Christmas lights are still twinkling throughout my house, but this year they simply don’t seem magical.
A light has gone out in my world. One of the brightest lights I’ve ever known –a light that shined continually for Jesus.
A light that was unshakeable, impervious to circumstances I could not grasp, circumstances I felt a loving God should have miraculously changed.
I think I expected healing right up until that light went out. Truth be told, even after. At her funeral, I looked at her body, so quickly ravished by disease, and half-expected her eyes to open. She was just that good, like a character from the Bible who Jesus would wake from her eternal sleep just to ease our pain and show His powers.
But her miracle never happened, and the healing didn’t come this side of Heaven. Though she faced this trial with a smile on her face and a song on her lips, my sweet, brave friend Shelly Kraus went peacefully Home on December 15th.
It doesn’t feel real to me. How did we just celebrate a Christmas without her? New Year’s images mock me, crying out “Make 2018 your best year yet!” How can the next anything be the best without her presence? How can life keep going without that smile?
It’s incomprehensible that God would take her so early. She was only five years older than me, leaving behind a husband who adores her and two teenage children who will always ache for their mom. But she leaves behind so many more –a mom who was her best friend, a sister who taught right beside her, hundreds of stunned students. Thousands of individuals in our community are feeling a void this holiday season.
You see, Shelly was a mom to anyone around her, naturally covering others with her wings, adopting friends and her children’s friends into their family. My son Riley considered Shelly a second mom as he practically lived with her son Alex during the early years of my illness.
She took him home after sporting events and washed his clothes, keeping them in a drawer just for Riley’s belongings. She worried for him. She prayed and prayed and prayed for him.
Just a week before Shelly was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer, she was lecturing me in a way only Shelly could. Her voice was always soft. Her words always kind and nurturing. As she was days from embarking on the hardest battle of her life, she was reminding me to slow down and take care of my body first. This was typical Shelly. Even as she was feeling weak and tired, she used her energy to put others first, to genuinely care for people in a true Christ-like manner.
In the last year, we spent a lot of “virtual time” together, texting at 2:00 in the morning when the pain was too intense. We talked about healing, heaven, and heartache. We shared prayer requests and tiny moments of victory.
My family –and hundreds more in our community —asked God to heal our beloved Mrs. Kraus. She was Gracie’s favorite teacher, and Gracie admired her goodness and delighted in her passion for Jesus and for children. It was this woman who gave extra hugs to Gracie when I was too sick to be the mom who micro-managed her four children. I worried about my babies and how this scary world of unknowns would affect them; Shelly knew the depth of my fear and remained a solid base in their lives. My daughters prayed with complete faith that God would save her.
After all, why wouldn’t He?
Why Shelly? I couldn’t comprehend why, of all people. Shelly, the one who sang His praises the most exquisitely and consistently, would be given this. Late at night, I allowed my questions to be asked, and Shelly handled it with a grace only God could’ve given. His ways are not our ways, she repeated.
She taught me to let go of the “why” and to cling to the peace that comes with that release. She didn’t just cite scripture; she modeled living by faith, believing in His timing, and accepting His ways. She was light. It radiated from her magnetic smile, the joy in her eyes, and the peace in her heart.
Her light wrapped you up instantly. She was warmth and goodness and love.
She was my friend, my role model, my shoulder, my rock of faith. When I doubted, she restored me. She claimed Psalm 62:6 as her life verse. “Truly, He is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress. I will not be shaken.” She shared that verse over and over and over, and she wanted the world to know that regardless of her circumstances, her faith would not be shaken.
And it wasn’t. She sang with grace, joy and peace right up to the day she waltzed into Heaven. She prepared others for her death, reminding us of the glory she was about to know in her reunion with Jesus. I know without a doubt Shelly is now part of an unimaginably perfect choir, singing, smiling, shining.
I know this, yet I selfishly want her back.
It’s too dark here without her.
Shelly should have spent decades and decades sharing God’s love. She should have seen her daughter graduate, watched that vibrant girl walk down the aisle, and held her grandbabies in her arms. She should have been my youngest daughter’s teacher. Her amazing momma should never have known the heartache of burying her child.
Shelly should have grown old with us.
I don’t understand, and I’m ashamed to admit my heart is shaken. I ache. I cry.
On hard nights, I don’t know who to text. Who else would understand the simultaneous feelings of being ready to go to a world without pain while fighting with all your heart to stay here for those you love?
The sweet stories staring my girls, the little daily victories, the specific prayer requests…this intimate world she and I created over the last year is gone, and today, for the first time since her death, I feel shaken, lonely, and angry.
For ten days, starting from the hour of her passing, I was filled with a peace in my heart. It was a gift I clung to when I told my daughters the devastating news. I will never forget those brown eyes searching mine with such confusion and torment, yet there were no tears initially. My girls remained unshaken in faith; they knew her pain had ended and the most glorious part of her story had just begun. They found solace in that knowledge.
But, in their innocent hearts, they wondered, if Jesus would choose not to heal their beloved Mrs. Kraus, how could they believe He would heal their mom?
I have no answers for that question. I don’t know why Shelly was chosen too early. I don’t know why I’m still here and she’s not. I don’t understand His ways.
As wounded as I feel by His choice, I can’t fathom the pain her children, husband, sister, parents, and family feel. Shelly was not mine to claim, yet I feel cheated.
Cheated out of time.
I feel a tremendous loss of light in my world.
Yet my faith remains, and I know I will be reunited with my dear friend in Heaven. Her death has not shaken my faith itself. Her love will reside in my heart, and I will forever hear her words of strength and wisdom.
When someone we love dies, that love doesn’t just disappear. It doesn’t die with them. Someone once said hurting is the price we pay for loving, and for Shelly Kraus, the price is well worth it. But what do we do with all this love now that she’s gone?
It needs somewhere to go.
If we embrace the tears as the price tag for her love, we can become the light she was. Yes, it will take most of us who loved her combined to create a light as bright she shined all on her own, but her light for Jesus, for kindness, for good can continue to shine through us.
For now, maybe we are too broken and too sad to give off more than a flicker, and that’s okay. But as time heals and we remember everyday what Shelly desperately wanted us to know, we can remain unshaken. We can hold on to Christ and each other. We can share God’s perfect story and model belief, acceptance and faith. We can nurture those around us, covering them with our wings. We can honor Shelly by staying positive and by praising God through every storm. We can do what Shelly did every day of her life –we can love.
That is how the light gets in, and that is how we let the light shine out.
Shelly’s last few months, we shared a devotional titled Unshakeable by Christine Cain. It was and is perfect for Shelly’s mission to declare cancer a circumstance unable to shake her faith. Today, this little book’s message was perfect. Note, it was not the inspiration for this post as I started writing yesterday and finished today before reading today’s devotion. I love when God winks, or maybe it’s Shelly herself sending me a blessing, but here is the first and last paragraph of that special gift.
“Look outside at night, and you might still see the twinkling of Christmas lights. Let them remind you today that on your street, in your circles, in your life, your opportunities to shine God’s light into the darkness are countless, and the needs are desperate…..you and I have the joy of shining His light to dispel all the the darkness around us. Together, with God’s help, let’s shine brightly into one life after another spreading God’s great joy. Let’s share His grace, His love, and His hope until every person we meet is living in the light with us.”
Twinkling, shining, bright…
Sharing, loving, light….
Let us love –just love–and the light will shine within and around us always.