Mike Bellah

To D’Lynne, on Your 53rd Birthday
by Mike Bellah

Today is January 26, 2004, your 53rd birthday, the first since you left us in September. 

I almost picked up the phone to call you. Just like I almost called when I got back in town after your funeral. Just like I almost called a week ago when I wrote a new column I needed to try out on someone. 

No one told me that loss is a plural noun. For I am missing more than my only sister today. I miss a friend, a confidant, a literary critic, an encourager. I miss the person with whom I could share a favorite book, knowing you would like it as much as I did. I miss the one who loved New Testament grace and hated religious hypocrisy as much as I do, the one who, at the same time, knew her own humanness, who was rarely preachy, just understanding, compassionate and hopeful—things I try to be. 

Of course, I’m not as successful as you were.

 It’s funny. I miss your failures as well as your victories, the weaknesses as much as the strengths. I miss the person who was as bad at remembering family things and sending notes as I am (now I have to shoulder that guilt alone). I miss the one who felt she had to control or fix her children the way I do mine. And tell me, how does it feel to be finished with worry and fear? For me, watching you struggle with these during your illness was like looking in a mirror.

I wonder what was it like to finally let go and fall helplessly into the gentle arms of your Savior. I think of it as getting pushed off the high dive at Conner Park because one just can’t summon the courage to jump. The free fall is scary, but short. And fear is quickly overwhelmed by joy as one’s head emerges from the refreshing water. 

And yet I know the waters you entered were more like the Last Sea of Nania—clear, sweet and restorative. You are young again, and healthy, more fully alive and well than is possible on this earth. So tell me: what is it like to take one’s first breath in Aslan’s Country?

Your husband and children are conducting a private service at your graveside today. They sent me a picture of the marker. Tom chose the right words: “a devoted life of beauty, grace and unconditional love.” 

Do they celebrate birthdays in heaven? I like to think so. I imagine you surrounded today by the saints: King David, the Apostle Paul, Mother Theresa. Paul is telling you how proud he is of the way you stood for grace during your earthly sojourn. David is singing a new song he has composed for you, and Mother Theresa is showing you how your love still lives in your family and friends.

While it’s not exactly a birthday party, this spring we are going to celebrate you, too. You see, your Hidden Falls Ranch friends are building a picnic area in your memory. It will sit east of the office and look toward the Palo Duro. When I stand on the spot now, still undeveloped, I have visions, visions of you and a few campers in 1968, sitting on the canyon’s edge, early one June morning, Bibles open, having a quiet time with the Lord. 

I also have visions of the future, another teenage girl with her young campers sitting at a picnic table enjoying a double dip, chocolate ice cream cone on a hot July afternoon in 2015. A nine-year-old reads the plaque out loud: 

This area provided by the Hidden Falls Ranch Alumni Association in loving memory of former staff member D’Lynne Bellah Stone, 1951-2003.

“I wonder what she looked like?” says the little girl as she searches her counselor’s face for the answer. “I’ve heard she was a pretty blond like you, Chelsea,” says the older girl. “And, like you, she loved Jesus very, very much. You know she spent her whole life serving him.” 

“Then I’m going to be like D’Lynne,” says your new admirer. It wouldn’t surprise me. Admired is what you were and are, in life and in death.

So tell St. Paul your brother also will be wanting to discuss grace with him, and I’ll be looking for you when my head pushes above the water.

Here is a column I wrote about my sister on a happier occasion.

And here is D'Lynne's obituary.

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