In August of this year I had the privilege of being with my friend as she went home to Jesus. I will tell you how she died, but first I will tell you how she lived.
When I first met her, Jessica was on the long end of nine straight months in the pediatric unit in a hospital. Nine months of hospitalization and one of the sickest people in the area, Jessica was making bracelets for all the other kids in the ICU. She was the kind of girl who gave to everyone around her. She invited me into her hospital room and about 45 seconds later I was making bracelets too. She had a way of doing that, bringing people, as they were, into her world.
As I understand it, Jessica was diagnosed with a brain tumor when she was 9 months old. After being treated aggressively by receiving several experimental drugs, the doctors still did not know what it was, or how to treat her. The experimental drugs had unknown side effects which resulted in continual hospitalizations, surgeries and treatments for the rest of her life.
But the girl I knew, wasn't bound by a hospital bed.
If you took sunshine, bright colors, sugar and spice, a smile that lights up a whole room and a fair bit of sass, you would get pretty close to knowing Jessica. She had lots of dreams, crushes on boys, LOTS of love and a wise and witty remark at the ready whenever the time called for it. In spite of her circumstances Jessica had this radical kind of joy in the very depth of her being and it lit her up from the inside out.
You see Jessica had the kind of faith that made everyone stop and think. At 15, she had endured more suffering than most people do in their entire life. And yet she did so with her heart firmly fixed on Jesus. I remember one time she excitedly showed me a picture of a garden with red roses all around it. She pointed to the picture with such joy in her eyes and told me, "Look! This is my rose garden in heaven!" Skeptically I thought it was a sweet thought, but her passion convinced me otherwise. She had seen a glimpse of her home in heaven with Jesus and she wanted everyone to know how excited she was to go there one day. After, of course, she accomplished all the many dreams she had in her heart.
Jessica believed in Jesus with her whole heart. She loved and trusted him with such passion, she challenged me to the core of my being. How can one who has suffered so much, love a God who is capable of healing her and making it so she doesn't have to suffer any more? And yet, she loved.
When asked how she handled the challenges that she faced on a daily basis, her response was, "I look at Jesus." Someone asked her, then why did she ever get scared, when she knew that God was holding her in spite of it all. She said very honestly, "That's when I forget to look."
I can say with joy that my friend is no longer suffering. She passed away at home with her family and friends close by. What a precious and holy moment it was to watch her go. It was as if heaven and Earth got really close for a moment, and when she passed from this place into heaven, the two returned to their normal locations and the residue of heaven remained in the room. Peace, joy, rest. Yes, sadness too. But relief that our friend was no longer hurting.
Jessica's story is one of radical faith. Of unrelenting trust and hope for her place in heaven, sitting on Jesus' lap and hearing Him tell her how proud He is of her. She walked through the most impossible circumstances with a realness and a grace that was made possible on by the presence of God in her life. Without Him, she wouldn't mind me saying this, she could not have lasted as long as she did.
The end of life on Earth for Jessica was not filled with loss, but with hope. Hope of eternal life with Jesus.
Her life makes me hope for several things:
Hope of my eventual home in heaven.
And hope that I could live my life in such away where I keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, no matter what happens.
No matter what you are walking through, there is hope. Turn your eyes, turn your heart to Jesus and let HIM carry you through the hard stuff. Jessica did it. And you can too.