When the Cheerleader Dies

My friend Twilla grew up in Louisiana. It seems only fitting that on March 4th, she marched forth to dance with Jesus on Mardis Gras. The beads must’ve been flying in heaven, the sound of her laughter echoing off golden streets. The parade would put New Orleans pageantry to shame.

Oh how much Twilla exemplified Jesus’s two street mandates: Love God. Love others.

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On this Ash Wednesday, I sit in the house of mourning, wondering how to process my life without her. She dances, free of cancer and the ashen woes of earth. She laughes in the presence of her Jesus.

I grieve.

Sackcloth and ashes, the Bible says, is the garment for loss. I wear it, but I don’t want to.

Twilla hosted a Bible study in her home a while back. The subject? Ecclesiastes. She made sure we all looked at what we’d rather not: the end of our lives. She made a deliberate choice while the cancer recused itself (for a time) to end her sojourn on earth well. She ordered her life, said the words that needed to be said, prepared for the last days.

One of the verses that haunts me today is: “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” Ecclesiastes 7:2. I will venture to that house on Friday, to touch her lifelorn hand, grieve her un-animated face, cry a river for who she was and how deeply my soul will miss hers. She was a waterfall of grace to me, and the parching of her absence weakens me.

Together we were sisters who overcame difficult pasts. And if anyone on this earth typified uncaged living, it was dear, dear soaring Twilla. She refused to have her wings clipped. Refused to let the past inform the great and glorious today.

On Saturday I will join family and friends–there will be so many there she touched–and will take to heart the fragility of life. It sure doesn’t feel like a house of mourning is better, but I will press into the pain, asking Jesus, the God of the raucous resurrection, to absolutely change my life because of Twilla’s life, then death.

So many love reminders Twilla leaves behind, beautiful breadcrumbs spread far and wide for those left on earth to discover our way home. The way home is love.

The breadcrumbs I remember through tears . . .

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When we first met her and the entire Fontenot family on the French Riviera. We didn’t know them a lick, but God knew we would need each other. We ate amazing food, sang worship songs, visited beauty, and began a lifelong friendship. This breadcrumb informs me to foster the kind of heart that welcomes new friendships.

When we moved stateside and battled bewilderment, Twilla took us on as projects (thank you Jesus). Patrick teaches a life group at church because of her gentle (ha!) persistence. What Twilla wants, Twilla gets. And she simply would not settle for a no. Those who knew her also knew her feisty-ness. This breadcrumb teaches me to persevere with people, to believe in them even when their belief has been gutted of hope.

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When Twilla took us shopping and bought all the DeMuth girls outfits (including me). It’s hard for me to even write about this, but I felt like she salved a wound way down deep when she provided for me and my girls. Like she knew some of my own insecurities, feeling like I did not deserve nice clothes. I wore the ruffled skirt yesterday as I stood in front of a crowd and talked of the redemption of Jesus. The breadcrumb of the skirt reminds me of living life less cautiously, with more open-handed generosity–that I can quell the insecurities of others by simply giving.

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When Twilla and I shared our lives over lunches, she practically jumped from her seat and cheered my writing career. Such a needed cheerleader. She took it upon herself to buy and give my books to radio programs and people needing healing. She dreamed alongside me, and would not accept my discouragement. She hosted a launch party for The Muir House at her home. This breadcrumb emboldens me to jump up and cheer the dreams of others, even through discouragement.

When Twilla joked about the kind of coffin she wanted as we ate our lunch at Zanata’s, I wanted to be horrified by the reality, but I laughed alongside her. We spoke frankly of death, its specter haunting our words–or was it that the cancer made us both aware of life’s fleeting, fickle ways? This breadcrumb keeps me grounded to the reality that we’ll all meet our Maker, and that I must cherish each savory moment with Twilla-like purpose.

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When we washed the feet of Twilla at our last Seder meal, I think Patrick knew this would be the last time we’d celebrate Passover with our friend. I watched the line of people waiting for the privilege to wash her beautiful feet. Why beautiful? “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Isaiah 52:7. Twilla longed to bring the good news of Jesus to EVERYONE. And I am not exaggerating. In the line at the grocery store. The person next to her on a flight. Someone she met on a walk. No one was immune. Twilla was known for bringing in strays. Like Jesus, she noticed the outcasts. This breadcrumb slays me because I realize just how isolated I’ve become. I don’t want to be any more. Oh to live a welcome-hearted life like hers.

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When I dedicated The Wall Around Your Heart to Twilla. I presented it to her over lunch (see a food theme here?), and she cried. And I cried. The dedication is truth. Every time I look at that book, or someone else is changed by the Jesus-message in the book, I will smile and remember that moment Twilla saw those black words on white paper. This breadcrumb gives me permission to honor others in very tangible ways.

When I sang worship songs over Twilla as her life ebbed away this week. It was a holy, sacred, supreme privilege, my voice faltering as worship sprung forth. Her lips moved to the rhythm of the words about the greatness of God’s love. Oh how she loved to unashamedly worship Jesus. This breadcrumb reminds me that joy can be found even in the darkest of moments. If Twilla can sing on her deathbed, I can sing as long as I have breath.

I feel Twilla’s absence in my gut. She is whole, but she leaves a great hole in my heart. Oh to live in such a way that my loss would leave holes in others. Oh to pursue wholeness here, to soar uncaged. Like Twilla, I am a mess of virtue and earthen feet. I am left to dance the journey here, letting her journey inform the way I leap the next step.

Twilla, thank you.