If you have been following my blog for the past eight or nine months, you know that I usually write more often than I have these last few weeks. If you read “This is Only Temporary”, then you know that my campus minister and mentor Jennifer Lotz had cancer. I knew that she wouldn’t last long, but I had no idea that it would only be 44 days from her first seizure to her death.
Jennifer died last Wednesday, May 6, 2020 at 8:20pm. I would love to write you with more encouragement and hope by saying that Jennifer was fully healed of her cancer, but right now a Sunday school response isn’t cutting it. Jennifer is gone. Her seven kids don’t have a mom anymore. Her devoted husband lost the love of his life.
On Sunday, April 5th, Jennifer had already lost her ability to write, but she had her husband Eric send me a message. She wanted me to know how proud of me that she was. She was proud of the ministry that I was doing and the community garden that we started in that ministry. He also said that Jennifer had bought Beth Moore’s new book Chasing Vines, based solely on my blog about the book. Jennifer got to chapter 10 of the book, the part on pruning and it was challenging to her as she was facing her cancer diagnosis. The last bit of the message was Eric writing me, that Jennifer loved me and she was thankful for the time we had together.
On Monday, April 6th, I sat down to write Jennifer a letter. I would like to say that I am an avid letter writer, but these last few months have made me stop writing like I used to do. However, after reading that message from Eric, I knew I had to write Jennifer.
Jennifer was a mentor and dear friend when I was in college. I remember very clearly one time she told me that just as she had mentored me, that I needed to mentor others. She described it to me in a metaphor. Her life was a tree. Each person who she mentored was one of the big branches off the trunk of the tree. As I mentored others, then they would become smaller branches off of my branch on her tree. She had a dream of having a big bash of an 80th birthday party. At that party, all of us she had mentored would be there and we would bring the people we had mentored with us to the party with us, so she could meet them. I could remember her eyes as she described this party, where there could be hundreds of people there just from the handful of people she mentored. It would be a party to show each of us the impact of one obedient servant of Christ.
That image and the thought of Jennifer’s 80th birthday party has always been in the back of my mind for more than 15 years. I never wanted to go into college ministry to impress Jennifer, but it was because of Eric and Jennifer’s love that I wanted to share that kind of love with other young adults. I wanted a home like Jennifer’s. I wanted relationships with young adults like she had with me. I wanted to grow in love with Christ so I could overflow with His love, just like she did. I wanted to add to her mentoring “tree”, to prove that I had been a faithful student of hers and of her Savior and mine.
In my heart, I knew that this would be the last thing I would say to Jennifer. I am not sure if it was the pressing of the Holy Spirit or intuition, but I knew these were my last words, so I didn’t spare them. I took nearly 3 hours, and wrote twelve pages to her. I told her how I remembered the mentoring tree and the 80th birthday party. Then I went on to write her about all of the young adults I have mentored these last nine years. I wrote first and last names. I encouraged her to look through our Facebook friends list so she could see their faces.
I told her about the ones that I think she would love to meet and who have moved from mentee to dear friend. I told her about the ones who were only here for a brief period of time in our lives. I told her about the ones who walked away from Christ, but who are still in our thoughts and prayers. I told her about the ones who I longed to connect with, even though we never really clicked. Of the ones I mentioned, I counted out around 14, that I know we connected well with as a family and personally. Some of you reading this were in that letter; a part of a greater legacy of faith.
Then I told Jennifer how much I loved her and appreciated what she did for me in college. I said good-bye. I knew it was my final good-bye and I cried as I wrote those final words.
The part of Beth Moore’s book Chasing Vines that Jennifer had reached was the section on pruning. I cannot tell you how much that spoke to my heart as I first read it. There have been seasons on my life where God has removed things, removed jobs, and removed people from my life. It was in the middle of those moments that I felt like life was going to kill me. I had to have everything else removed from my life to expose the sin in my heart and bring me repenting back to the feet of my Savior.
I had to have everything and everyone who has been taking the place of Christ in my life removed. When this hit the hardest was when in a series of a few quick months, we had all of our close friends move away. Some went to Texas, one to Oklahoma, and Eric and Jennifer moved to Haiti. We had joined a new church and really didn’t connect well with anyone there yet.
Everyone who had helped me process through life up to this point of my young adulthood was gone. Everyone except for Christ. I had to surrender those people to God and walk ahead on my own feet of faith. I had to cry out to God and tell him how lonely I was. How I didn’t know how to be a loving, patient wife and mother. How I missed my friends who really knew me.
It was in that moment of saying good-bye to my friends and support group, that God moved in my heart. Speaking into my heart was a Savior who was ready for a real relationship with me. Then in His still small voice, I had the confirmation in my heart that it was now my time to serve. Not just serve to have other praise me, but to serve in a way that blesses others and brings glory to God.
The moment changed from me crying out to God, missing my dear friends, to me crying out for God to give us young adults to mentor. I never wanted to be a mentor to young adults to impress Jennifer at her 80th birthday party. I wanted to love and mentor young adults, because I had been mentored and loved so well. I wanted my home to show the love and openness that I had been given.
What I thought was the loneliest part of my life, ended up to be the place where God worked closely in my heart. He worked and in that season of loneliness my heart changed. Just when I thought that my loneliness was going to oppress me, God brought in my dearest friend. I didn’t know she would be my closest friend, but God did.
So here I sit, still a bit overwhelmed by the thought that Jennifer is now in Heaven after a 44-day battle with cancer.
The day before Jennifer died, our family was sharing a meal at the community garden with our pastor and his wife. I told stories about Jennifer and the impact she had on my life and our ministry. We were sharing a meal and sharing our lives: just like the Lotz family did with me all those years ago.
The day after Jennifer died, I took a young woman I am mentoring to meet with some other friends who are excellent gardeners. This particular young woman has started a community garden for another non-profit organization. She first made contact with us to get garden information, but has become precious to us and a part of the family. I couldn’t help but continue to love on her. God has blessed us yet again with a young woman to mentor and we get to talk about gardening too.
Here I sit smiling and crying thinking about these young women God has placed in my life. They will never get to meet Jennifer, but maybe through me they will feel her legacy. I love these young ladies. When they have good news and immediately text me: it brings such joy. When they are struggling and need prayer, they know that a text to me will be met with prayers on their behalf. I get so much joy in the privilege of coming alongside them in their lives.
I just wonder if that is how Jennifer felt? She loved God and then got just as much joy from mentoring me as I got from her. As much as I learned from her and her time in God’s word, she received back joy in seeing me grow in Christ.
I still don’t know why God decided that Jennifer had lived her full life, but I am very thankful that He chose to put her in my life.