Van Steenburgh, Philip -October 18, 2006
At the bottom of my e-mailbox, there’s a letter postmarked Wednesday, June 20, 2001, 6:18 pm. The sender’s name – Bethany Enloe. The text reads like this:
i have a gift for you:) not anything terribly exciting but a gift
nonetheless. so if you want to drop by sometime tomorrow or friday let me know. i also need to say goodbye. here is our new info in FL:
546 Green Park Court
Oviedo, FL 32765
ok see you soon.
It wasn’t the only e-mail I ever received from her, but it was the last. In the midst of the last four months of her life, my mailbox piled up, and after it was all over, I found it. In hindsight, I would’ve kept all her letters. If we all had known what would happen, we would have done a lot of things differently, I imagine. I don’t say that with any hint of regret, however, I say it because, for the past five years, I have assumed the role of avid collector. I search for things in my life to snatch up that remind me of her, her testimony, her faith, her impact. Memories locked in my head, emotions held captive in my heart – I guard them all, not wanting to let them go.
I’m a member of a circle of collectors, a group who knew Bethany Enloe, some for years, others for days; those who touched her and saw her smile, those who only heard enough to know how to pray. Only God knows the number of this group, and only God could know how far the wave of His glory stretched through her life’s testament.
Yes, I would’ve collected more diligently and vigorously. But no amount of pieces would ever complete the picture of Bethany we have of how uniquely involved she was in each of our lives. So we value our personal stashes of memories for their individual influence on our own perspectives, our own experiences, and our own lives. That’s why I have kept the email.
Bethany, knowing my personal struggles with fear and doubt about the future, found a gift for me – a framed picture of Abraham Lincoln. Beneath his portrait was the word “Perseverance.” Every time I dig down into my inbox and find this letter, I want to remember the gift. Not the picture, or the inspirational inscription, but the gift. Although she didn’t know, and I certainly didn’t, Bethany’s e-mail was all too prophetic for the upcoming trial of her struggle against cancer, and how my life changed in the midst of her battle and after her departure. As usual, she was more than willing to understate her contribution to my life – “not anything terribly exciting but a gift.” That’s the line my eyes focus on every time I open her letter. On this, the fifth anniversary of Bethany’s passing, I pull together my collection of gifts Bethany gave me, in her life and after, and disagree with her e-mail – what God gave me through Bethany has indeed been “terribly exciting.”
The mystery of what God can do in and through a person’s soul is overwhelming. To think that a girl, in the middle of the most intense physical and spiritual moments of her life, was still intent on giving and not receiving, goes against all human logic. Wouldn’t someone, nearing the end of their time, be grabbing for love, attention, and time from those close to their heart? Shouldn’t someone in that situation deserve to pity themselves, and expect others to share in their grief? Through the eyes of the world, those reactions seem the right and fair assumptions.
Flashback to a cross on a hill, where three men hang dying – amidst the most intense physical and spiritual moments of their lives. There is one man among three who pities himself, another sees himself for what he really is, and a third gives Himself. Until His dying breath, Christ gave. He gave the promise of paradise to the man next to him, and to countless others. He gave Himself, and in so-doing, He gave forgiveness, mercy, and hope to many.
Now the picture moves to a teenage girl on a hospital bed, not hating, but hoping. Not loathing, but loving. Not grasping, but giving. Giving a human picture of the un-human effects of regenerative love shown on the cross. Loving her Savior, and hoping in His promises. Shedding human tendencies, and showing holy faith. To see the picture, to pull that gift from my collection, to share the hope and to know that the force of the shockwave of Jesus’ love has rendered me helpless to save myself, yet faultless before His throne I will one day stand with Bethany – all these things leave me “terribly excited” for what lies ahead.
In memory of Bethany Enloe and in thankfulness for God’s gifts through her,
-October 18, 2006