For those of you who haven’t been following my friend Vanessa Raghubir’s story and you would like to read more, you can find her story at these links: Half-Naked and Picking Weeds,Half-Naked and Picking Weeds part 2,Half -Naked and Picking Weeds Part 3,When Being Still Seems Impossible!,When Too Much Gets to be Too Much!,When God Stretches Your Heart,Today: August 20, 2018,A Funeral…A Birthday…A Calling.
My friend Vanessa Raghubir passed away on August 20, 2018. She was 33 years old, a smidgen from her 34th birthday. Ironically, she died at the same age as Christ her Lord, but her time in the faith was about a year. She didn’t leave behind a surviving mate or children, instead she left behind a great testimony that has already been shared over and over. This was her dream, to share her testimony. She taught us many lessons in faith and love. Lessons I felt we could all benefit from.
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the bet use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:15-16 English Standard Version)
I asked Vanessa if there’s something she’d like everyone to know. She thought for a moment before forcing the words from her slow mouth. “Everyday counts,” she said. “I want them to know everyday counts.”
I couldn’t help, but wonder even this day? You’re bedridden, with a bald, swollen head that aches, it takes all your concentration to utter incomplete jumbled sentences, but before I could ask she went on…
“The doctors told me I had two months… months ago…I still have life. They don’t know. Every day counts.” She answered my question…even that day. I felt convicted. How many hours do I waste away on things that don’t matter when facing eternity.
After being diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer, Steve Jobs stated, “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure-these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trial of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
Make your days, hours, minutes, even seconds count. You don’t know how many you have left.
Love people no matter who they are, what they believe, right where they are.
“The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12 English Standard Version.)
Vanessa had an eclectic collection of friends from all races, backgrounds, and beliefs. Too often the gospel is strangled by the snake of self-righteousness. We forget one of the greatest commandments is to love our neighbor. We know how to preach it from the soapbox, but fail to practice it. How many times do we feel we need to stick up for God while beating our neighbor with the club of truth? Meanwhile, we wrap the like-minded in loving care because its easy. God commands us to humble ourselves and become servants to all neighbors.
Allow others to share in your pain.
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps.” (I Peter 2:21 ESV)
One of Vanessa’s greatest gifts was allowing me a front row seat into her pain and suffering. For this, I was drawn to her bedside. I wanted to hold her hand, because she wanted me there. Her vulnerability was endearing. She was humble and not filled with pride. She scolded us once for not telling her one of her eyes was darting in another direction, but after scolding us busted out laughing.
At one of her consultations the doctor asked, “How are you doing Vanessa?
“Fine,” she said, as she always said when someone asked her.
But the doctor’s office was the place for honesty. I looked across the room. “Be honest,” I said.
“Well, I can’t see, I can’t walk, I can’t lift my right hand, I can’t speak,” she shrugged. “Other than that, I guess I’m fine.” We all laughed. You see she wasn’t a complainer, but she didn’t push people away from her, she pulled them in and held them tighter when she was suffering. She wanted connection, even if it was just a hand to hold. We were not created to be an island, to withstand the storms of life on our own. God created us to share each other’s heartaches, pains, and joys.
Below Video: A little humor break, I know I look like a professional Physical Therapist, but the truth was I had no idea what I was doing, and Vanessa was too kind to say anything. She was just letting me do my thing. LOL!
Minister to others even if you’re suffering more.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 ESV
On her death bed, Vanessa asked her friends how they were doing. One day a friend named Fiaz Khan who suffers from MS came in. She turned her head and put out her hand and after several tries asked how his appointment with his doctor went. His eyes widened, and he was taken aback that Vanessa who had lost most of the control of her mouth to the point she couldn’t eat or swallow her salvia forced out the words to ask about him. It was a lesson, I’ll never forget.
We choose to be happy.
“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22 ESV)
The day Vanessa received the worst news, she had my husband Jay, her friend Sunita, and I wheel her outside the hospital.
She glanced up at us, “What should I do?” She had the choice to get on hospice and have two months to live or receive chemo to have maybe four.
“If you weren’t a believer, we’d be having a different conversation,” Jay said. “Vanessa, you have somewhere to go. The Father’s waiting for you. What quality of life will you have on chemo, to just stick around and suffer?”
“I’m tired,” she said. “Did I fight hard enough?”
We all assured her she fought very hard and she could let go now.
She stared at the row of cars piling up in the valet lane, before looking back at us. “Okay, I’m ready to go back in now,” she said.
Jay parked her wheelchair by her mother and aunt in the hospital lobby.
Joan, her mother sighed. “Funny, last month we received such good news and left here so happy,” she said.
Vanessa smiled. “I’m still happy,” she said.
You see, It’s our choice to be happy and not allow the disappointments and heartaches in our life to have the last word, and overcome us. Vanessa leaned on God and she had peace. She chose to be happy the day she heard she was going to die. If she can choose happiness, we can too.
God is worthy or our praise no matter what our circumstances.
“I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together! I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalms 24: 1-4 ESV)
This one hits me in the heart every time. It is the most powerful memory I have of my sweet Vanessa. Some of my visits, I’d play Vanessa’s favorite worship songs either on my computer or on a phone. A week before she passed, I told her we were doing worship. At this time, she could do nothing but lie in the bed, she’d lost her sight, the ability to close her jaw, eat, or swallow. I only tell you this, so you will see how she was filled with God’s spirit. I played one of her favorite songs, “What a Beautiful Name.” You can imagine my surprise when I heard her gurgling the song in her throat. She was worshipping in the only way she could. He was still deserving of her praise when everything physically had been stripped away from her. It made me question, what’s my excuse? How dare I complain when I don’t get what I want or my plans are interrupted, or my heart has been broken over and over. I have no excuse. None of us do.
There were many more lessons, but this blog post has become longer than what most people read.
So, I’m closing this article with my goodbye to a girl who came into my life unexpectedly, whom I had the privilege of sharing the gospel with and became a witness to her salvation, but who in the end taught me more about faith and love than I taught her. This will be my last blog about Vanessa, but there will be more about her in the book I’m currently writing. I hope her story touched you as it did me.
Goodbye for now my sweet friend. I love you!