I didn’t know Kelly very well. But she made a significant impression on me the first time we ever met.
I was visiting at David’s church, for the first time. I knew NOBODY, other than David, and felt more than a little bit self-conscious since I was the “stranger in their midst.” But after the service was over, there stood Kelly. She had reddish hair, and glasses, and a huge smile on her face. “Hey there, my name’s Kelly, and we’re SO glad you are here today!” Then, with a big hug, she added, “Love ya!” And then she bounced down the sidewalk, in search of her husband Kirk.
As David and I continued to see each other, I’d attend services at the Winnsboro Church of the Nazarene about every other Sunday. And every Sunday, without fail, Kelly would speak to me, hug me, and before we parted she’d say, “Love ya!” She truly made me feel good. I began to look for her smiling face at church on Sunday mornings.
Aside from small chit-chats at church, I only got to really talk with Kelly one time. We were invited to a Labor Day cookout at the home of some mutual friends. It was there that I learned a bit more about her life.
Like many of us, Kelly’s life had been full of ups and downs. And some of the downs had plunged her into deep despair and self-destructive behavior. But when she was able to crawl up out of that dark hole, she began giving credit to Jesus Christ for her salvation. She would tell folks far and wide that Jesus had made a profound difference in her life. When she got back on her feet again, she began visiting the women in the local jail, offering them encouragement and friendship. As she said to me, “I have been there and I KNOW what they are feeling. I also know WHO can help them more than any human they’ll ever meet!” Kelly didn’t judge people by their actions or circumstances. Rather, she became a friend to the friendless, a champion for the down-and-out, and most of all, a follower of Jesus Christ who “walked the walk” as well as she “talked the talk.”
I looked forward to developing a close friendship with this lady. She was a few years younger than me, full of vitality and spirit – a joy to be around! I never heard her say anything bad about anyone – she looked for positive things to say about people. Kelly made me smile. It was impossible not to feel joy when she was around, because she just seemed to glow with the love of Christ.
And without fail, she ALWAYS would say “Love ya!” when we parted company. Whether it was an email, a phone conversation, or a face to face visit, Kelly’s last words would always be “Love ya!”
One evening, David called me with some devastating news.
Kelly had been stricken ill very suddenly, and within hours she had passed from this life into the next one. In shock, I hung up the telephone. She couldnt be dead, she was only 45 years old! I could not believe that I’d never see her again, or feel one of her hugs, or hear her say “Love ya!” She was too young to die, I angrily prayed to God. “We NEED more people like her down here on earth,” I told Him.
And God said to me, “Kelly was ready to be with me. I know you will miss her. But she left her legacy to you. When you think of Kelly, you will know what to do.”
I knew what He meant.
Kelly’s legacy is one of sharing the love, sharing the hope, sharing the Gospel through actions.
36"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'[b] 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'
In these verses from Matthew 22, the Bible tells us to love God and love people. Those are the two main commandments, and Kelly gave us a beautiful example.
Kelly left this earthly home March 17, 2007 -- two years ago. As time has passed, I’ve made an effort to live up to her legacy. At first, it felt awkward saying “Love you” to people. Sometimes people are shocked when they hear you tell them that you love them. But it began to feel more and more comfortable, the words became easier to say. A few weeks ago, as my students left on a Friday afternoon, I said, “Yall have a good weekend, and hey – I love you guys!” Some of them giggled at their crazy teacher, several of them said, “I love you too!” and a couple lingered at the door to give me a hug. I like to think that maybe Kelly’s presence was in those hugs too.
At church this past Sunday, a poem Kelly wrote was enclosed with our bulletin. With her husband’s permission, I am sharing it here.
By Kelly Culbreth
I know that I’m a dreamer,
My feet six inches off the ground.
But, for those who do not dream,
True happiness is seldom found.
I know I’m a hopeless romantic,
Believing the myth of Mr. Right!
But those who dare not hope,
Soon lose their will to fight.
I know that God speaks to me
Through the voices of my brothers
For inside us all is a piece of God
And above us Angels hover.
I know that I am special,
God’s numbered the hairs on my head
I have a destination
And by His Grace I’m led.
Sometimes I fear the future,
Clinging to obsolete ways of the past.
But in Him is the needed courage,
All I have to do is ask.
I know now life has much to offer
And I want my piece of the pie,
Fighting for the elusive Brass Ring,
And fighting, I will die!
I know that I can change the world,
Be it only my little space,
There love will bloom like springtime,
And apathy has no place.
You see, I’ve learned the reason for my existence
Is to love you and God above,
For when I do, I’m filled to overflowing
With the blessings of His love.
Yes, Kelly, you DID change the world! I am honored to have been your friend here on earth, and I look forward to getting one of your blessed hugs again in heaven!
And to all of you who read my blog, I encourage you to share the love, as Kelly did. Tell people you love them, out loud, and often! You’ll begin to leave your own “love ya legacy” – and it will change your world!