Driving back from Texas gave us the opportunity to visit a friend of many years. Ellie (Eleanor) and Charles McKinney were instant friends when we met them in 1996. Charles was the founding pastor of the New Hope Church in Turlock, California. Isaura and I visited their church one Sunday morning while I was waiting to see where the Lord was going to send me next.
Charles and Eleanor became special friends, and even though Charles went home to be with Jesus about six years ago, we have stayed in touch with Ellie. She and Charles had retired to Albuquerque some years ago to be near their daughter and grandchildren.
When we arrived in Albuquerque last Wednesday evening we took Ellie out for dinner to a local Mexican restaurant. As we sat there catching up on all that has happened since we’d last seen each other, the joy that Ellie brings to life is downright infectious. She can make any situation seem fun. This nonagenarian woman of God is simply refreshing. Charles, though much quieter, also had a tremendous sense of humor. In fact, we have a couple of books he wrote which were a series of comical stories from his 70 years of ministry. Whenever I need a lift, I thumb through several of his stories.
So visiting Ellie was like revisiting all those fun stories. We sat together soaking in story after story which prompted Isaura to say at the close of the evening, “I want to be like her when I get older!”
Here’s a selection of what we heard from Ellie during our short stay in her home.
1.) Charles was in a rehab hospital in Albuquerque shortly before he passed away. Their son, Greg, came to see his mom, and expressed an interest in seeing where his dad died. An elderly lady who was a patient began talking to them and was upset to discover that Charles was gone. She cried out, “Why didn’t someone tell me?” Ellie replied, “It’s okay. He’s gone to be with Jesus.” The lady said, “I don’t care! I liked him!”
2.) We were telling Ellie about my mother passing away earlier this year at age 98. We also told her of a dear lady in our church who had turned 100 this past June, to which Ellie said, “I wouldn’t want to live to be 100 with your fingers curled up and big knuckles, all wrinkled and hunched over!” This comment from a 94 year old who is still blazing a trail through life! Isaura and I were tickled by this evaluation of reaching the century mark.
3.) Ellie volunteers two days a week at the Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque. She works at the front desk where she has first contact with patients as they enter the facility. Over the years she has had a wonderful impact on many people just through her faith and positive attitude toward life. She was recently awarded the hospital’s first “Guardian Angel Award.”
4.) A patient came in one day who seemed unsure of why he was there. Trying to help, Ellie asked him, “What doctor are you here to see?” “I don’t know!” he replied. “Well, what department are you looking for?” “I don’t know!” he said again. “What is the physical problem you’re having?” Ellie asked. “I don’t know!” he said yet again. Ellie finally asked him, “Well, do you know where you’re going when you die?” His reply? “Yes! In the grave!”
5.) Charles and Eleanor’s daughter, Pat, had a stillborn baby girl 37 years ago. About a week before he breathed his last, Charles said to his daughter, “When I get to heaven I’ll take care of your little girl.”
6.) A touching story Ellie shared with us was the time her Charles was lying in his hospital bed unable to move or speak. She noticed he had puckered his lips, so she approached his bedside and asked, “Is everything alright? Do you need something?” Again, he puckered his lips. She asked, “Do you want a kiss?” He kept his lips puckered, so she kissed him three times. Then he relaxed and was gone from this world a few days later.
7.) Ellie was seated at Charles’s bedside along with other family members when Charles breathed his last. Eleanor turned to her daughter and son-in-law and asked them, “Do you smell that fragrance?” They answered that they indeed smelled a sweet odor. There was a peace and calm in the room like nothing any of them had experienced before.
Psalm 116:15, says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”