This past weekend we drove to Western Michigan. We were attempting to enjoy our annual beach weekend, although the weather had other plans. Luckily we got one really nice evening in at the beach before the storms rolled in.
After a dip in the lake, some soccer and a little dune climbing (for Jaime and Lucas), we arrived at my parents to spend the night. Lucas said hello and deposited a considerable amount of sand on my parents’ entry way floor before heading to their refrigerator. He wasn’t after snacks as you might suppose, he wanted to see the pictures they have displayed of our family. He loves to look at his aunts, uncles, and especially his cousins. There was a new picture up there that he noticed right away. It was a picture taken on my 40th birthday of five of the Waterloo girls.
“Aunt Dianne printed that for us so we could hang it up,” my mom explained. “I like it because I can look up there and see my daughters.”
“But not all your daughters,” Lucas replied without hesitation.
Hearing Lucas include Sheri and recognize her enduring place in our family gives me so much joy. She is gone, but not forgotten, not even by my son who has never had the pleasure of knowing her first hand.
He does know her, though. He has been asking about her a lot lately. He is piecing together her story, the story of our family, where she fits in, and where cystic fibrosis fits in. So what will I tell him? What do I want him to know about his aunt–who she was, how she lived, even how she died?
Sheri was fun, creative, smart, and resourceful. She was also stubborn (just like he is!), and very determined. She was bright and full of life, even though death so frequently tried to choke out her life. She loved a good bargain and had a knack for sniffing them out. She was an artist, a musician, a teacher, and a mentor. She loved flowers.
When she learned that she only had months to live, Sheri didn’t breathe a sigh of relief. In spite of all she had suffered and all she was suffering, she still fought. She wanted to live. She didn’t give in until the day she felt God telling her that her work was done, and then she rested until He took her.
I have learned so much from Sheri. I have learned not to wait around for a set time or life circumstance, not even wait for things to get easier, but to live life today, with all I have. There is just as much purpose and meaning in a sick day as there is in one where I go out and (figuratively) conquer the world. There will be bad days, likely bad weeks or months, maybe even bad years. But here is always joy in the midst of pain, there is always goodness and grace to be found, and the sweetest victories come after a hard fight. She used to say that God never wastes our pain, but uses it for our good and for His glory.
I have learned not to put such high esteem on physical wellness. Sheri was not physically healthy by almost any standard, but she had a vibrant, healthy soul. Her life was shortened by her disease, but no one who knew her could argue that it wasn’t full, meaningful and well-lived. She took each day God gave her and she made it count.
I ran across a quote from theologian Jurgen Moltman in Philip Yancey’s book Where is God When it Hurts which resonated with me. Yancey was discussing our tendency to wish for and idolize a physically healthy life–one that is characterized by the ability to work and to enjoy life without being weighed down by illness or disability. He quotes Moltman who says,
…true health is something quite different. True health is the strength to live, the strength to suffer, and the strength to die. Health is not a condition of my body; it is the power of my soul to cope with the varying condition of that body. (p.190)
By this definition Sheri was healthy. She wasn’t perfect, but she weathered the many storms of her life with resilience and grace. And to the very end, the strength and beauty of her soul shone through.
She is gone, but never forgotten. Aspects of Sheri live on within me, my sisters, my parents, and maybe even my son who is getting to know her now.
We all love you, Sheri. We miss you. You will never cease to be part of us. We hold you close until we meet again.