I’ll be Home for Christmas

A few days before Christmas, while in the throes of the holiday rush, I dedicated some rare bedtime reading to a book given to me by my friend Debbie.  The book was a short memoir by her sister, and best friend, Shelly, published posthumously.  Debbie lost her sister to cancer on Christmas Day last year.

I’ve watched Debbie bravely live beyond her grief, especially over the past few months while serving together in ministry.  It is in honor of Shelly’s memory and Debbie’s family grief that I am writing this post.

Shelly Lynn Bartholomew, circa 1983

Shelly Lynn Bartholomew, circa 1983

The Cancer that Saved Me*

Shelly’s book, “The Cancer That Saved Me,” is a chronicle of her 19-month journey through cancer treatment, from diagnosis to her passing.  I didn’t read it to learn about cancer treatment, although I did get a better understanding of the medical process, I read it to get a sense for what Debbie went through—as a way of identifying more with her grief.

I had also heard Debbie recount how Shelly was full of spirit and that her battle was having a profound effect on their family.  Shelly’s ability to lean on God was giving back to the family and giving them the courage and strength to be there for Shelly.

A few pages into Shelly’s book, I didn’t think I was going to be able to read it.  The Forward of the book gripped me.  Below is an excerpt:

“I no longer ask, ‘why me?’  I now say ‘thank you.’  I no longer feel sorry for myself.  I now feel ‘blessed’ for every day.  Through God’s grace, I am alive, and although my body may be broken, it was my spirit that was broken before I got cancer.  God has given me ‘time.’  I may have a little hiccup in my giddy up, but I amble along every day giving thanks for all my blessings.  Ironically, I did not see them when I was healthy.”

One of the things that struck me is her statement about God giving her time.  When I read that I think of how most people don’t know when or how we are going to leave this earth.  Shelly was given a gift of time to prepare—to be aware of the gift of life—to turn to the Lord with her remaining time, and to develop an attitude of gratitude and worship.  Yes, even in the face of death—or especially in the face of death.

DoveLeaving a Legacy

Life isn’t fair.  It doesn’t seem right for a 51 year-old woman who was full of life to be taken from her family so soon and in such short order.  But through it all, God’s purposes did prevail.  With Shelly’s passing and limited publishing of her story, she was able to leave a legacy greater than her love for animals and her family.

Shelly left a legacy of restoration in her heart, love for the Lord, and hope for the future.  Her renewed commitment to God helped her to face each day.  She knew she was not alone in her battle.  That gave her great peace.  I see that same legacy of God’s comfort and love in Debbie every time I see her because she proudly wears it and shares it as well.

We each have a date sometime in the future that the Lord will call us home to be with Him.  We can live our lives for ourselves, or we can live them for God, leaving a legacy that is full of His Light, His Love and His Hope.  Shelly did that, finishing well.

Sisters and best friends, Debbie and Shelly, in a Christmas play from their youth.

Sisters and best friends, Debbie and Shelly, in a Christmas play from their youth.

I’ll be Home for Christmas

We all long to be home for Christmas–to be with our earthly family and friends.  But it doesn’t always work out that way due to distance, finances, broken relationships, and more.  We also innately long for our heavenly home, where peace will reign.  Revelation 21:4 tells us it will be a place of no more mourning, or crying or pain.

On Christmas Day 2012, God got a beautiful present when Shelly joined Him in heaven.  Shelly got a gift too, as she was freed from the cancer that ravaged her body, and united with her heavenly Father.

On Christmas Day 2013, the family turned over the calendar of first-year milestones in their grief process.  Just like anyone who loses a friend or family member at Christmas time, their holidays will be filled with sorrow and hope.  Their grief will continue in invisible ways for years to come, dissipating over time.  Shelly’s final legacy will see them through it—and us as well, if we are open to living a life dedicated to following God.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

*“The Cancer that Saved me”, by Shelly Lynn Bartholomew, is not available online.  In lieu of payment for the book, donations are gladly accepted and forwarded to the Swedish Hospital Uncompensated Care Program/Oncology Department through her family.  There is a nominal charge of $4.50 for shipping.  You can request a copy or more information by contacting Debbie@gowise.org

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2 Comments

  1. Stacie Jackson

     /  December 27, 2013

    Nice job! This made me cry. (With heartfelt feelings for Debbie but also in a good way.) Great blog today. 🙂 Stacie

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    Reply
    • Thanks Stacie! I’m touched that it touched you. I know you don’t show that tearful side of you very often. Your tears are a gift. So glad you got to come ‘home’ a bit this Christmas with us. Ardis

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    I'm an author, writer, speaker, mentor & mom. I've struggled to find my voice all my life as I lived in the shadows of a mother with mental illness. Thankfully that was not the legacy that she handed down to me. It took a lot of recovery and deep healing work to rise above it.

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