A few weeks ago, Jaime, Lucas and I left for our annual beach weekend in western Michigan. We started this tradition when Lucas was three and now it’s something we all look forward to. We’re fortunate that my parents live just a little more than a half hour from Lake Michigan so we have the most wonderful place to stay!
This year we left in the early afternoon on Friday and drove straight to the beach. I figured we would have a few hours of sunlight left to enjoy the sand and watch the waves. It had been cold and windy earlier in the day so we knew we wouldn’t be able to swim but the air was fresh and the water and sky were so beautiful.
It was only a short time before the park emptied out, and finally, we were the only three left on the beach. “Mommy, I just love watching the waves,” Lucas told me as he snuggled on my lap. Me too. It was wonderful.
As I gazed at the expanse of the lake, it struck me how peaceful it was on the beach. It wasn’t quiet–the waves were choppy and rough and they crashed forcefully onto the shore. Seagulls were squawking and scuffling. But still it was peaceful, natural, lovely. A gentle breeze danced around us and I found myself breathing deeply of air that felt clean and pure. I could practically feel my heart disarm, setting aside its indignant complaints and surrendering to God’s peace. Peace amidst the turbulence.
The words of the old hymn, Be Still My Soul, came into my mind, and I was transported back, again, to the summer when Sheri was dying. That hymn was meaningful to our family around that time. I quoted from it in a letter I wrote to Sheri just before she died. I posted it on my refrigerator as a way to be strengthened in my grief. My sister Julie wrote a beautiful piece incorporating its words on the first anniversary of Sheri’s death. Sheri died on September 4, 2004–thirteen years ago, today. It’s so hard to believe she’s been gone that long. I miss her so much.
I think of Sheri all the time, perhaps even more now that I find myself wrestling so much with the effects of this disease. I often wonder what advice she might have for me. Her faith in God sustained her, this I know. I saw it with my own eyes. But would she have specific suggestions for me? Would she attempt to answer the unanswerable questions? She fought through a seemingly endless string of challenges in her life without bitterness, and left a mark on this world that no one who knew her would deny. She was so faithful and so incredibly strong. But I know it was hard. She told me it was hard and I saw her struggle. I imagine that sometimes, when the house was quiet and the night was dark, she too felt overwhelmed by the burden of the fight and surrendered to the tears. Knowing that makes me feel close to her, even though 13 years have passed since I’ve talked to her and touched her. Sometimes I just go ahead and ask her the questions. I don’t know if she can hear me, and I know for sure I won’t hear an audible reply, but sometimes just giving voice to them brings me comfort.
Sheri trusted God. She had hope, she had confidence in His goodness and love, and she knew God was in control. She knew He would give her the strength she needed to live and love fully until the day He took her home. And He did. There were good days, great days! Days filled with joy and hope and love. She touched so many lives and accomplished so much in her 35+ years here on earth. There were bad days full of hospitals and doctors, medicines, loss, and pain. Some days were downright ugly and filled with darkness and despair. But the beauty of her spirit is what we remember most of all–how hard she fought, how victorious she was, how strong, how loving, how generous. We remember those things because she refused to be defined by the disease that plagued her. At times cystic fibrosis ruled her body but she staunchly refused to allow it to break her spirit. Her husband Pete once told me that rather than allowing CF to define her, Sheri defined CF. Cystic Fibrosis on Sheri’s terms.
As the lyrics of the hymn scrolled through my mind that evening on the beach, I began to think that the words contained some of the answers she might give me, answers to the questions of how to weather the losses and disappointments, how to face my fears, how to resist bitterness and choose thankfulness and joy even when I feel battered and bruised. “Be still my soul” is a good start.
“Be Still, My Soul”
by Catharina von Schlegel, 1752
Translated by Jane Borthwick, 1855
Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.
Be still, my soul, though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in the vale of tears;
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears.
Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay
From His own fulness all He takes away.
Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.
I love you so much, Sheri. Thanks for loving me. Thank you for being a great example, leaving for us a legacy that continues to guide and inspire our journeys of life and faith. I’m so grateful for the 26 years I had with you, and that I’ll see you again, when the vale of tears is lifted and love’s purest joys are restored. Until then, you will remain forever part of the fabric of my being, my dear and beloved big sister.