Jul 27, 2009

Saying goodbye to an extraordinary woman

I have always wondered what it would be like to be extraordinary.

I'm not talking about being good at the basics of life. I mean, people compliment me occasionally on being able to do a lot of things in a short amount of time, or tell me I have a nice singing voice, or comment on the fact that they think I'm a good friend. None of that counts as extraordinary, even within the confines of my little life.

I'm talking about people who will long be remembered for the mark they left on the world, whether it's as an artist, a political figure, a writer, a philanthropist or an athlete. And there are certainly many extraordinary people who aren't in the public spotlight or aren't well-known outside of a specific geographic area.

I had the privilege of attending the memorial service of one of those quieter Extraordinary People last week. My friend Mandy's mother died this month after a heroic, inspiring 11-year battle with cancer. And while I know Mandy much better than I knew Jan, I have been inspired by Jan's faith and courage in the face of that dreaded disease ever since I met her 10 years ago.

A few years ago, Jan and her husband Alex moved to Florida to retire and enjoy the rest of their days together. So when she passed away, they first had a funeral in Florida and buried her there, which was her wish. But there were so many people in Birmingham who loved her so dearly, the entire family drove here for a second service at our church. It was packed to the edges of the room.

During the joyful service -- a celebration of Jan's life, just as she wanted it to be -- I was struck by a few things in particular that I felt compelled to write down.

First, as our pastor was speaking about Jan, he said that something he always noticed about Jan was that -- no matter her circumstances -- she never allowed herself to be The Point. And because in this day and age, so many people's sole objective seems to be to make themselves the point -- of every situation or conversation -- this observation really resonated with me.

Second, her husband Alex said that at some point during her fight with cancer, she told him, "I am so GLAD that I have stage 4 breast cancer." And he asked incredibly, "WHY?" And she answered, "Because it allows me to minister to other women who have it in a way that I would never have otherwise been able to." I can tell you right here, right now, I AM NOT THAT SELFLESS. I'd love to be that person, but I'm not.

Third (and I can't remember whether it was Alex or Mandy who noted this in their remarks), Jan operated under the philosophy, "Don't waste your suffering." Mandy said it's based on James 1, and Jan truly lived by it. She was a champion for a cure for cancer and ministered to so many other people who live with it day in, day out. She was instrumental in the launch and ongoing ministry of the Angel Squad, which provides one-on-one support to breast cancer patients and their caregivers in Birmingham. She wasted not one minute of her suffering. If more "well people" gave as much of themselves every day as Jan did while she was sick, this world would be a remarkably different place.

Jan leaves behind quite a legacy of beautiful, healthy, talented children and grandchildren who are great assets to the world. Beyond the gifts she left the medical community, she left the rest of us the amazing gift of her family.

And to them I say, Jan was extraordinary in every way. It was an honor to have been invited to celebrate her life with you, and I am heartened to know that today she is dancing with the Father, officially now part of His true Angel Squad. God bless and God speed.

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