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I had the pleasure of pastoring Shirley Gifford for several years a while back, and there are a number of things I’ve learned from her. Recently, someone posted a memory on Facebook. You could only see the back of her head, but as soon as I saw the picture, several things came to mind.

She encouraged people.

There wasn’t a week that would go by without hearing some encouraging words from Shirley.

She wouldn’t always say specific things about my sermon. But, to be honest, her hearing wasn’t great at the time, and she probably only heard half of what I said. But it didn’t stop her from encouraging me. Week after week, I always heard: ‘We have some good pastors!’ …followed by a side hug and the words… ‘I tell everybody that!’

It really didn’t matter if she heard my sermon, if it was good, or even if she ‘got anything out of it.’ She took the time to encourage me and wanted me to know that I had her confidence.

She was humble enough to learn.

She was never too good to learn something new, and humbly share her experiences and thoughts with those around her. 

The recent Facebook memory was of several people at a discipleship night. Not only was Shirley in attendance, but someone pointed out that it looked like she was sharing something. She was usually slow to speak during those nights, but when she spoke, she spoke with humility and wisdom. It was as if she had the best thing to say but also realized that everyone else did as well.

She taught me to be humble and slow to speak, knowing that you can add value, but can also learn from everyone else in the room.

She didn’t let obstacles stop her.

She had every reason to play the pity card, and yet I’ve never seen her do it. Cancer showed its face, and she just didn’t give up. ‘I’m in God’s hands,’ she would say.

Her attitude always inspired me. If most of us were honest with ourselves, we would probably agree that when we face significant obstacles, we at least stop to think about giving up. I’m grateful for people like Shirley – she inspired us not to quit.

If Shirley could face obstacles, and not let them stop her, we can all do the same. No doubt she would attribute that strength to her faith in God, but that doesn’t mean we all can’t do the same. With God’s strength, we can get up and find a way.

She loved her family.

How many times did I hear her say how much she loved her family. She used to light up with pride when someone brought them up. And if no one brought them up, you could be sure she would! Telling everyone they were coming for a visit, how someone accomplished something special, or just saying how proud she was to call them her own. 

And it wasn’t just ‘talk.’ Her family meant the world to her. You could see it in her eyes, smile, and countless hugs when she was around her husband, kids and their families, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. Everyone.

When I was pastoring, I knew she was proud of them because she couldn’t wait for me to meet them (even if I already did).

No matter the situation, I’ve learned that loving your family, is one of the most important things we can do in life. They are everything.

She understood life is a gift.

I loved hearing about her cancer journey because her outlook was always inspiring. She saw every day as a blessing. I heard her say numerous times, ‘I’m living on borrowed time.’ 

Every day was a gift. Yes, cancer was a big part of her life, but it didn’t define her. Every day was a gift and a gift that she would cherish.

As a result, she lived with passion and inspired everyone around her – helping people, praying for people, encouraging others, and even acting silly. What better way to view life? If we all took that approach, maybe we would live a little differently.

How would we live today, if we understood every day to be a gift from God? Nothing owed to us, just one day at a time. It certainly brings new meaning to Jesus’ words: “Don’t worry about tomorrow; today has enough trouble of its own.”

On March 13, 2021, Shirley concluded her time with us and is now resting with her Heavenly Father. She has no more pain, no more obstacles, and no more troubles. She is living in the true reality of her hope; the hope that carried her through her time on earth.

I’m inspired to reflect…

Who will continue to be the inspiration she was?

Who will encourage one another?

Who will be humble to learn together?

Who will figure out a way to overcome obstacles?

Who will love your family?

Who will live each day like it’s the gift of a lifetime?

By God’s strength, may we live a life like Shirley did. 

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