This Easter, as we sat in church listening to the message, I was reminded of our dear friend Dawn from Charlottesville. We got to know Dawn through our bible study group at church. We met on Wednesday evenings, and it was a wonderful time each week of renewal and fellowship. Dawn was a special part of this group, and when I think of her I see her standing in our living room praising the Lord with her arms raised high. She loved to stand and sing and lift her voice to God in praise. When we met Dawn, she had already had cancer twice. She had fully recovered both times and seemed healthy in every way. During our final year in Charlottesville, she was diagnosed with cancer once again. In many ways, she did not seem to be affected by the cancer, though the effects of the chemo on her energy and body were evident. Her spirit never faltered based on what we saw each week as we met with her. She would give us weekly updates at bible study, and from what we could tell the cancer was not spreading or getting worse. She continued to be involved in church and work until we moved in July 2009.
The next couple of years were a whirlwind for us, with two major moves and job changes. We still kept in touch with our friends from Charlottesville, but it was sporadic and infrequent. In November 2010, we got the following message from a friend in our bible study:
Many of us from Dawn Whipple's homegroup got to spend a sweet time with Dawn & her family in their home tonight. She looked so feeble and weak, but smiled the most heartfelt, warm smiles we'd ever seen. What brought the most joy to her heart was hearing each one read Scripture and worship the Living King!
She treasures worshipping God and wants Him to be glorified, lifted high, exalted. Through such physical pain and frailty, a huge grin spread across her face when we stood up in her home & worshipped God wholeheartedly. She adores the book of Romans, so we read from that to her, as well as some passages from Psalms. What an honor to spend time with our sister, Dawn!
Pray that God will be exalted through this time in her life. Pray for her as God leads you, for God to heal her, comfort her, strengthen her. Please pray God will be merciful in His timing of bringing her home. As Zach said, He is waiting like a groom to welcome His bride, Dawn, to Himself. Join us in praying that she'd be comforted by God, who is her Sabbath Rest. As she abides in Jesus, may she know His deep peace and have comfort.
That message was followed by this one, which was sent early the next morning:
We just received news that our sister Dawn fell asleep last night, finishing the race, and going to be with her Father.
I must have read these e-mails 10 times. I couldn't believe the picture I was seeing. The thought I kept having was that Dawn died as she lived. This has not been the case for too many people I have known, whose dying self is only a faint shadow of the person I hold in my memory. Lives slowly stolen by age or disease, so that all we are left with is a person we recognize but not the person we knew. This was not the case for Dawn. She lived with an eternal hope, a worshiper of a living King and devoted follower of a true Friend. She was ushered from this life as she lived every day. Standing, praising, encouraging, singing, letting the water of the Word wash over her and flood her innermost being. In her final hours, she left her friends and family with a picture that showed who she really was.
I think this is what Easter means to me. Many people thought this was the end of Jesus's story, when it really was the beginning. His life on earth ended so His life in us could begin. He was the fulfillment of hope, a reason for living, a purpose worthy of us giving everything. He takes our tired, misdirected, burned out, addicted lives and replaces them with hope for a lasting Kingdom. Dawn knew that, and more importantly, she lived it. Her future wasn't something she was storing up. It was every moment because she knew her eternity wasn't in the future; He was alive inside of her, and that was not changed by physical conditions or the daily ebb and flow of life. Easter represents God's invitation to live with this hope forever, starting on earth and stretching into eternity.
When I reread the e-mails from our friend yesterday, I was reminded about the life God has invited us into. I am thankful for friends like Dawn who lived with such boldness and courage. I am encouraged to let God be my hope and strength. Eternity does not start when we die. It starts when we make Jesus our source of life.