A dear friend passed into Glory the Wednesday before I loaded a plane for Alaska. Her funeral was a couple of days after we landed back home. A silver urn sat among brilliantly colored flowers, and a collage of vibrant photographs, symbolic of a life lived brilliantly.
The microphone was offered and many of us spoke of her jubilant life. But it seems unfair that all those words fell on only a small room of people who already knew her to be the Light she was, and that the rest of you who didn’t know her would miss out on hearing about a life well lived and a joy that spilled over into abundance.
We were fast friends, her and I. I could tell you of a few things we had in common, but for the most part it’s hard to put words to it. When your soul finds home in another, it’s a deep, surreal thing, not easily encased in language.
The day I met her, she showed up at our church. I knew she was extra special, because of her brightness, and also because I saw the pride and delight shining in her son as he, with arm draped around her, introduced her to us. I would continue to watch this relationship, with her sons, her daughter-in-laws, and her grandkids. They all adored her to pieces. As did the rest of us.
Theresa moved to Ohio only a few short months before she woke up in the isolation of a hospital where, thanks to covid, she was estranged from her family. The diagnosis of cancer absorbed in solitude. She was soon shuffled to a nursing home where our church family crowded outside her window to comfort and strengthen her with songs of praise to the One who made her body, and knew suffering beyond any we will ever have to endure. She pressed her face to the window to listen, with a smile which never abandoned her all the way until the end.
Theresa was a gracious receiver. I had the honor of taking her to some of her chemo appointments. She was easy to serve, because she neither rejected it (as we often do, not wanting to be a burden to others in our weakness), nor demanded it (as is the fallen nature of man to feel entitled). Instead, she received with humble gratitude, even her lot of cancer.
She found delight in the simple things. After one of our chemo-dates, she told me that her family had given her money to go get us some ice cream, her eyes wild with the glee of a child on Christmas… even after walking out of the oncology department of the hospital. We drove across the street, ordered our frozen trophies. She ordered her’s. Chocolate with cherry dipped topping. I ordered mine with pecans. She told me that pecans were her favorite food, but she was allergic. I immediately turned to the lady to ask her not to put pecans on mine, so Theresa wouldn’t have to watch me eat her favorite forbidden food. She caught me, saying “No! I want you to have pecans. I can’t eat them. But I would love to watch you enjoy them for me.” And that was Theresa, never cursing her own lot, but rejoicing in the joys of others! I will probably never eat pecans again without missing her.
Theresa made my soul feel buoyant. Even when her name was mentioned at a prayer gathering, and the news was discouraging, I saw faces in the room light up at the mention of this dear, precious, vivacious woman. It was though we could all see, with our mind’s eye, the radiance of her smile, and it warmed our souls from within.
On her final day, I was given a gift. An invitation to sit at her bedside and read Scripture to her. She was sedated, yet I knew she could hear me. I read her some Psalms. Psalm 46, 16, 1, etc. I read the chunks of Revelation that speak of the Celestial City, where I knew she would soon be headed. And shared joy over the fact that she would soon be dancing in the Kingdom, and listening to the legions of saints and angels singing endless praise. She had told her daughter-in-law that she really wanted to be at church dancing with me. But I knew then that we would have to dance together in heaven. Then, I read her Psalm 84. It might be my favorite Psalm, and it honestly reminds me of her. It speaks of one whose strength is in God, whose heart is set on the highway to Zion (to Heaven). It speaks of the glory of God’s house. And it says this “Passing through the valley of Baca, they make it a spring. The early rain also covers it with blessings. They go from strength to strength and everyone of them appears before God in Zion.” This is Theresa, passing through the desert lands, yet bringing life and vegetation with her wherever she goes. God pouring His blessings of those whose lives intercepted with her’s. She moves from strength to strength. Perhaps not of body, but of soul. Of the soul of one who never stopped smiling into the face of God, even as her body lay dormant under the sheets of a hospital bed in a living room.
Later that night, as Smiles, Simon and I were pulling into the driveway with a guitar in the trunk, ambitious to have a bedside worship service, my husband prayed these words “Lord, please usher Theresa into the place You’ve been preparing for her in peace.” It was as he was exhaling these words, with her children encircling around her bedside, that she breathed her last and the Lord ushered her into His very presence!
Theresa’s joy is now made full. And now you know the story of a woman whose legacy will live on in those who knew and loved her. I hope that, should I ever suffer the way she did in her final year on earth, that I would suffer with the same joy and graciousness, the same gratitude and surrender, that I watched my dear friend exhibit all the way until her final breath… where she went from strength to strength and now is appearing before God in Zion!