I’ve been trying to avoid social media and the news for months now but it’s like a train wreck that you can’t seem to avert your eyes from. I find myself opening up Facebook and news sites with feelings of dread and trepidation. Even reading blog posts is hazardous to one’s emotional state these days. If the negativity of the person writing them doesn’t get you, don’t worry, the comments below the posts will. So I’ve found myself reflecting on other things. More important things. The holidays were a whirlwind last year and although every year seems crazy, this one was especially manic. We moved a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving and life just seemed to keep barreling forward like a steamroller out of control. The change of the seasons brought with it other changes. Changes that were painful and hard to understand.
While December brought cheer to many, it also brought great sorrow to others. We lost a dear friend two weeks before Christmas. My friend Mary was a woman of God who loved and cherished her family. While the rest of the world was spending their days throwing hate and stereotypes at each other, I watched a family grieve the loss of a daughter. While people were rioting in the name of peace, five children began the arduous task of building a new life without their mother. And while still others waged war against whatever they deemed to be tyranny (whether on the right or left) a church family busied themselves bearing one another’s burden of grief.
Mary battled cancer for 3 years. She fought bravely until the end. I had so many thoughts running through my head and heart but the one that kept returning was, this is what courage looks like. Three and a half years ago, when Mary was diagnosed, a woman named Brittany Maynard decided to end her life rather than fight the cancer she was diagnosed with. She was hailed a hero. I couldn’t get on social media without seeing someone praising her “courageous decision”. My Mary had just been diagnosed. It was heart-wrenching. But I was blessed because I got to experience what real courage looks like in the face and determination of my friend. For three years she endured chemo, radiation, and sickness. She never lost faith or hope. Most importantly I watched her be perfected in love and in suffering. And it wasn’t easy to witness. It wasn’t something out of a Hollywood movie. It was raw and visceral. It was real. Her beautiful hair fell out and she became a walking skeleton. She threw up everything she ate and needed help going to the bathroom. Her Mother and sisters and closest friends had to bathe her. But I will never forget the last time she spoke to me. Her face was gaunt and drawn. She struggled just to sit up in bed and her breathing was labored. But she told me that she loved me and that she wasn’t afraid. And in her face, I saw Jesus. Through the suffering and the pain, I saw the face of our Savior. And she ordered me that day, “Stop your crying. I’m going home.”
We had prayed fervently for her. As a family, we’d asked God to heal her. The Coconuts struggled with understanding and would often ask me, “Why, momma? Why won’t God heal her?” I admit I feinted a little during that time. Sometimes I didn’t know what to say because frankly, I felt the same way. Why Lord?? Our church has fasted and prayed. We’d believed. She’d believed. Why?? I felt as though the heavens were brass and there was no answer. Only silence. I comforted my children with the knowledge that our beautiful friend and sister in Christ was in heaven, walking on streets of gold. I told them that the Lord is sovereign (and He is) that His ways are higher than ours (and they are) and that He loved Mary more than we did (and He does). It appeased them but I felt hollow.
One day I was praying again for understanding. I needed closure. I needed comfort. The Lord took me to the scripture in Mark 1: 35-38
“Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed. And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him. When they found Him, they said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” But He said to them, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also because for this purpose I have come forth.”
“That I may preach there also because for THIS purpose I have come forth. “ Not for my purpose. Not to be a genie in the lamp. But that His gospel would be preached. It is the gospel that saves. It is the gospel that mends our brokenness so that we can make heaven our home. It is the gospel that changes people and HEALS their sin nature. Because, really, in the end, that is all that matters.
As the seasons are changing once again, and I find myself looking at the holidays again, I am reminded that our God never changes. He’s still reaching for our hearts and offering us restoration and healing for our brokenness through His cross. I watched my beautiful, brave friend live out the gospel to the very end. Not even death could break the bond of love and faith she held with her Savior. She was made whole. She was healed. Just not on this side of heaven. But the seeds that she planted through the gospel in both her life and death have taken root and will produce fruit in the years to come. I saw her faith and love touch those around her that she loved the most. I see that same faith and love for God growing in her daughter today.
The Lord is our healer. But His most important healing takes place in our souls and then through us to minister to others.
It’s been a year since she left us. I miss her tremendously and can still hear her laughter and her voice chiding me for my crazy driving. I miss hearing her stories and seeing her love for kids as she faithfully ministered to them during Sunday school. I miss her friendship. I am better for knowing her and I am honored to have called her friend.
This picture is my favorite. It sums up who she was. Superhero of faith. Champion of love. Friend to all.