On a spring weekend more than four years ago, I made an impromptu trip home to Milwaukee. Impromptu trips were fairly common during the years I lived in Madison, since it was an easy 90-minute drive with no Chicago traffic in sight. But this trip had a special purpose. Word had just come that one of my senior friends had terminal cancer. The doctor gave her two to six months. Not knowing how fast things would progress and how long she’d be able to make it out to church, I went home immediately so I wouldn’t miss the chance to see Genevieve at her best one last time.
Genevieve and I became acquainted when I was 20-something and insanely involved in the ministries of Spring Creek, and she was 70-something, still riding her bike around Pewaukee, Wisconsin. We toured Israel together with a church group on a once-in-a-lifetime trip in 1999, and she’s been a dear friend ever since.
One summer Sunday in 2009 when my world was more cloudy than sunny, Genevieve took my hand, looked earnestly into my eyes, and spoke words to me that only God knew I needed to hear. Her words restored a perspective that had been battered, and her wisdom clarified a calling that had been muddied by the confusion of closed doors. She had no idea what her words did for me—but in His most tender of ways, God provided exactly what I needed when I needed it.
Good churches, in my opinion, have “royalty”—those most-loved saints who, just by being God’s people in their times, bestow blessing upon blessing on everyone around them. Genevieve was Spring Creek royalty, and on Sundays she “held court”—sitting in her chair when it became impossible to stand for long and receiving dozens of “guests” who greeted her with a hug and got tightly squeezed in return. It was an honor to be in her presence.
Genevieve may have spent four years dying – medically speaking – one slow cell at a time. But the truth is she was never more alive. Renewed inwardly day by day, she saw cancer for what it was: a light and momentary trouble that was achieving for her an eternal glory that far outweighed anything she was suffering. She had fixed her gray-blue eyes beyond the pain and struggle and never lost sight of what was unseen. While dying seemed to take forever, she knew it was just temporary. What was ahead was eternal (2 Cor 4:16-18).
I saw Genevieve a dozen or more times after that spring weekend four years ago, and most recently when I was home in July. Her face was puffy from medications, her voice was faint and raspy, and she’d finally given in to the wheelchair. But her glimmering eyes and winsome smile were undimmed. She held my hand and talked while I willed my knees to hold a long squat next to her chair. As she always did, she said how good God had been to her, how much she loved her church family, and what a sweet and special friend I was.
I saw Genevieve at her best, one last time.
See you soon, dear friend.