We didn’t grow up together. We never attended the same school or church. Our kids were never in class together and never ended up on the same sports teams or in the same activities. I wish I could say we go way back, but our friendship only spans two short years. Our memories together are few, but the significance of them is huge.
Our kids go to the same elementary school and we live a few streets from each other but the truth is, our paths might never have crossed if it weren’t for one thing. A word that many have come to hate. A shoe that many fear might drop. A reality that has been known to destroy hopes, dreams, and ultimately life.
I don’t even recall the specifics of introducing myself to Stef. I kept hearing about this mom of a family in our community that had recently been diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. The idea of a mom of young kids facing some pretty tough treatment meant we should of course be connected somehow. I am pretty sure, in true Pinked Perspective fashion, my first attempt toward friendship with Stef was a care package with a note that awkwardly stated “Hey I had cancer too and our kids go to the same school. I think we should be friends?”
While I understand the devastating power of a cancer diagnosis and have seen so much suffering that comes with it, my own journey six years ago and now my friendship with Stef confirm for me that all things really can be used for good. Even cancer.
I have shared many times (probably too many times) what cancer has taught me, but one of the most lasting effects it has had is the compassion that was stirred in me. Prior to my own cancer journey, I would have shied away from a friendship with someone that was recently diagnosed with cancer.
“What if I say the wrong the thing?”
“What if I am in the way of her precious time with her family?”
“What if it hurts me too much?”
Perhaps it was the compassion I experienced in others in my time of need. Or perhaps it was the words of Kara Tippetts and Jill Buteyn from their book Just Show Up. But I have become convinced and determined to be one of those people who stands with others through the hard. It is through friendships like the one I now have with Stef, a friendship based on our common thred of dreaded cancer, that I experience such incredible Hope.
Through my short time of friendship and few memories with her, I have witnessed someone who truly knows the meaning of fight. From her never ceasing smile and positive outlook to her physical ability to smoke me every time we have a run together (even while in the midst of this chemo or that), Stef is a fighter to the core. I have come to understand that “we fight for Stef” because she shows us how it is done.
Through my short time of friendship and few memories with her, I have witnessed a community come together in a powerful way. Between her family, our school, her church, her work, the kids’ sports, dance and scouts, there is not an area that hasn’t been reached by an outpouring of love for Stef. When we see each other loving Stef, it gives us comfort and points us to The One who tells us to love each other this way.
Through my short time of friendship and few memories with her, I have witnessed my own faith grow. I have seen God provide for the Ashdown family in ways that can only be explained by a loving, all-powerful God stepping in. In knowing Stef’s suffering, I was made all the more aware of what Christ suffered on that Good Friday. In seeing Stef enjoy some good days and precious moments with her family, I am all the more aware and in awe of the One that holds my life and victory over death in His hands.
I’m not sure how I ever missed “The Legend of the Dogwood Tree” before but it was gifted to me in the weeks leading up to Easter along with an opportunity to make Dogwood trees as a craft with my kids during Passion week. It was like one of those whispers from The Lord reminding me of Stef and all that Jesus had done for us. It was a reminder that suffering, even the kind that cancer brings, is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to experience community and fellowship that inspires us. It’s an opportunity to prove God’s power and see His Glory when all else seems lost.
I pray that you, my dear friend Stef, know the depth of the impact that our two year old friendship and the few but precious memories we share have had on me. I am forever grateful for the Dogwood that will always remind me of that.