Even as I write these words, I know the answer. Yes, of course it is alright for a missionary to admit these things. We are only human after all. We aren't some super-spiritual breed of human beings. We struggle in the same ways that every Christian struggles -- with our pride and with our selfish human nature. But old habits die hard... I think I will always feel the pressure (largely self-inflicted) to present myself as stronger, more capable, more sure of myself than I really am. And so I typically stick to blogging about "safe" topics like what the kids have been up to, or a recent trip we've taken, or how we celebrate the holidays. But every once in awhile, something will happen that will nudge me to write in a way that's more internally focused. This is one of those times. And maybe that's why it's taken me so long to get it out. It's easy to slap up a few pictures, write a few newsy anecdotes, and call it good. It's much more difficult to write reflectively and vulnerably.
In the last couple of months, and actually within about two weeks of each other, two faithful servants of God went to their eternal reward. The first was Laura Reppart, long-time missionary to Kenya, and mother to one of my very dearest childhood friends. I knew her as "Aunt Laura," even though we were not related by blood (actually, I am now vaguely remembering that our family is somehow very distantly related to the Repparts!). This is how it is on the mission field: your teammates become your "family." In many ways, the Repparts were more "family" to me than my actual relatives in the U.S., who I rarely saw and always struggled to connect with. Laura died of a brain tumor, similar to the one that claimed my mother-in-law's life over 6 years ago now. As I followed her story via her Caring Bridge site, I often felt like I was reliving that awful time, due not only to all the technical similarities in how the disease progressed and manifested itself, but also to the emotions described by her children in the updates they posted. It was heart-breaking... and yet it was also a beautiful thing to see how her family gathered around her and lovingly and tenderly cared for her during her final weeks and days.
Laura passed away on October 23. Just a little over 2 weeks later, Ryan Woods died, also of cancer, though a different type. I did not know Ryan well, but we have many mutual friends and acquaintances and I have been following his blog and praying for him ever since I learned of his diagnosis last spring. He and his wife and 2 small children were part of a thriving, incarnational ministry among the people of Vancouver, WA, and they made a conscious decision to invite people into their story as they walked the cancer road -- a road filled with pain, difficult questions, and heart-wrenching decisions. And they did this with truly admirable grace and authenticity.
Death has a funny way of forcing you to step back from the minutiae that typically consume your days and evaluate your life from a big-picture perspective. Thanks to the wonders of technology and the generosity of The Hills Church in Dallas, I was able to view a livestream of Laura Reppart's memorial service all the way from Ecuador. It was a beautiful tribute to a life well-lived, a life that brought honor to the King, and as I sat watching the slide show of pictures that closed out the service with tears streaming down my face, I remember thinking, I wonder what they'll say about me? Will my children, my husband "rise up and call me blessed" as Laura's did? What is the legacy I'll leave behind? How will I be remembered? How do I want to be remembered?
When Ryan passed away, the self-examination took a bit of a different form because Ryan was my age (actually, several years younger), with kids close to the same ages as my own. So I found myself wondering, How would I handle the knowledge that I was dying? Would my faith stand strong? Would I be able to continue to minister to people as he did, even in the midst of battling a terminal illness? I also thought a lot about things from the perspective of his wife, Jessica: What must it have been like to watch her husband, her soul-mate, her life partner waste away before her eyes? Could I have found the strength to tenderly care for him for those weeks and months? To help my children understand what was happening? To take care of all of the details of life and of running a household when my husband was too sick to help out?
I think more than anything, the death of someone who has really made a difference with their life, as both Laura and Ryan did, makes you stop and consider whether or not you are doing anything eternally significant with your own life. And that's what it all boils down to, all my ponderings and musings over the last several weeks: I want my life to matter. When I come to the end of it, I want it to have meant something.
For more of Laura's story:
- Read the write-up in the York College Heritage Magazine (on page 16).
- Visit the Caris Foundation website
- Watch The Ryan Woods Story
- Watch My Last Days: Meet Ryan Woods by Soul Pancake
- Read the news article in The Columbian.
- View the news story on KOIN 6 News.