My friend Shala died on an ordinary Friday morning while I slept. Somehow it made me feel guilty, knowing that I wasn’t awake and aware of the struggle that had gone on in the night, her young body finally succumbing to the brain tumors we had prayed so hard against. By 4am, she was in the arms of Jesus, and I slept on in the arms of my husband of twenty-two years, oblivious to the pain, the victory, and the epic battle between life and death that ended with life everlasting. She was forty-one. She lives forever.
Shala was a stay-at-home mother. She didn’t command audiences when she spoke. She didn’t write books or become a household name. She wasn’t a social media influencer or a CEO or the life of the party. She lived a quiet life, feeding her family, cleaning her home, welcoming friends and strangers, smiling in her reassuring way, loving Jesus and caring for people. And when God called her to die, she did it with faith, with heartache, with trust, with goodness, with tears, and with an absolute belief that her Father in Heaven had a plan that went far beyond what she could feel, see, or understand.
At her memorial service, the first person to stand and speak was a man who preaches with fiery conviction, one who is a self-taught student of the great heroes of Scripture. He knew and loved Shala, and he stood before the packed church and declared that she, this precious little stay-at-home mother, was the single greatest example of faith that he has seen in his lifetime. He had watched her face this diagnosis with trust in who God is, and he had watched her suffer immensely, clinging to Christ all the while, handing her life and her children’s lives over to the very One who had carved this path for her. All of this she did without bitterness in her heart.
Friend after friend, story after story, for two solid hours those who knew Shala best stood to declare that she had, with her ordinary life, made her mark on their hearts and souls. As a woman, I marveled at the number of men who rose to give testimony to the great faith of this mother; I don’t think in all my years in church that I have ever seen such an outpouring of masculine admiration for a woman’s allegiance to Christ. It was stunning and beautiful, and it inspired me in ways that are difficult to describe.
Yet, as I sat and listened to story after story about Shala, even down to her husband’s light-hearted reference to the way that she would wipe down the baseboards of their house every single week, I started to feel somewhat crushed by the weight of what seemed to be perfection in my friend. In the back of my mind, I wondered what my husband and kids would have to say about me at my funeral. What would my friends declare from the pulpit about me if I died today? Would I face death with faith like Shala? Would I please my Lord if tomorrow I learned that the prognosis is as bad as it could be? Would anyone have a good thing to say about this ordinary life? Could Christ possibly be glorified through my flawed and sometimes faithless existence or through what would surely be an imperfect death?
And then, suddenly, the lights in the room went down, and on the screen in the sanctuary I saw Shala’s face. It was a video filmed shortly before her death. She sat in an oversized recliner, her short hair still not recovered from the chemotherapy that was no longer working. She held a tissue in her hand. She was crying. And, as if Shala and Jesus knew just what a struggling redhaired girl on the front row needed to know, she talked about how hard it had all been. She talked about how difficult it is to trust God when you are walking through such a heartbreak. She talked about how often she had to repent at the end of a day. And it was like the Holy Spirit breathed a refreshing dose of comfort into my very soul. In the end, Shala herself encouraged me with her honesty and with her sincere heart for obedience, even though she, too, sometimes faltered.
The last time I saw Shala in person, I knew it would probably be the last time. She looked so good, so beautiful and so like herself. She said, “I hope we get a chance to visit again.” And I knew exactly what she meant: this could be our last moment together on this earth. We didn’t get to visit again. But I know that one day we will. I won’t forget the stories of how this imperfect, extraordinary follower of Christ made an eternal impact in her short life. It won’t slip my mind, the way godly men held her up as an example of how to live for Jesus.
Chad and I sang on that day, looking into the faces of those who loved her best. We sang praises to the One who sustained her, who sustains us: You alone are my heart’s desire, and I long to worship You. It’s an honor to know the truth that Shala lived out in her very darkest days: Jesus is all we really need, in our heartache, in our imperfection, in our fear, in our struggle, in our weakness, and in our great joy. He rules and reigns, and no one knows that better on this very day than my friend Shala.