My earliest memories of Eddie are from when I was a little
girl. My family attended Central Heights MB
Church, and from where we sat, each and every Sunday – In the first row of the
balcony on the far right side – I had an ideal vantage from which to view the
faithful crew of Twin Firs, always located on the main floor, near the front,
on the far left side. Week after week,
the faces became familiar, as did their individual quirks and
personalities. To me, Eddie was the
Downs Syndrome guy that would occasionally utter what I thought were untimely
and loud vocalizations. I remember,
“That’s right!”, and many a hearty, “Amen”. I noticed his tendency to stand up and conduct either the choir or the
congregation during times of song. My thoughts about Eddie and his motley crew of
companions, as well as my observations about how caregivers, the church
leadership and congregation related to this population of “special” individuals,
made an impression on me.
I can recall some of the random thoughts that went through my head as I sat on my Dad’s lap, taking in the view from below: Did God choose to make some people handicapped? Why? Why did I have to have a handicapped brother? Following closely on the heels of that thought was a sense of guilt for having asking the question. I remember forcing my thoughts to thankfulness that at least James was a fun playmate and didn’t seem as strange or scary as the people from Twin Firs, and I remember hoping that James would never grow up to be like those handicapped adults that I observed each week from afar. Towards this population, I developed a sense of pity. And (unbeknownst to me at the time), toward my God, I developed a sense of distrust. If God was loving and perfect, how or why would He allow such poor examples of his handiwork? It only reflected negatively on Him as Omnipotent Creator. It was through this doorway (and many others) that doubt entered my heart and life about the nature of God.
I remember one occasion when I accompanied my Dad on a visit
to Twin Firs. I was maybe 10 years of
age, and cannot recall what our specific purpose was that day, but I remember
my impressions from that experience. It
seemed like a long drive up the side of a mountain, through many towering
evergreens. The road was narrow and
windy and everything seemed dark, dank, creepy and ominous to me. I wasn’t crazy about the idea of going
inside, but didn’t relish the thought of staying alone in the vehicle either,
so tagged along inside. My memory is
sketchy, and the things I do remember are sensory: The fluorescent lighting, the distinct smell
of an institutional care facility, strange sounds and vocalizations, and the
sight of odd looking adults in wheelchairs, lumbering about or just sitting,
staring off into space. I’m not sure
what I found more disturbing, the vacant eyes that did not connect with mine,
or the ones that did, and the momentary soul exchange through those tiny
windows. On that occasion, Eddie was a
recognizable and friendly face, and I was glad to be on the receiving end of
his great delight of children.
It was many years later, that I met Eddie’s only nephew, Brad, who became my husband. Imagine my surprise when we made the connection that Eddie Braun from Clearbook, was Brad’s Dad’s brother! Prior to our marriage, an induction into the Braun family came in the form of a test (not seriously). Would I accompany both Uncle Eddie and his elderly mother on a flight from Vancouver to Lethbridge at Christmas? I got a free return flight to see my sweetheart over the holidays in exchange for my services as chaperone. Seemed like a great deal to me, and it was! Everything went very smoothly, and it was a delight for me to witness first hand the special bond that existed between this son and his mother. It also served as my introduction to Eddie’s cuddly nature. It was the beginning of a relationship that would be characterized by lengthy and hearty hugs, eye gazing, smiles, hand holding, head touching, and long moments of sitting together (very closely) in companionable silence.
Uncle Eddie may have been missing his 23rd
chromosome, but the Y chromosome was present and fully functional! A typical man, in many regards, with all the
posturing, posing and efforts to attract the pretty ladies. I don’t think anyone could deny that Eddie
was a “ladies man”. From the
not-so-subtle eye gestures that conveyed the nonverbal, “How you doin’?” to the blown kisses, hand
kisses, and many other gentlemanly persuasions… I know I wasn’t alone in succumbing to his irresistible charms. What girl doesn’t want to feel like the most
precious princess in the world. Yes, he
was “over the top”, but what’s wrong with that? I, for one, loved the way Eddie wielded his charm. He did it with style and grace and genuine
affection and love. That’s one thing
that I think most people who know Eddie would attest to. He made each of us feel so very special and
loved. He just had that gift.
The first time I recognized the extent to which this gift
impacted the lives of people outside our family, came in August, 2005, when
Brad and I had the opportunity to attend Fresh Wind Community Fellowhip with
Eddie. Allow me to back up a little, and
shed some light on how this event came about. December, 2004, the Braun family went out into the woods for our annual
Christmas tree hunt. On this occasion,
Mom’s younger brother Ken, his wife, Lois and their son, Tyler were with
Tyler had recently returned from a visit to Abbosford and was talking about his experience at a “very cool” church, called Fresh Wind. At that time he said that it was a church that ministered to a congregation that had a high percentage of children, handicapped and poor. In fact, he was pretty sure that he saw Dad’s brother, Uncle Eddie there, and that it even appeared to him that Eddie held some sort of position of leadership in the church, perhaps an Elder? I remember all of us being quite surprised at this, and being doubtful that this person that Tyler was describing and our Eddie were one in the same. However, the more we talked, the more we started to reconcile this obviously accurate description with the character portrayal that we were being presented with. How could Eddie be in a position of church leadership?! He has Downs Syndrome after all, and how exactly was it possible for him to have this amazing ministry to people, receive words from the Lord, and make them public, even through the use of scripture. This was all a little more than my brain could process or make sense of. I remember Tyler challenging me that day: Wouldn’t it be possible, that if Eddie knew Jesus personally, that the same Spirit poured out to us would also indwell him, enabling him to be used by God and display not only the fruit of the Spirit, but the gifts of that same Spirit as well?
A few weeks later, the Family Ministries Pastor (at our church in Calgary ), directed my attention to a children’s book about listening prayer. It was titled, “Children, Can You Hear Me?” and was written by Brad Jersak, pastor of the Fresh Wind church. An interesting coincidence, I thought. When the next “coincidence” occurred, I paid attention, realizing that God was trying to get my attention. I spoke on the phone with my cousin, Craig Janzen, who was recounting an experience that he had just had. He had been driving along in his hometown of Creston, when he happened to notice Brian West walking along the side of the road. Brian had been the Camp Director at Columbia Bible Camp in ’89, the summer that both Craig and I were counselors. Craig offered Brian a ride, and Brian was happy to see Craig, and said that he had just been praying that God would provide him someone to talk with. Brian and Craig proceeded to dialogue about Brian’s latest involvement with the start up of a new church in Abbotsford, called Fresh Wind. Craig told me that since that conversation with Brian, that he had acquired both the regular and children’s version of Brad Jersak’s books on listening prayer, and that I really should read them, and get back to him about what I thought of them.
I went on-line to find out what I could about Fresh Wind, pastor Brad Jersak, and Uncle Eddie’s involvement. I e-mailed Pastor Brad, introducing myself as Eddie Braun’s niece (by marriage), and asked if it was possible that our uncle could be in a role of leadership at his church as cousin Tyler had suspected. Brad’s response was both affirming and insightful, and added fuel to this fire that God had sparked in my spirit with regard to His Spirit.
So, by Summer, 2005, not only had I begun to read the books, I was actually engaging in the listening prayer activities from each chapter that, while tempted to skip over, felt compelled by the Spirit of God to actively engage with, in order to receive from the Lord what He had for me. I really shouldn’t be so surprised, and yet I was, when from the first listening prayer activity, I began to hear God’s voice… His heart and his instructions for me. It was early August, and within a week’s time we would be leaving to go to Abbotsford to celebrate my parent’s 40th Anniversary. The thought of seeing this Fresh Wind congregation in person was gaining appeal to me, and I was sensing that it would happen on this trip. I knew it was time to make progress in reading the book on listening prayer, so that I had some background knowledge before attending. On a Monday morning, I was reading in the second chapter. As I read, I experienced what I can only describe as a God moment. I was reading about re-digging ancient wells, and I felt the Holy Spirit stop and impress on me the words that I was reading. I knew it was God, and so I inquired of Him, “Yes, Lord, I’m listening, what would you have me receive from this reading?” I read and re-read the portion that seemed to be highlighted. “How can I re-dig ancient wells, God? I am adopted. I am not sure if you mean my Mennonite heritage or biological.” My impression was that it was my biological heritage. As I so often do, I explained to God the obvious (like He doesn’t already know), and pointed out the impossibility of what He was saying to me. I don’t know anything about my biological heritage. I tried to make God fit into my box of understanding. Knowing that my ethnicity is Irish and Welsh, I presumed that God was talking about my recent affiliation with Calgary’s Urban Monastery and enlightenment about early Celtic Christianity. In my spirit, I knew that I hadn’t nailed what God was getting at. I had such a strong sense that God was trying to get my attention, and that what He wanted to convey was very important… But I just wasn’t receiving the message. It was a very frustrating moment. After several long moments of wrestling with God, I finally surrendered, and prayed. I acknowledged that God had an important message for me, but that He would need to assist me in re-digging any biological ancient wells, because I didn’t know how to do that. I remember surrendering the whole situation to Him, as well as inviting Him to go ahead to do whatever work He wanted to in my life that would accomplish His purpose. After that, there was release, a sense of peace, but no further insight or understanding… And I was okay with that. Three days later, my husband came home with a book authored by my biological father (including his picture), containing the information that he resides in Calgary ! The next day we left for Abbotsford.
I knew that Brad and I were meant to attend church with Uncle Eddie on that first Sunday in August, and the fact that it was to be held in a backyard, did not deter me. There were so many things about the service that day that made it a memorable, God-permeated event for me, personally. But enough about me, back to Uncle Eddie!
There were several things that were impressed upon both Brad and myself as we absorbed what took place during that service, and Uncle Eddie’s role in it. Some of the highlights included meeting Pastor Brad Jersak and seeing Eddie’s face light up when he came over to personally greet him that morning. There was such an obvious bond of mutual respect, love and admiration between the two as they greeted each other. It was baptismal Sunday, and Eddie’s excitement about participating in the “taufe-fest” was obvious. Prior to the service, Pastor Brad confirmed that Eddie would be called up toward the end of the service to pray a blessing over those who were baptized, and he was excited! As the individuals came forward to give their personal testimonies prior to being baptized, Brad and I were shocked at the number of times that Eddie’s name came up as someone who made them feel so welcome within the congregation; how Eddie had ministered to them, and the blessing that he was to them. This type of affirmation of Eddie and his role at Fresh Wind continued long after the service concluded as many people took the opportunity to introduce themselves to us. We received comment after comment about the manner in which Uncle Eddie ministered to the congregation that he so obviously loved and was an integral part of.
I kept the song sheet that we received that Sunday tucked in
my Bible as a reminder of that very special Sunday morning, and it is still
there today. One of the songs we sang
that Sunday was “I’ll Fly Away”. Prior
to singing, one of the leaders (Derek Wiess?) commented that this hymn was not
just about what we have to look forward to after we die, but what we have to
look forward to in this lifetime as we allow the “old man” to die and receive
the new life that we have in Christ... Every day. While keeping that truth in mind as I sang, I
also couldn’t ignore the thought that pushed into my mind… When it was time for
Uncle Eddie to be called home, that occasion would be a time for great
rejoicing and celebration of a life well lived. Since that day, Jars of Clay produced a rendition of that hymn that I
absolutely love, and upon every hearing, would be reminded of Eddie and our
time of fellowship with his congregation.
What a privilege it was to attend Uncle Eddie’s funeral
service on Friday, February 9th,
2007. To me, it was a coming
together of two worlds: His biological
family uniting with his spiritual family and those with whom he lived
the service, there was exchanged a knowing, understanding, and blessing
other as we jointly gave glory to God and celebrated Eddie’s
life. Jesus said, “I have come that they might have
life, and have it to the full.” John
10:10. I am grateful for the full life
that Eddie lived, with Jesus, his Lord, Saviour and Friend. And I am
grateful for having known Uncle
Eddie, and know that my life is fuller as I have seen, heard and
Jesus through him. I will forever be
changed because I have known Eddie. Thank-you Eddie, for being Jesus to
me. You are dearly missed, and I look forward to seeing you again one
when it’s my turn to fly away.
With much love and gratitude,