I cannot believe this day has come. Just another day on the busy calendar of life and yet a year ago today, many lives were changed – MANY. Mine was one of them.
Around the end of 2011, my precious friend Christen started getting horrible migraines. It was not necessarily out of the usual for her to get them. But they continued on for months and she surprisingly continued on with life as normal as possible. They began to increase in intensity and from my vantage point, it became a constant matter of prayer.
I still remember the last Tuesday that I saw her at our church prayer meeting. It was in November. She was wearing a brown sweater with a blue collared shirt underneath. She met me on the platform before the prayer meeting began, her blonde hair glowing under the stage lights. I put my guitar down and gave her a big-as-usual-shelly-hug. “How are you friend?”, I asked. She began to tell me how her migraine was still there and now she was losing hearing in her ear and had vertigo. “WHAT?!”, I exclaimed. My heart was just wondering what on earth was going on in her body and when would this strange cold – because that’s what she thought it may have been – would go away. We bowed our heads to pray. I laid my hands on her ear, on her head and we cried out to the Lord. She still looked as though she was in pain – fatigued by the ongoing onslaught of the migraines – but she was there, on that platform and we sang and prayed our hearts out that night. Little did any one know she had cancer.
About a short month and a few days later, my precious sister would be in the presence of her Lord and Savior. That day was a year ago today.
I still cannot believe it.
Honestly, I haven’t written much about Christen because there is so much stored up in my heart and stirred up in my spirit. How do I describe such a wonderful friend, mother, wife and deep bond of sisterhood that I experienced with her, even if our friendship really only began deepening the last 3 years of her life? It amazes me how God can do that. It really only took 3 years for us to build a growing and iron-sharpening friendship. That’s one thing about my time with Christen that I miss the most. We would always go way too deep even for our own good! We would delve into theological topics, such as sanctification, regeneration and GRACE. We’d chat and chat, either at apartment dates at my place or at hers, with little feet scurrying around the house, as Hudson ran around in his superman undies and Audrey in her princess heels. It never deterred our talking about life and Jesus, as she folded loads of laundry, made dinner or had to discipline the running undies boy :). Many of our conversations would take us to dreaming about what God may have for us in the future. On one of our musing dates, she shared about a desire God had been putting in her heart to write books. Together, we dreamt about putting together, one day, a magazine for women without all the fru-fru, but it would be theologically rich, spirit-filled in breadth, global in focus and relevant to current needs of what women work through in this blessed city – from Godly parenting and home decor (of course that’s all Christen!), to living out your faith in community, within the Body and advancing the Kingdom of God in your sphere of influence. We had plans to reach all sorts of women one day – reaching young, old, single and married – that all who were broken and weary could find a community of sisters to do authentic life with. She was pretty stoked and I was game! That was last October…I will never forget that.
And that was Christen through and through. She had such an authentic relationship with the Lord and it would breathe life to my soul. She wasn’t concerned about being “godly” in other people’s eyes; She only wanted God to permeate her life. And He did. She taught me so many things, that she didn’t even realize I was picking up on, but I watched her like a hawk and picked her brain about many things.
Probably one of the sweetest moments we shared together that I will never forget was while we watched a video on discipleship for the global cause of Christ. I probably talked to Christen the most about my longing for missions other than talking to Jesus himself. She had a passion to make disciples of Christ too and had such a burden for her community. We both longed to spend our lives doing that, whether in Chicago, in her area that was a melting pot of world religions, overseas or wherever we found ourselves, that we would be committed to make true disciples of Christ! We sat, hunched around her dinosaur of a computer and watched this video as tears welled in our eyes, seeing what God can do with those committed to raising up just ONE disciple of Christ. The multiplicative implications stirred us.We cried through it as we listened to testimonies of lives being transformed by the power of the God’s Word. After the video ended, we just sat in silence for a while. Finally, she looked at me and said, “We must pray.” And pray and cry and (eventually) rejoice, we did, for the Victory in Christ would continue to permeate our souls and that incredible message would be sent out from us; that God would use us all the days of our lives for people to find Him, know Him and fall in love with Him.
Even in the midst of all that, she was still plowing away, one foot in heaven, one on earth, living to be a faithful steward of what God had entrusted to her. Perfect? No. Authentic. As much as someone can be on this side of heaven.
Her life spoke then and still speaks today.
“BELOVED, DON’T SETTLE”
I still remember we were leaving church one day and she yelled from her car, as she was putting 2 children in car seats and Joe was saying goodbye to her (since they usually had to take separate cars to church because of their involvement in various ministries), “SHELLY! Did you read my blog post from today?” We were blog encouragers. Secretly, we always wished that more people actually read our blogs but truth be told, we were part of each others fan clubs, with some other close friends and her family. In time, we came to understand that our posts were probably more for us than an audience. “No, I didn’t get a chance to!”, I yelled back. “It’s a good one”, she laughed, “and I totally thought of you and Beth Moore the way I ended it.” Well, I read it as soon as I got home, A Holiday at Sea, and let me tell you, that blog did me in. In her very simplistically-profound way of writing, her words put me at another wonderful crossroad. It was there that God planted into my heart seeds that would really awaken more fully the moment she passed into the eternal Glory. I can’t fully describe it – it is supernatural and I’m not making much of her or words, but I do know that something in my spirit came to life. Her words became the cry of my heart sent out in earnestness, joy and faith. Those very words reverberated back, in my seasons of discouragement, doubt, fatigue of the faith journey, from the mouth of my Faithful Father, “Beloved, don’t you dare settle!” It’s been my driving force ever since.
My sister ran this race, she fought the good fight and she kept the faith. She did not settle for less than God’s best: HIMSELF. And I’m realizing the more we have of Jesus, the more of His GRACE, peace, love and righteousness we possess; the more we lay hold of His ways and the surrender our wills, then the MORE we have a joy unspeakable and full of glory…for we are receiving the goal of our faith – the deepening salvation of our souls! The details of life are in His hands but what will matter at the end of the Day – that day that we will all face – is did I really know and Love Jesus with all my heart, soul, mind and strength? Was that the pursuit of my life? It’s not the destination that matters, but Who is with us and those we’re seeking to gather along with us. That’s how I want to live the rest of my days, not settling in my love pursuit of God, but that I may lay hold of every sweet and precious promise availed to me through the Cross of Christ and flowing from a Father’s heart.
“Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls”
My thought wanderings and ramblings do not do Christen Ringle justice and all the more so, they fall gravely short of what Christ can do. Her life cannot be measured by the 29 years she lived here on earth because she did not waste it. This past year cannot be measured by calendar days, because God packs so much into a moment that may not even be seen until somewhere else on the kingdom calendar of “life”. Who can fathom the ripple effect of God’s spirit and power? I cannot speak for everyone, but I can speak of God’s incredible commitment and grace to His children that I’ve experienced. By that alone, which is more than enough, I have more of a tenacity and resolve to live my days knowing and loving Him.
And when I see Joe, Audrey and Hudson, I stand in awe of a faithful and merciful God, who has given every ounce of Himself, that they too may stand and testify of indescribable grace in every moment of a day, leading to today and that will go beyond. I cannot say I understand it. I still see them at times and my heart feels a physical pain from all that happened a year ago. It’s ok to not have all the answers. It’s ok to let the mysteries unfold however God desires them to because He is most assuredly still at work, my heart knows that full well. It’s bigger than you or I to figure out, but just like Christen said,
” If you can wrap your mind around it, then it’s too small. Beloved, do not settle.”
And by God’s grace, until we all see our Savior face to face, we dare not because if God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Yes, Beloved of Christ, he has given us everything we need and will ever need to finish triumphantly, joyfully and taking with us as many as possible. That is immeasurable. That is why Christen was here and we are not home yet. Blessed be the name of the Lord!