This could lend itself toward being a bit on the heavy side, so I’ll open with something a little lighter and allow us to laugh with our friend Colleen. Since Colleen’s death, a nagging question keeps coming to me. Is the entry to heaven now based upon a keyless entry system or does it require Colleen to actually have the keys, for if it does she is at the gates waiting upon AAA or Frank Ping to help her out in order to get in, for nobody loses keys like Colleen did.
I’ve know Colleen for over 20 years. I don’t remember ever actually meeting Colleen for the first time, but we attended the same church. Colleen was one of those people that you heard about first and met later. Then all of a sudden, I’m asking myself one day “Who is this woman? Who is this person asking me deep questions and making me think and look into my soul?”
My prayer over the past days has been how I will speak about a dear person, a dear friend. It is my humble intention today to give great honor to Colleen, and also to Jesus Christ, of whom she was a steadfast, devout follower. It is a tremendous honor to speak about Colleen to all of you, because if you are here today, she taught you something. Colleen was a teacher, she was also a student. She sought out learning and went about teaching. If you are here today, you loved this incredible woman. I hope that you will hear something that resonates with the Colleen Kanemoto that you knew and loved. I’d like to share about the friend I knew.
Exactly one week before Colleen’s passing I was having breakfast with her daughter Grace. “Mom said she wants you to speak at her service.” This was news to me.
A few days later, her husband, Tom, called me and we had a similar exchange. “Apparently you two have had this conversation” he said.
No, Colleen, we did not have this conversation. And I have been left with the question of what exactly she wanted me to share with you all today.
Colleen was an integral part of Broomfield United Methodist Church back in the ‘90’s when I first knew her. She directed Vacation Bible School, was an employee, and then a teacher at Apple Tree Christian Pre-School. She had always wanted to work with children, to be a teacher. I’d like to share some thoughts from some of Colleen’s pre-schoolers.
- She made us learn without knowing we were learning.
- She wasn’t afraid to get dirty, she didn’t get upset about play-do in the carpet or spilled glue on the tables or beans from the playground in our pockets.
- She pushed us super fast on the tire swing. I remember learning about butterflies in her class. They grew in our classroom and she would show us their progress everyday and explain what was happening.
- Mrs. Peketz always made sure that we crazy 3-year-olds were happy and learning, despite the fact that we were surely little devils.
- She kept her patience and always had something insightful to say in any situation.
- She never stopped smiling. Like ever. Even when we were annoying.
- Ms. Colleen was always an optimistic person, and showed her love for every single kid that she taught.
- She made preschoolers believe that anything was possible.
- I remember how contagious Ms. Colleens’s smile was in the classroom, the way she would tell students stories, and then smile. It just allowed her students to always be happy, laugh and love learning.
- I personally believe that those smiles and laughs have carried with me throughout my entire academic career 13 years later.
I gathered these reflections from four teenagers, 17 and 18 years old and in high school and college.
Colleen made more than a half dozen trips to Romania to serve children there, and we think she made her first trip in 1997. She, along with her kids, Sam and Grace stayed with my family for a month in the summer of 2004 when we were serving as missionaries there. She held babies, brought suitcases full of crafts and loved on the kids. Colleen had a heart for the children of Romania. I’d like to share something from two of the children that she knew and loved.
“I remember the summers in Romania, the crafts you were doing with us and how we used to play with your kids. While the tears are rolling down my face, I remember I’ve never seen you sad. You were always smiling, what a beautiful smile! I pray for your family to be strong and follow your example of loving Jesus. I will always remember you.” That Romanian child is now 26 years old, a university graduate, speaks three languages fluently, happily married and has a daughter, Sara.
“For me Colleen was a very good friend because she taught me to smile no matter if I’m sick or well in my life. I’ve learned to move on no matter what the hardships will be through life. Colleen loved so many children and devoted her body and soul to the children’s mission. The first time she came to Romania she was like a mama to me.” This was shared by a 28 year old woman who was 13 and living at Ana’s House in Romania when she first met Colleen.
Colleen volunteered her time at the Boulder County Homeless Shelter handing out blankets and she was a volunteer at all of the different churches she has attended since I have known her. She was a lover of the outdoors, and enjoyed solo hikes in the area of Fern Canyon and was known to ascend Bear Peak, the highest peak in the area of the Flatirons. She then shared the beauty of some of those same trails with her students on field trips, moving at a pace to where a child could explore, imagine and learn. She took many full moon hikes that always included a time spent listening to her friend Earl play his flutes in the dark, star filled, moonlit sky. She learned to paddleboard and enjoyed doing that on Union Reservoir and didn’t let dropping her phone to the depths of the reservoir diminish her passion for SUPing. I believe she loved english lavender.
She was an avid reader of books and she often shared those books with me; philosophical books, spiritual books, books that explored the amazing extraordinary walk with Christ. Colleen was one of the most spiritual people that I have known.
When she was living alone a group of us would regularly attend church together, then gather back at her cottage for a meal, filling the space with stories and laughter and memories, both old ones that we all cherished and new ones that we were creating; just living in the moment, each of us pausing in our lives to love each other.
She was there in a moment of tragedy six springs ago, at the core of a small group of us that had to bury a friend that died much too early. I’m grateful that our friend DJ was there to welcome her and give her a first tour of heaven.
She loved to ask questions and learn new things. A few years ago she sat at my kitchen table late into the evening listening to a Romanian describe Apiology, the study of bees. We all laughed and laughed as the study of the sex life of bees was described in two different languages, Colleen asking questions about the lives of these amazing winged insects. “Wait, hold on a minute!” she would exclaim, wanting further clarification on a scientific point.
Colleen was the mother to two beautiful children, Grace and Sam. I’ve had the privilege to watch these two grow from toddlers to teens to amazing young adults. She was tremendously proud of both of you, of who you are and what you are becoming as adults. I know many people have told both of you this over the last days, weeks and months, but I need to tell you as well. Your mother was an amazingly courageous, faithful woman full of strength and resolve. She loved you both very, very dearly.
Colleen had a great love in her life and whom she desired to know at a deeper level every day that she lived. She would go away to spend time with this love at personal solitary retreats in the mountains of Colorado. Over the years I saw a transformed Colleen who sought to understand God’s heart and know Jesus ever so intimately. I can not stand here today and not tell you about Colleen’s faith, her love of Jesus Christ. If I didn’t speak to this I truly believe she would make her presence known in this room and say “Matthew, how dare you not speak of my faith today.”
David, of the Bible, was described as a man after God’s own heart. I did a little looking around online and found something from Ron Edmondson. He uses the following words to describe the heart of David as seen in David’s own writings.
Each one of those words, I believe, describes Colleen’s heart for God as well. I’d like to share something from Colleen that is directly from her blog that she wrote as she moved through the process of cancer and reconciled that with her faith.
“This has been a journey that hasn’t tested my faith, it’s allowed my faith to lead me, encourage me, and offer me peace in the chaos that comes with this new normal. Oh, I can lose my shit every so often, but I have a place to return to once I blow my nose and wipe the tears. It’s a place of peace and comfort and relationship. I cannot explain how my science-loving brain and Jesus-loving heart work together, but I feel blessed, and it has nothing to do with answered prayers, miracles, or prosperity. I don’t worship God the magician, I have this unexpected relationship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that I inexplicably chose one night when I was 7 and sad but praying in a way no one had taught me to do- just crying and conversing as if he were my dad. I am “at home” with Him every day and experience love, peace, and comfort. I’m good with that.”
Toward the end of her life Colleen found another love. She told me about this man she had met and their second time together at some gathering or little party. They were sitting on a curb in the street chatting and they had wonderful conversation, and for Colleen, I know this was of utmost importance, for she loved to have deep conversations about all things regarding the world and life. Colleen met Tom Brown, her Prince Charming, and she was madly in love with him. Tom, while your time was cruelly cut short with Colleen, you gave her the happiest of days, and filled her heart with love and joy. She lived happily ever after and she worried more about you than she did herself in the last eight months of her life.
In closing I have something to share with all of you that are grieving this loss of Colleen and the abruptness with which her life was cut short. I know that many people have regrets that they could not see Colleen toward her end days.
I have had the tremendous privilege to have been her massage therapist for 16 years. We’ve travelled internationally together and she had been a rock for me during some very difficult times of my life. When it became clear that her time on earth was short, I had so many questions for her.
“Are you excited to meet Jesus?” “Are you scared, frightened or anxious?” “Do you feel a sense of freedom or relief that you’re leaving this state of affairs of our current world?” These were just a few of the questions that I had for her.
But each time that we met I sensed in my gut that Colleen needed space, that she did not need to give me answers to my questions. And again in the final days of her life, I so desperately wanted to know what it was that she wanted me to convey to each of you as we come together to celebrate her life. On the night that she passed, I truly felt that she was teaching me that I only had to rely on my own faith, to speak about who she was, what she loved and how she lived.
Colleen was a teacher, at heart. She taught children face to face and as adults we have so much to learn from her. As you struggle through your grief, because, let’s face it, we are all struggling with this passing of this wonderful woman. I beckon you to look deep into your own heart, much like Colleen did as she sought out her heart, and ask just what exactly has she taught you through the relationship that she had with each and every single person sitting here today. If you aren’t learning something from Colleen, you’re not doing justice to the life that she lived.
Colleen’s life was cut dreadfully short, but she did not, under any circumstances, live her life in vain. She lived her life fully and to the fullest. She shared with me last fall about a positive attitude. She said to me, “It’s not about having a positive attitude, it’s about living positively.”
Two days before she passed Colleen sent me a text.
Colleen: I have another night at the hospital…
Me: Want any company or are you beat?
Colleen: I’m fine
Me: Okay, love you!
And I think she wants each of you to know that too.