|Debbie Murray Rice, photo taken at the school where she worked as an Administrative Assistant|
This week Debbie died from a rare disease, amyliodosis, which overwhelmed her liver, messing with her blood's ability to clot properly. Today, in a lovely service at the church where her husband Rob is the pastor, we said goodbye to Debbie. The church was packed with many left standing. The service was a celebration of Debbie's life and her devotion to Jesus, her Lord and Savior. Rob spoke first, followed by each of her four children, then by remembrances from many, many friends, other relatives, and colleagues. Deb was loved by so many people.
Because Debbie and I lived so close to each other we became very good friends. She and I used to cut through our neighbors' back yards to get to the other's house more quickly. I think I spent more time at her house than she did at mine. That was probably a function of how things at my house were usually more crazy than life at her house. I remember sitting on the floor in her bedroom one time playing with makeup. I told her I thought her eyelashes were too curly, she promptly gave me her eyelash curler. I still have it. Isn't it funny the things we remember from the past?
In 9th grade Debbie, Carol (another friend who also attended the service today), and I started a Bible study. It was held at Carol's house and Debbie led the study. Carol remembered that we studied the book of James. I remember swarms of kids attending it. As I think back on it I can't believe that three girls without a lick of training would do such a thing. Without Debbie and her deep faith, which was mature beyond her years, it never would have happened.
In eleventh grade Debbie and I had each read the book by Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking. In the book Peale outlined the tremendous power of faith in action. She and I decided to take the lessons to heart. Every day that school year as we walked home from school together (about a mile) we would pray a conversation with God in a dialogue that would look like a conversation between two friends to onlookers. Everything we prayed was grasping onto the positive power Peale promised was available to believers. In many ways those prayers were transformative in themselves, but it was also a year of miracles. It was amazing to learn how powerful it is to pray positive prayers -- prayers one believes with a whole heart -- will come true.
Our senior year in high school we both had boyfriends who were younger than us. The night after the graduation party, which the boys couldn't attend, Debbie and I went over to her boyfriend's house and climbed in the dog door to see him. Another funny memory. Why didn't we just walk in the front door? And, how on earth, did we fit through a dog door?
Debbie and I didn't go to the same college but we decided to communicate in a round-robin letter with Carol, and another friend, Linda. These were the days before email and phone calls were too expensive. The way it was supposed to work was one would write a letter, mail it to the next person on the list, who would add a letter, and so on until the letter worked its way back to the first person, who would write a new letter and remove her old letter. I don't think it ever worked right. Not once. Why? Because Debbie couldn't stand patiently waiting her turn to communicate with the people down the line and would send it back to the person who had just written because she sensed it was important to communicate with that person in a timely manner. She was always so concerned for other people and was so wise in the advice she gave. Often, over the years, she shared her sage advice with me, too.
We never really lost touch with each other, though we would only see each other every two or three years. It was never often enough but Debbie was always so busy with her four kids and being a pastor's wife. I was busy raising my kids and being a teacher. When I learned that Debbie was sick, the gravity of her situation didn't really sink in. I called and chatted with her after she got out of the hospital and was shocked to learn, at the end of the conversation, that she was still on such heavy-duty pain meds. It just hadn't been a conversation where she seemed anything other than her normal, happy self. I thought she was getting better. When I announced my 60 for 60 (doing something with 60 friends for my 60th birthday) on Facebook, Debbie was one of the first to respond. Yes, let's get together, she said. We scheduled that meeting for Saturday (today) with Carol. Three days later Debbie died and Carol and I had our reunion at her memorial service. That wasn't the way it was supposed to be. Today I was supposed to drive to see Debbie and have a good old reminiscing time together. I feel rotten for missing out on one last chance to say goodbye in person. But do you know what? Debbie was my one friend who would be the first to tell me it was OK, that she loved me anyway.
And here's the thing: I know -- KNOW -- I will see Debbie again. Her spirit is with God now. She told her family on Wednesday that she was ready to go home to be with Jesus. That is where she is now. I believe it. I believe these are the words she heard when she passed from this world into the heavenly realm, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Goodbye, dear friend. See you on the other side!