I stink at condolences. I have a hard time sounding truly sympathetic, even when I really am. Everything I say sounds forced, fake, or inappropriate. While some people have the gift of compassion, and can say just the right thing, quote the right scripture, and offer the perfect comforting sentiment, I have a hard time even just saying “uh, sorry for your loss”. Even after living in a country where death is a daily part of life, I still struggle. But, I can write, or so I’m told. So, today I’m writing a bit about a sweet girl named Claire.
It was the Summer of 2003, and only the second time Dan and I were teaching Sunday School alone and unsupervised. We were in a stuffy classroom at a school, which offered a view to the pleasant, warm outside just waiting on the other side of the door. The kids were clearly not thrilled to be stuck inside, listening to us teach about the Ten Commandments or whatever the lesson happened to be that day. They were bored, unengaged, and unsure about their new teachers. A few minutes into class, Claire, age 10, quietly slipped into the room, and tiptoed over to the seat next to a friend. She looked nervous about how the new teachers would react to her late arrival, and sat there quietly. I started to hand out worksheets, and when I came to her, I smiled and said, “Hi Claire!”, and was immediately greeted with a huge, freckled, sparkle-eyed smile. She had a bow haphazardly pinned in her hair, and her avant garde outfit would have made Punky Brewster envious. I was a bit jealous myself; while most 10 year old girls worry about how they fit in with others, she clearly didn’t care. Which was purely awesome. For the rest of that class, every time I glanced her direction, she still had the same big, almost silly, grin on her face.
Claire was only in our class for a few months, she and the rest of the older kids moved up to junior high class shortly after we started teaching. But, over the next several years, she continued to live life with the same big grin, the crazy, yet refined outfits, and a zeal for everything that was hard to beat. I always loved seeing her come to church on Sunday, wondering what fashion theme she would be emulating that week. In a town of 1000 people, most of whom usually wear jeans, cowboy boots and casual tees, she always looked like she just stumbled out of New York City Fashion Week. High heels, chunky jewelry, wild scarves, colored hair, short skirts, nothing was off limits.
Last week, Claire, now 21, passed away after a fast and furious battle following a medical emergency. Her family gathered from the corners of the globe to say goodbye, and ushered her into the waiting arms of Jesus. Over the last few days we have seen pictures and heard stories on facebook about this amazing girl. Times like this make it hard to be so far away, we love this family and it’s difficult to know the town is rallying around them, and we can only wave from afar. But, we are so happy that the community is so supportive, and they are far from alone.
Ten years, hundreds of Sunday School classes (which ranged from dry and boring to exciting and engaging), and hundreds of kids later, I still remember that day in the classroom, and that adorable girl, so clearly. There are kids that we taught every week for years that I have fewer memories of. Not because they were unimportant or boring. I’m not sure why we hold onto certain memories so dearly, memories that at the time seem so mundane. Maybe God knows how important they really are, and just tucks them in our brain a bit deeper, knowing we will want them later. No matter what the reason, I’m thankful to have this one of sweet Claire. We will miss you girl!