As I was preparing for my upcoming Balcony Girls lesson, I couldn’t help but think of the greatest Balcony Girl in my life. My Auntie Ellen.

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Auntie passed away just last month, but as I reflected on her life, how she impacted mine, and as I watched about 500 people pay their respects and share what she meant to them, it was this verse that hit home for me. As great of a person as my Auntie Ellen was, she was very humble in how she thought about herself and in the way she loved others. (This was shared at her service: Phil 2, Eugene Peterson’s The Message)

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care – then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Her Life
Auntie knew how to build others up. She was a great cheerleader to many. She was energetic in life. And everywhere she went, her life left an imprint. She wanted people to know that they deserved the best that she could give, often putting others before herself. I love how she valued the simple things in life, as simple as a casual walk, as she would listen and help work out problems. She was one of the wisest women I’ve ever known. (A stroll through St. Louis with Auntie and my children.)

Her story
Auntie was widowed at age 34 with 3 small children, and life was not easy. She wanted her 3 children to succeed, so with God’s help she set foot to do so herself. She remained single, focusing on her kids, and she went back to college and got her master’s degree in business and started a multi-million dollar business back in the 90’s. She literally opened her life and arms to people around her. She lived her life with purpose, knowing that life is often shorter than we want it to be.

She remarried about 5 years ago to wonderful “Uncle Ed,” who became a huge asset to our family. In their garage hung 2 huge collages. Both were filled with pictures (matted and framed in a classy way) with every employee who has ever worked for her through the years. People loved her. Her life was the epitome of hospitality and love.

Her ways
I have gleaned so much from Auntie Ellen. She had such a way of bringing people together, including them, making them feel special and unique. Of seeing into people’s lives and creating lively conversation. Of seeing talents and gifts in others and pulling those out of them. I’ve benefited by watching and learning, as she showed me how to throw a party, and how well people and food go together. (Auntie showing Abby how to make a flower arrangement.)

She taught us all that relationships are more important than anything else. (Her nieces loved her dearly!)

She showed us how to make family “fun.” (Tea Party in St. Louis.)

She prioritized family gatherings, many to the Oregon coast. (Ellen with her kids at Cannon Beach, years ago.)

And she so adored her children and grandchildren. (The loves of her life!)

The party
Which brings me to the last celebration of her life. In Auntie’s honor, a traditional German Party was planned in which 500 people came together to celebrate and reminisce. Every graduation, college graduation, wedding, or special event party always had this German theme. It’s just the way Auntie did it. (One of many memorable dances.)

The room was decorated with Auntie-style cool chandeliers (Fun dancing to the German band!)

The food was a traditional German spread. (Last picture of the “food” for Auntie.)

With yummy German cake! (Amazing, killer cake!)

The cousins, and Dad and Ginny, came together to sing our last song to Auntie. (This World is not my Home … I’m just a passing through, and Blessed be the Tie that Binds … Our hearts in Christian Love.)

Auntie, thank you for providing us a glimpse of heaven!

You knew how to live life with gusto!

Thank you for teaching us all!

Thank you, Auntie Ellen, for inspiring me as one of the most influential Balcony Girls* in my life.

Goodbye for now, Auntie Ellen!

Our lives will never be the same without you!

(The German sign behind the Friesen family says: High Shall You Live!)

(My Aunt and I shared and discussed the concept of Balcony Girls years ago, long before I ever had children.)