Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sandi and Mike

It's always a shock to hear about someone who was a part of your life passing from this world when they are in your general age range. Even when it is someone you have not seen for many years and have mainly remained in touch with via an annual Christmas card, there are people who you hope and expect to receive those annual updates about for years to come....people who, when you think of them, you smile and remember how they touched your life, and you continue to wish only the best for them and wish that the miles didn't separate you; that you could somehow see them again. I blogged earlier this year about our friend Al Haymaker, our former assistant pastor turned police officer, who died in a car crash this past Feb. at age 56. I never would have imagined that when those annual Christmas cards began to arrive, two more of our cherished contemporaries would have joined him in heaven. Yet at the same time, I can't even explain why, but in both cases, when I got the cards, before I even opened the envelopes....I somehow knew.

Last Christmas, the annual card and newsletter from Mike and Debbie reported the shocking news that he was battling cancer. But we had not heard any further updates as the year went on, so I sent up a prayer when I thought of them and hoped for the best. Mike was the assistant pastor at the church where Rex and I met, who was also best man at our wedding. The best way I can describe him is that he always reminded me of a big, sweet teddy bear. He and Debbie were called to a church in Maine several years ago, a place I've always wanted to visit, but considering that it's at the opposite corner of the continental U.S., it made it doubtful that we would be seeing each other anytime soon. When the card came with just Debbie's name on the address label and just her signature, I knew what her newsletter was going to say. Mike was 61.

The testimony page on my site, which also describes how Rex and I met, mentioned how our pastor and his daughter Sandi, who had quickly become a good friend of mine, did a bit of matchmaking, convincing me that he really was not too old for me (I was 24 and he was 33) and that, yes, he was quiet, but they could tell he really liked me, etc. Then, Pastor asked him to drive me home one night from Bible study at his house and the rest, as they say, was history. What I tended not to mention or even think of whenever I thought of Sandi down through the years was the all-too-apparent fact that most of her adult life, she had been afflicted with a devastating condition commonly called FOP (short for Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva). This is a horrendous condition that gradually causes one's muscles to turn to bone, creating a sort of second skeleton, and eventually rendering the person immobile. During the late 70's - early 80s when I attended that church and frequently hung out with Sandi at the parsonage, her body was already mostly stiff but she could move with great effort and could occasionally make it to church. However, following that, she was bedridden for over 20 years and depended on the faithful care of her dear parents -- Rev. DuWayne Lee (the pastor who married Rex and me) and his wife Jean, who are now about age 78.

I know Pastor and Jean were brokenhearted over Sandi's condition, and it certainly took great faith and divine intervention for them to continue to care for her and watch her condition deteriorate for decades. Yet, they did so with a God-given grace and immense thankfulness to have their beloved daughter to care for. As for Sandi herself, I will continue to mainly remember her unwavering faith, gentle and optimistic nature, and all the fun we had whenever we were together. A few days ago, I posted a prayer request to my Facebook page and to my online lists asking for relief from my migraines, which had given me more trouble than usual the past couple weeks. While the migraines have been painful, when I think of Sandi, I feel ashamed to be complaining about something as comparatively small as temporary head pain -- when here was a precious person who was not able to even move, to eat anything other than pureed foods (since her jaw would no longer open more than 1/4 inch) or do any of the other things I take for granted every day. Next time I am tempted to complain about headaches or any other discomfort I may have, I will think of my friend and what she had to go through every day of her life. Sandra Jean Lee was a gift to this earth for 55 years, 1 month and 26 days. I will never forget her, and I am thankful that when I see her again one day, she will have a new body and be able to move freely.

I invite anyone who is reading this to learn more about FOP by clicking here (this article, from 6 years ago, includes quotes from my friend Sandi and her mother) -- and to please be in prayer that a cure will one day be found for this terrible affliction. Thank you.

I am also thankful to have known Mike Peterson and Al Haymaker, two men who had greater faith and love of God than I could ever hope to have. I feel our world lost them and Sandi way too soon, but God in His sovereignty has called them to be with Him. Rex and I have not gotten around to putting up our Christmas tree this year and to be honest, with this latest news about our friends, I don't think we will. It just feels a bit too frivolous right now to be putting up decorations that only our eyes will see, only to take them down in a month. That reminds me a little too much of how temporary life is -- a fact that was driven home all too graphically this past week.