This is a dark, dangerous world, Little One. It doesn’t take more than several seconds tuned in to the television to know, and just open the newspaper.

But yesterday, despite the heaviness that weighed–the barbell a yoke bearing weights of worry, fear, and sorrow–I found some glimmers of joy with you, Lila Grace. You’d discovered the piano, almost like you were beckoning me from my burdens, even if for only a few minutes. Your tiny finger plucked a key, and you turned to me surprised.

This is the piano that Auntie Dorie played for many years as the pianist at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Detroit.

And that’s when I remembered. Just the ting of a high C# was somehow powerful enough to remove the wet cloak of discontent–sadness over the state of our world, our nation, our community, as well as some struggles close to home.

So I said it aloud. “Today’s her 100th birthday!” Just my sudden interruption of joy made you smile, displaying your four new teeth like a gift, so broad was your grin, and I giggled. “Oh how I wish you could have known her.”

Dear Auntie Dorie–our own Dorian’s namesake, my God-mother, and an early inspiration. For as far as my mind can stretch, I remember–her voice, her tender touch to my face upon seeing me for the first time after the passing of many months, sometimes even years. Because visits with her and Uncle Johnny were far between, the miles from my Ohio home to her house in Michigan too many for those after-school chats I would have loved to have had.

My favorite times with her were at the Heikkinen Farm–the home her father-in-law, my Great-Grandpa, built from lumber hewn from the Upper Peninsula forests. I can still hear the creak of the front porch door, how it would smack upon closing. The smell as I stepped into the little alcove off the kitchen–it, too, etched upon my memory.

After hugs, in no time at all, we were settled on the old piano bench in the family room. She didn’t need a hymnal, each song committed to memory–tunes like “Jesus Loves Me” and “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy.”

Singing with Auntie Dorie in her Detroit home.

Aunt Katie and I would sing along with gusto, the happiness spilling out, and any melodic dissonance was unnoticed by the joy seated before us, embodied in the person of Auntie Dorie. Far-from-perfect pitch was certainly perfected in the Lord’s hearing, our praise a wellspring from the purity of childlike faith. And I believe God was pleased.

And I believe He was pleased, too, when He welcomed that dear woman Home. She was first and foremost His child, and, despite her own imperfections, she longed to honor her Savior. When we learned of her passing one day shy of her 95th birthday, I was surprised to discover that, even though there was that slight bitter tug of sadness, I experienced most a sweet and abiding peace. Because of course! God knew how wonderful it would be for her to celebrate her birthday after nine and a half decades on earth in Heaven, surrounded by some of her favorites–her husband, her parents and siblings. Above all, Jesus!

And I guess, if I were to surmise Auntie Dorie’s deepest desire, that for which her heart most earnestly longed, it could be stated in those three words–

Above all, Jesus!

That, Little Lila, is what Mora would want to pass on, if nothing else, in our years together, which I pray are many.

Above all, Jesus!

And if Auntie Dorie were here to play for us on that piano in our living room, the instrument that was a gift from her to me some years ago, I think she’d offer words of encouragement as we bear the heaviness of this life, burdens I so wish I could keep at bay, far from you, Little One. Yes, I believe without doubt that she would conclude each directive–her message in melody–with that trio of words.

Above all, Jesus!

The piano in the family room at our beloved Farm in Toivola, MI.

First, I believe we’d sing “My God is So Great.” Her message would be–

  • Precious Child, this difficult life requires determination. One must be strong and steadfast. In Finnish, there’s a word for such. It’s Sisu–meaning sticktoitiveness, perseverance, and strength. But such doesn’t come from our own power but, rather, from the Source who is for us our light and our salvation. Indeed, He is our strength (Psalm 27:1). Many will, with good intent, come alongside you in this lifetime, and they’ll be a help to you, Child. But never forget, while God sends helpers to do His will, He gave us His Son. Yes, find your strength in…

Above all, Jesus!

The sheet music–two songs that Auntie Dorie wrote. She was a prolific composer and poet.

Secondly, I think she’d lead us in “Jesus Tender Shepherd.” Her message?

  • There’s an enemy in this world who meddles, stirring up strife and causing division. Satan is still powerful in these dark times, though one day he will be defeated. We’re not promised an easy life, but those who put their hope in the Lord are promised eternity in Heaven, where all things will be right. We’re told that, in this world we will, in fact, face troubles, but fear not! God’s Son overcame on our behalf, so we can be courageous  (John 16:33). We have a Good Shepherd who leads His flock to green pastures, guiding them to quiet waters and is with them when they pass through the valley of dark shadows (Psalm 23). Both family and friends will be with you in those scary seasons of life, when the enemy feels too close. They are a gift to you, yes–but remember…

Above all, Jesus!

Auntie Dorie and Uncle Johnny–side by side in Heaven, as they were for many years here.

Finally, I know that Auntie Dorie would conclude with the song she knew was Mora’s favorite–“This Little Light of Mine,” and her message would be–

  • Many things in this world vie for our attention, but beware. Though glitter may shine in the artificial light of this age, that which pulls us away from the One who matters most, chasing it proves dissatisfying. Once enticed, however, things contrary to God’s best become our desire, and the stain of sin diminishes the true light of God’s love within us. Remember–we’re here for a purpose, for such a time as this. No matter how dark the days become, we’re to shine God’s light. In doing so, we become ports–safe havens of peace in the storms of life where the lost, lonely, and hurting can find healing and comfort. Only by remaining close to Him will He use us as beacons, and even those stories of times when we, too, were wayward become testimonies that direct others to the truth that–

Above all, Jesus!

She always shone Jesus so brightly!

Sweet Little Lila, that’s what Auntie Dorie would say, and that’s what Mora says too. Your strength… Your courage… Your light–each derives from…

Above all, Jesus!

Because life is hard and burdens weigh heavy. But He says, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest… My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28, 30 CSB).

As I sat with Auntie Dorie on many occasions through the years, beside her at the piano even as a young woman, I didn’t simply hear her love for Jesus in her songs, I saw it in her eyes. And I humbly pray the same will be for you as you spend time with me. Because, like her, Jesus is my Above All, too.

Perhaps it’s best proclaimed in a poem she wrote many years ago, when I was your age, in fact.

While worshipping, impatiently,

I’d hear of Heaven’s prize,

And glancing up, I saw the faith

That shone in those dear eyes… 

(“Mother’s Eyes” by Doris Heikkinen, 1970)

Yes, that is indeed my prayer, Little Lila. Although I hope you see the love I have for you when you look into my eyes, I hope that it’s…

Above all, Jesus’!

Allie only met Auntie Dorie (whose name literally means ‘Gift’) one time, and this picture captures perfectly that first and only encounter.

Dear Jesus, may you always be our Above All. I pray You’ll strengthen us for these hard times, give us courage to face whatever battles come our way, and fill us with Your light, that we might shine brightly to those yet in darkness. Thank you for giving us the Gift of good guides in this lifetime–mentors much like Auntie Dorie. She was one of the best. Please tell her happy birthday. I miss her here, but I know she’s happiest at Home with You. Amen.

To read another blog about my dear Auntie Dorie… click!