Sadness and grief at-a-distance carries its challenges.

Two years ago it was cancer that took the life of my best buddy from childhood - as well as being Best Man at each other's weddings. This past week it was the death of Denise (once again to cancer), a precious friend and mentor whose orbit of influence was far wider than she ever realised.

Thankfully, I was able to get home to New Zealand for both funerals, with Barby joining me last week. It feels surreal, even odd, to walk into the family context when you've missed the final weeks and months of the journey. But God's hand was so evident - be it by getting the final seats on planes or the family choosing, quite independently, the only day that could work for us.

As I did with Martin's funeral, one way I thought I could pay tribute to Denise more widely is to post some of the things I said at the funeral...

This morning we gather to grieve together
but also to remember, to give thanks & to celebrate together
the life of Denise Edwards:
            a life well-lived in the service of us - and in the service of Jesus.

A friend, a mentor, a role model to a small multitude spread around the world
but especially,
a sister to four: Margie and Frank; John and Stella
            a nana to three: Joshua, Aria and Asher
            a mother to two plus one: Mark, Christina & Lito
            & a wife to one – to Rod.

[To the family] … We are all here because we love you, just as we love Denise.
This morning - we want to open our hearts, with you,
to the promises of scripture
            drawing strength and comfort from them
            that we might face this hour, alongside you,
trusting in the love and faithfulness of the living God.

“God, your love is stronger than death.
By you we are all being brought to life.
Help us as we hear the promises of your word,
to believe them and to receive the comfort they offer.
Help us as we sing the hymns which proclaim the great truths,
            to affirm them and to receive the life they offer.
Help us as we linger with this community of family and friends,
            to lean into them and to receive the love they offer.
You are the giver of hope:
fill us with joy and peace in believing
That our fears may be dispelled,
our loneliness eased,
and our hope reawakened.”

Our friendship with Denise goes back more than 30 years
to when she was the receptionist with Dr Niva Thakurdas,
as we awaited the birth of our firstborn.

Later Denise and I worked together in the Extension Studies Department
a highlight of these years was pizza on the floor as two families
on the first night in their new home in Poinsettia Place.

We’ve worked together in LeaDev-Langham
& in recent years – Rod & Denise have travelled to SAIACS in Bangalore
(where we are based) … and how precious now is the memory
            of taking them both on a weekend away
to Mysore, climbing Chamundi Hill
to Ooty in the Nilgiri Hills, & introducing them to their first dosa.

Since the cancer was diagnosed – I saw Denise only the once
It was the day, as the treatment intensified, when she picked out a wig
She looked beautiful and rather pleased with herself…

As we’ve cherished these intersecting chapters of life,
Denise has been for me a woman of grace and truth.

The grace was seen
In her kindness, her gentleness, her empathy
… particularly in the way she locked-in as a listener,
shutting-out everything, and everyone, else.

            Never judgemental, her love was always unconditional.

            In Denise, I always felt I had an advocate, a champion.
                        She always seemed to be on my side.
            When emotions leaked, as they tended to do in her company,
                        she was a retaining wall that buttressed me
                        & strengthened me to keep going.
            Relentlessly positive, inescapably hopeful, enthusiastically warm
            Denise was a woman of grace.

The truth was seen
            in her commitment to integrity, to honesty, to accuracy, to authenticity.

            She herself was so real, so transparent in the way she related
            and she drew out those qualities in me,
helping me see myself more accurately
& to become a better version of myself,
& more like the person God designed me to be.

If you had a wee moan with Denise about something or someone,
If you expressed a workplace despair…
                        part of the way forward will be to live the truth in that situation,
to speak the truth – and know the freedom to be found in doing so.
            Truth could be seen in the little things…
For example, if something needed to be proof-read,
no one better than Denise to get it right.
Truth could be seen in the big things:
                        For example, in developing policies around HR and governance
                        & in developing administrative systems
                                    You journey with Denise and you journey towards
                                    integrity and authenticity and accuracy
                                    because she was a woman of truth.

In the way she lived her life, Denise was filling with grace and truth,
Look at her, linger with her & you glimpse
the Jesus, who himself was full of grace and truth, at work in her.
Where her life touched you and me in these ways,
it is because His life touched hers in these ways.

She was a channel, enabling her to be a friend and a leader

of far greater influence than she ever realised.

Later on, during the eulogies, I was asked to share about our time working together at BCNZ/Laidlaw College. One area came quickly to mind:

I learned a lot about leadership from Denise in those years.
One thing stands out – and remains with me for always, I hope.
The importance of valuing people,
particularly those people in an institution/community
for whom it could be seen
that they are there just to serve
& to help others shine and to succeed
(for example, administrative staff).
No! Not for Denise…
Pathways and policies need to be found
to help these people to shine and to succeed as well.
This is the key towards building happy, harmonious communities.
Over time, I’ve discovered that Denise was tapping into
the principles Paul talks about with the body in 1 Corinthians 12
“Find the one who may consider themselves to be dispensable
            … treat them as indispensable
Find the one who may consider themselves to have less honour
            … treat the with a special honour.”

This is what lay behind - and united - her commitment to Building Self-Awareness,                    to Human Resources, to Career Planning and to Good Governance.
            And what enabled Denise to be so effective in these areas
            is that in some pretty unique ways,
she was drawn both to people                                                                               and to the systems that help those people thrive.

[As a homily I switched the gender and went for a 'nana's benediction' from Gen 48.15-16].

With Denise in Ooty (Nilgiri Hills, India) three years ago.
We are outside St Stephen's Church where our first boss (at BCNZ),
Ian McCleary, married his wife, Jenny.

nice chatting about Denise, even amidst the sadness


PS (much later) ... our daughter, Bethany, was going through her wedding photos and found this lovely shot of herself in conversation with Denise, just a matter of days before Denise was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.


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