This is my friend, Edna Leigh O'Neal. Known to most everybody as Ms. Edna. This picture was taken on our way to the mountains in October of 2007. Ms. Edna told me once she couldn't decide which place she loved more -- the mountains or the beach. Personally, I think she liked the beach best!
I first met Ms. Edna around October of 2000 when we joined Immanuel Baptist Church. She was the Director of the Child Care there. She also took her position as a staff member very seriously and made sure all new members knew they were at the right place.
In 2002, I agreed to teach a Ladies Sunday school class. All of these ladies were older than I was and that was a major concern of mine. I was very intimidated. Our Minister of Education assured me that I was not there to teach "Meggy" --I was there to teach the Bible and "that's older than ANY of those ladies!!!" It was a fairly new class and only had a few members that were currently attending. Ms. Edna was a regular! During the first few months, there were several Sundays where it was just me and Ms. Edna. I learned a lot from this Titus woman and came to love this little lady who stood 5 foot tall in heels (maybe!). At that time her hair was dyed red.
When something happened in our SS class, I would call Ms. Edna and say "How do we handle this?" She always knew the right protocol. Nearly every Sunday afternoon she would call me and we would discuss how the SS lesson went, who was missing and how we were going to contact them. Sometimes that would mean a phone call, sometimes a card in the mail, and sometimes nothing would do except meeting them for lunch. Our class grew and grew to the point that this past September, they were able to start a new class out of ours. When they talked about how they would split it up...I told them "Do whatever you need to do, but you can't take Ms. Edna!"
In 2003, Edna was diagnosed with cancer. This was not in any particular organ...but was a type that built up in the lining of her stomach and the lining that holds all your organs in place. During these first few years, she went through chemo treatments and a couple of surgeries here in town and one down at Moffitt in Tampa. Through all these times she remained faithful in church, to her beloved childcare, and her friends.
Since the doctors did not give her very good chances of surviving this disease (less than 18 months), she decided that for Christmas of 2003 she would rent a beach house at Cape San Blas and invite all her friends and family down to enjoy it with her. She had a great time with family over Christmas...but not many of her friends were able to break away to join her. I was one of those friends invited -- but for various reasons I couldn't get down there. This hurt her feelings, I know...but she never let it show. She just loved us all in spite of it.
After that Christmas, I made up my mind that something like that would never happen to me again. I would NOT let opportunities to minister to my friends pass me by again. So I began seeking those opportunities with Ms. Edna and others in earnest. What a life lesson!
Over the next few years, we enjoyed a sweet friendship. Since she was on big doses of medication, her wings were clipped and I (and many other friends) became her wings. Her husband, Ray, would gladly take her anywhere she wanted to go...but that is just not the same as running around with your girlfriends! Each week we would plan days to run around together. We generally mixed it with EATING somewhere.
During these times she taught me sooooo much! We would go visit folks at the hospital or home...where she taught me to talk to folks I didn't know very well, she taught me how to pray with them and for them. She taught me what it looked like to love the "un-lovely." I never had to ask "What would Jesus do?" I just had to watch Ms. Edna! What an education she gave me. Since I serve on the Women's Ministry team, Ms. Edna always helped me with event planning. She could tell you almost down to the ounce how much food you would need for "X" number of people.
Throughout her treatments, Ms. Edna lost her hair several times. She didn't care! She would rather walk around bald than wear a hot wig. She did wear the wigs some...but she LOVED hats! She had some really wild hats! At a Women's Event (can't remember when), Ms. Edna gave her testimony. During her talk she told us about meeting a little girl at the Lifeway store. Very few children got by without speaking to Ms. Edna because she LOVED all kids and would engage them in conversation, if at all possible! Anyway, this little girl started telling Ms. Edna that she just had her hair cut and they gave her hair to Locks of Love. So, Ms. Edna proceeded to pull her wig off and show the little girl her bald head and explain why it was so good that she had given her hair to them. A little while after their conversation, the little girl's mom came up to Ms. Edna thanking her for sharing this with her little girl. A few minutes later, the little girl came back up to Ms. Edna dragging another couple of kids and asked her to take off her wig and show them! Ms. Edna LOVED it!!!
When Edna was forced (because of her failing health) to retire from the Immanuel Child Care they had a big retirement party for her. She had been the founding Director. She truly saw the childcare as her ministry and had ministered there for 25 years. Needless to say, it was a BIG party! So many of her former "kids" were there to wish her well! Some of the stories were priceless. So many stories about how no other childcare would take some of these kids-- yet Ms. Edna would take them in and love them. Before the "food part" of the party, many people gave testimony of how Ms. Edna had been so important to their families -- at the time I thought how wonderful it was that all of these folks took the time to tell her how much they appreciated her while she was still alive. So many times we wait till folks are gone to talk about how much they meant to us!
Over the past couple of years, we've gone on adventures to the mountains, to the beach, shopping, to the Museum, and so many other little trips. On our last trip to the mountains she insisted on taking my dd, Becky with us. She had pretty much adopted Becky as her grand-daughter. She was always making sure Becky had new clothes to wear for special events, called to check on how her volleyball games went, and was very much Becky's advocate with me--the MOM. Becky mentioned the other day..."Without Ms. Edna, who is going to take up for me now?"
One more quick story... Ms. Edna had spent over two weeks in Hospice House in February as they were trying to stabilize her nausea problem. Many of us thought that her journey might be over during that stay, but she fought on. After her release, I was visiting her in her home just before Easter. Since our church had designated Easter Sunday as High Attendance Day for Sunday School, Ms. Edna and I were discussing our plans for contacting Sunday School members. I had our list of names and phone numbers. From her bed, Ms. Edna started calling up every member, one by one. She left some great messages on answering machines that day. My favorite, by far, was this: "Hi! _____, this is Ms. Edna. This Sunday is High Attendance Day for Sunday School and we want you to be there. I'm dying of cancer, but I'm going to be there...What's your excuse?" THAT, was my dear Edna Leigh!
Today, May 4, 2008, Jesus welcomed Edna with open arms into Heaven and she is more alive than she has ever been! She had fought the good fight for over 5 years. Ms. Edna had many, many friends -- I'm so glad she counted ME in that number! She spent her last days here on earth at Hospice House. I was soooo blessed to be able to spend the night with her two weeks ago and help care for her. We said everything to each other we wanted to say. Ms. Edna was my mentor, my teacher, my sounding post, and truly one of the best friends I have ever had. Today, I am so at peace that I said everything and did everything I could for that precious friend -- but I will surely miss her until I see her again in Glory!