The Greatest Is Love

Meditation on 1 Cor. 13 and Hebrews 12:1-2

In Memory of Johnalee Hebron


Pastor Karen Crawford

Coshocton, Ohio

His eye is on the sparrow


You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl. That’s what people said about Johnalee when she and Lewis moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1964. A unique person with a unique name, she was the kind of girl who knocked on neighbor’s doors, said hello and introduced herself. The kind of girl who never met a stranger. Everyone was her friend. She was the kind of girl who wasn’t afraid to stand up in a restaurant in Grand Rapids and ask if anyone knew of a good pediatrician. She and Lewis moved to Michigan because of his employer, Edmont. Lewis was opening up a regional sales office for the Coshocton manufacturer that had become the world’s largest producer of coated gloves.

     Lewis and Johnalee had met at the Mayflower restaurant after a basketball game. Lewis saw her first. She was a senior at Fresno High, in a graduating class of 16. He was from Warsaw High, one of 26 in his graduating class. He was too shy to ask her out directly, so his friend asked her for him. He was the only one she ever dated. They were married in 1953 at Fresno Methodist Church. She was ready to be a wife and mother and didn’t pursue college or working outside the home.

     She was good at everything. She was a gourmet cook and hosted elegant dinner parties with 14 different hors d’oeuvre; she sewed all her own clothing, including winter coats, and sewed for others. Growing up with a florist father and spending her childhood in a greenhouse, she had a knack for growing, floral arranging and making corsages, wedding decorations, and interior design. She could take a room that was just blah and with a few small touches, turn it into amazing. She was the kind of woman who painted oil landscapes on canvas and trees and fountains on interior walls.

     She made everything beautiful. Everything she touched was beautiful. When her granddaughter, Bethany, remarked that a neighbor’s yard looked like the game Candyland, Johnalee turned the garden into a real Candyland for her, planting lollipops and hanging candies from trees and shrubs, much to the little girls’ delight. She turned children’s tea parties into magical Mary Poppins-like experiences, making them outfits with matching hats, serving up tiny petits fours and laughter.

      She and Lewis had suffered through the loss of a child, Kip’s younger brother, who was born with spina bifida. His death at only 18 months brought them closer together and broke them apart. After Kyle died, Johnalee wasn’t the kind of woman who sat around and felt sorry for herself. Her grief stirred her to bring joy to sick children as a volunteer play lady at a hospital in Grand Rapids. She engaged the children so well that when it was time for them to go home, they wanted to stay with Johnalee.

    She was a model of the kind of love the Apostle Paul talks about in the Love Chapter, 1 Cor. 13, often read at weddings. She was the kind of person who knew love was an action, not just a feeling or a string of pretty words. Love meant patience, kindness, forgiveness—not keeping score. She lived love for 67 years with her husband, Lewis. She loved human beings, she loved God, and she loved His Creation, including birds and squirrels that she fed right out of her hand. She was a woman of faith, who sang in the choir at John Knox Presbyterian Church and sang at weddings.  

     She was a gift from the Lord.

     In her last days, her family sang hymns to her at her bedside and experienced Christ’s peace. They sang songs such as Great Is Thy Faithfulness and A Mighty Fortress Is Our God until she entered into the fullness of the joy of the Lord.

     In my mind’s eyes, I imagine her now in God’s beautiful garden, with Jesus and all God’s creatures, feeding birds and squirrels from her hand. I imagine she is making paradise even more lovely and beautiful, perhaps painting rainbows in the sky, sewing clothes for the lilies of the field, and making hors d’oeuvre for the banquet feast.  No doubt, she is singing God’s praise for all of her days. She has joined her son, Kyle, in the Great Cloud of Witnesses. She is with the faithful from every time and place, who ran the race before us, endured and persevered till the end—and is now watching over us and cheering us on.

    Do not grow weary of doing well, my friends. Do not grow tired!

    She knew what was important in life and in death—that we belong to God. And that love never ends. Nothing can separate us from God’s love. But the life that we live in the everlasting remains a mystery to us, someday to be revealed, as Paul explains at the end of the Love Chapter. We see a glimpse of the holy in this world through the goodness of human beings like Johnalee and when we gather at the Lord’s Table in church, where Christ comes to us, feeds, and transforms us, welcoming those from east and west, north and south. From the country and the city. And those who left the country for the city, but the country never left them.

     “ For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”


Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York on Long Island. Come and visit! We want to share God’s love and grace with you and encourage you on your journey of faith. I have served Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio since my ordination in 2011. I am a 2010 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and am working on a doctor of ministry degree with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am married to Jim and we have 5 grown children and two grandchildren in our blended family. We are parents to fur babies, Liam, an orange tabby cat, and Minnie, a toy poodle.

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