About two weeks ago today, my dear friend Becky (Rebecca) Mangus died. For most of my adult life, she was one of my best friends. She was an inspiration. One of those friends who spurs you to be better than you currently are. And one of those people who was always doing the same thing herself.
I met Becky my freshman year of college. I remember meeting her and I remember being good friends by the time we graduated. She was my sorority sister, classmate, sounding board and most of all friend.
I will never forget Becky. I will never forget being silly with her during college. She was a teacher and I’ll never forget how she talked about the kids in her class – how it was evident how much she loved them and wanted each of them to succeed. I will, most of all, never forget how her faith grew and was evident to so many during her four years of battle with cancer.
My earliest memory of her is when she worked with one of the sorority sisters in my dorm to plan a skit we would use during rush week. I remember their conversations being light hearted with lots of giggling. The skit was funny and made people laugh. (See picture of me dressed like a panther in that skit. My big line was “Roar” and it got a huge laugh every time).
I was fortunate that Becky was one of those people that I kept in touch with after college. In a lot of ways, we grew closer during that time. I vividly remember some of the phone conversations that I had with her. When we were both single, I remember talking about guys we’d met. I remember her talking about her desire to get married someday and have children. I prayed for her a long time that she would meet the right person. I am glad for her that she was not willing to settle for just any guy. I know it must have been hard for her when she watched her friends get married and have children. She was selfless during those times even though it must not have been easy.
After college, I also have vivid memories of Becky talking about her job as a teacher. I know that she loved what she did and that she put everything she had into it. She sometimes talked about the fact that some of the kids she taught had so little. These kids certainly learned a lot, but most importantly Becky showed them love and gave them hope. Like for most teachers, the early years were a struggle for her and there was often uncertainty at her school. But she always believed it would be okay.
No matter what happened to her, she remained energetic, friendly, loving and caring.
But none of this is compared to after Becky found out she had cancer. One of the most remarkable things to me is that Becky did not STOP because of cancer. Teaching is physically and emotionally draining. But Becky struggled with cancer for four years and did not quit teaching until the end. I’ll be honest: I told her a long time ago to quit. To take care of herself. But that was not her nature. She could not quit giving of herself – or being active. It had to be like torture for her this past year when she decided to take a leave of absence.
But even though she was sick enough to make that decision, Becky did not give up. I was not there, but from what I hear from her sister and others, she did not give up hope. She always believed she would be healed. She struggled for four years with cancer, but she did not plan her funeral. I guess I’m a planner and a control freak. I think I would have always believed, but probably would have planned my funeral “just in case.” But not Becky, she was a fighter.
I also hear that the night she was dying, she did not want to give up. And not because she wanted to go on that vacation she always wanted or to buy a new car. From what I hear, she kept saying she wanted to stay here so that she could take care of her parents. Even in her last hours, her concern was not for herself, but for those she loved. Finally, her dad said not to worry about it, that it was okay. I guess that is when she had peace and drifted off.
I heard a sermon today about being Christ to others. The pastor talked about how Paul was literally in chains for Christ. He was in jail and in those days would have been literally chained in his prison cell. But did Paul moan and wail and complain about his bad luck? No, he rejoiced and allowed himself to be used even in this hopeless situation.
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.[d] 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
This is one of the most often quoted passages of scripture. But, honestly, I think it is difficult for us in modern day America to understand what those times must have been like. Paul was literally imprisoned for believing in Christ. But I think if there is a modern day example of this scripture lived out, struggling with cancer for four years has got to be close. And Becky truly lived out this passage. She continued to rejoice and believe. And she asked for prayer and believed in God’s provision. She had courage and through her Christ was exalted. I don’t think any of us will ever know the extent of how much God has been exalted through her situation. I know from what I saw on Facebook that there were lots of people wiling to give her money for her medical bills, organize fundraisers, organize school wide days to wear pink in her honor. And I can’t imagine how many churches were praying for. I personally had her on two different church prayer lists. In her eulogy, her pastor said that hundreds of people prayed for her, but I’d be willing to guess that it was thousands.
And I hope that each and every one of those finds some comfort in Becky’s beliefs. She trusted and believed in God. I am so sad that she is gone, but I am also comforted by the fact that her suffering is over. That she is in heaven experiencing eternal life and worshipping God. I have never faced the fear of my own death the way Becky did for the last four years. So, I can’t understand Paul’s words “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” But Becky did. She is gone from here, but she is in a better place.
So, I’m trying not to be sad. Because I understand that God has a purpose. That she is in a better place. That being in heaven and worshipping God for all of eternity is better than being here and being in pain and wondering every day if something is going to go wrong. Better than wishing she could exercise, but being told she is not strong enough. Better than deciding to take a leave of absence this year, when she’d fought through cancer for 3 and a half years and managed to still love the kids in her classrooms with all of her heart.
I am comforted by the words of my four year old. On the day Becky died, I told my daughter who wanted to play legos with me, that I was sad that day. She asked why and I told her that my friend had died. And she told me non-chalantly, shruggling her cute shoulders, that it was okay. Because Becky was in heaven now and she got to live with Jesus. And that he would be her friend. And then she went back to playing and expected me to do the same.
And even though it is hard, I think she is right. I think what Becky would want is for us to go back to our lives. But she’d want us to go back to living them the way she lived.
She’d want us to live them selflessly. She’d want us to find someone who has less than we do and love them.
She’d want us to fight during our struggles the way she fought cancer – with a fervor. With faith.