I met Rhonda close to a decade ago, when she and her husband and two girls moved to Orlando. She was kind and spunky and had a smile that grew with the number of people she embraced in her life. Which were a lot.
Our family helped their family move in when they got into town. They were coming from the west coast and had rented an apartment while she and her husband, Kevin, decided where to put down some permanent roots. She was so hospitable and warm that you would have thought we were the ones moving in. She and Kevin were those people you meet and feel like you’ve known for a lifetime.
We shared seats in the bleachers at soccer games as our daughters played together. We cheered and yelled at referees for bad calls, celebrated victories and bemoaned defeats together.
And we shared a love for Jesus.
Rhonda was passionate about her faith. Never one to be rude, she actually walked the talk. She shared the love and forgiveness of Jesus freely with everyone. No excuses, no holding back. She spoke with tenderness and gentleness because she knew intimately the One she talked about.
I attended her memorial service earlier this week.
She had run her race. Her almost two-year struggle with cancer is finished.
That was mentioned over and over again at the memorial. She had no fear of death because she knew where she was going. Knew the One she’d be with.
It wasn’t a time of ignoring reality. I hugged her two girls, who deeply miss their mom. Who resemble her beyond the genetics, in spirit and passion, warmth and tenderness. I hugged Kevin, who had lost his wife, his love, his best friend. They’d journeyed together for years, and though there is confidence that he will one day see her again, this earthly space is lonely without her. There is pain in loss. Grief in being left behind. Sorrow in the empty places a loved one once inhabited.
What was encouraging was the legacy Rhonda left. One of faith, hope and love. As people shared at the service, the common thread was that circumstances didn’t derail her. Tough challenges didn’t undo her. She took all her burdens and cares to Jesus.
There’s one thing all people have in common. We will all die. A little maudlin, I know. But true. And what we believe about what comes after this life speaks to how we live this life.
When Nicodemus, a very educated man, came to Jesus to ask about eternal life, Jesus stated His whole reason for coming.
“For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that EVERYONE who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
Rhonda walked daily with Jesus. Not out of duty or fear. From a deep relationship of love. She was prepared for where she was going. Anticipated with hope and joy what came next.