When I first told my grandpa that I had accepted a job at Christianity Today, he barely had the word, “Congratulations,” out of his mouth before he said, “Did you know your great-aunt Bonnie used to work there?”
Grandpa proceeded to talk about my great-aunt Bonnie, his sister, for several more minutes, telling me all about how her and her career. I dinked around on Facebook and didn’t really listen.
But now I wish I had been paying attention.
Over the weekend, my grandpa, who has been sick for many years, took a turn for the worse and is dying this week. You can be praying for my family—both my immediate family and my extended family, especially my mom and her two brothers—and praying for me.
I know that my grandpa is an amazing man of faith; he is rejoicing that he gets to go to Heaven to be with Jesus and my grandma. Last night, my mom said, they were singing hymns together—and my mom inherited her amazing voice from her parents. I wish I had been there to listen, just to hear that precious song go up to Heaven. I rejoice that, in his final days, my grandpa is still singing hymns.
But the fact remains that my family is hurting, and I am on my own and very far away.
So, what do you do when you’re beginning to grieve and you’re doing it alone? I, for one, have started to write. I am trying (somewhat futilely) to write down all of the things I remember about him. If I can write words that honor him, it’s a little bit as if I were there in Oregon with him. I can preserve my connection to him just a little bit longer.
But in the course of cataloguing my memories, I remembered that particular phone conversation between my grandpa and me—and I remembered Aunt Bonnie Rice. I had never followed up on my well-meaning promise to look her up.
To be fair, Grandpa’s explanation of Bonnie’s connection to Christianity Today had been muddled at best. Mainly there was something about a Bible something she edited, which doesn’t really narrow things down when it comes to publishers in Wheaton. While I didn’t deny that she probably had worked in this area, I doubted that she had actually worked at CT. So I just never checked.
But something about the spirit of connection to my grandpa prodded me to check today.
As it turns out, working for Christianity Today runs in the family. Bonnie Shipley Rice, my grandpa’s sister, worked in the media ministry here for years as the editor of “Sunday to Sunday,” a digest-style publication aimed at minister’s wives and family members, and later as editorial administrator for Leadership Journal, which still is published by the larger Christianity Today media group. The longtime editor of Leadership, Marshall Shelley, worked with Bonnie for years. She was an amazing woman, he said.
So when I opened the long-archived Winter 1991 edition of Leadership and saw her byline, including a picture, I felt like I was holding a link to my grandpa. I wanted to call my mom and have her put him on the line—incoherent and fading and everything—so I could tell him that I found her. Grandpa, I found Aunt Bonnie; she worked here. Grandpa, you were right.
I don’t remember ever meeting Bonnie, but the family resemblance between her and my grandpa, even in that single picture, is uncannily striking. I just see his face.
Yet, this afternoon I also discovered that the Shipley family legacy runs much deeper than physical resemblance—and that’s actually my favorite part of this story.
In a “Heart and Soul” column in 1996, Marshall Shelley wrote:
Being a leader doesn’t mean faultless perfection, but it means we act in faith, doing our best, confessing and repenting of our sins, and seeking, by grace, to grow.
This takes courage—not the absence of fear and doubt, but following God’s call in the midst of fear and doubt.
At Leadership, we recently saw an embodiment of this kind of courage in Bonnie Rice, our editorial administrator for ten years. Battling cancer, Bonnie’s body was severely weakened, and the doctors suggested a ventilator to give the chemotherapy a chance to work.
Reluctantly Bonnie agreed, but told her husband, “Make sure it doesn’t stay in long. Because with a ventilator, I can’t sing.” Within a week, Bonnie’s body wore out. We mourn her death, but I’m confident this courageous woman is now joyfully singing the praises of her Lord.
I guess it runs in the family. I’m so amazed that this woman wanted to sing praises as she died. Now, 17 years later, her brother—my grandpa—will leave earth the same way: singing.