God's Brave Women - Heather's Story
I was humming a tune in the vitamin aisle when the text came in. Why do we remember the details? The fizzy tablets in my hand, the cart of food, the parking space. Words on the phone were distorted by poor reception and disbelief. The few that reached me came tumbling in at the turn onto Broughton Road – “tumour … they say there’s nothing they can do.” There must be some mistake. We were having coffee on Monday at 8pm. It was in the calendar.
We collect people. There are honoured ones who live on our mantlepieces, like so many shiny trophies. We know them through their resumes and they, us, by our eagerness to please.
There are ones we keep in our pockets. ‘Insta-face-tube’ folk who garnish our endeavours with grins, but don’t remember which sibling had the accident or how our hope fades when we can’t afford gas.
Then there’s another category. She’d given me a book with the definition on the cover, Friends are the Sunshine of Life. We’d known each other since Mrs. Brydon’s form class. We’d cried, prayed, and belly laughed our way through the hubbub of years. On the day of dad’s funeral, she’d taken a 30-minute taxi on her lunchbreak for three minutes and a hug outside the church. A few months later she had done the same for my mum’s. We’d picked each other up on dark days and sunny ones, feasting on Bible chunks and finding fullness in God’s presence.
"We’d picked each other up on dark days and sunny ones, feasting on Bible chunks and finding fullness in God’s presence."
The last year had been particularly challenging. We’d leaned hard on the Holy as we stepped into unknown territory. She, from independence to adopting a vulnerable 5-year-old, and I, from a dream ministry job that lay in fractured pieces. As we set ourselves to seek Him, weakness was flecked with courage and hope grew.
But this? This couldn’t be the plan. Surely there’d be a cure, a joyous victory, a story to tell. Besides, I’d never even been in a hospice. We were in our 40’s for goodness sake – it was time to live life to the edges! Yet, in those three irrational bedside months, I left twice to bury younger friends. It was upside down.
Days melted away with mobility and memory. There was wrestling, praying, and so much singing as we met Him, undone, with all the brave we could muster. One afternoon she looked up, her brow furrowed, “I think I’m part of your healing.” I stopped. Nodded. “I think you are. And I think I might be part of yours.” “Yes,” she said. “I think you’re right.’ We smiled grateful, watery smiles. With each day’s losses, realisation dawned, Sheonagh was waiting for Jesus’ embrace. This wasn’t going away.
Late one night, three weeks before the end, she squeezed my hand and closed her eyes. “God, I pray that my dear and lovely friend (*names no longer worked*) would be very kind with you when this is all over.” She stumbled over the words, confused. “Is that what I mean, God? Yes. Yes, I believe it is. I pray that she would be very kind with you.” Kind.
Late one night, three weeks before the end, she squeezed my hand and closed her eyes. “God, I pray that my dear and lovely friend would be very kind with you when this is all over.”
We chose readings and songs. Then after days of quiet, she left us.
Hundreds gathered to remember. There were flowers, good cake and a heart-stopping song:
There are moments on our journey following the Lord Where God illumines every step we take. There are times when circumstances make perfect sense to us, As we try to understand each move He makes. When the path grows dim and our questions have no answers, turn to Him.
Bow the knee Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see. Bow the knee Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity. And when you don’t understand the purpose of His plan, In the presence of the King, bow the knee.
There are days when clouds surround us, and the rain begins to fall, The cold and lonely winds won’t cease to blow. And there seems to be no reason for the suffering we feel; We are tempted to believe God does not know. When the storms arise, don’t forget we live by faith and not by sight.
I pray that she will be kind with You. The words wouldn’t let me go. Isn’t kindness reserved for Heaven? A shiny future when some key will be turned and ‘all be prayer and praise’. When crushing hurt is banished and Jesus makes us strong?
January 1st came and loss, again, smashed into my chest. I opened my Bible to see how 2019’s readings would start. Psalm 65 in all its generosity flooded the room. But it opened with a baffling phrase – “Praise waits for you, our God, in Zion.” What’s this? Is our praise of God in storage; held in some celestial silo, waiting for heaven till we can applaud? Why the time lag, why this praise gap?
Surely, we could open up that store? We could bring praise’s freedom and tenderness to this side of the divide. But how? Where was the key?
The key was in my reach. God was inviting me to more than mantlepiece trophy meetings; beyond an Insta-face-tube connection where I bedeck His achievements with the occasional grin. He was calling out an invitation, to the sunshine of friendship built on the bravest trust. Trust. That’s the key to praise, and it grows strong in companionable togetherness with the King.
"He was calling out an invitation, to the sunshine of friendship built on the bravest trust. Trust. That’s the key to praise, and it grows strong in companionable togetherness with the King."
Yes, Sheonagh, I am being ‘kind with Him’! The space between us is flooded with gratitude. It is going to be my eternal stance – why ever should it not begin here?
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.” (Haskins)