I thought of her this morning, very early. For some reason, sweet memories of her life came into my mind, and the thinking of her and remembering her brought a smile to my face.
Everyone needs at least one Aunt Norm in their life, I think; a person who will invest in you, be proud of you, be real, and authentic, and somehow ‘always there’ for you. My Aunt Norm was one of those kind of people for me, and I will ever be grateful for the tremendous gift she represents in my life.
When I was growing up, we were privileged to live within a few blocks of my dad’s two sisters and their families. That meant that I got see and play with my cousins several times a week. On those stiflingly hot Mid-West summer nights, it was a common occurrence for all three families to gather at someone’s home for no other reason than just be family. It didn’t seem to matter in which house we met, nine cousins were enough to make any neighborhood a wonderful place to play and pretend and be family. Even though now we’re all separated by the miles, and grown families of our own, I still feel like my cousins are more like brothers and sisters to me than cousins. I love them all, dearly.
But the impact of those gatherings and the years of my growing up went way beyond getting to play as a child. The ‘adults in the room’ (if you know what I mean) had an equally profound impact on my life. And my Aunt Norm was one of those adults.
In my opinion, the ideal aunt is closer to a surrogate mom, I think, than the traditional picture you might have of what an aunt is supposed to be. Take the love and encouragement, the protection and nurture, the ‘I’m so proud of you’ attitude that mothers seem to have for their children, but leave out the “Clean up your room,” and the “Stop doing that,” and the ‘No, you can’t have another piece of chocolate cake” sorts of commands that mothers are also responsible for saying, you’ll have someone who closely resembles my Aunt Norm. I can never remember an occasion when I was having a conversation with her that I didn’t come away feeling like she loved me with a profound affection.
The summer I turned 16, we worked together at Alley Springs State Park where my grandpa was the superintendent. For the nearly twelve weeks of June, July, and August of that summer, on many days, we worked in a concession stand together, meeting campers in the park, selling soda and ice cream and other stuff people need when their camping at a state park. We laughed a lot. No. I mean, we laughed a lot at the things people said, and the predicaments they got themselves into. We became expert people watchers. But we also had serious conversations about life and direction and purpose. Aunt Norm might not even remember some of those conversations. But I remember them. I still remember them.
To my knowledge, Aunt Norm’s never written a book. But she definitely could. She possesses what I call a ‘writer’s eye.’ She can look at scenes that may be unfolding before her, or circumstances that have come to impact her life, and somehow find the best, the truth and meaning in the midst of it all. Her faith and devotion to God isn’t the kind of journey that’s pretentious or ‘church-ee.’ It’s deep and personal and is reflected in what I call the ‘shine’ of her life.
Jesus may have been thinking of my Aunt Norm that day he sat doing the teaching to the crowd in what we now call the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:16, Jesus told those folks to ‘let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your father which is in heaven.’ A reminder to them that they weren’t the people-watchers; they were the ones being watched, that they were being ‘noticed.’
As far as I’m concerned, that’s another way of saying, “Pay attention; the cousins have their eyes on you. You’re one of the adults in the room. You may think they’re just children playing, and running around, and having fun. But the impact of those family gatherings went far beyond childish play. The ‘adults in the room’ (if you know what I mean) had an equally profound impact on my life.
My Aunt Norm understood that truth. She never made a big deal of it. But she understood very well. And the shine of her life has been impacting me since I was just a little boy. Everybody needs an Aunt Norm in their life.
But then, when I think about it, everybody needs to be an Aunt Norm in somebody else’s life, too. It’s not about being an aunt or an uncle.
But the shine of your life is having a greater impact on his life than you can know. So, go ahead. Leave the light on. Shine.”
It’s about being a ‘light.’