Inspiration is one of those things you can’t expect. It just happens when it happens. It’s like a double rainbow or the northern lights – they just appear, unexpectedly, and it’s marvelous when they do.
Inspiration often presents itself in the least anticipated places, which makes it all the more profound. I collided with inspiration shortly before Christmas in 2014 on a frigid Michigan day, at the funeral of a truly remarkable individual.
Dolores Slikkers was in her mid-80s when tragedy intervened in the form of a motor vehicle accident and cut short her earthly sojourn. “Cut short” isn’t what you’d normally hear said about someone of Dolores’ age, and one of the speakers at the funeral made that very point.
“Normally, at the funeral of someone in their 20s, someone will say, ‘she had her whole life ahead of her,’” he said. “But that was true of Dolores. Even at her age, she did so much living that it was as though she had her whole life ahead of her.”
Dolores did as much living in one lifetime as most people could do in two or three. Together with Leon, her husband and best friend of 67 years, she raised a family of exceptional children, who in turn have raised outstanding children of their own. She was the rock of her family as Leon founded a successful business, and her life was characterized by service. In addition to having been a respected member of It Is Written’s Executive Committee for over 20 years, Dolores volunteered in a wide variety of administrative roles in her church, including at the world church level, as well as on the board of a Christian university. She poured hours of her time into the life of her church in a multitude of ways.
She was instrumental in founding a Christian service organization that has blessed and improved the lives of multiplied thousands of people around the world, and yet what inspired me most of all was that she continued to be involved as an integral part of the life of her local church. Her church pastor spoke of still being able to ‘see’ her standing in her customary spot in the church foyer, waiting to greet people as they arrived at church each week. While Dolores was able to breathe the rarified air at the highest levels of church administration, she was equally at home at the lower altitudes inhabited by the every day church member. She was a woman of faith who not only had a genuine connection with Jesus, but who lived that faith as she invested in the lives of countless others.
At one part of her funeral service, it was mentioned that it was Dolores’ practice to write encouraging notes to others. The pastor asked everyone who had received one of her personal, hand-written notes to stand. I looked around the crowded church and couldn’t see a single person seated. Everyone was on their feet. More than one person had to have wondered where Dolores found time to write all those notes.
Another of her ministries was to hand-make blankets for people in need. And in the last conversation I had with Dolores, she told me how excited she was about her local church’s evangelistic outreach to her community. And yes, Dolores was on the front lines of that outreach. Involved. Doing. Giving. Ministering.
Among those who spoke at her funeral were academics, administrators, pastors, ministry leaders, friends, and family members. Each person testifying of a woman of real inspiration. This was someone who not only cared about people, but made a difference in their lives. One university professor shared that Dolores had ‘adopted’ him when he was a young man, enabling him to complete his doctoral studies in the United States, far from his home in Europe.
At funerals the word of God is especially poignant. Paul’s encouragement to the Thessalonians comes alive where grief and faith collide. “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God. And the dead in Christ shall rise first.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16. Yes they will, and Dolores will be among them. “Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord,” John wrote in Revelation 14:13. David declared, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” Psalm 116:15.
As I sat in that crowded church, I couldn’t help but be inspired. It seemed to me that the most impressive degree she had earned was the doctorate she received from the school life. Her most outstanding achievements called her “Mom”. Perhaps the most glowing tribute anyone had ever paid her was expressed in two words: “I do”, expressed well over half a century later as “I still do.” She influenced a denomination, provided guidance to a university and to generations of scholars, and – one blanket at a time, one card at a time – showed real, everyday people that they were special, valued and loved.
I remembered the many times she had sat opposite me at It Is Written Executive Committee meetings, and I imagined her standing at her spot in the foyer waiting to warmly welcome saints and sinners into the house of God. God had blessed so many people through Dolores Slikkers, myself included. It just didn’t seem possible that at 85 years of age, the life of this mother in Israel had been cut tragically short.
She still had her whole life ahead of her.