On August 8, 2008 I sang at my best friend’s wedding. 11 years later I sang at her funeral. In loving memory of Heather Joy Carter, I am sharing laughs sprinkled with tears, and how this Christmas you can know Joy that surpasses suffering and Hope that conquers the chaos of this world.
I wrote this post in December 2019 after Heather died. It is not only a tribute to friendship, but a story that lead to a supernatural experience that I knew was meant to be shared.
An experience with a message that may be meant for YOU today.
December 14, 2019
First of all, I cannot thank you enough for the kind messages and comments that have poured in 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 yearly tribute bring a smile, maybe a tear, but most of all a glorious Hope.
The Glory Years
The summer we met.
Heather and I first met at church in 8th grade.
We shared practical personalities, a natural inclination toward prayer, and a propensity to find humor in everything, consequently becoming fast friends.
It was the decade of button-up cardigans, choker necklaces, and multi-colored sweater turtlenecks.
Yes, we were this cool.
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 6 wardrobe changes), events with the youth group, a girls’ trip to the beach our senior year and lots and lots of laughter.
Heather clearly balanced out my choppy hair cuts, metal smile, and choker necklaces.
And again with the choker necklace.
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.
During a fall camping trip with my parent’s Sunday School class, we were walking back to our campsite when a young man approached me and began to confess his affection, 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 to long past when we arrived back at our campsite.
Circle K Camp. I don’t even know how to caption this pic. Enough said.
Another example of Heather’s conditional compassion was on a mission trip to Mexico in 10th grade.
The building we were at was situated 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 accidentally knocked over a floor-to-ceiling display of mops and brooms.
They went flying onto the cobbled street, the sound of clattering mopware magnified by the quiet evening.
The sweet Mexican store owner came out to help 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.
Like I said, she loved the broom story…
Getting a little out of hand on our senior beach trip.
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.
They say it’s all about patient satisfaction right?
Many people cautioned us from rooming together in college 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.
Our freshman year we got in more trouble for laughing too loudly late at night than I did for falling asleep in chapel. Which is saying something.
I mentioned before that we not only shared a love of laughter, but we also shared a mutual inclination toward prayer.
From our first year of college, we kept our beds bunked – Heather had the top, and I took the bottom.
It’s a small miracle no one had a seizure walking into our dorm room those 4 years. So.Many.Colors.
Every night we prayed together every night and eventually created a note card system, each one with a name on it, that I would tape to 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.
We were the coolest freshman you ever saw.
It was during these late-night moments that there was a trick she loved to play.
I would be pouring out my heart when she would suddenly swing her head over the side of the bunk; her face would appear out of nowhere, 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 believed 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 before she died.
True soul sisters; a small spiritual army who stormed the gates of Heaven on our dear friend’s behalf, more than she ever knew.
Soul sisters from France, Ohio, Indiana, and PA coming together to pray for our dear friend in the middle of cancer treatment in August 2019.
Some things never change . . .
Big Girl Pants
After college we put on our big girl pants, got married, and had babies. Kind of terrifying to think that we are all raising children considering the picture above was only taken a couple of months ago.
Heather was my Matron of Honor only 2 weeks post-C-section!
So many weddings!
The years after college have been no less memorable.
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.
Cedarville Gang reunion at our family cabin.
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 gave her an ultimatum – either she calls the unit or I call them. We had been through a lot together I was sure as heck not delivering a baby on her 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.
Seija, Gracie, and Halle – September 2019.
I could tell stories for days, some funny some not, but there is one more story that must be told. Although it is my story, it has to do with what Heather valued above all else in her life.
Cancer & Jesus
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 me down to the point where I was living on the edge of a panic attack (which I had never experienced in my life).
My chest was always tight. I was angry, afraid, and confused; helpless amidst the chaos and suffering.
That night I begged Jesus to reveal to me what I needed to see. 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 miraculously 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 months was GONE (and has remained so).
I was breathing easily and was flooded with a sudden, supernatural sense of rest.
My fear, anger, and confusion – GONE.
In that same moment, it was as though a veil was lifted from my eyes, 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 prowling around who appeared to be rejoicing (1 Peter 5:8) amidst the destruction (John 10:10).
Satan and his dominion were robbing me of hope. 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 JESUS . . .
As suddenly as I knew this terrible reality to be true, I sensed the presence of Jesus stepping between me and this crushing darkness.
My spirit clearly heard Him say, “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.”
Nothing Can Separate You
He saw my sense of defeat.
A debilitating helplessness I felt for a best friend who was suffering from disease, and this dual-certified ER nurse practitioner could do nothing to stop it.
Jesus physically lifted this soul-crushing weight and told me, “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 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.
She is mine, Ahna. Be at rest.
Meeting her sweet niece for the first time – the day before she died.
He saw my fear and anger. How can one love a God that allows such terrible suffering? How will Heather’s children 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.
Who am I to say how He will get the most glory? The Alpha and the Omega. Our beginning and our 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 can lose a 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 confusion that is exacerbated by the darkness of a real Enemy who prowls around like a roaring lion – stealing, killing, and destroying (John 10:10).
Jesus saw my confusion and said, “Take heart for I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33)
Even 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.
Haven’t Seen It Yet
Somewhere in all of this, I began to hear 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.”
I was reminded that all through history God 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)
Our last picture together – 3 weeks before she passed away.
How Is It Possible To Know Hope In Heartache?
Two days before Heather died I spent my weekly day with her. Washing her. Dressing her. Praying over her.
Grieving when she cried in pain. Aching as she struggled for every breath. Inwardly sobbing as she bravely smiled through it all.
I would not take back a single minute, but 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 of 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 make such suffering feel “worth it?”
A note Heather kept in her Bible.
All I can tell you is that this God, the God of the Bible, is real.
This God met me in my brokenness and supernaturally removed my anxiety, my fear, my anger, and my confusion, but left a deep sadness because He feels it too.
A God who weeps when we weep because this was not how it was meant to be (John 11:35).
A God who saw our brokenness and demonstrated a love so great that He gave His own Son, Jesus, who willingly gave His life 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.
This Christmas I prayerfully ask you to take a closer look at the manger.
Ask Jesus to reveal Himself to you. Ask Him to show you what it is you need to see.
“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.
Jesus, Who has conquered sin and death, our greatest enemies.
“For if we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead we will be saved.” Romans 10:9
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 on this earth, but just think, the next time I see you we will be roommates for eternity.
Evan is remarried to an AMAZING girl that Heather and I actually grew up with. He, Beth, and the kids are now living in Hawaii working at a Christian camp. We miss them!
Know someone struggling with cancer? Send them the image below or PIN it for later. What cancer CANNOT do . . .