?” She was ready to go….several years ago. In her own way, like her husband John, Nancy prepared me for her death. She was never as blunt as John about it, but she made no secret of the fact that she longed for heaven.
Like with John, I rejoice that she has shed that body and that her soul soars. Like with John, I will miss her so very much. Like with John, she will never die as long as I am on this earth. My eyes will remain open to the things that they both loved, and I will pray as they would have prayed. The lessons both taught me are part of the fabric of who I am. God has breathed through them into me. They both lived their lives as modern day disciples, and spent their lives investing in others. What a great legacy. What a gift for people like me.
Nancy’s memorial service this week was perfection. The service was so beautifully a gift from her family to her and to their dad John, and Nancy had planned it with her son John (my former pastor and teacher.) Yes Nancy was a planner…and in this case she couldn’t have done it any better and her kids and grandkids couldn’t have executed it more perfectly. There was laughter, there were tears. There was music. The room was full, and when John Jr. asked how many people in that room had been discipled by his mom, hands went up all over. Mine included, of course. I was privileged…I got some of the prime time and the prime lessons. I got the wisdom of someone who not only knew life well, who not only knew God well, but knew me well. The delivery changed as the years went on…..from bluntness and correction, to pure encouragement. She wasn’t my first adult friend, at least as I realized it at the time, but she was my friend indeed.
Nancy’s last words to me were that she loved me, and those were my last to her. The great thing about love like ours is that it goes beyond this earth. The love doesn’t stop by earthly death… it just flows from heaven. Purer, truer, and carried in me with the power of God’s spirit. My hope is that I can pass on the lessons that were passed on to me, and multiply the love. They are great and treasured gifts and were made for sharing. Let me know if you need extra. I’ve got plenty to give and it would be a privilege to share them with you.