Yesterday in the early minutes of the afternoon my friend took her last earthly breath.
For the last 24 hours or so, I’ve been reflecting on the profundity of that thought. One second she was here with us, battling an aggressive brain tumor. In the next, she was with the Lover of her Soul. The One who created her and numbered the hairs on her head – even the ones lost during chemo. The One who for the joy set before Him – the joy of redeeming her – endured the shame of the cross. The One who traded places with her – exchanging her brokenness for His pure righteousness. The One who held her close and strengthened her during the last 8 months of this cancer journey. She is with Him. And THAT is enough for her. For several years now, she has been daily practicing approaching His throne through the grace of Jesus… her vision of Him ever growing but always clouded by living in a fallen body with a stained heart. No more. Now she knows fully. She joins the great throng of witnesses who have gone before her. Those whose faith has become sight. In a moment, just the blink of an eye, the covenant she entered into 7 or 8 years ago, became fully realized. But it’s not over for Barb Carter. Far from over. Now she begins a journey of being invited “further up and further in.” The journey for which we were all made.
For Barb, I rejoice. I’m pretty sure she crossed into the Lord’s presence with little regret.
For those of us left waiting, we wrestle with the loss. Rick often says that when a person dies, we who are left need to do a few things. Among them: celebrating the life and mourning the loss.
We need to be sad. Our lives are changed by her homegoing. Her husband, kids, and grandkids will feel it most acutely. We need to grieve with them and be safe places for them as they process. But, the ripples will extend beyond her immediate family. We’ll all feel it because Barb was the kind of person who touched a lot of lives. The McKees have certainly felt it already – even our teenage kids literally weeping at the thought of life without Barb Carter. I, for one, don’t look forward to walking into Monday night Bible study in January without her bald head peeking out at me.
But, we also need to celebrate her life. Last night, we got some time with part of her family and two of her dearest friends. Over pizza, we recounted some of the things we loved about Barb. And, then, in the car on the way home, Rick and I laughed about soft corn and other funny moments we had shared with her. That kind of reminiscing is important and powerful as we work through our loss.
In that spirit, I want to tell you a few things that have struck me about Barb’s legacy. Things I want to emulate.
- Barb invested in people. She and Jeff lived comfortably but not extravagantly. Their treasure was not in “stuff”. It was in relationships. They sacrificed their own material comfort at times, to make sure others had what they needed. As our church’s Women’s Ministry Director, I was constantly hearing from other women who had been impacted by her. She was always having coffee with someone or taking food to someone or giving a ride to someone or helping someone. And, now as the stories about her begin to pour out on FB, you can see a little glimpse of her impact on others. She was especially good at taking people under her wing and bringing them along.
- Barb wasn’t afraid to speak truth. Lovingly, but it was truth just the same. She didn’t try to apologize for God or second-guess Him. She trusted Him but also wasn’t afraid when she had questions or was frustrated by Him. She processed her questions/doubts/frustrations in the light of truth. Even if the answers made her uncomfortable. She also wasn’t afraid to speak into other people’s lives.
- Barb was ready to “meet her Maker.” She became a Christian 7 or 8 years ago and when she did, she was all in. She spent her days hungering after His words like they were food to satisfy her deepest longing. As her death drew near and she talked about meeting Him, she had already invested hours of study and time with Him. She knew the One she was going to stand before. So, she really wasn’t afraid.
- Barb ran her race well. When she and Jeff found out that an extremely aggressive form of cancer would be part of that race, she didn’t waffle or give up. Was she afraid at times? Sure. Disappointed that her life might be cut short just shy of her 50th wedding anniversary? Of course. Did she WANT to leave Jeff and her precious family and large circle of friends? Nope. But, that woman fixed her eyes on Jesus, knowing that He was the author and perfecter of her faith, and she ran her leg of the race faithfully right up until the end. She didn’t wallow in self-pity or make it all about her. She continued to trust God and be others-centered right up to end. Studying the book of Hebrews with her during her last months was such a privilege – I think she was encouraged by it in profound ways and that rubbed off on the rest of us.
- Barb laughed. A lot. She didn’t take herself too seriously. In a culture that finds every reason to be offended for every possible aggression – perceived or real – Barb’s approach was a breath of fresh air. Her energy and laughter rubbed off on a lot of other people… and that was a gift to many of us.
Hers was a life well-lived. Let’s mourn and celebrate. Let’s encourage each other all the more as the day draws near for us to join her.
But, let’s not encourage each other with silly platitudes. Barb hasn’t become an angel. She also didn’t become god-like, looking down on all of us all the time and superintending events in our lives. She also isn’t at the pearly gates trying to convince Peter to let her in. We don’t need to pray to her or send her messages. She isn’t bored sitting on a cloud with a harp and wishing she could be here. Instead, let’s encourage each other with truth. Barb’s got a full plate… because, friends, SHE’S WITH JESUS. She’s still just our Barb. But she is in the presence of her God. Without the hindrances of this sin-stained life. She’s in a real place in the heavenly realm with the One who loves her better than any of us could.
And that changes everything.
All their life in this world and all their adventures had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before. – C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle