A long time ago in blog time, when I first began this blog, I posted about a woman I know who has more physical problems than all of the rest of us combined. This unidentified person, it turns out, is Beve's only sister. G-J, as I'll call her, grew up the only daughter in a family of giants. Beve, who is her one younger brother, used to call her a six-foot midget, which she was...in his world. But then, most of us can only wish we were six-foot midgets. I know E does, and blames me every time she thinks of it that she's no where close. Ah, the things to blame your mother for.
Anyway, Beve and his sister have always been very close. So close that when Beve was given boxing gloves one Christmas as a kid, he and G-J would tie them on...and she'd punch the stew out of him. While it's true that G-J was a husky girl, her biggest advantage came from Beve doubling up in laughter as she started pummeling him. And that's an image I've always loved--Beve laughing because his sister did something he found hilarious--with boxing gloves, no less.
By the time I entered the picture, G-J and Beve had been close for a very long time. 27 years, to be exact. G-J thought of Beve as hers in a way. She leaned on him, and he was always there for her. And, to be honest, G-J knew me too, but probably not my best self. Certainly not a very current one. She graduated from high school when I was a freshman, and I don't believe I had a single conversation with her after that. So her impression of me was more than a decade old by the time Beve and I returned to the states, engaged and planning a wedding in six weeks. G-J, I've come to know, is not a person to mince words. If she struggles with something, she lets them know. And she let Beve know that she had some concerns about me. Beve, with his patience and ability to laugh, told her to wait and see, that I was exactly right, and wouldn't take anything away from her.
It was well said by the Beve. In fact, G-J and I became fast friends. Sisters of the heart, one might say. We laughed together many times, at the most ridiculous moments--at dinner tables, and hot tubs, watching movies, or watching our children, like when E was flower-girl at her wedding, a darling little princess dressed up in satin. And we've cried together too, the day their mother died, the day we cleaned out that mother's closet, the day we heard their dad would marry again. And I've sat with her through some terrible struggles, been there when her son was born and there when she practically didn't come out alive from one of her many surgeries. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
See, G-J has struggled with illness for a long time. But for the first part of that long time, she didn't want anyone to know about it, treat her differently. She didn't want disease to define her back then. But eventually she stopped having a choice. Her health failed more and more, and the world crept in to know it. And it was in that creeping, I think, that she discovered the richness of the body of Christ, the best of what the Body can be. More recently she's come to see a different side of being so sick. I asked her once if I could use her as an example, and her answer was, "Of course, what is this all for, otherwise?"
G-J was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 20, and lived with that for a long time. By the time she wanted to have a child, doctors were hesitant to allow the strain on her kidneys. But she persisted, had her beloved son, and has never regretted it. The doctors were right, though, and her oldest brother flew across the ocean to give her a kidney the same summer my dad died. Beve and I played caretakers--he of oldest brother, me of her son. Alas, that kidney scarred, so about five years later, she got another kidney, this time with a pancreas thrown in, creating what she laughingly calls her 'used parts store' within--4 kidneys and 2 pancreases. Such humor, I have to say, is typical of the giants I married into.
About three years ago, after eye problems left over from the no-longer-present diabetes, a broken foot on a leg she couldn't feel, G-J began to have debilitating headaches. When she went to the doctor (practically a hobby for her!), she was sent immediately to the hospital, and from there to ICU, which is where Beve and I found her the next day. Just about the time the neurologist showed up. This unknown woman was struggling with tears, could barely speak. It was a moment when a life flashed before our eyes. For Beve and me, it was G-J's life. For her, it was the life of her son. That afternoon counts as one of the privileged moments of my life, watching my Beve cry with his G-J, his first best friend. I cried my own tears, but really the sacred moment was theirs. We spent a week in that hospital with G-J. A week in which Beve rode herd over his dad, we stayed at my aunt and uncle's house, a week in which we sat in G-J's room, and I took copious notes every time a doctor (and to be clear, she had no less than 5 doctors caring for her various issues) walked into the room. The surgery went well, God be praised. And G-J went home to full-head radiation treatment that burned her hair permanently off her head, but saved her life.
And, burned her memory to a certain degree. She knows it, but those lapses are hard for her. By the next summer she was mostly well, though she'd had more than a few hospital visits for infections, and the like, always staying on 11E, where the nurses all know her. All love her. But really, who couldn't. Self-effacing good humor, a deep well of grace, and compassion for others. She's amazing, really she is. She got sepsis that summer, another thing that almost killed her, but didn't. Just plain didn't. Then a year or so later, after another broken leg, that septic infection which never really goes away, cause such havoc in that leg, it was amputated below the knee. And still she kept sending cards, making phone calls, loving people from her completely reduced life. Orchestrating family get-togethers, being Grampie's chief cheerleader, long-distance care-giver.
But now she's back on 11E, has been having TIA's. Little strokes to us lay-people. Nobody knows why. Every one of them leaves her a little more forgetful, a little more reduced in abilities and faculty, less able to communicate or laugh. It leaves one wondering how much a body has to take. But when I think of her, think of the incredible ministry she's had to her family, her church community, her large circle of friends near and far, I am awed by her. Completely awed. And this I know, if she had merely been healthy, merely been strong and funny and bright and friendly--and she is all these things--she could not, would not, have the impact on the world as she has had. Mere physical health could not do, in Kingdom terms, what all her difficulties have done.
Do I wish she'd been healed? Yes. Of course I do. It's been excruciating to watch what she's had to bear. But I've never--truly, NEVER-- heard her ask, "Why me?" and never heard her want to be anything but a light to the world. And I think God knew this about her. I think He looked down and saw that, with her large heart and large sphere of friends, He could use her in an especially hard way. He could break her body, because her soul was intact. And in her broken body, He has shone brightly, laughingly, eternally. And even now, as her life gets harder and smaller and perhaps close to its completion, He's looking down at her with love and pride at what's she'd been, who she's been, and how much brighter the world has been because of her broken, brilliant life.