“Have this attitude… which was also in Christ Jesus, who… emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant” (Philippians 2:5,7).
Very few people bother to truly live this command. Sure, it’s memorized, rationalized, and compartmentalized, but it is hardly ever actualized. As I think about it, there is one person I know who has been emptying herself for years: my sister, Kay.
I’m pretty sure Kay didn’t start off with selflessness in mind. As an only child for the first seventeen years of her life, Kay enjoyed a carefree childhood of skits, swimming, and grade-school twirling. She had lots of friends, from both the human and animal kingdom, and our picture box contains multiple black and white photographs to prove it.
(McAdoo school skit: Bobbie Jo Hickman, Kay, and unidentified hula girl)
(Kay at Roaring Springs pool at about age 13)
(Grade-school majorette – age 8)
In order to keep Kay occupied, Mother encouraged preschool play-dates. During one such afternoon, Kay and Nelda were found together in the outhouse. Despite Mother’s call, neither emerged from behind the closed, privy door. Finally, as Mother continued to urge the girls into the house, five-year-old Kay emerged alone from the outhouse. As Mother queried Kay for the source of delay, Kay explained that Nelda was experiencing problems with her stomach. Seeing the question on Mother’s face, Kay explained further. “Mother, you’ll have to wait! I think Nelda has a kidney!”
(Kay and Nelda Jane Allen)
Since Mother was one of seven children, Kay grew up with lots of cousins nearby. Jean Baird, one of our cousins, remembers these days with her own “Kay” version of Little Miss Muffet:
“Little Miss Kay visited her cousins
Eating steaks and strawberry pie
Along came her Uncle Lawrence
Who sprayed her beautiful hair with Cool Whip
And to this day, we don’t know why.”
(Christmas at Grandmother Callihan’s: L to R: Kay, Paula Callihan Black, Brenda Callihan Finley, Larry Pipkin, Jean Pipkin Baird, Clawson Pipkin and Grandmother Ethel)
As Kay entered high school, her years filled with initiations, proms, and basketball games of which she was often the star. During her free time, Kay loved sitting crosslegged on her bed listening to phonographs of Elvis, Pat Boone, and Ricky Nelson. “Honeycomb” by Jimmy Rodgers proved one of her favorite 45s.
(Freshman initiation – wearing Margaret Ann Harris’ western suit)
(Playing with the cat…there is always a cat – age 14)
My earliest memories of Kay include not only her, but also her son Danny and hunky, ex-marine husband Ray. In those early years, we all attended services together at a rural church with a caliche parking lot. Kay accompanied on piano as Danny and I belted out “Jesus wants me for a Sunbeam” and “Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us”. Her friend, Ethel Edwards remembers Kay as the “musical bird,” able to play the piano and “sing specials” on the pale pink platform at First Baptist McAdoo.
(Kay with son, Danny at 18 months)
Ethel recalls, “Once Kay set her mind to anything, she could usually get it done. So one day, she decided I could sing and arranged a duet for us. Somewhere along the way I seemed to forget that I sound like a crow, even when singing with a mocking bird. Everyone was very nice afterwards, but I did notice that Kay never set up another duet for us.”
Friend Sue Griffin Stahl remembers Kay’s musical ability, too: “When Kay and her parents visited, Kay would play the piano, Daddy would play his guitar and we would all sing hymns.”
I always considered Kay the cool, big sister. She was the first to introduce me to pizza and teach me to swim in the ice-cold waters of Roaring Springs. Hers were the best gifts (a Twiggy doll with fish-net hose!) and she could whip up a mean batch of apricot fried-pies. Kay always made it to Sunday School, even after a full Saturday of canyon dirt-biking on her Yamaha 150. Like I said, she was very cool.
(Note the exceptional cool wiglet that stayed on during the ride)
But life hasn’t always been easy for Kay. She was only twenty-six years old when her husband, Ray crashed the airplane that left him with 2nd and 3rd degree burns over 50% of his body. Despite the challenges this thirty-one day hospitalization placed on their finances and faith, Kay met the trial head-on. In fact, Jean Baird likens Kay’s life to that exemplified in the Prayer of St. Francis:
“Kay’s life has shown how God has used her as an instrument of His peace.
Where there is hatred, she sows love;
Where there is injury, she pardons;
Where there is doubt, she faithes;
Where there is despair, she hopes;
Where there is darkness, she brings light;
Where there is sadness, she shares her joy.
Kay seeks to console rather than to be consoled;
To understand rather than to be understood;
To love rather than to be loved.
In Kay’s giving of herself, she receives God’s graces.
In pardoning, she is pardoned.
She dies to self and is born to eternal life.”
Sue Stahl put it another way: ” I knew that I could always rely on Kay as I grew into adulthood. Rely on she and Ray to be a friend and someone whom I could go to – to request prayer, to talk to and to visit with. Our families did many “things” together and I feel like we are almost related. In fact I know we are because we are brothers and sisters through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and our Father God.”
Seems that a lot of Kay’s life has included caring for someone else. Jean agrees. “The best example of how Kay shines with the light of Christ was in her care for the needs of her mother, my blessed Aunt Jewel. As Aunt Jewel journeyed through Alzheimer’s disease, Kay daily visited her mother despite working a full time job and taking care of her own home. Kay received her strength and perseverance through her love for God and the Bible. She served with a gentle, loving spirit even while going through the difficult process of seeing her mother die.”
(Kay with Mother, Jewell in 1996)
Niece Hilary Green notes this as well. “When I was in middle school, my Memaw needed full-time care and Aunt Kay did that for the rest of Memaw’s life. She showed Jesus’ never-ending, unconditional, selfless love, as she still does to those around her.”
Ethel agrees, “Christ has given Kay the gift of seeing the best in any situation, whether you are an old friend, new acquaintance or a family member whom she loves. She gives us all the benefit of the doubt.”
“Absolutely,” responds niece Hannah Svebakken. “I have seen her selflessly serve many in her church and her family without anticipating anything in return. I have been very inspired by the way she has loved those close to her – including my own family. Kay does this well because she is a listener. She asks good questions and she really listens to the answers. This always makes me feel so loved — like she really wants to know me. She often remembers something I had forgotten I even told her!”
For years, Kay not only cared for our Mother, but her mother-in-law as well. While one lived with her, the other was only blocks away. Despite juggling care for her loved ones, Kay taught Awana’s and Kid’s Camp, while remaining pianist at a local mission church. She still teaches a widow’s Sunday School class and helps with local food distribution. “She’s a hard worker,” Hannah assents. “She doesn’t shy away from a task simply because it is hard. She uses what she is given to make the most of it — including wild plums! Plum jam, anyone?”
(At Primera Bautista Iglesia – about 1992)
Both of my girls have sweet memories of spending time with Aunt Kay and Uncle Ray. “Bike rides, Old Maid, Chinese checkers, Friday nights at the Azteca Mexican Restaurant and laughing so hard until Aunt Kay snorted,” Hilary chuckles. “I remember going to see her at work and feeling so special because I knew her. After all, she was so smart and had her own office at the American State Bank!”
“Yes, I remember Hilary and I staying with Kay and Ray several times — just the two of us,” Hannah chimes in. “I have great memories of Kay’s cooking – custard ice cream, fried okra, Whittle corn, fried quail, apricots, pound cake and of course Dixie dogs, too. One summer there was a whole box of banana chocolate bombs in the freezer and we could have one every day! Another time, Aunt Kay borrowed a puppy and a kitten from friends just to have a special amusement for we nieces. I remember several bikes rides through Floydada, all four of us pedaling through the flat, square blocks. What a sense of freedom and safety at the same time.”
(Kay and the borrowed kitten; my husband, Mark and our daughter Hannah – 1998)
“And yet every time we see one another,” includes Hilary, “Aunt Kay always ends our conversation with ‘Lord willing.’ She constantly reminds me to live in freedom and peace because “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).
(Kay with nieces: Hannah and infant Hilary – 1986)
“Maybe Kay’s inner strength comes from her name meaning pure,” added Hannah. “Aunt Kay is a good picture of this – not that she is flawless in herself, but she trusts in the One who has paid the penalty for all her sins. She stands in confidence of this purity because of the finished work of Jesus. She is a woman who clings to Jesus. I know she doesn’t have all of the answers, but I know she seeks them from the Lord. I have early memories of Kay with her open Bible and devotional, having breakfast, quietly studying and praying. I feel sure that it is this simple daily drawing from the well that has given her the strength to walk through all of life’s ups and downs. She has been a picture to me of someone who humbles herself before the Lord and imitates Christ by taking the form of a servant. It is because of this example that we have blessed our first daughter with the middle name Kay, hoping that she too, will find her joy and hope and purity in Christ alone.”
Yes, whether you know Kay as your sister, auntie, cousin or friend, you know her as someone who regards others as more important than she is. Thank you Kay, for showing us what it means to have this same attitude as Christ Jesus. We are encouraged to get a glimpse of Him by looking at someone close-by with skin on.
(Ladies at a “Christmas around the World” banquet:
L to R: Margaret Berry, Jo Ballou, Mary Young, Kay Tinney, Lovey Harris, Billie Hickman, Gladys Allen, Rita Harris – 1968)