A couple of years before we moved here Ann was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. By the time we were becoming members of the congregation of our church I hadn't met her, but I knew that our church was faithfully praying for her. I would hear bits and pieces about her activities from time to time; from her progression of treatments to her bicycling adventures. She had joined the "Livestrong" cause as a way to fight back and rode, even raced, on her bike. Many people in our church are avid cyclists, and I suspect she was a key to that. I never crossed paths with Ann until I was helping plan a ladies brunch and was asked to call her to make a complicated cake. Ann, evidently, was legendary for her baking skills.
Then one morning Ann approached me after church to ask if I'd like to be a part of a dinner club she was putting together. I couldn't pass up such an opportunity, for the food of course, but mostly for the chance to get to know her a bit better. She chose a menu from Gourmet magazine and sent each of the ladies in the group the recipes which we were to make. I had a little help from Bekah making the dill spaetzle for my part. The evening at her home was lovely and delicious, and we talked about a lot of things, but I don't recall her focusing on, or even mentioning, her cancer. Her adopted greyhounds figured prominently in our conversation, as well as her cycling. We laughed. My memory may be flawed at times, but my memories from that night are only glowing and happy.
I said earlier that I was surprised by my friendship with Ann. I was surprised because I felt as if, were I in her place, I would be focusing solely on those friendships which I already had- those people upon whom I knew I could rely. I wouldn't want to cultivate any more loves, knowing that I would soon be saying goodbye. My relationship with Ann taught me that such an attitude would be entirely selfish, excluding those who might be blessed by friendship. I soon learned just how generous Ann was in her relationships with others.
Not long after that dinner Ann threw a party- a big party. She reserved the planetarium at the local museum, had lots of wonderful food, live music, and a slideshow of fun times rolling on a giant screen. There must have been hundreds of people there. This party was to celebrate her life- while she was still here. Still here among the living, but also still here in Reading. You see, her husband had gotten a promotion that required them to move to Ohio. Longtime friends shared memories of their times with Ann. There were laughs and there were tears. My primary impression was one of a loving and generous woman, tireless in her giving, creative in her gifts. She had friends from many different aspects of her life; Ann was not a one-dimensional person, but a many-faceted jewel.
I also learned that night that her generosity extends beyond her friends and encompasses the community which she joined, however unwillingly, when she was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Ann and her husband started an organization similar to the "Make a Wish Foundation", but aimed at adults. Carpe Diem USA is, according to their website,
"a unique organization that specializes in providing opportunities for adults with a life-threatening medical condition to "Seize the Day." Carpe Diem USA exists because adults have wishes too, and our mission is to provide adventures and experiences that will enrich the lives of those who are referred to us. There is never any cost to the individual. "
Ann and Al have had their share of adventures, making the most of the time they've been given together since her diagnosis, and are graciously reaching out to enable others to do the same.
Since she'd been in Ohio it was nice to keep up with her on Facebook and through her blog. Every now and then when I posted something about a successful run or a race she'd cheer me from afar. Her encouraging comments were always magnified to me, since I knew that her struggles with her cancer were growing more severe.
In recent weeks and days there have been blog posts from Ann and messages from her husband concerning her increasing weakness as the end of her battle drew near. Many of her body's organs had fallen prey to the enemy and were failing. Pain had been her constant companion and difficult, if inevitable, decisions had been made. She went from the hospital ICU to hospice care a couple of days ago, and as of Wednesday night she had been unconscious for 24 hours. Her husband reported that she appeared to be resting peacefully and was no longer moaning in pain. She was surrounded by loved ones as her earthly end drew nigh.
Sometimes when I get weary during a run I think over the verse from Hebrews that says to, "...run with endurance the race set before us..." I know that I am taking it all out of context, because that's not at all what it means. The entire passage makes this clear.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Ann ran her race with endurance, and now she is not merely looking to Jesus, she is meeting Him face to face as He welcomes her, weary and sore, into the eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. I can just see her now, enfolded in His loving embrace, as He says to her,
"Come ye, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the World"! (Matthew 25:34)
As Ann joins that great cloud of witnesses I can picture her encouraging all of her many friends yet here to run our races with endurance, throwing aside every weight and sin, because she has now acquired the prize and knows its infinite worth. She is in the presence of our glorious Lord and our most precious Savior, beholding the Lamb in joy immeasurable.
Salvation and glory and power
belong to our God"!
Ann passed through the veil July 1, 2011.