In some ways, I can’t believe it’s been two whole years. And in other ways, it seems like so much longer because so much has changed since then. Today, as I think about my short time with Heather before she died, I can’t help but feel a swelling up of gratitude.
God gifts each person with skills, tools, strengths, and so on. And, while Heather had her weaknesses, it’s some of her strengths that I remember most.
(Some family photos before Heather’s second surgery)
God gave her a heart that was intensely wired to enjoy time with people. In fact, the more people in the room, the more her emotional batteries would begin to charge up (like solar panels picking up the sun’s light). It wasn’t just being around them, she enjoyed deeply connecting with them relationally – listening to their hopes, hurts, dreams, and plans, and in turn, sharing her own with them. When a new opportunity for friendship presented itself, for Heather, the open connection was instant. While this trait was harder for me at first (I like some interaction, but it gradually drains me down and I need to recharge with alone time), I can see where God used the example of this strength in Heather to build in me a greater love for connecting with people.
(Heather hugging our two sons, Judah and Levi, after her first surgery)
Another memory that makes me smile is the way Heather wore her heart on her sleeve. She was strong in the emotions category (which took some getting used to for me), but I’m thankful for how her feelings were tempered with a softheartedness. When she was smiling or laughing – which was most of the time – it seemed to literally brighten the room. When she was feeling deep sadness at the loss of her mother or during other trials we faced together, the room was dimmer, the air heavier and almost desaturated. When a friend or one of her siblings was hurting, her tears for them were quick and genuine. When she got frustrated with me, she was quick to return gently and ask for forgiveness. And when I needed forgiveness, she was eager to give it. In all these ways her heart was big, soft, naturally oriented towards others, and eager to give God glory.
(Heather as Elaine, Josh as her father, and me as Mortimer in a stage production of Arsenic and Old Lace)
Finally, I remember the hardest aspect of her final preparations for saying goodbye. The physical suffering was difficult for her in ways I’ll never know. And the concern for me, for her dad and new mom, for her sisters and her brother was difficult also. Surprisingly, fear of the coming unknown (meaning, what it’s like to step out of this life into the next) didn’t bother her as much. I remember asking her, “So, are you ready?” And she smiled and answered, “Yup.” The thing that troubled her most was having to leave this world to be with Christ, without knowing whether or not those closest to her, who hadn’t yet accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, would do so. And she realized that her time of influence in their lives toward that end, was coming to an end. The way she expressed it was, “It’s just so hard not knowing if I’ll get to see them again.”
Just one more potent example of how God had graced her heart with Christlike concern for others over herself.
And just one more reason I have to be thankful for the short time God allowed her to influence and strengthen me to be a better man, a better husband, a better father, a better pastor, and a better servant of Christ.
“Thank you Lord, on this special day, for your design of Heather’s life – from the beginning, over the ups and downs, and to the end.”
(One last Christmas together as a family – a fitting way to celebrate God’s grace)