Special thanks to Doris and Al
Through the holiday season, my heart is drawn to thinking of the people God has put in my path over the years, those people who made or make a difference in how I view the world.
There are too many to list, but each, even if for just a moment of my life, He has used to lighten my burden or point me in a direction I hadn’t considered before.
This past weekend, I went to the memorial service for a beautiful woman who picked me to nurture when I was a young adult.
Doris lived to be 95 and made it her mission in life to be an encourager. When I was a student at Berea College in the late 1970s, she and her husband, Al, entered my life. At first it was by inviting me to their house for dinner after church each Sunday. Then, Doris and Al began checking on me at my dorm, making sure I knew they were thinking of me. Pretty soon, I was a regular visitor at their home, enjoying the warmth of their sincere concern for me.
I became a part of Doris and Al’s family. When I visited, I did chores right alongside them. If I fell asleep on their couch, Doris would cover me with a blanket and tip-toe away. During the years I shared with them, I was a very shy and fearful person. Doris and Al regularly pointed out my strengths and listened to my dreams, like these really mattered. When something happened in school or life that shook my confidence Doris and Al had the insight and wisdom to sooth my spirit.
When the time came for me to graduate from Berea College and move on, Doris and Al encouraged me to take the risk and move to Abilene, Texas for graduate school. They believed I had gifts that needed to be further honed so that I could share these treasures with the world.
Doris regularly sent me letters, often with a dollar included, telling me of their love for me and the faith they had that I would succeed.
When I started dating my now husband, I made sure Doris and Al met him before we married. I remember Doris giving me her blessing for this most important relationship and, oh, how I treasured that blessing! As KC and I made decisions of where to live and work, Doris and Al were prayer warriors for us. And when our babies were born, they were just as thrilled as if they were the blood-related grandparents.
Throughout the 40 years since I took naps on their couch, this precious couple has been a constant strength to me. I have received hundreds of handwritten notes and. though our visits were few times, I always knew I could depend on their guidance and love.
Now Al will continue to be an encourager, but without Doris at his side. Though his grief is great, he says they never feared death and he is grateful for where she is. As I hugged him one last time after the funeral, he looked in my eyes and shared how proud he is of me. Once again. I felt the belief he and Doris poured into me at a vulnerable time in my life and for so many years after.
Who are your Doris and Al? Call them up, or better yet, go visit them face to face so you can hear their voice along with the facial expressions as they talk and feel their embrace as they greet you.
If you don’t have a Doris and Al, my heart aches for you. But you can be a Doris or Al to someone else, someone young and vulnerable, someone who needs to know you believe in them and that their dreams matter.
Nora Swango Stanger, a Lawrence County native and Appalachian outreach coordinator for Sinclair Community College, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.