This weekend our family has been celebrating what I will call a “significant” birthday for my wife.
When Andrew, Claire, and I began to think of ways to recognize this milestone, we settled on something called a Boombox.* Through the wonders of the internet, we invited others to join us in sending best wishes. More than 100 of Candice’s friends and family members responded with cards, notes, poems, photos, newspaper clippings, and anecdotes.
In our combination in-person/Zoom celebration on Saturday, Andrew, Claire, Blair, and I gave the gift and — knowing the good wishes she would discover — sat back to enjoy the reaction.
Candice has touched many lives in so many positive ways that this project was an easy sell. Today I’m sharing how a sampling of those who have been part of Candice’s life expressed their appreciation for, as one person described it, the “blessing of our friendship.”
Forever friends…for friends around the world
Childhood friends, siblings, and cousins reached out with the perspective that more than one individual described as, “I knew you when…” and then proceeded to use a childhood nickname (that we don’t mention!). These “almost forever friends” had stories of birthday parties, Girl Scout cookies, measles outbreaks, and more for someone who has “such a warm and good soul.”
One reason she has so many friends from every part of her life is that Candice stays in touch. “I remember I always looked forward to the cards from Uncle David and Aunt Candice growing up,” wrote one niece. Then she added a line that was mentioned again and again: “The great handwriting always inspired me.”
“Your warmth and humility shine through your eyes and your smile and it’s a magnet,” wrote a friend from the World Bank.
Amazement at the calm in the middle of a (twin) storm
Several friends reached out with stories from when our children were young and as they grew into — in the words of their first grade teacher — “two adorable, talented, and thoughtful young people.” But man, were they a handful when they were little!
“I realised how challenging it was to be the mother of twin toddlers when one day you asked me to watch Andrew and Claire in the children’s library while you popped upstairs to the adult section,” wrote a friend who now lives in Europe but whose children shared play dates with the twins in the early 1990s in Staunton.
“‘Sure!’ I answered, without a second thought. Within two minutes, I had no idea where either of them were! Fortunately, they couldn’t go too far in that safe environment, but I felt tremendous respect for the energy you had to keep up with your busy little two!”
“Although we haven’t lived in the same place for many years, you and your family have had such an influence on me,” wrote a young friend who now has a family of her own. “You and David trusted me with your BABIES, even though they could outsmart me even back then!” Another friend we’ve known since her birth mentioned the time that she “stayed” with Andrew and Claire…when she was five years old. “Thanks for letting me ‘babysit’ your twins so many years ago — didn’t know then it was training for my future!”
Did I mention that this young woman now has twins of her own?
“Your unconditional love,” wrote one of my brothers, “has found its finest expression in the lives of Andrew and Claire.”
One who lives as if what we give is more important than what we get
Candice was a Bible & Religion major at Agnes Scott College, and she has forgotten more scripture than I ever knew (and I was raised a Baptist, where quoting scripture is what it takes to get into the dining hall at summer camp!) But she has gone well beyond the simple memorization of text to living her faith in a way that is recognized and appreciated by a wide circle of friends. Not with a certainty of what scripture says and certainly not bound up in a cultural Christianity, but with a seeking mind and loving heart. A wise person “of intelligence and discernment and faith” as a dear friend/priest wrote.
Candice happens to have a number of friends who are in the priesthood, permanent diaconate, or work professionally in spiritual formation. Many of those priests/friends are female. One with a good sense of humor wrote,
“’Birthdays are good for you. Statistics show that people who have the most live the longest.’ I am grateful (understatement) to have been around for at least two decades worth of yours. That gratitude is evoked by things like countless occasions of worshipping with you, watching you mother — and listening to your stories of mothering — two wondrous children (now adults themselves!); sharing vicariously in the kind of joy you express over delights of family time, of travel, of deep wisdom; of giving of yourself so generously to church, community, school, friends; being beneficiary of having a bird’s eye view of your gifted ways of moving through challenges of health, disappointments, and more. Much more.“
When the twins were still toddlers, Candice undertook a four-year Education for Ministry (EFM) class through the University of the South. I said she took it because it required that I watch Andrew and Claire one night at home each week while she went to class. That, of course, wasn’t anywhere near the truth.
EFM required extensive reading and study. One of her classmates wrote, “Candice, you are one who loves to be engaged in serious things, and you take them on with enthusiasm and vigor….You were always prepared in EFM for anything the mentor threw our way.” Another long-time friend who is also a priest wrote, “I am blessed with your friendship, a friendship spanning many years and much of life….I have learned so much from you. You inspire me and are an amazing, wise, and delightful woman.”
Time to listen, with respect, empathy, and love
Over and over again, Candice’s friends mentioned her willingness to stop what she is doing and talk with anyone, anywhere, for any length of time.
Listening is an act of love. Time and again individuals mentioned the way Candice makes herself accessible and vulnerable in a most direct and powerful way: by listening.
“I think we first met in the Nave of the Cathedral on some music-oriented occasion where 10-year-old Andrew and our daughter were performing,” wrote another friend. “You were instantly warm, friendly, and inclusive, qualities I saw in abundance over the next fifteen-plus years with many others.”
“You have a wonderful way of making me, and others, I am sure, feel as if you have all the time in the world to have a conversation. I have enjoyed our wide-ranging chats about our children, our lives, big ideas, and art.”
“Your ability to genuinely care and a willingness to listen to and not be afraid of the burden of others’ pain is extraordinary. It is a courage that I envy and admire,” wrote another friend. “Once…I was overwhelmed with single motherhood and sobbing in a church pew. You found me and told me what a good job I was doing. Your reassurance was repeated often in the following years, and it nurtured me.”
Several friends also mentioned Candice’s ways of connecting with children. “I have learned so much from you about how to honor and support children, particularly in their lives of faith,” wrote a priest/friend. “I love how you notice the details with the kids in our Sunday School — their talents, their questions, the things they love and the things they pray for. They’re blessed to have you as a mentor.”
“Love is both presence and action,” wrote a family member, “and I can’t tell you how grateful I am that I’ve always felt both throughout my life, at peaks and valleys alike.” That presence at all stages of life came through time and again.
Food, a thirst for travel, more conversation, and love
We made several new and life-long friends during our six weeks at the American Academy in Rome in 2016, where we got to know people from around the world over those amazing dinners of food and wine from the Rome Sustainable Food Project. One of those friends knew instinctively that Candice would hear from a large number of individuals, given “the gentle, insightful, and nurturing kind of person you are.” A priest/friend added the hope “that you know beyond words just how deeply and truly you are loved.”
Longtime friends from our life in Staunton wrote, “We treasure the shared history and long easy conversation, the pleasures of preparing and eating superb food together, the comfort and inspiration of your spirituality and your loving concern for others.”
And another friend from that time told of a “fabulous contribution” made to her family’s culinary repertoire.
“One summer you tutored our son, who was struggling in school after a year with a hard-nosed and unsympathetic teacher. In the course of the fun ways of learning you showed him, you provided a recipe for shortbread that a young child could make successfully. He took to it and made a pie-pan of it for every big family and church occasion the rest of his years at home. I took it up from there and over three decades must have made hundreds of pans of shortbread for entertaining friends, for gifts, and in huge numbers by popular demand for church bazaars and bake sales that have raised hundreds of dollars for good works….Wherever you go you become a blessing to those whom you meet.“
“You have been a role model to me as I’ve grown into a woman and mother. You’re a phenomenal mother and wife, yet you have maintained your own identity as you’ve supported your family,” wrote a friend we’ve known for decades. “I admire your values and the way that you have remained true to yourself over the years.”
Another friend also spoke of her presence and thoughtfulness.
“You are such a positive influence on those around you that my goal is to think of others and chart my own path as thoughtfully as you have done. All our lives are all greatly enhanced by your extraordinary love and care.“
A friend who has been through a difficult time recently with the loss of a spouse wrote, “You have been such a wonderful friend: kind, considerate, encouraging, spiritual, compassionate, a fabulous mother, and an amazing cook. Your thoughtfulness about life, friends, family and the world are an example for us all.”
Another friend who is a priest (see the pattern here) wrote that “The first time I heard your name, it was on a sick list. They told me you’d been badly hurt. That you had a long recovery.” (Candice had fallen and suffered a serious concussion where the recovery took 12 months.) “But when you came back to church, you had a smile on your face and in your heart — because nothing can keep you down.” This friend has seen Candice as a mother and wife and much more “but above all, as a person who knows how to love well, and to tend the hearts of all those around her.”
A dear friend and former colleague of mine summed up Candice’s impact on the world very well when he wrote, “She is fantastically lovely in every way!”
Happiest of birthdays and much love, dearest Candice, from all your family and friends.
More to come…
*No, this is not the 1980s music accessory.
Image: A toast to 2021 (credit: Andrew Brown)