Tuesday, August 07, 2012


Lots of people talk about living a life that counts...but what does that really look like? We may have a few grand moments in our lives, but the older I get the more I am convinced that REAL legacies are about relationships, authenticity, consistent faith and genuine love.

Two and a half years ago, we lost an amazing friend to melanoma. He was 33. My family & friends remember him fondly. Sweeney was one of the good guys--kind, funny, giving and wise. His widow, Cabell, remains a treasured friend. We tell stories about him and rejoice that the ministry God brought him to our community to establish (Young Life) is thriving.

After 28 months, you can imagine that I was a bit taken aback to receive an e-mail today with the heading "Sweeney." The contents moved me to tears. A blog reader, Whitney, directed my attention to the recent caringbridge post of her friend Teri Jo who passed away today. Here is a portion:

From July 25, 2012:
On March 29th 2010 I found my way to Jesus Christ when Mike Sweeney, my younger brother’s Young Life Mentor died of cancer. Prior to March 2010, I didn’t know what my beliefs were. I always knew I believed in a God, that was the easy part….but everything else wrapped up in Christianity was much more confusing to me. I didn’t identify as a Christian, because I wasn’t so sure about this Jesus character, and I wasn’t ready to understand or commit to something that I could constantly put into question.

 In any case…..Sweeney had battled cancer before in his life, went into remission, and unfortunately the cancer resurfaced after this remission period. I didn’t know Sweeney well, in fact, I may have met him all of 2 or 3 times in my entire life; however, when his cancer resurfaced….I felt the need….the calling to pray for him. I felt the calling to read the Bible…things I never desired to do before. I could feel myself changing….devoting my life to something larger than myself. Throughout this confusing journey, I kept my feelings and callings to myself…as I felt this was something I was needing to figure out on my own.

When my mom told me that Sweeney had passed, I literally felt like I was having a nervous breakdown….as if I had lost my best friend…..a sibling…..a parent. I laid on my bed trying to contain myself….wondering why am I feeling like this? I told myself….”This is a man you barely knew Teri! What are you doing? Why are you so affected by this? You don’t know anyone with cancer? Why is this man’s struggle killing you inside?” And then I experienced the most clearly defined moment of my life thus far—I realized why I was so deeply pained by Sweeney’s death. I realized that I came to know Jesus Christ through Sweeney—I found myself as a Christian through Mike’s journey….and I couldn’t ever share that with him. Jesus worked through Mike Sweeney so subtly….so amazingly….to bring me to him. How could I not be pained by the death of a man who was responsible for the most meaningful relationship there is to have on this earth?

I shared this story with my younger brother shortly after it happened, and since then….I’ve only shared this story with maybe…10 people.  However… now this story plays such a role in where I’m at with my own journey. At the time, I didn’t understand what cancer had to do with anything…why Jesus choose Sweeney’s battle with cancer to lead me to him….but now that I’m facing my own battle with cancer…I understand why. I’ll be honest, I’m affirmed by Jesus Christ all the time regarding my battle with cancer. He constantly reminds me that everything is going to be ok. I have family and friends share stories with me every week….about how the Holy Spirit spoke to he or she…in any number of ways….letting them know that everything was going to be okay. Now for most other people, I feel like these affirmations from Jesus are signs to them that I’m going to get well….or that there’s going to be a cure. For me, His affirmations are not to reassure me that I’m going to live or that my situation will radically change in the future…..no. For me, His affirmations are letting me know….while you may die from this disease….everything is going to be fine….I’m here for you….I’m going to take care of you…..You’re making your way to the ultimate kingdom…and what could be more satisfying than that?" Caringbridge of Teri Jo Reese

I know Teri Jo's brother, Will, but had not known this part of the story until this afternoon. I was blown away by this e-mail and its poignant reminder that even in dying a life well lived to the glory of God can be used to accomplish amazing things. 

I watched Sweeney succumb to disease. It did not seem glorious, beautiful or fair. It was exhausting and sad.  But my perspective was limited. Time has revealed that what was brutal for a season was used for eternal significance in the lives of others. 

Teri Jo is alive in Heaven because Sweeney faced death with a consistent faith. He did not waste his life or his death. And as a result, neither did Terri Jo.



The Amazing Trips said...

Many years ago, I read a quote that has stuck with me and I now think about on an almost daily basis:

Imagine that God's Fingerprints are on everything. Sometimes, you just need to broaden your perspective to see the holiness in a seemingly unholy situation.

That can be a very tough prescription to follow. But this story of Teri Jo is an excellent case in point ... although, my heart certainly grieves for the loved ones that she has left behind.

PS: Cabell is simply amazing ... I've read her CaringBridge updates and her faith and devotion to friends is incredibly inspirational. (Also, she's adorable!)

Ally said...

Incredible. Praise our Holy King!

Anonymous said...

I graduated from high school with Teri Jo. Amazing to see God's work connect the two of them. Thanks for sharing.

Sincerely Anna said...

Wow. Amazing.

RobinVZ said...

I read your blog because you challenge me to be more than I am! You are building a great legacy! :)

Laura said...

Tears in my eyes. Amazing!

Keri said...

Incredible. And beautiful. Tears flowing. Wow.