As still waters run deep, my friendship with Naomi Braun was a low-key, behind-the-scenes one, similar to the manner in which she preferred to stay in the background. Not even the church members knew that we enjoyed such a close friendship. Only our husbands knew when we went out. Nothing was posted on social media nor did I tell anyone if, and what, we were doing. My service to Naomi was service to God, private, not for public show.
Naomi was our pastor’s wife at Melville Pentecostal Church. She was quiet and reserved, and I kept my distance when we first met, recognizing her role and not wanting to intrude given my own background in that role. We had causal, friendly conversations, and I always acknowledged her at church.
About two years after meeting her, Naomi was diagnosed with cancer. I prayed for her quietly, and frequently. She couldn’t have known how much I prayed for her, nor how God was solidifying our friendship until that Sunday. Sometimes you remember a moment with crystal clarity, and how it unfolded, and this was one for me.
The service was over, and everyone had left, except me. I was speaking to the pastor but my eyes continually darted to Naomi as she went through row by row, picking up bulletins and straightening the random cushions on the hard, wooden pews. I was thinking how servant-like, even in ill-health.
When she approached the pew closest to me, I said, “Naomi, I pray for you. Always.”
And that was the moment. Naomi broke down. She sobbed. I dropped my Bible and purse in a flash and hugged her. I prayed in both English and in tongues, talked and encouraged her as she wept. Those verbalizations are only for the ears of the three of us who were there, and will remain private, but part of my pledge was that I would be her friend. I will support her in a physical as well as emotional way as best as I knew how.
And so began the stream of gifts, the meals, the invitations to take her places, the freedom to say no if she wasn’t feeling well, the visits for in-person prayer under the tree in her yard. The request for quilt, the text messages and emails with encouragement and prayer, the phone calls, the voicemails with recorded prayers – for faith comes by hearing.
Then COVID-19 put an abrupt stop to face-to-face visits, and ultimately, church was closed. I still left Christmas presents at their door.
Our last messages were in June 2021. That month, audibly, the Holy Spirit dropped into my heart that I could stop praying. I texted her the release I felt. In that moment I knew her end was near (but I didn’t tell her this). However, I didn’t learn that Naomi had gone to be with the Lord in November of 2021 until after the fact.
In December, a friend was visiting our home when she mentioned it in passing. I remember that I dropped my fork as tears filled my eyes, and I fished for my iPhone and read the text to my husband and friend at the table, then scrolled for the pictures. I expressed my grief in missing her funeral, of not writing a tribute for her then and there (for some things are best written at the point in time. Some details I feel I ought not to pen eight months after.)
My friend said I could still post what I wanted in December, but I didn’t feel it was the time. I think of Naomi often. I recall how her face did not belie the disease that ravaged her body. It was as if her spirit shone on her face. If you hadn’t known she was sick you wouldn’t have guessed. She radiated peace, and ironically, she exuded health. That was God in her!
I think of her teenage daughter (who snapped the picture of us in their yard after one of my television tapings in 2019. I once had their daughter as my secret prayer pal for a year, and it was such a joy to shop for a girl again, and leave her a gift every month along with cards in the mail.) Naomi was an exceptional mother to her two sons and daughter. She often told me that she wished to live for her young daughter’s sake. Naomi herself had lost her mom in early adulthood and knew how difficult it was for her. Her desire to live was an unselfish one. She wanted to be here especially for her daughter.
I think of the unfinished…no more. Today I felt it was the time to honour Naomi. Today, I found closure. Today I can say with a light heart that I gave my friend the best that a person undergoing cancer could have wanted in a friend. It was my honour to serve God through friendship with Naomi.
Naomi Braun’s official obituary from Matthew’s Funeral Home (at today’s date) could be found HERE
(Note: This post was originally written in November 2022)