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Friday, April 3, 2015

In Loving Memory of Debbie Wright (January 16,1959-March 3, 2015)

Here is what I shared at Debbie's memorial service on 3/28/15 at Salinas Valley Community Church.

I almost can't remember a time that Debbie wasn't my friend. We met in December 1989 when the Army assigned me to Fort Ord. We were in the same home group from our church, Emmanuel Fellowship. If you are in the military very long, you move a lot. And you learn as you move that people in your life handle the moving, and the goodbyes that come with it, very differently. Some people always keep you at arm's length, preferring not to get close so it won't be hard to say goodbye when you leave. Some people let you in for a while and then begin slowly pulling away the closer it gets to your departure. Some let you in and then let go of you gradually after you have left. And there are those precious few who let you in and never let go - they remain lifelong friends. Debbie is one of those precious few. She held me in her heart through numerous moves and life changes.  Every time we talked or saw each other, we just seemed to pick up where we left off.

 In the first few months we were friends, Debbie was a job coach for developmentally delayed adults. I am convinced her sense of humor saw her through some tough work days. Ever the storyteller, Debbie would often have us rolling with laughter as she recounted a days' adventures and misadventures. I remember one particular story about a landscaping crew that got carried away with a lawnmower, maybe too close to a flower bed or something like that. The specifics seem a bit hazy now, but I will always remember Debbie's characteristic and humorous take on it: "Things grow back". That became our standard response to everything from yard work gone amok to a bad haircut.

 The last two years I was stationed at Fort Ord, Debbie and I shared a townhouse in Marina. It was a wonderful time filled with lots of laughter and great memories. It was not unusual for me to find Debbie caring for and grooming my cocker spaniel, Radar. She would bathe him and then blow dry his hair and he loved it. I think he would have stayed with Debbie rather than move with me if he had been given a choice. Debbie's unique sense of humor made everything better. We had an extremely sensitive smoke alarm in the kitchen. She was the one who found a sign for our kitchen that said "Dinner is ready when the smoke alarm goes off". It was true more times than I care to admit.

 Debbie was always good about clarifying things. Rather helping me clarify things, and be more precise in my communication, as well as keeping me accountable. I would usually call her to let her know I was on my way home at the end of the work day. The jobs I held at Fort Ord were fairly demanding, which also made my schedule somewhat unpredictable. I remember one evening, probably in the first two weeks we were roommates, I called to tell her I would be home soon. Before I could hang up, Debbie said, "Wait. When you say soon, does that mean like five minutes or maybe an hour"? Whether it was something as simple as when I would actually be home for dinner or more important things like the condition of my heart or my relationship with the Lord, Debbie was the faithful friend who personified the "iron sharpens iron" friend in the Bible. I can't begin to measure the profound and lasting influence she was on me.

From my view, Debbie was one of those people who was always growing and exploring life, content in many ways, but never complacent. I was so proud of her when she decided to go back to school and become a teacher. She inspired me to go back to school, as well, and complete a counseling degree. I have no doubt she was an awesome teacher because Debbie always fully invested herself in every undertaking. If it was worth doing, it was worth doing well.

 Debbie and I both deeply desired to be mothers. Many years after I moved away from California and was stationed in Oklahoma, I completed the training and certification process to adopt. I was in the process of adopting Lacey, in Spring of 2002. Debbie was the one person who sent me a Mother's Day card that year. And although that adoption fell through, as well as another a year later, Debbie and I had countless conversations about our motherhood hopes and dreams.

I was so pleased when Debbie and Haley found each other. They blessed me deeply when they made the trip to Colorado for my wedding ten years ago. It was wonderful to meet Haley and see Debbie being a Mom. Debbie and I had countless more conversations about the realities of motherhood as we walked that path over the last few years. In fact, our last phone conversation was while I shopped in Target with my 6 year old daughter, Emma, for one of her friend's birthdays. Emma knew I probably was not going to buy her anything, but she still felt the need to point out everything she liked for herself as we cruised the aisles. When this happens, a fifteen minute trip easily turns into an hour long excursion. As usual, Debbie rolled with the conversation, and we laughed about why anyone would take one child shopping, let alone more, if they didn't have to do it.

 The last time I saw Debbie was last June. My family and I traveled to California to see family and to spend some time with Debbie. My husband, John, hadn't seen Debbie since our wedding and Emma had never met her. It was important to me that they both know Debbie better and for themselves, rather than just through me. We had a wonderful visit with time to talk as well as see some sights. Debbie was filling out paperwork for a dermatology visit while we were here. She came to a question "What is your general state of health?". She kind of chuckled and said, "What should I say, "I am in great health except for metatastic colon cancer?" Debbie was never one to shy away from tough conversations. We talked about her bucket list and numerous things related to the cancer and the outlook and her concerns. Debbie summarized it by saying, "I don't see it as dying with cancer, but rather living with cancer". John and Emma got to know and love Debbie for themselves. I couldn't ask for more from our trip. She made such an impression on Emma, that when I called to say goodbye to Debbie, in the hospital and already in a coma, Emma insisted on saying goodbye as well as telling Debbie that she loved her.

Most, if not all, of us knew, barring a miracle, that this day, today, this gathering, was coming. We are fortunate that we had warning, that we had some time, that we could say the things we wanted to say and do the things we wanted to do. But this day still came too fast, too soon - much sooner than I was ready for. I still can't imagine life in a world without Debbie. I keep halfway expecting her to walk in and ask what is going on and join in.

But Debbie's hope is our hope - life everlasting in the presence of God. We will see each other again. I may not be able to tell Debbie exactly when I will be "home" and I think Debbie will understand my lack of precision in this case, but I know that day will come for me at exactly the right time, in God's timing, just like it did for Debbie. What a reunion and celebration it will be!

Debbie is already enjoying the reward of a life well lived. She has left an amazing legacy of loved ones and friends. Just look around you. Her laugh, her love, her life, will live on in each of us and others whose lives we touch. "She fought the good fight, she finished her race, and she kept the faith." May we always remember her as we strive to do the same.