~For Kara and Anna
As I have stated previously, I mainly blog to leave for my own children a legacy of my walk with the Savior. When I die, the only inheritance of any value that I can bequeath them is a remnant of my heart for the Lord Jesus Christ wrapped in my own words of struggles and victories, especially with words that always point to Him.
BUT TODAY IS DIFFERENT.
Today I am writing about and for another dear mother, blogger, English teacher, ex-homeschooler, and sister-in-Christ— my dear friend, Erin Sipe. Erin came to Hickory Christian Academy this year originally to find a good place for her daughter Anna to attend but also ended up taking a position of English Teacher right next to my room. It was asked of me if I would function as Erin’s mentor, which really makes me snicker because anyone who knows Erin knows she is an extraordinary master teacher and could easily instruct classes for teachers like me. She was born for many reasons but one, without a doubt, is teaching. Though I did help her with things done the HCA way, I think deep down she knows that she has actually been MY mentor these last seven months that I have come to know and love her. For I have learned so much from her–rich lessons on teaching, communicating, serving, joy in the midst of trials, but most of all living well by loving well and finishing well. There is no doubt that Erin loves her Savior, Her husband, Kevin, Her sweet daughters, Kara and Anna. But her story is deeper and wider.
You see, Erin is dying.
We all are, but Erin is and has been fighting her life battle with an indomitable cancer, and these days she is deep in the trenches and making imminent preparations to see her Savior, but the immediate concern is preparing for her death and how that will affect her husband, children, brother, and parents. Erin has been in her own battle twice with Breast cancer, but it seems now that very cancer has metastasized in her brain. She is being realistic about everything, but she reminds me so much of Christ himself — both a lion fighting strongly against this disease that has never defined her and also as a lamb surrendered to the sovereignty of God and what He has for her. It seems like a paradox, but such is the stuff of those who are being made in Christ’s image.
I am composing this tribute because Erin requested that family and friends would write a note especially to her girls to share anecdotes of their memories and experiences of their momma. These last few months of knowing Erin and her story has reminded me of a Samurai warrior who bravely goes into battle knowing it is how one fights and dies that is the measure of honor. In the movie “The Last Samurai”, the respected leader of the Samurai known as Katsumoto is left to fight alone with a few men for the Japanese Emperor and entrusted to keep the Japanese traditions against those who are moving toward a more westernized Japan. The problem is that the Emperor has been misguided and his own counselors are backing a war against those few Samurai. It is a battle with American-taught Japanese fighters who get their skills from a defunct Civil War hero and drunk, Nathan Algren. But Algren is caught by the Samurai. He and Katsumoto actually become friends, months before this battle ensues. Finally finding peace and purity in the home of Katsumoto’s daughter-in-law, Algren becomes sober, further adopted by the village, and ultimately learns the Samurai ways. Once the war starts, Algren fights alongside the few remaining Samurai with Katsumoto in the lead. It is a total massacre of all of them including the honorable Katsumoto, only Algren remains among “the remains”. Finally Algren reverently carries Katsumoto’s sword to the young, inexperienced emperor who finally realizes how his counselors, influenced by American businessmen, have misled him. As Algren hobbles along with the dead Katsumoto’s sword in hand, he gently bows and deferentially hands it over to the Emperor who asks Algren with tears “You were with him? At the end? … How did he die?” Algren looks at him with great pride in the memory of his dear friend and leader and says, “I will tell you………. how he lived!”
And so I am writing to tell you about my friend Erin, not how she will die…but how she lives. I write because my loving friend asked, I write because I do not want to forget either, and most of all when an English teacher gives you a writing assignment, you do it to the best of your ability, especially if that teacher is Erin Sipe.
So Kara and Anna this is for you, from a kindred spirit and new friend of your mother. And although I have known her for only seven months, it has been one of the richest privileges of my life. You will have many more memories, and may I suggest you also write about them. Write your own legacy where you momma is the sweet thread of faith, hope, and love in your own lives. Here starts my own sweet recollections especially for you but also for the benefit of faithful readers who will be equally inspired and challenged:
As part of my “job” as a mentor it has been a privilege and honor to observe your mother teach. You know how that is because you were blessed to savor many homeschooling days cuddled up on the couch having her read you novels, or explaining historical events, or making sure you expertly document your sources for a writing assignment. I know because I homeschooled my own children for many years. Currently as a mom who recently went back to the classroom as well, I have had the extreme honor of observing your mom teach a lesson for an autobiography unit. Here the students were learning how to collect information and write about their lives, and how to leave a legacy for Christ, complete with family trees, pictures and unique narratives of their own. Of course it was well-planned and executed in the Erin Sipe way.
But for me it was a hallowed moment as I listened to her tell about the legacy of her own parents and especially grandparents — of treasured quilts and stories of romance amidst war-time struggles, and how those trials made her grandparents relationship even stronger. She talked about how your grandmother had hidden jewelry in the oddest places including a flour canister. I got a chuckle out of that! She shared without a skip in her voice which of your grandmother’s rings will be left to each of you when she passes. Of course you know that. What was amazing was how she reported all that without a hitch, knowing she is furiously leaving her own legacy, but not knowing how long she has left to complete such a task. I watched her, neither of us aware at that point how badly the cancer had spread, and thinking hopefully that she wouldn’t have to worry about that too soon. I was so genuinely blessed to experience her heart for you and for family that had gone on before her. Your mom is endowed with a strong passion and intentionality when it comes to loving family, and I was blessed to have a front row seat to not only witness her teaching skills, but share in all the sweet narratives that were exclusive to her and her legacy. That was the lesson for her students, to look for the simple stories that they can treasure for years to come. I pray this little snapshot, along with many others, will be ones you will hold forever in your hearts.
Your mom is lovely, a real southern lady. She is a mix of the traditional with trendy, but always over-riding that is a breezy simplicity, and it works for her. Her outfits are comfortable but with hints of a modern flair. I loved how her blue eyes seems to pierce into your soul and the curl of her lips with delight as she is sharing about something exciting. Amongst other things, we also share big hair. I have to confess that once we became Facebook friends, I was able to look back in time and glimpse photos of your mom’s beautiful honey brown curls. The photos were from a time when the current radiation hadn’t stripped her of its bounteous glory. The Bible tells us that a woman’s glory is in her hair, but since your mom has lost hers, she glows with a more resplendent “God-glory” in her smile.
Nevertheless, I am always amazed at her generous grace when complimenting me on my hair whether straightened or curly. Not once is there ever a hint of jealousy when compared to the “less than” she bravely sports on her head. She could not possess joy for another without gratitude in her own heart and I often saw that evidence in her day to day efforts through her classes and electives, especially drama. My own kids had her for drama and were always amazed at her energy, commitment, and perseverance. I was equally challenged by that as I was tackling my own bout with Mono. Once I found out I had contracted that, I had to back off from my visits with her for fear of compromising any of her health. That was hard to do, but necessary.
In addition, I love the way your mom speaks. Her words are sort of rolled around her tongue as she articulates with accuracy, clarity and a southern flair which I have come to find quite endearing. Yet her grammar is always spot on even if she peppers her speech with “yes, ma’am”, “word”, or a “bless your heart”. I have even adopted her expression “bum-fuzzled” myself because that is too good not to use. Despite, the local color, I am always impressed by her eloquent and smooth communication without a hiccup in its delivery. As an older woman, who has now become slower in remembering terms, I am in awe of how she is able to do that without hesitation and despite all that brain radiation.
Your mom has been a good listener from day one, and occasionally I have asked her opinion on teaching or a student’s situation. She is always self-assured and wise. As busy as she is she never rushes out on me and welcomes me with warm southern hospitality. She spends whatever time she has helping me… you know — mentoring me! My goal is always to bless her, but I come away far more encouraged. Although I am a much older woman than your mom, she is by far the wiser.
Furthermore, Erin Sipe has a generous giving heart, and it spills over all around her like a lighthouse beams across dark waters. At Christmas, in the midst of a huge holiday rush and with break so close to Christmas, she found the time to buy me a thoughtful gift: A warm snuggly blanket, maybe to remind me of my homeschooling days, along with some nice teas. I was really without resources to get her anything and wasn’t sure what would be good enough for her. I brought in a thank you note for her kindness to me, and hoped to do something special for her later. I am praying that this blogpost will be a treasured gift from my own heart. For the record, no one else is allowed to use Mrs. Sipe’s blanket, but every once in a while I find my Naomi wrapped in her English teacher’s warm love.
Another example of her tender heart shone again after I posted a re-release of a blogpost about my daughter, Sarah, who had died sixteen years ago. The title to Sarah’s story was “Daisy in the Desert, Rose from the Grave.” Days later, she gave me a simple mason jar filled with daisies and a rose to commemorate her life. She gave encouraging words about my blog, and that I should keep writing. It meant so much to me. It was almost if she could peer into my own heart and know my own doubts and struggles. It was so sweet and I am still taken aback by the fact that in the midst of your mom’s own battle, she continues to finds ways to love me. I have now pressed one of those daisies as a memory of her gift, love, and life. Like Katsmoto’s sword, it will forever remind me of her fight, courage, and lavish love for me.
Then there was that huge discrepancy in planning, and no one was scheduled to teach Journalism. I had asked if I was to do it, since it was determined at the end of last year that it was likely that I would teach it. But it never showed up on my computer schedule as part of my class load. Your mom’s generous nature took over and she decided to teach it since she had used the same curriculum in the past. I had just finished teaching Literary Magazine and was trying to find time for the final layout and printing. But we went forward with the idea that if she needed, I would take over which I have now done. Yet there again, Erin Sipe is always thinking of others before herself. I had hesitated to let her do it at the time, but I never wanted her to think her offer wasn’t appreciated. It was to me.
Then there was the morning your mom entered my room days after the worst of her diagnosis with brain metastasis. She braves a smile on her face and in her hands were a personalized coffee mug and the very curriculum she used for that legacy unit that I had recently observed and asked about. She informed me that it was now mine to keep. A part of me wanted to hand it back and tell her to keep it —she would be using it again, but I was incapable of nothing more than a sincere, “Thank you.” After she left, I started to weep. How is she so strong?
It seems that the harder the enemy hits her, the harder she fights by loving more and by loving well. That is exactly her next move — to use her cancer for good in “a new movement intended to spread intentional love to those who are experiencing cancer” called L♥ve We11. Even as she continues in the deepest darkest part of the battle, her light shines forth to spotlight the need to care for other cancer patients in the Hickory area with encouragement, care packages, or even food for those who are the doctors and medical support to cancer patients. Though you girls are well aware of it, I would love my readers to see that her story is deeper and wider because her love is deeper and wider. It is best understood by reading in her own words at https://erinwsipe.com/2019/03/20/lets-love-well-whos-in/ , which explains the intent of it, but love is definitely the source and the expression of it.
Lastly Anna, another way that Lovewe11 can be adopted by me and a way I can best love your momma is to also be available to you when she cannot be there. I will never forget the day you came in to my room to proofread your vocabulary sentences. You had said that your mom usually did them before you handed them in to your own English teacher, but that you could not do that because she was gone that day for her chemotherapy. Of course, I was happy and even felt honored that you would choose me to help you. I am always here for you at whatever capacity you need my help. Please come by any time; you are always welcome.
As I close, there are so many more memories that I could add, but they would only be example after example of Erin Sipe’s love for all of us: family, students, colleagues, church friends, neighbors and even strangers – all observed and experienced in a short seven months. Certainly Kara and Anna themselves could write a book on her generosity and love. In fact, that is the strongest theme of this blogpost and most importantly of her life—her desire to want to love well.
I am not sure how or why, but except by the grace of God, I have been somehow thrown into your mom’s story in ways I could never had anticipated at the beginning of this school year. Even now I am compelled to help steward in this small way a fraction of your mother’s story. Ironically, I feel so ill-equipped to do so, but I hope that my words honor and paint an accurate picture of your mom.
Albert Schweitzer is quoted as saying that “The only thing of importance, when we depart, will be the traces of love we have left behind.” That is how my friend Erin lives. And THAT is her legacy lesson!