This is one of those posts that i’ve been dreading. It almost feels impossible to write well. And writing it out means its all final and done. And the thought of that often takes my breath away.
So many of you have prayed over the last 5 years for my friend Anne. You have asked me for updates, privately emailed me your stories of survival and cancer and your own battles. Thank you. A blogging community is a powerful thing.
My precious, sweet friend passed away 6 weeks ago. She fought with every single breath, and it was amazing to watch. NOT ONCE did she question “why me?” Not once. I have learned so much from watching her, journeying with her. I have learned that I am not like her. I view the world through a lens of justice and fairness and this just doesn’t seem fair. Anne…she doesn’t operate like me. She, full of trust and patience and strength, did not question what is fair or not, but graciously walked through the final chapters of her story with dignity, garnering the respect of anyone who had the privilege of knowing her.
She leaves behind her husband and a 5 month old son, Anson, which means “Gift of God” and “Son of Anne.” there does not exist a more perfect name for that sweet child.
I know I have not updated you along the way. Mainly because I simply didn’t know how. Anne miraculously became pregnant last year…it was her heart’s greatest desire, and she was over the moon excited. She was and would’ve continued to be an amazing mother. In fact, I still have a voicemail saved from her on my phone from months back…her sweet voice asking a few momma kinds of questions regarding BabyWise. Even in the early stages of her pregnancy, she was preparing.
Anne and I and two more of our closest Chi O sisters had our annual girls weekend planned for December 5-7…complete with sleepovers at Anne’s new house, celebrating her as the Ambassador for the Annual Brain Alliance/Miles for Hope walk, and a much anticipated baby shower. Instead, Anne went into ICU on December 4th, with news of the tumor back and bigger than ever, and delivered Anson at 32 weeks via Emergency C-Section on December 6th. We spent our girls weekend instead in the ICU with her…time that, although I wish were different, I still treasure.
Over the next few months, Anne underwent aggressive treatments to reduce the swelling and the tumor, as Anson grew and flourished and very quickly threw off any remnant of being a premie.
Anne had some good days and some bad days. Even though we do not live in the same place, I was so gratefully able to visit her multiple times over the last few months, along with our sister Allison, and spend a few good days with her…ones where we laughed…hard…and reminesneced and looked at photos, and stared at each other in awe that we were now all mommas.
We spent some days in the hospital, some at home, and some later in Hospice, where just being in her presence brought an unbelievable amount of comfort instead of sadness….i can’t explain it. My last time seeing her was shortly before she passed away, in Hospice. She was aware, and we Face-timed some sisters and sang our favorite old songs from college, her remembering more words than me, always smiling, always full of joy. I said goodbye, knowing full well that it was most likely the last time, and you would think it would’ve been so sad, but it just wasn’t. The sadness seemed to come for me when I was not in her presence. I think there was just something about her demeanor and what the Spirit was doing inside her heart that brought an unbelievable amount of joy in her presence. Only God….
We celebrated her life just a few weeks ago, in the auditorium at the school where she taught 5th grade. It was packed, a sea of yellow, her favorite color, which we all wore. It was a reunion, and she would’ve loved every single bit of it.
The part of reality that is really hard is that life goes on. I still have a family to take care of, kids to feed, laundry to fold, school drop offs and pick ups…Life does not stop. I don’t like that. It feels like everything should just stop now, or at least for a time period. Like in biblical times, where people wore mourning clothes and took time to mourn, to process. But it doesn’t seem to work like that anymore. So life goes on. And multiple moments throughout the day, I think of Anne, and it literally takes my breath away and my heart hurts. I know so many of you know that feeling all too well.
I could write pages and pages and pages of memories and funny stories, and describe the kind of person she was. I could tell you the story of how I met her my first week at UF during Rush, we instantly connected (that does not happen often for me) and she not only became my Big Sister in my soriority, but my BFF throughout college and beyond.
I could show you letter after letter and card after card that we wrote to each other (long before the days of email), I could show you the hundreds upon hundreds of pictures we have of socials, date functions, football games, weddings, road trips, girls weekends:
I could tell you how she stood by me as I said my vows to Jake on our wedding day:
how she celebrated the births of each of my kids:
I could tell you how she made it a point to spend time with me and my family, even when life as “real adults” became busier and busier.
I could tell you about our last girls weekend together with our 2 other sisters, Allison and Kristy, which to this day…is one of my favorite weekends ever….the way we talked non-stop for 3 days straight…from morning to night, and left the weekend feeling like we had solved all the world’s problems. But none of that would do her any justice…
Instead, let me tell you this….when we got word that the cancer was back…i just felt like she had so much more life to live. In some ways, it seemed as if her life was just beginning. And then as I watched her fight, and decline, and just simply not be able to do it anymore…i’m not sure I would be human if I didn’t question God. So I did. A lot. I asked him why in the world he thought this was good? He could’ve healed her. He could’ve changed the timing. He could’ve done any number or things. It wasn’t for lack of people asking him to, it wasn’t for lack of her having the willingness to do whatever it took to live. I wondered what it all means anyway….Why pray. Why beg. Why even think that He does all things Good. Is it even true? Cause, to be honest, it didn’t feel like it. Still doesn’t sometimes. Still feels unfair, and unjust, and just plain crazy. I felt like I was shaky. That’s the best word to describe me. My foundation was still there…but I was shaky. I still knew and believed enough about who God says He is: loving, good, wise, always for us…that I still ran to him, told him all these things, questioned him, cried to him. But I was shaky.
And then I wondered…what if its not all true? I’ve staked my life to this…and the only thing that brings comfort…is knowing that there is so much more than this life. That this mess here, this life…its just a wisp, a vapor. (James 4:14) It comes and it goes in a short breeze…and then what’s waiting is where the real treasure is found. Even just one day there…is like 1,000 of our best days here. (Psalm 84:10) HOPE is what I call it. Confident expectation. Except…the confident part…was less confident. And so I told God all that…that I want with everything in me for it to all be true…but how do I know? Like for sure know? And how do I come to terms with not understanding His ways and purposes, but trusting Him anyway?
That is scary to write. Chrisitans aren’t supposed to feel that way, right? We are supposed to have faith…not seeing but believing. Not knowing but trusting anyway. I could lie to you and tell you I’ve got so much faith, even though life is hard. That I know all this is good, and for the best. But what good would that do you or me? To lie? Cause I don’t feel like that. I have questions and doubts. I do know that my genuine heart knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that God loves me, and my heart loves Him in response…but it has battled big time to trust Him. That knowledge of love…at moments just doesn’t feel like enough to stop the doubts, the questions, the feeling of unfairness, the shaking. It doesn’t seem like enough to give me the kind of faith that is unwavering.
And then…after a few weeks of the battle, the back and forth with God, the fear that my lack of faith was causing me, the “I do believe. Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24…one of my all time favorite verses. It just describes me so well)…I was worshipping at church one day, and God pretty much declared this out loud to my heart… “I’M THE UNSHAKABLE ONE.”
as I sang Hillsong’s annointed words:
“I have this hope
As an anchor for my soul
Through every storm
I will hold to You….
There is hope in the promise of the cross
You gave everything to save the world You love
And this hope is an anchor for my soul
Our God will stand
Your promise sure
You will not let go…
Your word unfailing
Your promise unshaken
All my hope is in You.”
its all I need to hear. God…is the unshakable one. Which means…i can be the shaky one. I can bring all of my shaking to him. All of my doubts. All of my questions. All of my wonderings. It will not move him. It will not cause him to be less than who he is. He…is…unshakable. I can waver…but He never will! I can be shakable…because HE is unshakable!
i’ve often thought that having faith meant that you have no doubt that what you believe is true. but maybe all this…is a more realistic picture of faith. not just some blind trust, where there is an absence of feelings and questions and doubts. but instead maybe its in the midst of the doubts and the questions, just simply a deep knowing….that God is who He says He is, and He cannot be moved. Unshakable. that makes for a much more genuine relationship i think. cause i get to be honest with Him about what i really am feeling, doubts and all, instead of pretending that i’m just all good, all full of faith, cause i think that’s what i’m supposed to be like. cause if He’s unshakable, then i get to go to Him just as i am, without fear that He’s going to waver.
Maybe its all semantics…but its not. God knows. He created the human heart. He knows we cannot understand. All this…its just small glimpses. We are peering through a fog. One day the fog will be lifted. (1 Corinthians 13:12) But in the meantime, my shaky-ness…does not scare him. It does not disappoint him. It does not make him love me any less. No…not at all. It is an opportunity for him to remind me of WHO..HE..IS…THE UNSHAKABLE! THE STEADFAST. THE UNWAVERING.
The fog has been lifted for Anne now. “To die is gain” is the way Paul writes about it (Philippians 1:21). Anne has gained. I can barely imagine what that must be like. And one day I will gain too. And there will no longer be shaky-ness. But until that day, when the tremors come, I get to run to a God who is solid and firm and unshakable.
Anne’s death brought me to a newer place with God…that though “my flesh and my heart may fail, God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26) He doesn’t need me to be solid. He does not need my faith to be unshakable. He does not need my trust to be unwavering. He gets to be the strong one.
I think Anne knew all of that better than anyone.