Friday, February 1, 2008

A Sister's Light

This Sunday, we celebrate the last Sunday after the Epiphany (last Sunday before Lent) by hearing the story of the transfiguration from Matthew's gospel. Jesus goes up to the mountain to pray taking Peter, James and John. This was a transforming vision for those three, who after Christ's death, looked back on that moment and understood God's promise of life. The story of the transfiguration always reminds me of my sister Pegi. She would have been sixty last Sunday. Pegi died at 42, from cervical cancer, leaving a young son and husband, along with my parents and all the children she had taught to grieve her great loss.

When Pegi was diagnosed, she was quite brave and kept teaching and doing all the things she loved to do. The cancer took hold but she fought valiantly. The doctor proposed a risky surgery, a last ditch effort, and Pegi was willing to try anything. My parents had been with her for several weeks, and I went to join them while she went through this grueling ordeal. I flew from Baltimore to Miami, anxious to see her, worried about what I would face. The chemo and radiation might have ravaged her. I was terrified that all my dignified, well-trained clergy skills would fly out the window and I would fall apart. I fretted and pray the whole plane ride and even in the car ride and walking the hospital halls.

When I found her room, I gingerly, anxiously, pushed open the door. My beautiful sister, who I admired for her class and gorgeous face and whose long dark hair had been her trademark, was completely bald. She smiled as I walked in. My parents, sitting on either side of her, were holding her hands, leaning in, radiating love and concern. A brilliant, radiating light was everywhere and she was more beautiful than I could ever have imagined. I knew in that moment that her life was ending. And I knew in that moment that life was just beginning in a new way for her. I got strength in that moment, a hopeful vision to walk that journey with her. Pegi got through the surgery, but the doctor told us there was no hope. She lasted about a week, never getting the chance to leave ICU, or to see daylight again. And yet she smiled and reassured us to the end.

I held onto that moment, especially after she died. I had felt for a moment, as I imagine those three overwhelmed disciples did. God was bringing new life, in the midst of the hardest battles of our lives. We might lose someone to physical death, but God was holding them very, very close. I knew I could face that final walk with her, and with my family because there was Jesus, transfigured for us all, reminding us of the real promise of life breaking the hold of death. It didn't make the grief any less. That moment just helped my life and grief to be more authentic.

Today, in this rainy winter first of February, let us remember that God's light surrounds us. Every morning when I see the sun rise I remember Pegi. She lit up rooms and hearts. God, dwelling in our hearts, can use the smile that we have, our skills and compassion, so that the pain of the world can be transfigured. My sister's light, powerful, beautiful and strong, was the willingness to live fully with courage and humor. She shared what she had, and we are blessed and encouraged by her living. She gave what she had in living and in dying. She is light forever. May today, you find those who show you God's light and promise of light, even in the midst of great pain. May light surround you today.

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