This summer my friend Ellie celebrated her last birthday. She turned 55. Eleven years ago she was diagnosed with cancer and the grim prognosis was six months to live. And oh, how she lived with both pain and delight. She lived in the midst of traveling hundreds of miles for chemo treatments across the state, unpleasant side effects like losing her hair several times, with her comedian husband turning much of their experience into chuckles, and the challenges of laundry and dishes and cleaning. Family and friends pitched in doing everything they could possibly do. Most of all, in these 11 years (six month prognosis…I think not!) she celebrated two daughters’ high school and college graduations and a master’s degree. She attended her daughter's wedding, glowing as the mother of the bride. Ellie was graced to have met, held in her lap and swung in her arms two unbearably precious grandchildren. I cried when I saw the 55th birthday pictures. It was bittersweet to see her kids and her large family of siblings. Ellie smiled through the whole thing. She looked so beautiful. And the day before I posted this, she woke in the arms of Jesus.
Karen walked into my office recently and I barely recognized her. She lives across the state and I had not seen her since bariatric surgery or her chemo treatments. Standing in my doorway sporting a jaunty hat and the widest smile I’ve ever seen, she was the picture of hope. She won’t be declared officially cancer free for a few months but doctors are thrilled with her progress. She is surrounded by the Mountain Posse, a group of friends with whom she hikes, people who hold her up and help her keep her footing. She is excitedly easing back into work. Karen looks forward to many birthdays and numerous occasions for celebration.
I have been a woman of faith my whole life, a minister nearly half that time. Sometimes people wish I could explain these two women’s stories, why one would live and one would die. I’m a minister, without a crystal ball. I read the Bible and other words of wisdom but cannot unravel what is only Mystery. What I do see and believe is that both Ellie and Karen are surrounded by love and hope so strong it can never be broken, by the light of peace and joy that can never be dimmed, by the courage to live and die in the sacred presence of Mystery.