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we need more robins

This post was written on November 8th, 2015 on a previous blog.

This week, I’m going to write about Robin, a woman I'm thankful for for so many reasons reasons.

I’m thankful for her life. I’m thankful for her faith. I’m thankful that she loves me as much as she does. I’m thankful for the kind of person she’s inspired me to be – a hopeful, God-trusting, always-growing person.

I’ll preface this post by saying it isn’t going to be perfect or polished or even make a whole lot of sense because I wrote most of it while I was crying like a baby in a corner of the K-State Great Room, trying not to disturb the diligent students around me. Robin is sick, I wanted to say to them. I wanted to slam their textbooks shut. How can you study calculus at a time like this? But they don’t know what kind of life and love is at stake, and I can’t hold their indifference against them.

This week I got the news that Robin has cancer. There is a one percent long-term survival rate for the stage and type of cancer she has, so, aside from miracles, the diagnosis appears to be a promise of unexpected loss. She told me in a simple text message – a plain statement of fact, just a few words, but they had the sort of weight that took my breath away in one quick, surprised, unprepared sob.

I’ve cried a lot this week. I’ve cried because I know, despite how strong and full of faith Robin is, she must be afraid. She must be overwhelmed. She must be sad. I’ve cried because it appears that now her dreams must accelerate. She will have to rush to love her family and friends. I’ve also cried for very selfish reasons. Because I’m afraid. Because I’m overwhelmed by the wrongness of death. Because I feel like I have to rush my love. I expressed my deepest sadness to Jeff.

“It’s hurting so much to think that someone who’s known me and loved me for years – with the same kind of love my own parents have – won’t be there. One of the strongest concentrations of love for me will be missing from this planet.”

I have some comfort in the fact that Robin is very much a one percent kind of person – but I don’t know what will happen. I only know that I am afraid. I am unprepared. And I know that I am thankful for Robin. Her life changed mine, and her life will continue to change other lives regardless of how this story ends.

Robin has been a dear friend of mine and my parents since we first met, almost eleven years ago. I was twelve, almost thirteen. When my dad took over his business in Manhattan, he inherited Robin – and she immediately liked me, despite the fact that I was hormonal and annoying and a preteen. Who likes preteens? Apparently Robin does. She saw my better qualities and showered me and my family with kindness and support at a time when we were new and scared and missing our old life in Indianapolis.

Robin also invited us to church many times. For years. Her husband, Eric (another person I’m very thankful for), was the pastor of a local church, but my dad didn’t want to go there. “It just doesn’t seem good to mix church and business together,” he always said, which I’m sure would make him laugh today. Mixing church and business together was one of the best things he ever did.

But, at the time, I shrugged. I was a teenager, and church was pretty low on my list of concerns. I thought about God a lot, but we hadn’t gone regularly since I was ten. However, when I was sixteen, our house was wrecked by a tornado. Like, utterly destroyed. And as I watched my crying parents silhouetted against the remnants of their house, I wondered what the hell we were going to do. Because:

Everyone was sad.

Everyone was stressed.

My dad’s business was at risk.

My mom’s spirit was dampened.

My sister was far away.

My brother was far away in a different kind of way.

And now we didn’t have a house. We fell asleep at neighbor’s more hopeless than I think we’ve ever felt.

But we woke up the next morning to a bright yellow sun and sixty-ish strangers from Real Life Church sorting and salvaging the wreckage of our house, orchestrated by Robin and Eric. Within two days, we were taken care of (things boxed up and moved, a couple cars to drive, a condo to stay in while our house was rebuilt). Within the week we were going to their church. Within a few months, we had a family. I credit that to God. And Robin.

Since then, Robin and I have had countless lunch dates at Arby’s and Panera (and she never lets me buy!). On top of that, she’s listened to me rail and rant and wail and weep. Imagine the patience! Listening to the hyperbolic ramblings of a melodramatic nineteen year old! And she’s laughed and cried and cheered me on. She’s come to birthday parties, multiple graduations, and my wedding where Eric officiated. She sat with me through some of the brightest and darkest moments of my life. She’s been so present and loved me so well.

And she’s the one that taught me that Christians don’t just love God because they’re supposed to, and they don’t just love people because it’s the right thing to do. They love God because he’s so lovable and gracious and good, and they love people because that's what God made us to do (and sometimes that love requires some challenging words and actions.) Robin also taught me kindness and investment in others and thankfulness by example. Those are not qualities she’s exhibits from time to time – they are her mode of being, who she is, what she exudes.

When I consider who I was when we first met, who I’ve been since then, and who I am now, I see that many of the best parts of me are inspired by her. And the worst parts of me were lovingly forgiven and overshadowed by her love. These are the reasons that today, more than ever, I’m thankful for Robin – for her faithfulness to God, for her example, for the fact that I got eleven years of her precious time -- time that I wish I'd valued more I moved into adulthood and got busy with so many lesser things. That’s the sad, broken way we humans work, isn't it? We don’t love and cherish our best gifts until they’re at risk. But I know that Robin will forgive me for that, too.

I'll end with a story that will forever make me smile. Robin is one of my professional references, so, over the summer, when I was applying for jobs, Jeff (who works with Robin) overheard her talking with a potential employer on the phone and told me about it later.

“Do you want to know a list of words that describe Carmen?” Robin asked the lady (who I’m sure was a little surprised). “I’ve been writing down words since you called, and I’ve thought of thirty-eight words that I can read to you if you want.”

I laughed and cried. Thirty-eight words! Who does that? Who loves someone – a perfect stranger, a confused twelve year old kid, an insecure teen, a demanding young woman – so much that, on a whim, they can think of thirty-eight words to describe her? Robin. Robin does. As I said before, regardless of how the next six months or year or five years or twenty-five years plays out, her life will change lives for the better. That’s just who she is.

My dad calls her Saint Robin even though she doesn’t like it, but he’s right. This harsh world isn’t worthy of her goodness, but I’m thankful for God's grace. And I’m thankful for Kansas and tornadoes and persistent, gentle, generous love.

I’m thankful for Robin.

Update on July 13th, 2019:

Like I wrote four years ago, Robin was one percent kind of person, and she proved that time and time again. She fought her battle and lived joyously, depending on God, for the past four years. I visited with her last week, and she looked remarkably at peace. She held me and assured me it wasn't a true goodbye since we'll be together again. She encouraged me to continue living for Christ. All I could do was cry and thank her because he provided one of the best examples of how to do that.

Her fight with this sin-filled world is over now, but she's still loving and trusting and celebrating with God, now free of any burdens. I am sad for us but happy for her.

Take a moment with me today and lift her and Eric and their family and friends up in your prayers. And ask God that he would send us more Robins.

She made the world brighter, and we desperately need that light.

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