The past two weeks have been difficult, for our family and for Echo Church. I've been thinking hard on how to best summarize this experience but decided to just start writing and see what emerges. Our friend Kathy Baughman passed away January 20th. She had been fighting cancer on her brain and her spine for almost ten months when she succumbed to the disease. Kathy was in her mid-fifties, a wonderful wife and mother of two grown children. And most cherished by the people of Echo, she was basically our church's surrogate mother.
I want to tell you about how exhausting this was, both mentally and spiritually. But to do so would be an embarrassment to how Kathy faced her end. You see, if anyone had a reason to complain, it was Kathy. Why such a beautiful woman could be stricken with a horrible disease is extremely difficult to comprehend. But never once did she gripe. Instead, she exuded joy, even in the midst of such hardship; her smile was infectious. She fought off death multiple times, and the faced it with absolute grace.
On multiple occasions, her husband Joe told me that, upon hearing her terminal diagnosis, Kathy prayed that God might use this disease for his glory. And, more specifically, that Echo Church might be blessed because of this cancer.
Our young church rallied around this family. We prayed fervently. And our people, especially the women of Echo—those in whom Kathy had already invested much—responded in a way I never could have imagined. They fixed meals, cleaned their house, drove Kathy on errands. They showed God's love to a woman who embodied it. I have never been more proud to be a pastor. I saw the church for what it's meant to be. And despite the numerous flaws of us within, God grace was visible in our midst through Kathy.
Last week, after she had passed, we used our Sunday worship at Echo for a time of praise to the Lord; we thanked him for blessing us with Kathy. We read Scripture, we sang, we wept, but we did it all in a posture of gratefulness. And as I looked around our congregation that night, I could see a changed people. God used this horrible experience to transform many of us. We're better servants now, better elders, better Christians. I'm not sure whether or not this would have happened without Kathy's struggle, but it's amazing nonetheless.
Her prayers were answered: her cancer was transformed into a blessing for us.
For me, this experience reinforces the Christian theme of redemption. Our fallen world is an imperfect place. While sin has direct consequences (prices we pay for our own sinfulness), it also has indirect consequences that affect us all, no matter how righteous we are. This is why the world's filled with unjust tragedies like disease, natural disasters, and even cancer. But God is able to redeem the byproducts of sin for the betterment of his people. For example, God can take an unplanned pregnancy and produce a beautiful being. And the more apt example for us would be that he can take a woman's cancer and make people rise to become better men and women for Him.
We'll never know why this happened, but I can accept it because Kathy herself refused to even entertain this question. She was a faithful woman, even to the very end. And her short life was dedicated to serving others. Perhaps the greatest testimony of her devotion to others was the presence of former students at her memorial service. I was struck by seeing so many young people torn to shreds at her passing. I'm not sure if I ever felt that way about any of my teachers growing up, but Kathy's investment moved them to tears. I'm so grateful to Joe, Meghan and Kyle for sharing their mother with us. I mourn deeply for them, but I know Kathy continues to live on through their lives.
Just one more thing, from a personal perspective: I was privileged to be Kathy's pastor. Because of the long struggle, where Kathy lost hearing, sight, and the ability to express herself well, it's easy to only think of her helplessness. But I'm blessed to remember her as being hopeful. She was the consummate encourager; she was a passionate believer; she was a phenomenal woman. My greatest relief in these past few weeks occurred just after her funeral service. It was by far the easiest funeral I've ever delivered as she gave me tons of great material (by the way, this was the first time I ever cited Facebook at a funeral [and I did it multiple times]). Despite this, however, I was stressed-out beforehand. I felt a huge burden to represent her well. Fortunately, quite a few attendees encouraged me afterward, saying that I summarized her life well. I'm so grateful for that. It would have devastated me to not truly honor this woman.
I'm linking here to a copy of the funeral message I delivered. It's basically a sermon, which is the way that Kathy would have preferred it. I share it for those unable to attend, so that you might get a glimpse into how amazing this woman was, and how amazing the Lord was to her.
And my hope is that we can all live more like Kathy. If we do, the world will most definitely be a better place.