Early on Thursday morning, March 26, 2015, I got out of bed in my hotel room near Washington D.C.
My wife Holly and I were preparing for the long drive back home to Alabama by getting an early start.
As is my habit, I quickly checked my phone for any text messages before jumping in the shower. To my sadness, I had a message that my cousin Amy Baswell Hall had passed away during the night.
Thankfully, the news was not a suprise to us.
Amy had been in the hospital in Athens, Georgia, and it seemed as though her years-long battle with cancer was drawing to a close.
The doctors had told the family that she would not be leaving the hospital, not this time. We went to sleep Wednesday night with prayers for Amy and for the family.
Holly told me as we drove home that she had prayed—actually, about the same time Amy died—that if GOD was not going to step in and miraculously cure her, that He would be merciful and she would not suffer longer.
It has now been over a week since Amy passed and I want to remember her life and some lessons I learned from her here.
Amy was seven years older than me which, as a kid, is quite a large span.
In my early years, Amy's family lived just down from our house out in the country. I couldn't possibly enumerate all the ways in which my Aunt Annette (or Aunt Net, as we've always called her) and Uncle Richard have blessed my family and me over the years. Suffice it to say that they have been incredibly generous and loving, and our families have always been close.
I don't have many memories of Amy when I was young. I do recall that, as I got a little older, she was never "too cool" to welcome us youngsters to tag along on trips to shop, play games, go see movies or even laser tag.
After graduating high school, Amy moved to Auburn.
After college, she became an elementary school teacher in Tallassee where she taught until 2010.
By 2003, Amy moved to Montgomery where Holly and I reconnected and became very close with her. In fact, one of the more vivid memories I have with Amy was the conversation when she asked Holly and me about the church in Montgomery as she was just beginning to consider relocating there.
Once she moved to Montgomery, we spent lots of time together. In fact, Amy became one of three ladies to earn the honorary title of "Aunt" with our young children. ("Cousin Amy" just never sounded quite right and was too difficult to explain to our young kids.)
I have very fond memories of Amy's time in Montgomery.
We drove to the beach several times, played video games like Age of Empires, cards, board games, volleyball, made homemade icecream, went out to restaurants, and had countless spiritual conversations and studies together. Truly we were very blessed to share this time together.
(A funny aside: Amy was terribly inconsistent at serving in volleyball. She had such a jovial spirit about it, though. In fact, often times her serves went straight towards, into or under the net—and with tremendous velocity. As a result, we nicknamed her serve "the daisycutter" after the bomb used to clear forests in Vietnam. We all laughed so hard about this.)
Holly and Amy were especially close.
The two of them went to New York City in 2009 to celebrate Holly's thirtieth birthday. If either of us ever needed anything, we knew that Amy was there for us. She was so dependable.
Amy wanted desperately to get married and be a mom.
She loved kids so much.
Around 2006, Amy took an opportunity to temporarily care for a young child, Brooklyn, and eventually her younger brother also.
She did a great job, becoming instantly attached, as you might expect. These kids became a part of our family and we all loved them.
Eventually, the court ruled that custody be given to the children's grandmother.
This was nearly devastating for Amy.
At the time, it was difficult to accept how this could be GOD's will. Now, though, looking back we can clearly see that it was a tri-fold blessing.
First, Amy would soon be dealing with a life-and-death struggle and she didn't need to be trying to care for two young children on top of this.
Second, losing Amy once they got older would have been extremely difficult on the children.
And third, GOD gave Amy the blessing of experiencing motherhood for a season.
In 2010, Amy married Kevin Hall and moved to Watkinsville, Georgia.
Holly and I got to know Kevin while he and Amy were dating and we quickly grew to love him. Amy's relocation was sad for our sake, yet we were thrilled for her and Kevin. GOD had answered another lifelong prayer of Amy's—to provide her with a good Christian husband.
Around this same time, Amy was first diagnosed with breast cancer. I honestly can't recall the timing exactly.
Thankfully, they caught the cancer early. Amy received treatment and was pronounced cancer free.
After some period of time, however, cancer returned aggressively and by the time the doctors caught it, it had progressed to stage four bone cancer.
For at least 18 months, Amy battled. She fought hard. At about 11:45 PM on Wednesday, March 25, 2015, her body lost the war.
As we mourned our great loss of Amy's passing, Holly compiled these beautiful words which she posted on Facebook, which I simply must share here:
I first remember meeting Amy when I was about 14 years old. One summer we spent a week together at Aunt DeDe's house. The one word that stands out in my memory of that week in the summer with her is "laughter". We laughed A LOT. Sure she was 6 years older than me but she was never too cool to hang out with those younger than herself. She made a lasting impression upon me then as a young teen.
Though we may have seen each other briefly over the years following that summer, some 10 years later we would reconnect again. But this time as 2 adults. Amy had moved to Montgomery and had begun meeting with the same group of Christians we met with at the time. Being Tim's cousin, by default made her mine too.
Amy and I shared a special bond from that point on, a friendship that was like none other I had before that and none other I'll have after it. I affectionately called her my "friend-soul-mate", my "kindred-spirit". These kind of friendships don't come along very often in life and should be cherished for the rarity that they are. There's like an invisible string that just pulls you to that person. Be it common interests, similar sense of humor, and a multitude of other things but I know the one tie that was stronger than the rest was our relationship in Jesus Christ. She was my sister in Jesus.
Through the years she lived in Montgomery we shared many fond memories together. She, Tim and I hung out all the time, we were like the 3 amigos. We played video games together, watched movies together and just shared in life together for big and small events. Despite her intense hatred of crowds, when I told Amy I wanted us to take a big trip together for my 30th birthday to NYC she was 100% on board! And we had the absolute best time together on that trip. During those years of living close by we cried together, we laughed together, we prayed together. She was my closest and dearest friend. I truly believe God gave her to me for a very special season in our lives.
Then one day, Amy moved away to start a new chapter in her life with Kevin. Though a long time prayer had been answered for her and we continued to praise God for His answer, her moving away broke my heart and I know it did hers as well. But that one tie that was stronger than the rest? The wonderful thing about it, is that no matter where she went or the distance between us, the tie that bound us together through Jesus was always firm and strong. When I was able to visit Amy, after her move, we picked back up as if no time had passed. We laughed, we cried, we prayed together. Every moment and memory I have with Amy is a deeply cherished one.
Amy touched my life those 21+ years ago and I have been blessed to call her a friend ever since. Amy wasn't a big hugger but I grew up in a family that was and I loved forcing her to hug me. I will miss our awkward hugs. I will miss her laugh. I will miss our talks. I will miss her competitive game playing spirit. I will miss her fierce passion and love for her family. But I will forever carry her and all of these memories in my heart. All those years of memories we shared will bring me many smiles and many laughs until the day I can force her to give me another awkward hug in Heaven. Until then Ames...
Even now as I read of their friendship I fight back the tears.
Amy's departure has left a big hole in our hearts for sure.
Yet, what a testimony this is to a life well lived!
Despite our sadness, we have every confidence that Amy indeed received her eternal reward and is with the Father in heaven.
She was covered by the blood of Jesus and served Him faithfully until she died.
And for this reason, we rejoice that she is no longer suffering with a body that was consumed with cancer or wrestling with the struggles and disappointments of life under the sun. We are elated for Amy's new exalted position.
Amy's funeral was on Saturday, March 28, 2015 in Tallassee, AL.
The funeral home was overflowing with attendees.
I was blessed to see so many friends, family and loved ones who I hadn't seen in a long time.
We laughed and enjoyed catching up on one another's lives.
My deepest thanks go out to all who attended, sent notes of love and concern, and especially prayed for the family. I am so very thankful for the Christians in Watkinsville who cared for Amy and Kevin during the past several years and continue to support Kevin in the days ahead. Amy loved her spiritual family there very much.
Among these, I am especially thankful for Jeff, Tonya, Jonathan, Benjamin and Laura Henderson and for Marc and Laurie Lewis. Their love and tireless efforts to help Amy meant so much. Jeff spoke at the funeral service and did a very fine job, I thought.
After the funeral, Aunt Net and Uncle Richard hosted the family and close friends for food and fellowship. My deepest thanks go out to all who prepared, brought and served food. It was such a blessing. We had a wonderful time of healing and fellowship together, though you could tell the immediate family was pretty exhausted.
The following day, as the church that meets in our house assembled, it was my turn to lead our assembly.
I had previously planned to present an overview of Revelation, but there was no way we would be able to devote the energies needed to that. Our hearts and minds were focused on Amy and the family.
Knowing this would be the case, I took the opportunity to prepare my own tribute to Amy which I shared, including ten spiritual lessons that I learned from Amy's life and death.
So I'll conclude this post by sharing these lessons.
Lesson #1: While it's natural to question one's suffering, ultimately we must choose to make the best of whatever our situation—to glorify GOD wherever we are.
Amy set a great example of how to be strong in the face of adversity.
She had times of weakness—probably more than anyone but GOD knows—but she kept trusting in GOD and trying to focus on the blessings in her life.
The Scriptures are full of examples of "good people" suffering, often for reasons beyond their—and even our—knowledge:
- Job lost his family, possessions and health.
- Joseph was sold into slavery.
- Ezekiel's wife was killed as an object lesson.
- Jeremiah was made to carry a wooden yoke.
- Jesus was crushed on the cross.
- Stephen and many others suffered and died at the hands of the Jews.
GOD sees a bigger picture that you and I can't. We must trust His heart.
9 “Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker,
those who are nothing but potsherds
among the potsherds on the ground.
Does the clay say to the potter,
‘What are you making?’
Does your work say,
‘The potter has no hands’?
10 Woe to the one who says to a father,
‘What have you begotten?’
or to a mother,
‘What have you brought to birth?’
(Isa. 45:9-10 NIV)
Our entire life is about GOD and His glory, not ours.
31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
(1 Cor. 10:31 NIV)
Lesson #2: You never know who is watching. How we respond—in times of prosperity and suffering—is more important than we ever really know.
When Christians suffer, the world pays attention.
16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.
(1 Pet. 4:16 NIV)
It is an important skill to be able to suffer well. This is mentioned as a fruit of the Spirit:
22 And the fruit of the Spirit is: Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith,
23 meekness, temperance: against such there is no law;
(Gal. 5:22-23 YLT)
Lesson #3: Love loyally.
Amy loved with fierce loyalty.
She was very protective and defensive of her family and close friends.
But she strove to love with agape love—that love which sought the other's ultimate well-being...intentional love.
If Amy felt you were in danger, in the wrong, or was otherwise worried about you, she would tell you. And while her assessments may not have always been correct, you knew her motivation was out of love.
It takes courage to speak to a loved one about subjects where there may be disagreement. Most of the time, if handled properly, these conversations result in drawing closer together.
Amy was also loved loyally by Kevin.
In her suffering and illness, Kevin fulfilled his marriage vows to love Amy in sickness and until death.
I'm confident the past few years have drained virtually every ounce of strength from Kevin, emotionally, physically and perhaps spiritually. We can learn a great deal about faithfulness and unconditional love from Kevin's example. We continue to pray for Kevin.
Lesson #4: GOD's reasoning often becomes clearer in hindsight.
Several years ago, it was difficult to grasp how it could possibly be better that Amy not be given custody of those two children.
Several years ago, it was bittersweet for us that Amy was leaving Montgomery to go live in Watkinsville, GA.
But now it is apparent why it was not best for Amy to have had those children permanently, why it was best for her to go to Watkinsville, and why Kevin was brought into Amy's life at the time that he was. In each case, it was for Amy's good.
Lesson #5: Sometimes death is a merciful gift from GOD.
For whatever reasons, GOD chose not to remove Amy's cancer.
When her condition became dire, prayers shifted towards being merciful in limiting Amy's suffering if there would be no healing.
5 Precious in the sight of the Lord Is the death of His holy ones.
(Psalm 115:5 in LXX)
1 The righteous perish,
and no one takes it to heart;
the devout are taken away,
and no one understands
that the righteous are taken away
to be spared from evil.
2 Those who walk uprightly
enter into peace;
they find rest as they lie in death.
(Isa. 57:1-2 NIV)
Lesson #6: Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Like each of us, Amy openly admitted her imperfections.
One shortcoming Amy confessed wrestling with was a tendency to be overly critical in judgment towards others.
To her credit, she worked hard to overcome this.
She knew Jesus taught that the measure of judgment we use towards others would be measured towards us (see Matt. 7:1-2) and this scared her.
I did not have opportunity to discuss this issue with Amy after she moved to Athens, but I suspect that her sufferings with cancer taught her a lot about mercy and judgment. I'm sure it would teach any of us lessons in this regard. (For clarification's sake, I'm not suggesting GOD inflicted or allowed Amy to develop cancer to teach her this lesson.)
12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
(Jam. 2:12-13 NIV)
Life is too short to hold feelings of bitterness or judgment in our heart. Let it go and allow your heart to heal from any wounds you've suffered.
Lesson #7: In GOD's wisdom, even the death of the Christ-follower brings unity.
One aspect of Christians' deaths which continues to amaze me is how it brings people from our past back together in a (mostly) peaceful way.
Except for extreme cases, there is peace between people in these situations, especially between Christians.
Lesson #8: For His faithful disciples, Jesus has truly taken away the sting of death.
54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
(1 Cor. 15:54-58 NIV)
13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.
(1 Thess. 4:13 NIV)
Lesson #9: Never ever give up.
Amy fought hard, physically, emotionally and spiritually until the very end.
Her legs no longer worked properly, but make no mistake: Amy crossed the finish line.
As Paul so beautifully expressed it:
7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
(2 Tim. 4:7-8 NIV)
Lesson #10: Death is no respecter of persons. It takes the young and the old, the healthy and the sick, the rich and the poor.
Due to her diagnosis, Amy had months to prepare for her likely death.
I suppose this is a blessing and a curse.
Sometimes death is anticipated and drawn out; other times immediate and unexpected.
We must each ask ourselves if we are prepared to stand before the judgment seat of Jesus?
27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,
(Heb. 9:27 NIV)
Time will heal over the wounds which today are fresh, though scars always remain.
And when I think about Amy, I'll smile and remember the blessing she was in my life, give thanks for the time we had together, and anticipate the coming opportunity to renew our fellowship when I join her on the other side.