As I reflect on my friend, Billie King, her life and her service to this community, I can’t help but think about the difference she made in so many lives. She loved those who Christ loved and she spent her life spreading that love to those she came to know. Today, I am writing this as tribute to celebrate my friend whose race has ended but legacy lives on.
When you celebrate someone’s life, it is only instinctive that you go to the beginning. For me, the beginning of my relationship with Billie began in August of 2014, when I came to a Wednesday night bible study to be introduced to the church after accepting an interim position as pastor. Understand, I was the ripe age of 24, still living in Williamsburg, Kentucky doing masters classes at the University of the Cumberland’s. So, my definition of dressed up is a little different then what it is now. Imagine this, I pull up in my car in khaki shorts, a polo and a ball cap. As I’m getting out of the car, gathering myself, this elegant looking woman comes up to me and asks, “are you brother Jonathan?” to which I responded, “Yes, I am, it is nice to meet you.” She shakes my hand and tells me how nice it is to meet me and her name was Billie King but to take my ball cap off before I go inside because we don’t wear hats at church. Just to set the record straight, I was going to take the cap off before that, but I can’t help but smile when I look back on our first encounter because I didn’t know it then but now looking back it is plainly apparent that was Billie.
She wasn’t afraid to tell you her opinion, or to give advice but for those who truly had the privilege of getting to know her and bond with her will all attest that is what made her so special. It was that same boldness to express her thoughts and feelings that she lived her life with. The boldness to be a counselor at 4 H Camp for over a decade, to identify kids in need and go out with Bobby and make sure they received new shoes or clothes without hesitation. The boldness to ask her friends when they were going through chemo if they wanted her to go with them, the boldness to go see the sick and pray with them, the he boldness to work with the youth program knowing that Tony was one of them, and the boldness to give a little advice that all beginning preachers need. Billie had an innate way to connect with people and she valued those relationships in such a way that she invested time and effort into them. There was no guessing if Billie loved and cared for you, she left no doubt because she was there when you needed her most.
In fact, Billie served as an elder at First Christian Church for many years and I can’t think of a better title for Billie because she lived to serve and tend people. As many know an elder in the church serves a role that sets the example for the congregation and body of Christ as servant leaders who seek after God’s own heart and watches over the flock. Billie embodied that as she was a servant leader sharing the love of God in our church and community, from 4 H camp to the guild, to the Samaritans, to operation Christmas child, to volunteering with hospice and the American cancer society. She was there to serve and as the end was near, Billie and I had several conversations about the joy that came in serving. Many times, she used the word calling because it was, Billie was called to serve in the capacities that she did because it allowed her to express God’s love in her own way to others. In fact, one of our last conversations was about the importance of serving communion to our elderly and sick. She was passionate about it because she loved people and knew the importance of showing them God’s love through service.
I truly believe one of the reasons Billie and I hit it off so well and grew so close is because we were passionate about the same things. We were both Christ Following, people serving, Kentucky football loving people. I’ll never forget that bright blue Kentucky sweater vest that she would wear on Sunday’s, the first Sunday she wore it I knew this was my home church. My mom still raves about that bedazzled blue sweater to this day and when I think of Billie it will be in that bedazzled blue sweater.
As we celebrate Billie’s life, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention her family because they were her a big part of who she was. Billie loved her family, and she had high expectations for them. On more than one occasion she told me that she had Tony, Michelle and Marti take a public speaking course because it was important that they were able to speak to others about their beliefs. They never let her down, now that doesn’t mean she didn’t have critiques but a parent’s critiques come only from a place of love because she wanted nothing but the best for her family. She was so proud of Tony, Marti and Michelle, and the service that each of you do in your community and in your own way.
In fact, every visit, every conversation, every dinner or lunch that I had with Billie, she made her love for her family known. She would go on about Meg’s love for volleyball and basketball and how she was doing and adjusting to North Laurel, She would talk about how well Jefferey was doing and how much he had grown, she would talk about Phillip and the young man he had become and his busy schedule with the band at UK and how proud of him she was, How glad she was Abby was back home from Florida and got an apartment in Lexington, how Haley was a life saver and had a huge heart for serving like her GG as she stayed with her and her uncle Jeff in times of need. Josh who I needed to get together with and play tennis when he would come home from Alabama, but also how close he and Bobby were. She would talk about she makes quilts for each of her grandchildren. She would talk about how Bobby would take care of her, how he took care of everyone. How he would take her to Hilton Head every year and was the best man she ever knew. Billie loved her family, loved her kids, loved her grandkids and loved bobby. They were the apple to her eye and she was so proud of them and their accomplishments. Billie will always be a part of who they are and have become and that is a celebration in itself.
Lastly, as we celebrate Billie, let us celebrate her faith in the Lord. Billie had many sicknesses over the years, but this last round the doctors weren’t quite sure what was making her grow so weak all of a sudden. Throughout this process, she of all things would reassure me that she knew God was going to use this to help someone else. She had to believe that she would say, because that was what would get her through. When she went to Ohio State and found out that she had a rare form of Leukemia, it was bitter sweet as it was relief to know what it was but also that her time was limited. However, again she reassured me and many of you, that God was going to use this to help someone else and that whenever her time was, she was ready.
Billie’s faith never wavered, her faith and love for the Lord was her strength. In the last several visits, Billie spoke to me about her memorial service and what she wished for it and what she did not want. She didn’t want anyone mourning her loss, but rather celebrating her gain. Her one wish was that this be a celebration because she knew where she was going and that we as family and friend would celebrate that together.
Let us find joy and peace in what brought her great strength and trust in God’s word in the peace and rest Billie has, like Isaiah 57:1-2
The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.
Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.
Billie leaned on God’s word, it is part of what made her so strong. So let us to find peace in God’s promises, that he has prepared a place for those who believe in him, a place where there are no tears, no pain. A peace that Billie had and was evident in her faith in what Jesus said in John 14:1-3
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
It is because of Billie’s faith, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we can celebrate her life today and know in our hearts while her race on earth may be over, she has an eternal home in heaven with the Father.
To all who knew her, Billie’s life reflects who she lived for and those who call her mom, GG, sister, aunt, or friend can all attest that her faith was evident in every season. It never wavered, no matter the circumstance. She truly was one of the strongest people I have ever met.
I told her that in one of my last visits with Billie as we talked about her star she had gotten for this year. Now some of you who don’t know what that is, we give out a star at the beginning of each year during a service called star Sunday. A tradition we do at our church to celebrate epiphany and focus our hearts on the Lord each year. Her word this year was connect. I told her I thought that word was so fitting because she spent her life building connections with people making lasting impacts on their life.
As we celebrate Billie today, I can’t help but think that her star is as much for you and I as it was for her this year because God blessed each of us through a connection with Billie. You probably wouldn’t be reading this, if she hadn’t impacted your life in some shape or form. My prayer and I believe what Billie would have wanted for you and I is to learn from her life, to embrace the connections that are out there for us to make and make a difference by sharing the Love of Jesus Christ in your own way. That is what Billie did, she was obedient to God’s call, she loved people and she spent her life connecting with people and boldly served in way that displayed a love of the Father. Let us follow in her footsteps, let us make connect in a way that we make a difference in others’ lives as Billie made a difference in each of ours.