It’s not hard to write about people you love and admire. Actually, it’s hard not to. They float across your mind so frequently that you find yourself blessing them or talking to your wife about them… In my case I introduced one such friend to my wife and they connected as I anticipated they would. Two sweet birds from different trees.
Candice Whitsel is a rare person who warms a room as she enters it. She is gifted with empathy and an innocence that life has not stolen from her yet. She’s the type of lady who will lean in to a total stranger and say, “Oh, I like that necklace!” Never intrusive though. Loud only when she laughs from the belly or erupts when I have teased her too much. Some women were born to sell real estate, others to run weddings. Still others to make folks miserable. Candi, it seems to me, was born to be with people in pain and confusion. She absorbs their shock waves and trauma, and reflects back compassion, the gift of suffering with others. Her presence reminds me of my old friend Mark Craver, whom I called the oak tree. She has the same remarkably comforting presence that he possessed.
We were eating lunch one day before Christmas and Candi wanted to tip our waitress well, not because of the waitress’ excellent service but because of Candi’s excellent nature. She didn’t look at her bills and put down what she thought was a five. We paid our checks and the waitress came out on the cold sidewalk to thank Candi profusely. “Oh, you’re welcome”, she said. As we walked back to the office Candi looked into her wallet and discovered that she still had the five but not the twenty dollar bill she was looking for. “Oh my goodness, no wonder the waitress was so tickled. I tipped her $20.00 for a seven dollar lunch! Oh, well, Merry Christmas.”
Candi is also a talented quilter. She takes scraps of material and connects them in lovely patterns, then sews them together. Later a gorgeous border is added and the entirety is skillfully brought together with thread and needle. And I think what she does with scraps of material is a lot like what she has done in her life as a counselor and educator. She takes what is there and finds function and beauty in it. Her loving gnarled hands add value to discarded and discounted people and things. She rubs a griever’s back and puts her arm around their hurt. She does not run from disaster but to it. A couple of years ago she trained to be a Disaster Response counselor, an unpaid volunteer that goes to disasters and comforts the numb victims. That’s Candice, a quilt around a tornado survivor, pulling the scraps into purpose and service.
Last year she lost her beloved Landis after a long battle with cancer. Her light and strength waned like an oil lamp in a hurricane. Grief’s raw wind and rain slammed her relentlessly. Her flame seemed to flicker and go out. A whisp of smoke surrendered itself to the storm. And she appeared defeated, extinguished.
But down in her soul’s wick, a tiny soul coal burned on, living on the oxygen of those who loved her. The breath of God breathed on her also until recently her soul sparked a bit, sputtered, glimmered and broke into flame again. Her innocence was like pure oxygen. A lesser person would have folded up like a wet canvas tent. Candi breathed and glowed again.
She’s making yet another quilt today. And I wonder what it would look like if all the quilts she has made were lined up in an airport terminal along with all the people she has comforted in her years. It would take a really big airport, that’s for sure. And out on the runway in the plane of his dreams, smiling at her with adoring eyes, would be her hero, Landis, ready to fly her into the arms of God, candicely.