There are few people who can say they have an aunt who also doubles as a best friend. I’m one of the lucky few. Maybe it’s because she’s only three years older than me that Dena feels more like a friend than an aunt. Or maybe it’s just because she’s the best person ever. It’s her birthday this month and here I am pondering the many, many reasons she is worth celebrating.
For starters, let me say this: Dena has eyes to see heavenly things. She has this amazing ability to see people as God sees them. I should probably mention here that by the world’s standards, Dena is very successful. She is well-educated, well-traveled, and beautiful. And yet…..those things don’t really matter to Dena. When she looks at a person, she sees a child of God whose divine identity has nothing to do with their high school GPA, their level of athleticism, their personal resume, or their number of followers on Instagram. She sees the things that truly matter. Just as “the Lord looketh on the heart,” so does Dena. I have felt God’s love through Dena many times. When my own mind becomes too polluted by social media and what the world deems praiseworthy, I try to remember to BE A DENA!
I think one reason Dena has been blessed with such perspective is because she is fiercely devoted to God. Her faith is relentless! We’ve had many sleepovers throughout my life, and regardless of how late we stay up talking or watching a movie, Dena always, always, always says her prayers. The length of Dena’s prayers would both shock and inspire you. I used to wonder how she had so much to say to Heavenly Father. I’ve come to realize that her prayers mostly consist of pleas for her loved ones and their well-being—because that’s just who Dena is. I don’t think she has skipped a nightly, KNEELING prayer in 20+ years (probably more). Every time I plop down in bed and make excuses that I’m just too exhausted to kneel down and pray, I remind myself to BE A DENA!
Just as she has cultivated this amazing relationship with Heavenly Father, Dena also knows the Savior. Like, really truly knows Him. And how could she not? Dena has spent her life following Him. I have this vivid memory of Dena pulling out her foot spa and washing all of her nieces’ and nephews’ feet when we had a big family party at my Grandma’s. I had notoriously smelly feet as a kid (I blame these black leather flats I wore way too often), and I’m sure my cousins’ feet were pretty disgusting too. Yet there she was, quite literally doing what Jesus did for His disciples. When I’m tempted to pass up an opportunity to serve someone, I think to myself, BE A DENA!
Another Christlike quality of Dena’s is her patience. Seven years ago, she took me on my dream trip to England. It was my first time leaving the country and I was totally clueless. Dena patiently endured my lack of traveling know-how and my hangry moments. She took the time to explain things to me and never once made me feel like an idiot (even though I was). I know that’s how the Savior must have been. When I get frustrated with a certain little person who asks me the same questions over and over again and has full-blown meltdowns when he’s tired or hungry, I tell myself to BE A DENA!
There’s this quote I love:
I think this quote perfectly describes Dena, and here is just one reason why…
Four and a half years ago, Dena’s father (my grandpa) was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. We were all heartbroken by the news, but as my grandpa’s youngest daughter who was living with him at the time, I sometimes wonder if Dena (and of course my Grandma) felt the sting of his diagnosis most poignantly. That cancer took my grandpa’s life within months, and though her world was shattered, Dena never lost her faith. She handled this tragedy with grace and trust. I’ll never forget how hard it was to watch Dena suffer through my grandpa’s last week on earth, but I’ll also never forget how a grief-stricken daughter stood at a pulpit at his funeral service and, without notes, delivered a beautiful sermon about my grandpa’s goodness. Despite her sorrow, Dena focused on JOY. When my own challenges and trials make me question God’s interference in my life, I strive to BE A DENA!
What else? She has the most beautiful green eyes (in fact, I’ve been with her in public when strangers have approached her and told her so). She is funny, light-hearted, completely without guile, an advocate for the underdog, a movie junkie (she is like a human IMDB.com), a phenomenal pianist, compassionate, and humble.
The list goes on. If you are trying to secure a spot in the Celestial Kingdom, just BE A DENA!
Happy Birthday to a rockstar aunt, a loyal daughter, a supportive sister, and a devoted friend!
I’ll end with Elder Marvin J. Ashton’s words:
“Yes, a friend is a person who is willing to take me the way I am but who is willing and able to leave me better than he found me.”
I’m convinced there isn’t a man good enough for Dena, but if you happen to know an exceptional human being who is also at least 5 foot 9 (I’m only kind of joking), email/call/text me and let’s get these two marvelous people together!