Fragile, fierce, and faithful – my friend, Cathy

“Courage isn’t the towering oak, but the fragile flower that blooms in the snow.” (Anais Nin) Cathy has this quote listed as her favorite quote on her facebook profile. Having known her for over twenty years, it’s not hard for me to understand why that might be her favorite. 

Cathy is was one of the most courageous people I know. But she was also more fragile than she let on. Her story has been both a challenge and an encouragement to me, and I hope it will be to you as well. 

fragile blog (cassatt painting)
Mary Cassatt, The Child’s Bath. Oil on canvas, 39.48in x 262 in. The Art Institute of Chicago.

Catherine (Harper) Miller passed away last week. She wasn’t even fifty years old. But Cathy packed more into those four plus decades than most of us do in twice the time. She understood that life is fragile, but a life lived with courage chooses to bloom anyway.

I first met Cathy when I was young and single and living in Chicago. We would end up being roommates for three years. At the time, she was on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru), as part of their “Here’s Life Inner City” component. Cathy had a heart for inner city Chicago. She lived, worked, and played in the midst of very fragile communities, laboring to bring the hope of the Gospel to some of the darkest corners of our city. 

fragile blog (Alice Neel painting)
Alice Neel, Mother and Child, 1926 Oil on canvas 26 x 28 inches 66 x 71.1 cm © The Estate of Alice Neel Courtesy David Zwirner, New York

Cathy loved people. She had a smile that would light up a room and immediately make you feel welcomed. Our home was constantly filled with people – people over for dinner, just to chat, studying the Scriptures, playing games. We practiced hospitality with a fierceness that I want to recapture. 

fragile blog (Elizabeth Catlett sculpture)
Elizabeth Catlett, Mother and Child, Terra cotta, 11 1/4 x 7 x 7″ (28.6 x 17.8 x 17.8 cm). Gift of The Friends of Education of The Museum of Modern Art, The Modern Women’s Fund, and Dr. Alfred Gold (by exchange)

Lest you think that Cathy was some kind of super human, I can assure you that she was just as fragile as anyone else. She knew that she was a sinner in need of God’s grace. Cathy certainly had her struggles, there were battles she fought internally for years. We had hard conversations over the years we lived together; we shared our victories and mourned our failures together. 

What kept Cathy centered in the midst of everything was her complete and total devotion to Christ. She knew that His mercies are new every morning; that in her weakness, He was strong; that He would complete the work He began in her. And it was out of that faithfulness that she was able to serve. 

fragile blog (Renoir painting)
Renoir, Auguste, Child with Toys – Gabrielle and the Artist’s Son, Jean. 1895-1896, oil on canvas, overall: 54.3 x 65.4 cm (21 3/8 x 25 3/4 in.), framed: 65.7 x 76.7 x 3.5 cm (25 7/8 x 30 3/16 x 1 3/8 in.). Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon

Life took us along different paths, and she ended up in Wisconsin while I am in Florida. Over the last two decades, Cathy went on to foster over 70 children, and to adopt six. She didn’t pick the best and the brightest; she signed up for the most difficult cases. She loved on and cared for the fragile ones – medically complex, babies, older children, anyone who needed a home. She even reached out to birth parents to help them as well. Cathy’s facebook name was “Cathy momofmany”, and indeed, she was.

Six years ago, she married her soulmate. God was so gracious to grant Cathy a partner in life who shared her love for the outcast and forgotten. Together, they were raising other fragile flowers to bloom in the snow. 

fragile blog (Gaugin painting)
Paul Gaugin, Polynesian Woman with Children, 1901, Oil on linen canvas, 97 x 74 cm (38 3/16 x 29 1/8 in.). Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection.

One month after her marriage, Cathy was diagnosed with cancer. She fought bravely. In her last week, as she was in hospice, I was overwhelmed at the stories people were sharing of how she had loved them well. Her oldest daughter was a testimony to Cathy’s influence as she bravely managed phone calls and visitors to her mom’s bedside. I met Nidra when she was only a toddler, and was so encouraged to see the woman that she has become. And I know that Cathy wouldn’t take any credit for that – she would, rightly, attribute all to the grace of God. 

fragile blog - roommate picture
The Three Amigas – Michelle, Cathy, Shelley

Last week, my friend walked through the gates of glory. She stood in the presence of her true Love and heard, “well done, good and faithful servant.” From that moment, she entered into the joy of her Master and is truly at home. Those of us who remain will mourn, but not as those without hope. For all of us who trust in Christ, we will be reunited one day. And while we still labor here, we can take courage from Cathy’s example.

Will you love the least of these? Who needs your smile and care today? To whom can you show hospitality? Who are the forgotten ones in your neighborhood?

 

If Cathy’s story has touched you, would you consider donating to help out her family? Hospice care is expensive, and I know they would appreciate any help: Donate here.

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Hope, Hopelessness and Cancer

This is not the post I intended to write this week. I’ve been working on a post in my head about encouraging the imaginations of our children and ourselves. I did a little online research, listened to a podcast, saved a bunch of links and even had some pictures ready to plug in. Then I sat down to write and……nothing. So then I checked my email, partially from distraction and partially just out of habit. There were three emails in my inbox all from friends dealing with cancer – one needs a bone marrow transplant, one is undergoing experimental chemotherapy that (for the moment) seems to be working. One has been given a terminal diagnosis. I hate cancer. I. Hate. Cancer.

Earlier this year, a beloved former teacher at our school died. Cancer. It’s been just over year since a student at our school died. Cancer. My love for watching sports helps me see that September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month (I’m saddened that we even need such an awareness.); next month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. My mom is a breast cancer survivor. Another teacher friend of mine is also a breast cancer survivor. So many lives touched by cancer. So many lives taken by cancer. If you’re reading this post, the chances are high that you too know or have lost someone to cancer. I hate cancer.

Yes, I know, this is an art blog. You come here to be encouraged, to look at beautiful art. You don’t come here to read about cancer or think about those who’ve been ravaged by this hateful disease. Don’t quit reading just yet!

Hope in Cancer

When I sat my girls down to tell them about our friends who are dealing with cancer, my sweet five year old immediately said, “but it’s ok Mom, because they can go to Heaven and be with Jesus.” Yes, yes they can. But we who remain will grieve and rightfully so. 1 Thessalonians instructs us not to grieve as those who “have no hope.” Why? how is our grief as Christians to be different? Because our hope is in Christ and His return, the promised resurrection, the future of an eternity reigning with Him. Notice that we are not instructed not to grieve. Grief over death and loss can be God honoring. Death remains the enemy.

I find myself going back to Laura’s painting and thinking about my daughter’s response.

© Laura Gabel, "Glorious Foretaste". Pastel.
© Laura Gabel, “Glorious Foretaste”. Pastel.

When we re-did our home page I wrote:

We don’t know where you stand on the idea of Heaven, but as Christians we believe there is a Heaven. The Bible describes Heaven as a place where there is no more death, sickness, pain, or even crying. Heaven is where all the wrongs and brokenness we experience here on earth are wiped away because Christ is seated on His rightful throne. 

Can you even imagine a place where there is no pain, no broken relationships, no sickness? A place of perfect love and perfect community. Here, it feels as though everything is a little off, a little out of focus. In Heaven life works the way it was meant to work, and we see things as they really are. And when community and relationships work here, despite the messiness and mistakes, we get a glorious foretaste of what it will be like there. There is real beauty, real goodness, real truth. We see dimly here, as through a veil. There we will see clearly, because we will see Christ face-to-face.

Hope of the Gospel

My friends may well see Christ earlier than I would like. But they will know no more pain, no more cancer, no more sadness. And one day, I will see them again, because of the hope of the Gospel.

So today, I will pray for them; I will remember that life is fleeting; I will hold my loved ones a bit tighter; and I will give thanks to the One who will one day wipe all those tears away. Reflecting on our mortality and holding on to the hope (and the Hope) of Heaven can be an encouraging thing after all.

In what do you find hope? How do you remind yourself of that hope? Maybe you find yourself desperately in need of some hope – leave us a comment or send us an email. I promise we will pray for you! And if you or someone you love is facing a cancer diagnosis, may these articles be an encouragement to you.

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