A ray of sunshine has been taken from us.
After a five year battle with metastatic breast cancer, Sarah closed her eyes yesterday evening and opened them in heaven. She was only thirty-eight years old.
We do not grieve as others might at her passing, because we know she is with her Saviour and is already enjoying her eternal reward. Still, we will miss her glowing smile, her courageous spirit, and her unwavering faith in the midst of such adversity over these past few years.
We came to know Sarah and her family over twenty years ago when they moved to Cochrane so her Dad, Wayne, could attend seminary here. Her mom, Rita, and I struck up an instant friendship, both of us enjoying laughter and the occasional practical joke. Rita and I would break into giggles, sometimes during Sunday School class, so our Pastor would warn us that he would separate us if we couldn’t behave. On a ladies’ retreat, Rita found a plastic frog, probably left by a child during a summer camp, and she placed it in the freezer to see what the reaction would be for someone from our kitchen staff finding a frog there. We were summarily banished from the kitchen, so we placed the frozen frog in the sleeping bag of an unsuspecting friend. (Sorry, Ali.) It became a free for all from there, resulting in all three of us tossing sleeping bags in the hallways, and being asked by more polite, spiritually-minded ladies to move our frivolities away from their bed chambers and seek the Lord’s forgiveness for disturbing their solitude.
Sarah and my daughter, Laurelle often “tsk tsked” Rita and my silliness, showing much more maturity at times than we did. Perhaps it initially drew them together, commiserating and embarrassed by their mothers, but also cheering us on as we embraced life and laughter.
I was privileged to work with Sarah, Laurelle, and Sarah’s siblings Martin and Kristen, as one of their Sunday School teachers in those years. Sarah, a couple of years older than my daughter, was always a willing volunteer in all the children’s ministries and soon became a leader and mentor to many of the younger girls in the youth program at church. I remember a mission trip to Vancouver, in 2000, where we assisted an inner-city church with their Vacation Bible School program. One of the first tasks our group of fifteen teens and four adult leaders had to tackle was cleaning up the church for us to be able to sleep there. The church was in a horrible state of disrepair, and the kitchen area downstairs was mouse-infested. It was my first mission trip and I was overwhelmed. Sarah looked at the kitchen, the mouse droppings on the counters and all over the floor and said, “Well, let’s get to work.” For hours, she and the team, scrubbed and swept and went through that kitchen systematically until it gleamed. I was never more proud of those kids! Sarah led the charge, always with a smile on her face.
On that same mission trip, the older youth on the team, helped out in a thrift store the church had opened to clothe and give basic necessities to individuals living on the streets in Vancouver. One evening we went with some church volunteers to hand out hot chocolate and donuts to people on the streets. We had been warned that many of the people we would meet were involved in the sex trade, but they would regularly come and accept the donuts and hot chocolate and chat with church workers who had befriended them in the Name of Jesus. To say I was apprehensive about how I would react, in this so-out-of-my-comfort-zone ministry was a drastic understatement. The church volunteers set up the donuts and hot chocolate station quickly, and within minutes they were handing out the donuts to anyone who happened by. Many of the girls were known by name by the volunteers and they chatted easily with one another. One young woman asked politely if she could have a couple more donuts because her children were at home and this would “tide them over” until she could cook them dinner after “work”. I was filled with compassion for these women, and I could see that Sarah and Laurelle were profoundly affected by the interactions as they offered a cup of hot chocolate and donut to each person. Sarah, with her wide smile, poured a cup for a young woman and said, “God Bless!” The woman had tears in her eyes and replied, “No. God Bless You!”, and prompted by a church volunteer proceeded to share some of her story with us. When she left us, Sarah summed up our emotions by saying, “There but for the Grace of God, go I.” At the debrief at the church that evening, we prayed for each dear one we had met that night. I wasn’t surprised when Sarah was the first one to lead out in prayer.
In Sarah’s grade twelve year, her parents moved to Canmore to start a church plant there. Sarah wanted to finish her schooling in Cochrane, so we agreed to have her live with us for the year, so she could finish high school with her friends. I suppose not having her family near in proximity, Sarah took on the role of “big sister” to Laurelle. I thought of Sarah as my “adopted” daughter and was thrilled to see Laurelle and Sarah’s friendship blossom.
As so often happens, with so many youth and students I’ve known throughout the years, once they graduate, I either lose all contact with them or maintain minimal contact only connecting through social media. After Sarah graduated, and she moved back home, I lost close contact with her family as God moved them in and out of different ministries. Laurelle, however, kept up with all the goings on in Sarah’s life and kept me well informed. Sarah met her husband, Jon and joined him in ministry in the States while raising their three children. At the same time, Laurelle and her husband were church planting, attending seminary, and raising two children of their own. The two girls, husbands, and children often got together, enjoying one another’s company.
One day in 2016, I got a panicked call from Laurelle. She had just learned that Sarah had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Sarah’s youngest child was only a year old. I had battled breast cancer in 2001, and remembered well how Sarah and her family had been part of that army of prayer warriors who had come alongside me and my family during that time. I promised to pray for Sarah, having every confidence she would be okay. Unfortunately, Sarah’s cancer had metastasized and doctors were not optimistic about her long term survival. Friends and family were in shock, but Sarah refused to allow her diagnosis to define how she lived her life.
Smiling through all her surgeries, chemo treatments, and medical procedures, Sarah called herself a “thriver”, and indeed she did thrive. Whenever she connected with Laurelle or me on social media, she was the encourager. She started writing a blog that shared not only her journey with cancer, but her unwavering faith in God. When I went through endometrial cancer in 2019, she and I started intravenous chemo treatments on the same day. She was living on Vancouver Island with her family and had been on a pill form of chemo up to that time. So, we texted each other through our treatments, she lifting me up in prayer while I at the same time prayed for her.
I will admit I don’t understand why things happen as they do. As I started the recovery process, and was again declared cancer-free for a second time, Sarah took a turn for the worse and her army of prayer warriors stood in the gap, begging God to restore her… which He did! Miraculously, Sarah battled back from the brink, and for the next two years, she made precious memories with family and friends, praising God for His tender mercies each day. I admired her strength, fortitude, and her reliance in God. I told her she was my hero, and indeed she was.
Last week, I had the privilege of seeing Sarah during a group Zoom meeting. She wanted friends and family to join her from her hospice bed in participating in the Lord’s Supper with her one last time. I will never forget her smile as she took the elements.
Ernest Hemingway once said that “Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” That statement holds true as Sarah left her imprint on all our hearts. The way she lived life, the way she impacted others with the Gospel, her strength, courage, and of course her beautiful smile. Her legacy will live on.
Please pray for her husband, Jon, her young children, her parents, siblings and friends who loved her.