I met Ann on the school bus… chaperoning with the marching band. We were both new parents, and as it turns out, there are not so many differences between a freshman and a freshman parent. I know the parent is supposed to be the example, big and brave, having banished all insecurities, but some things never change… and so a school bus ride is always better when you have a buddy to ride with. She became that buddy… and through the years, I was so honored to call her friend.
We tried to set aside one Friday a lunch out. Those lunches always brought us to the Cheesecake Factory, and more often than not, the same booth, and the same waitress. Christine, Ann & I would share hours of laughter and conversation over lunch, and of course, cheesecake. It was after one of those first Friday lunches that we ventured into the mall and stopped at the Lancome counter for mascara. The make-up girl was friendly and kind, and she had a couple of piercings that seemed out of place in Dillards. I was wandering the counter when I heard Ann ask “Did your piercings hurt?” I felt my eyes grow wide as I listened, but my shock quickly turned to amazement as the conversation continued. The girl assured Ann that “No, it hadn’t hurt too much,” and Ann then asked her if she had her tongue pierced too? This time it was this girl’s eyes that widened and she said “No ma’am. My mama would kill me for that!” I would never have acknowledged the gap between pierced and unpierced, but in her caring way, Ann recognized that this young girl longed to be noticed. The conversation may have lasted under five minutes, but it has stayed with me… the way she showed love to a stranger. I imagine that this young lady walked a little taller after we left… that she, having been seen, might in turn, pass the love along. Or at the very least, have a conversation to share across the table that night with her Mama.
In the spring of 2011, Ann shared that her greatest wish and prayer was to see Michael graduate. I added her prayer to my heart’s most desperate desire, which was for her healing on earth. A full year went by, with lunches and hundreds of texts that flew back and forth, all in the effort to somehow fit a lifetime of friendship into too little time. The weeks that stretched to June and graduation were filled with joyful blessings: The news that David & Claudia would be here, a working lunch, with cheesecake, to create corsages for three beautiful girls, school concerts and senior celebrations. Her eyes filled when she shared how thankful she was to be here to see it all. The Friday morning of graduation, I woke up and knew. I knew that I would be witness to His glorious YES, the answer to our heartfelt prayer. I was humbled and full of joy. That night she was far across the gym, but I could see her, and I knew she was beaming. The weekend celebrations were woven with so much joy, and those few days will remain some of my most beautiful memories.
It was the end of June when I saw weary peek out from behind her beauty and grace, but she continued to embrace all that was within her reach. Through it all, she taught me life. That maybe cancer really is about God. That somehow He can use the awful and the ugly to show His glory through someone as beautiful and grace-filled as Ann. Never have I seen Jesus more vibrantly than through her.
I believe it is true that only God can truly change a person, but my dear full of grace friend, God has changed me through you. This world is less without you, but heaven promises to be so much more.