Jennifer Burmeister (a tribute)

It came as little surprise to me that Jennifer passed away when she did. We had many conversations about death, about eternity, about what it meant to trust that God would keep her safe, maker her well, in this life or the next. In fact, I felt warmed to walk away from one of my last conversations with Jennifer knowing she had come to some level of peace with death because she had given herself over into the hands of Jesus in a way none of us do until we face our mortality head on. That wasn’t easy for her, but I know I saw peace in her. But enough about the end. I want to reflect on her life as best I can from my vantage point as someone who was first one of the children she ministered to, then someone who worked alongside her as a teammate, and eventually as one of her pastors.

To me, Jennifer was a person of possibility, a person of action. If I had to choose one word to sum her up, from my perspective, that word would have to be advocate. Obviously, based on the cards her body delt her, Jennifer learned quite early on how to advocate for herself. She asked for what she needed, and when that didn’t work, she’d just tell you what was going to happen, and most of the time we were all the better for it. When someone’s life is shaped by the kind of pain and limitation Jennifer faced bodily, as few of us can imagine, I think a level of shameless advocation becomes the norm. And I think we could all do with more of that, personally. Because if we were honest about what we need and want, maybe we’d start to see and hear the wants and needs of others around us more clearly.

That’s where Jennifer shone. She became a person who was not consumed by mere advocation for herself, but by advocation for others because she could see and hear the needs around her. She advocated for John, for Joe, for Tyrel, for Trevor, for Mike, and so many more. An advocate is someone who supports a cause or represents another person’s interest. “To advocate is to add a voice of support”[i]. Jennifer’s legacy is her voice which cried out for us, her support and care for those sitting in this room and listening online. Her legacy is her belief that every child deserves to know they are loved by Jesus. From my vantage point, Jennifer was as good a physical embodiment of advocacy as I have come across in another human being. 

Jennifer did a lot of that advocation in prayer throughout her life, certainly toward the end. If you’re listening today, I would wager that Jennifer prayed for you in the last couple of months, very likely by name. When my wife and I were expecting our first child I would walk away from every visit with Jennifer hearing “we will be praying for you and Sarah and the baby”. Prayer is probably the best kind of advocation we can do, because it is the work of the Holy Spirit through us, the one Jesus himself calls “The Advocate”. You can disagree with me, but I think Jennifer may have gotten more done in that bed these last few years than she had in her whole life, because I think she believed in prayer, trusted God, and wouldn’t stop talking to him about what and who needed attention. 

I also know that Jennifer went to a place few of us have been with God in her last year. I know because she would describe the relationship, the fullness of love she felt, even at death’s door, and I found what she described alien to me. Even though it was hard to watch her in such pain, Jennifer knew God in a special way, and I always felt she was getting some mysterious kindness from God that I wasn’t. God meets us in our desperate need in ways we can’t imagine until we’re there. I know Jennifer knew the real God, and is with God now, no doubt still advocating and worshiping. 

In closing, I don’t entirely know how heaven works, but if we become more ourselves in the eternal presence of Jesus, not less, my guess is that Jennifer is still somehow advocating, helping, joining with God in the renewal of all things. No cushy-cloud-sitting for her. She’s on some kind of front line somewhere, barrelling away. She’s probably telling God “I’m all well and healed now! How about we get on with helping and healing all the other little children. Let’s get on with it!” If anyone could give God his marching orders, it might be Jennifer, and I don’t say that lightly. To me, she’s a little like that Canaanite woman in Matthew’s gospel, who wouldn’t let Jesus go without blessing her child. You might remember that once Jesus granted her request, he added, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” (Matthew 15.21-28)