Mark, Kathy and I stood quietly on one of the white beaches of St. Petersburg, Florida, looking west at the Gulf of Mexico. Mark had driven us there hoping to show us a glorious sunset, but clouds on the edge of subtropical storm Alberto were preventing that.
Still, the muted glow of the sun could be seen behind the bluish cloud bank and above the
|Sallyann and Kathy hold the poodle Pierre in Amarillo in|
1970 near the beginning of a lifelong friendship.
(Photo by Peggy Tredway)
The only flaw in the scene was that there were three instead of four of us. What had drawn Kathy and I to Florida near the end of May was the memorial service for Mark’s wife of 36 years, Sallyann.
Although Sallyann, 59, had spent most of her childhood in Kansas and some of it in Amarillo, where she met Kathy in the third grade, she loved the beach. She had decided early on that she’d like to live in Florida, and she and Mark had achieved that goal, raising four children in various Sunshine State locations.
What made Mark’s new heartache bearable was the fact that the two of them and their children all have been followers of Jesus Christ for most of their lives. We know the promise about eternity that Christ gave his disciples not long before his death: “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2, KJV)
That assurance is familiar to many in the Texas Panhandle, where belief still is strong. It also is where Sallyann received some of her foundational faith as her family was active in Paramount Terrace Christian Church in their short time in Amarillo.
They were here long enough for her and Kathy to become fast friends, listening to Monkees records after school and learning about God in the church youth group. After Sallyann’s family moved to Kansas, their families took frequent vacations together. The two girls spent a year as roommates at a Bible college. They were in each other’s weddings.
After marriage, their connection loosened to phone calls a couple of times a year, but around 2000, they stepped it up. Sallyann visited Amarillo, and the four of us took some trips together.
On a St. Petersburg, Florida, beach, Kathy and Mark
contemplate a loss. (Photo by Mike Haynes)
So the first half of Proverbs 17:17 was going well: “A friend loves at all times…” Then came a cancer diagnosis five years ago, and the second part of that verse became obvious: “…and a brother is born for a time of adversity.”
I take “brother” to also mean “sister,” and I feel blessed to have witnessed a close sisterhood that intensified in difficult times. When Kathy flew to see her friend in Florida, she figured out a way to take Wienerschnitzel chili dogs – Sallyann’s favorite – with her on the plane. She gave encouraging words while listening to updates on cancer treatment. Sallyann reciprocated in many ways, including stitching “Sally-n-Kathy BF 1967-4ever” on an afghan she made for her friend last year.
To be honest, I intended to write this column more generally about friendship and faith with a brief mention of my wife and her friend. But I think they are too good a model to keep to myself and our families. I know many other such friendships flourish, but this is the one I know most about. And it’s one that also includes a father above.
The obituary said, “God was first in every area of Sallyann’s life from how she read through the Bible in a year 15-plus times to her commitment to her marriage, children and church.” I saw firsthand that those words aren’t just platitudes. On our trips together, Mark and Sallyann spent time each morning on a condo porch or a cruise ship deck praying and reading scripture.
Clouds and waves decorate a view of the Gulf of Mexico from a
St. Petersburg, Florida, beach. (Photo by Kathy Haynes)
At the memorial service, a cousin’s words were read recalling Sallyann’s dream decades ago in which God told her she was to work with the deaf. She did teach deaf students for 17 years, and on the day she left us, her deaf, autistic and adopted son, Chris, graduated from high school.
I’m sure there are lessons in this story that I have yet to grasp. I’ve learned a few from watching the servant’s heart of Sallyann’s husband and the love from her children. I suspect I could glean even more from opening my own Bible more often. And maybe enhancing it with a West Texas sunset.