July 4, 2006...
We had just moved into town. It was our third day here and we were invited to a neighborhood street party...BBQ, Fireworks, kids riding bikes in the street, and the chance to meet our new neighbors. Toward the end of the evening, a woman emerged from a group that had been visiting a few yards away. She was tall and elegant with a huge, bright smile and had an accent as Southern as sweet tea.
Over the next few weeks, we became friends. Our kids enjoyed playing together and we enjoyed visiting. Living only a few houses apart, we were able to drop in whenever the mood struck without having to "make a playdate." I found out that she was a breast cancer survivor and wondered at that...she looked so strong and healthy, an avid tennis player. I had such respect for what she had been through.
She began having health problems here and there, but it didn't slow her down. She would have a procedure, take a few days to recoup, then be back on the tennis courts. But one day, she showed up at my house and told me, "I just came from my oncologist."
My heart stopped. "Oncologist?" My mind prayed, oh dear God NO.
"Is it back?"
She nodded. "It's back. It's bad, I just know it's bad."
I hugged her hard and held her as she cried, felt the fear causing her to tremble. "You're gonna beat this. I just know it." I hoped my saying it out loud would make it true.
God please make it true.
She began treatments right away. I learned so much by watching her walk this journey. Cancer is an ugly disease marked by waiting, hope, despair, the roller-coaster of tumor markers rising and falling, and the awful side effects of chemo. She laughed at "chemo brain"...the forgetfulness caused by the poison meant to kill the cancer. She had fun with her wig, grinning when it was crooked and sometimes ditching it altogether. I loved it when she let her baldness show. "You wear that beautiful bald head proudly," I told her, and I meant it. I saw it as a badge of honor, marking her as a fighter and a survivor.
For more than four years she lived life to the fullest and determined to defeat the disease. She adored her husband and children, fighting with every breath for just one more day with them. No matter how sick or weak she was, she relished her role as wife and mother and determined to get up and put on a smile if at all possible...and sometimes when most of us would have thought it impossible.
But even more than the way she lived each day was the transformation of her spirit. This proud, strong woman who loved God began to slowly be betrayed by the very body that she had taken such pains to keep healthy. As her body deteriorated, though, the light of Christ grew brighter and brighter and she went from loving Him to absolutely ADORING Him. In her last months, she was frail and thin but her face was radiant.
I told her, "I know you don't feel well, but you look absolutely beautiful. You are glowing."
She smiled and said "He has filled me with His presence. It is so amazing. I have never felt like this before!"
She knew her condition was terminal, though she believed God could heal her instantly. She was at absolute peace, though she desperately wanted to watch her children grow up. But I believe, and I told her this the last time I saw her, that being a Christian means we don't miss anything good. I believe we do get glimpses of what goes on here on Earth. Revelation talks about it...about the Saints talking with God regarding events down here.
The last time I saw her...
Nine of us gathered to pray, knowing her days were drawing to a close. We all crawled in bed with her and prayed and cried and sang and just loved on her. Someone read Revelation 21...My precious sister closed her eyes and smiled as she absorbed the promises of the God whom she knew she would soon see face to face. We rubbed her hands, feet and head and told her how much she means to us, how knowing her has changed us, and how we would always be here for her children. I can still feel her cheek against mine as I hugged her goodbye. The warmth of her skin that had become so thin. "I love you," I whispered.
"I love you," she said.
A few days later several of us received text messages...a final goodbye from our friend just in case this was the last time she'd have the strength to do so. I continued to text her often and remind her that I loved her and was praying for her every day...and I would jump every time my phone beeped thinking "this was it."
And finally, yesterday, it was. She was released from her disease-riddled body and set gloriously free into the presence of the Savior...the Jesus whose image she reflected so beautifully to us all.
I can only imagine the relief she felt when the pain was gone and she saw HIM.
I write this to honor my friend and sister in Christ. I feel so blessed and honored to have walked part of her journey with her. May we all learn to live and reflect His glory in the way we love and serve those around us just as she did.
My dear sister in Christ, thank you for sharing your journey with us. Because of the work I saw God do in YOU, I will never be the same. I will see you soon, sweet friend. I am sure your laughter is echoing through Paradise and putting a big grin on the face of Jesus.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.