Many months ago our congregation began praying for Ashley and her family; this Spring she died of a brain tumor at age 17. Her parents decided to come along on the trip to Costa Rica that she and her mom had planned to make. Her death at age 17 did not define her life. She said she was fortunate to have known how deeply she was loved; many people live long lives and never experience such fullness of life, she said- she was correct in that. She told us that she was not afraid because she could feel the power of God in her body as a kind of warmth. Through all of the radiation, hair loss, nausea, weakness, and chemotherapy Ashley's faith never waivered. I don't believe God chose her to die so young so she could give such an incredible witness of faith, nor do I believe that God chose her instead of someone else because she was spiritually strong. I do belive that God offered her all the gifts she nneeded to live as she did, and she had the courage and grace to accept them.
Most of the students on out trip wore T-shirts that were replicas of Ashley's softball jersey which were sold to help with medical expenses but more as a sign of their solidarity with her. On the fronts the T-shirts say "Believe." None of us needed to see those shirts, though, to be reminded that we are all still grieving. Ashley's courageous parents told their story again and again to strangers as they became new friends. Healing is hard work, and God's presence is felt both as comfort and abandonment as we grieve. The Greek word for comfort (as in "the God of all Comfort who comforts us") is no wimpy sentimentality, but has the sense of "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God."
We could tell the stories of our lives like we might tell the story of our trip to Costa Rica. We could show slides of lizards and flowers, rainforests, and discos and accompany these with a narration of what we did and saw. But truly our lives are not about ourselves so much as they are about what God is doing. God made us and gifted us with many abilities, with faith, with friends, with insight and experiences. I could tell the story of our trip to Costa Rica as a travelougue about what we did, but I prefer to tell it as a Gospel of what God has done. I could write the Gospel of Ashley or the Gospel of John Walter. Thanks be to God. (The picture shows the front of some of the many colors of Ashley's T-shirts worn on the trip- we're in the tour boat that took us to see the Crocodiles)