11 years, 4 months, and 1 week ago today I sang at my best friend’s wedding as the Maid of Honor. 7 days ago I sang at her funeral. In loving memory of Heather Joy Carter, I am sharing some laughs with some tears, and how this Christmas you can know Joy that surpasses suffering and Hope that conquers the chaos of this world.
First, I cannot thank you all enough for the kind messages and comments through Instagram and Facebook as I had to take a sudden break from blogging. My roomie, or “Rooms” as we have called each other since college, finally arrived Home on November 29, 2019 after a 5 year battle with breast cancer. May this tribute bring a smile, maybe a tear, but most of all a glorious hope!
Heather and I first met at church in 8th grade. We shared practical personalities, a natural inclination toward prayer, a propensity to find humor in anything, and consequently, became fast friends. It was the decade of button up cardigans, choker necklaces, and multi-colored sweater turtlenecks.
Our high school years were highlighted by countless memories with incredible friends – sleepovers, lots of boy talk, a fake fashion show which may have or may not have included approximately 6 wardrobe changes, events with the youth group, a girls trip to the beach our senior year and lots and lots of laughter.
During these years I discovered something many never knew about Heather. Although she was gracious and compassionate by nature, her capability for displaying these qualities was conditional on how comical she found a particular situation to be. For example, during a fall camping trip with my parents’ Sunday School class, we were walking through a parking lot on our way to our campsite when a young man approached me and began to confess his undying love while presenting me with a heart necklace he had purchased from the camp store. His intentions were good, his heart genuine, but his timing could not have been worse. As I attempted to let him down gently Heather collapsed on the sidewalk, her head between her knees shoulders shaking with laughter. She laughed from the moment he began his heartfelt message and continued to laugh the whole way back to the campground. Poor guy.
Another example of Heather’s conditional compassion was on a missions trip to Mexico in 10th grade. The building we were at was located on a small quiet street, and one evening Heather and I ventured out to a store several doors down. On our way out of this store I managed to accidentally knock over a floor to ceiling display of mops and brooms. They went flying onto the cobbled street with the sound of clattering mopware magnified by the quiet evening. The sweet Mexican store lady came out to help me and in my broken Spanish I tried to tell her, “No, no, lo siento, I will pick them all up!” I looked for Heather who was leaning against the store wall with her head on her arm in another uncontrollable fit of laughter. She would glance at me trying to clean up the mess and start all over again. She did not pick up a single broom. She could barely get through either of the above stories without laughing for years to come.
Our senior year several of us ended up deciding on the same college – Cedarville University in Ohio, where Heather and I were both to major in nursing.
Many people cautioned us from rooming together as historically such a decision was notorious for ruining friendships. I guess we were the exception. Being roommates those 4 years took us from close friends to more like sisters in every way except for blood. These years were marked by closer friendships, deeper prayer, and harder laughter. In fact, our freshman year we got in more trouble for laughing loudly too late at night than I did for falling asleep in chapel – which is saying something.
I mentioned before that not only did we share a love of laughter, but we also shared a mutual inclination for prayer. From our first year of college we kept our beds bunked. Heather had the top, and I took the bottom. We prayed together every night and started a note card system, each one with a name on it, that I would tape on the bottom of her bunk above my head. I had them in rows of seven – one row for each night of the week. At times the rows would get so long, that one of us would fall asleep while the other was praying. We had some of our deepest conversations and our hardest laughter in those late night moments.
As I mentioned Heather had the top bunk all 4 years, and there was a trick she loved to play. We would be in the middle of a bedtime conversation, and I could be pouring out my heart when she would suddenly swing her head over the side of the bunk. Her face would appear out of no where, upside down above me in the dark, and she would say, “Now listen here!” It made me jump every time, which naturally, made Heather laugh every time. Before she died this was one of the memories Heather specifically recalled about college. Apparently our late night shenanigans were memorable for both of us.
Many of you reading this tribute were on a prayer card at one time – taped to the bottom of Heather’s bed. There was one name that seemed to constantly rotate through the rows. A guy named Evan Carter. From the first time he saw Heather our freshman year, he felt that she was the girl he was going to marry. Heather, on the other hand, did not feel this way and rejected the idea of even dating him at first let alone marrying him. And so began my relationship with Evan, who became like a brother to me, chatting over dinner dates about his frustration with my stubborn roommate or my own college drama.
Evan was right by the way. 😉
Those 4 years in college were saturated with countless memories – Heather attempting to walk around our room in my 4 inch heels while practicing her speech for class, her unabashed love for whipped cream which she would sip off the top of her coffee drinks and ask the cafe baristas for more because it was “gone already?!”, the Saturday morning prayer times in our dorm room with our closest girlfriends who epitomized Cedarville’s slogan “Friends For Life.”
These same girls who 11 years later traveled 8-10 hours one way to spend a night at my house for a time of prayer over Heather. True soul sisters. A small spiritual army who stormed the gates of Heaven on our dear friend’s behalf, more than she ever knew.
After college we entered the season of weddings! Heather and Evan moved to Indiana, and I moved to Baltimore to get my Masters in Nursing, married Zach with Heather as my Matron of Honor, and a couple of years later we were all back in Lancaster once again!
So many fun weddings!
The last several years have been no less memorable including yearly trips to my family’s cabin, Cedarville gang reunions, new friends, camping trips, and perhaps most special of all, the births of our 7 children, one of which nearly arrived on Heather’s family room floor.
Heather was 37 weeks pregnant with their second child, and 4 month old Gracie and I were visiting for a play date. At one point Heather casually mentioned she had been feeling back pain on and off all morning. I reminded this very experienced labor and delivery nurse that back pain could be a sign of labor. She waved it off. When it happened again I started timing it. 4 minutes apart. She continued to argue that she still had 3 weeks to go and that it was probably nothing (stubborn much?). I told her either she calls the unit or I call them because although we had been through a lot together I was absolutely not delivering her baby on the family room floor. She called. She went in. And for those of you moms out there, she was at 10cm when she hit the door. A c-section later, and there was sweet Halle.
We frequently talked about how special it would be if our girls became best friends too, and it was such a joy to watch that happen.
I could tell stories for days, some funny some not, but there is one more story that must be told because it has to do with what Heather valued above all else in her life.
**Her last day at the cancer center in Arizona November, 2019**
This past October I hit my own personal low in my best friend’s journey with cancer. I lay weeping on my bedroom floor. Heather continued to decline. She was in pain, and so was everyone who loved her. The heaviness of living in a world where 4 children could be ripped from their mother at such a young age was physically pressing in to the point where I was constantly on the verge of a panic attack which I have never experienced in my life. I ached to my core. My chest was constantly tight. I was angry, afraid, and confused – utterly helpless amidst the chaos of a disease so devastating and ravaging as cancer. I begged Jesus to reveal to me what I needed to see. Lord, I need You.
**The above song was one of our favorites in college and a couple of us recorded it for Heather and another dear friend battling cancer.**
Lord, I need you! I felt like I was suffocating, and I pleaded with Him to breathe life into my soul. The next day, He did.
I was pulling into my driveway when Danny Gokey’s song, “Haven’t Seen It Yet” came onto the radio. I had never heard it before. There is nothing magical about this song, but from the moment it started to play I knew Jesus was answering my prayer from the night before.
In an instant, the heaviness in my chest, and the tightness in my throat that had been slowly suffocating me for the last several months was GONE (and has remained so). I was breathing easily for the first time in months. I was flooded with a sudden sense of rest. My fear, anger and confusion – GONE. In this moment, it was as though a veil was lifted from the eyes of my soul, and I was “seeing” a spiritual reality that existed. I saw profound darkness. It was heavy and as real as anything I have ever known. I felt the ominous presence of an Enemy who was prowling around (1 Peter 5:8) seeking to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). Satan and his dominion were robbing me of my joy. Physically pressing me down with the weight of my own helplessness and sense of defeat amidst such pain and suffering. It was devastatingly dark and overwhelmingly heavy. But as suddenly as I knew this reality to be true, I sensed the presence of Jesus step between me and this crushing darkness. He said, “Fix your eyes on me (2 Cor. 4:18). I am going to remind you who I AM and where I AM at in it all.”
He saw my sense of defeat. The crushing helplessness I felt for a best friend who was suffering, and I could do nothing to stop it. Jesus physically lifted this soul crushing weight and said, “She is mine! For neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation can separate her from the love of God that is found in ME, Christ Jesus, her Lord and Savior” (Romans 8:38-39). When Heather accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior as a young girl, she was healed! Healed from the spiritual disease of sin that separates us from a perfect Creator, and He reminded me that regardless of what would happen on this earth, the moment she breathed her last she would instantly be physically healed, as she is right now in a perfect body enjoying the fullness of the glory of God for all of eternity through the power of Jesus blood on the cross! Hallelujah! She is mine, Ahna. Be at rest.
He saw my fear and anger. How can 4 children love a God that has allowed so much suffering? How will they ever see God’s glory in all of this in the years to come? Wouldn’t you get more glory, Lord, if You supernaturally healed her? Jesus took my fear and my anger and said, “Ahna, be still and know that I am God . . . I WILL exalt myself in this earth (Psm 46:10).” I was overwhelmed with the realization that nothing can stop Him from glorifying Himself 10 times over even through her death! The Alpha and Omega! Her beginning and her end! The GREAT I AM. He will get His glory because HE HAS TO. Ahna, be still.
Lastly, He saw my confusion. The confusion amidst the chaos that comes from living in a world where parents lose their child, a husband is separated from his wife, siblings lose a sister, children are ripped from their mother, and friends are torn apart all too soon. The darkness of a real Enemy who prowls around like a roaring lion – stealing, killing and destroying (John 10:10). Jesus took this confusion and said, “Take heart for I have overcome the world! (John 16:33)” Even now in our darkest circumstances, Jesus is winning because HE HAS ALREADY WON through the power of His blood on the cross! Take heart, Ahna, for I have overcome the world.
Somewhere in all of this I heard the bridge to Danny Gokey’s song, “For He is moving with a love so deep. Hallelujah for the victory. Good things are coming even when we can’t see. We can’t see, but we believe that.” He reminded me that all through history He has been at work taking our darkest moments and turning them into our greatest victories. Arguably the darkest day in history when Jesus hung upon a cross, God said “It is finished!” and declared His greatest victory!
“Good things are coming even when we can’t see. We can’t see, but we believe that.”
Do you believe that? For those of us who know Jesus as our Lord and Savior, maybe this Christmas we just need Him to breathe life back into our souls.
You are His and nothing can separate you. (Romans 8:38)
Be still and know that He is God. (Psalm 46:10)
Take heart for He has overcome the world. (John 16:33)
Two days before Heather died I spent my weekly day with her. Washing her. Dressing her. Praying over her. Grieving as she cried in pain. Aching as she struggled for every breath. Inwardly sobbing as she bravely smiled through it all. I wouldn’t take back a single minute, but I think I would fall to my knees if you asked me to do it again.
How does one move forward after such heartache?
His name is JESUS.
When Heather was hospitalized a couple weeks prior to passing away, I visited her after my shift in the ER. We sat in her bed together – laughing, crying, sharing our hearts late into the night as though we were in college all over again. She told me if one person came to know Jesus because of her cancer, then it would all feel worth it.
How could knowing Jesus really making such suffering feel “worth it?”
WHO IS JESUS?
Below is a clip from Heather’s funeral. Click on the image and start the video at 01:17:55.
Plain and simple. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that who so ever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16.
Do you believe this? All I can tell you is that this God, the God of the Bible, is real. A God who supernaturally removed my anxiety, my fear, my anger, and my confusion, but Who left a great sadness because He feels it too. A God who weeps when we weep because this was not how it was meant to be. A God who saw our brokenness and offered His own Son, Jesus, so that the moment we breathe our last we can live forever in the fullness of the glory of God for all of eternity! In a real body. In a real place. Where Heather is laughing and living right now!
This Christmas, I challenge you to look a little closer at the manger, and ask Jesus to reveal Himself to you. Jesus, Who has conquered sin and death, our greatest enemies. Who can replace fear, anger and confusion with glorious Hope as we navigate life in this dying world. May He receive all the glory He is due.
Rooms, I will miss you for as long as I am breathing on this earth, but just think, the next time I see you we will be roommates for eternity.