Last week I wrote about how my light is spent. And then Sunday morning I sat down in my seat at church and I knew something was wrong. A woman was missing, but her two sisters were there, and then I read the bulletin and saw that this dear woman had passed away suddenly last week.
She was sick, and it wasn’t great, but I don’t think anyone expected her to pass away so soon. I had just seen her two weeks before, touched base, gave her a hug, and said I would pray for her.
Her light is now gone and it was an incredible light. For two years she helped me every month prepare meals for families in transition at a local homeless shelter. She always had a smile, a joke, a story. We worked side by side with our sleeves rolled up, decades stretched between us, but that never really mattered. Two years ago we took a roadtrip to Pennsylvania for a women’s retreat. You learn a lot about a person when you ride in a car with them.
The hardest thing about her death, for me, is survivor’s guilt. This is the third time I have known a woman who didn’t get better from cancer. Theirs had spread, theirs couldn’t be cured.
Each one of them taught me something in the way they handled their prognosis. One taught me it is okay to be a little angry with the hand we were dealt. There is nothing wrong having a Job-like dialog with God. She and I also shared the distinction of being lit up from the inside with a little radioactive iodine. She is the only person who understood what 5 days of not being allowed within 10 feet of another person feels like.
Breast cancer took her.
The other woman, I didn’t know as well. I met her a handful of times at church. Once, we were in the kitchen making freezer meals for families who were experiencing a death, new birth, or life change, she did this even though she was sick herself. I witnessed her struggle with cancer from afar, but I have never seen someone with so much strength and dignity in the face of such sorrow.
She died of bone cancer.
And lastly, this woman lived a life of service. She saw people around her and helped. Never complaining, always jumping in. She tutored, she made meals, and I’m sure there is way more I never knew about her.
She died of endometrial cancer.
It is hard to process some days why my cancer was not a big deal, while theirs consumed them. Some days I feel lucky, other days I am scared, but most days I feel grace. Grace that no matter how my story ends, I won’t ever be alone. I can have joy facing the biggest tragedies. The why doesn’t matter, how I live does. All these women lived into their light and spent it to the fullest all their short days.
When I talk about how I choose to spend my light, I think about these ladies, and what they did with their lives. How they chose to spend their time, how they fought, how they mourned, and how they lived.
None of us is guaranteed a long, happy life. But we can choose joy regardless.
I know this post has take a dark path this Christmas Eve, and while I mourn the lives lost, they also give me such hope, which I think is a fitting message for Christmas.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)
Sometimes we Christians focus on the wrong thing. We focus on sin, and sacrifice and not love. But when I read that passage in John, I feel light. We can be the light in the darkness and outshine the bad.
We all have a choice on how to spend our light, our days. We can choose to follow paths that numb us, or we can choose to walk in the light we have. Our lives become a force of change in a world that seems random, full of sadness and grief. I am not a firm believer in the phrase, “Things happen for a reason.” But I do believe that when something happens, we can choose to wake up and live a life fully present, or we can be consumed.
I choose the light. I choose to live in joy, love, and peace.
Thankfully my survivor’s guilt doesn’t stay long and I can instead focus on all the wonderful gifts these women gave me while they were alive. Their journeys have changed me, and for that I will be forever grateful to them.
This Christmas how will you live your light?