In Honor of My Dear Friend Christine –
–You were the sum of love and light!-–
“What did you do to land a name like that, anyway?” I teased. Unsure of what point our friendship had transcended from coworkers to friends. For years we had casually waived from a distance at The Coca-Cola Headquarters where we had worked, occasionally running into each other at UPlift early in the morning trying to squeeze in a workout. Her, a global employee who worked in the tower, me a north America associate in the USA building. The day finally came when Sandy Douglas was appointed to return to North America as President—with Christine—of course as his Sr. Executive Assistant—just where heaven wanted her it seemed. My boss, Mark Eppert as CFO of North America and her boss were going to work very closely—which meant Christine and I would be talking quite frequently.
It was those years that she discovered that I was a writer.
“Marlene, do you understand that I am a simple-simple girl from Jamaica?” She would pause and ask me. Her characteristic smile a mile so wide—her eyes couldn’t help but smile along. Her new digs on the 20th floor—the penthouse of the entire building was fitting. Fitting for both her and Sandy, both well loved. The spacious office, large windows, the beautiful view overlooking Atlanta—and yes, a heartwarming Christine with unmatched hospitality would be (you guessed it) smiling each time someone walked through those towering double-doors.
How do you honor a life that has deeply etched itself upon your soul in a few words? How do you find the adequate language, for that one line?
She was the sum of love and light!
I could tell when she had spent a good amount of time on my blog—reading. She would always emerge full of complements—deeply inspiring me, and making me promise… “never, ever, ever stop writing, Marlene!” My writing had become where our beliefs, values, convictions, and thought processes—converged. So much so that it was here our friendship was sealed with a heartfelt trust—making it harder to tell that we had a good two decades in age between us. She continuously quoted me back to me, encouraged me so generously, asked for my perspective often, sought for me to weigh in on complex situations she was navigating, and deposited into me such valuable wisdom in such easy ways to receive.
“If I could raise my children over again, Marlene, I would spend more time playing with Kamal, Shaari, and Ayanna, and less time worrying about a clean house.” I would listen carefully. “I was so worried about the house being clean and things being put in their proper place back then, you know.” Her gentle pointers helping me make so many subtle adjustments along the way—her voice often filling the gap for my lovely mom whom I lost at age 19.
“Can you get away?” This text usually meant she needed a safe place to process a difficult situation. Pretty soon she would be at my desk just one floor down from hers in her sneakers. I’d put mine on and off we would go walking the 2.5 million square foot campus unpacking small and weighty things—without a loss of joy! It was during these sacred moments we would discuss her timing for retirement, the wonderful progress Clive was making in Jamaica on the home he was building for them, the giving receipts she didn’t “hide” too well that year—and the gut-wrenching explanation she owed Clive around the concept of tithing, the car she wanted to first fully pay off, the decision to stay on at Coke a little longer, the yielding to finally let go, how terribly she missed her absolutely adorable grandkids—hers was an unmatched authenticity. She had not one ounce of pretense, no duplicity, no subtle way of signaling her importance. She was simply her. True to herself. Reflective. Resourceful. A teacher’s dream. Eager to learn. Humble, receptive and o’ so very generous.
She wanted to make a difference. She raised money to go serve overseas on mission trips. Not just giving money but giving of herself. And when I decided to walk away from Corporate to fully attend to the nonprofit my husband Newton and I had founded—she invested. She remained true. Never ever on the sidelines. Always close!
She gave me three gifts as I left Coca-Cola.
- A beautiful notebook “you will have SO many praise reports to fill these pages, Marlene!”
- A red Coca-Cola piggy bank “I’ve put in your first blessing in it”.
- An unforgettable moment that left me weeping like a child—Ext. 60777 she dialed my desk and patched heaven through if you will. “Yours will be a household name, Marlene.” “You will have lines looped around buildings…. waitlists for this school, you have opened. God is going to use you in ways you cannot believe.” And on and on she went, only to conclude the call so calmly—“you do know that wasn’t me, right?”
She did not quietly fade away onto the sidelines—she stepped forward, she donated. She submitted her receipts to Coca-Cola and made sure JosiahKids got our matching gift (2x) whatever she had given. And when we hosted our first Annual Youth Leadership Awards Ceremony (The Buford Harvest), she was there. Driving all the way to Cumming and back to the airport to pick up Clive—“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” She hugged me so tight, her eyes tearing up with pride. Later on, sending me a picture of the handsome prince Kaleb wearing the JosiahKids sweatshirt she bought for him at the event. “Congratulations on a great day yesterday!” She encouraged. “When can my Kaleb join JosiahKids, Marlene?” She asked me on multiple occasions.
She meant what she said, and only said what she meant. “It doesn’t matter where I am on the face of this planet, always include me in EVERYTHING JosiahKids is doing, Marlene.”
- Do not forget to look up the Daily Audio Bible and download the app. You will be blessed by it. Please share with Rasool too.
- I bought the notebook we discussed. Can’t wait to begin writing down my goals.
- I shared your blog with Shaari, here’s hers….
- Don’t forget to add a component in the program that teaches our young people how to manage money.
- If you have a chance, please listen to ‘The Sneezing Jesus’ book offered on the App. It’s a great timely book and an easy listen. The title was a turn off to me buying the book, but its so good and well narrated. It’s referring to the humanness of Jesus.
- Aaaashh Marlene. My soul Is challenged and refreshed at the same time. Thanks for stirring me deeply to look inward and carve out my best life – one of purpose. So happy that you are writing again.
- What a beautiful interview and testimony!! Warms my heart and can’t hear it enough. You spoke with such passion!
- Any word that comes from you, means a lot.
- Looking forward to declaring the works of the LORD in healing me!
How easy it was to love her!
When she needed peace to sell the house, she was transparent, vulnerable, and admitted she was unsure of which way to go. When she had to map the arduous drive home around her stubborn bladder—she owned it, laughed about it, and admitted she could really use prayer. When she sensed the effort coming from a colleague she had helped open doors for—seeking to upstage her—she was yielding and O’ so beautifully gracious about it. And when my guy—one Vice President who reported to my boss managed to absolutely upset her. She was kind, respectful, but firm—this was not okay!
“I am so upset with him, Marlene!” This was a rarity. “I don’t mind if you tell him that I was the one who raised the complaint”. SHE was upset—I know! Apparently each time Joel covered as Proxy in meetings for my boss, he was walking up there and not speaking or acknowledging Christine.
“She is not a part of the furniture!” My boss, Mark and I had tag-teamed on Joel. Pretty soon Christine was on the phone with me laughing—her usual cheerful self. “He brought me a box of chocolates and apologized, Marlene.” She was happy. We were happy. And Joel and Christine were now officially wonderful friends! She made allowances for the faults of others, forgave so freely, sought reconciliation—bore up under the weight of situations that were challenging—even when she felt misunderstood. She resigned her unresolved burdens fully—entrusting herself to God. She was careful with her decisions. She took her time and never rushed.
“I am calling because I trust your judgement. How do I vote, Marlene? She explained her plight carefully. These are my thoughts. But here are a few points my sister has raised, leaving me feeling torn and conflicted.”
In much of our interactions it was easy to tell what was deeply important to her. Her faith and reverence for God. Her desire to make a meaningful difference. Her beloved parents who she always vocalized—as being so fortunate and grateful to still have around. She loved AND respected Clive dearly! Her children were her world. And those ADORABLE grandbabies—my, my, my…..
Christine lived fully, loved fully, gave fully, served fully.
“Oh’ Marlene, it’s the doctor! Let me take this call.” How my heart would have shattered if I had known this was the very last time I would hear her voice. She had called me to process another difficult grace. Told me how her sweet Shaari had taken a step of faith—putting in an offer to buy a house closer to EMORY, to help ease the cost and hustle of operating out of an Airbnb during chemo for her and Clive. How well her girls had loved her made my heart well with tears. And how well our God had loved her—honoring Shaari’s faith by opening just the right opportunity at Apple that allowed for a successful transfer filled my heart with so much joy.
I remembered the day in March when she called to share the cancer diagnosis. How she had asked if it would be alright to be added to her family’s group chat on What’sApp so I’d be included in her progress. I had mailed her Paula Black’s book: Life, Cancer, and God—and on March 28th, she had sent me a picture of the book with a thank you note. How honored I was to be included on her surprise Birthday Zoom call in August! To hear the same things said of her over and over and over again by SO many witnesses. Indeed she chose her friends well!!
“I really wanted to pursue the natural path to recovery that Paula talked about in her book.” She had explained earlier during the call. “But it’s out of state, and they can’t take me until February.” I leaned back into the corner of the kitchen counter, scenes replaying in my mind of those prayers I had prayed for her on my face before God in my office for a few months. “I’ve lost 40lbs.” We both sighed. “At least you had 40lbs you could afford to lose without immediately turning into skin and bones.” We both laughed a chorus of encouraging AMENs. “The doctor is telling me that if I don’t do this now, the most I’ll have is 2-months.” She confided. My heart dropped. How!? She was a picture of perfect health just a few months ago. How could we even be anywhere remotely near such a call? “I’ve asked God for more time.” She paused. “I’ve asked Him to give me more days.” Her humble prayer made my eyes well up with tears, though deep down in my soul—I was SO sure this was a prayer heaven was prepared to FULLY answer. “That’s the perfect first step, Christine!” I underlined and affirmed her faith. “To ask. To say it. To articulate it with clarity. HE did tell us in Matthew 7:7 to ASK, and we would receive. So, I am joining my faith with yours, standing, believing in agreement with you—asking.” Those were our last words.
‘Hello, Marlene. So sorry I had to cut the call short but happy we caught up. I really needed to speak to the doctor to discuss alternative treatments. Thanks for keeping me in your heart and prayers. Sharing a photo of my new look. One of the side effects of this new chemo regimen is hair loss so I decided to get ahead of the game and do a chop.’ A smiling Christine in her animal print crew neck sweater, with her dangling beautiful earrings and coral I-watch, looking straight into the camera leaning back on the couch beaming a smile with her salt and pepper big chop!
A big red heart from me!
Awww! My friend….
You are so beautiful……. The big chop looks great on you! And your smile is still so warm and unmistakable! Glad you were able to catch the doctor’s call! I love you to the moon and back… and will keep believing, praying, and cheering you on to the other side of this!! God is faithful (hands raised in prayer).
A big red heart, back.
And this would be where our beautiful friendship was ordained to end on this side of heaven.
How could this be possible? How will life look without you in it? The echo of the words you so often quoted back to me now resound in YOUR unforgettable voice—my dearest friend!
“The HOW belongs to God.”
There are those select people whose death tugs at my heart so personally. They seem to have lived their one life SO very well, that it feels so wrong for God to call them home so soon. She is one of those people. There is no tribute I could give Christine better than to WRITE about her. She loved it when I wrote. Not an easy feat to wrestle with language to adequately express the beauty of a life like hers in a few pages, let alone a few words. Yet, I know with all I’ve got—that more than flowers—THIS. This is what would please her most! To write. To write about our friendship. And to hope that one day (Kaleb, Keziah, Katorah, Karinth) will read these words. To know the type of RICH heritage they have inherited in their godly grandmother—Christine!
Kamal, Shaari, Yaani: Your mother LOVED you!!! Her grace radiates so beautifully in each of you!!
Christine’s parents, Bobby & Colleen: you raised a good-good-good-girl. Thank you!!!
Here’s something I wrote in 2016 that helps me on those tough days.
If I could find a song that would be most fitting of you my beloved friend, it would have to be Morgan Harper’s: Full of Grace
Thank you for sharing your beautiful life with us, dear Christine!
I will always love you, and will miss you beyond what words can say!
YOU have Journeyed well !!!
for HIS glory –