In high school, during my sophomore year, my closest friend broke her leg. She was leaving for church camp, walking her suitcase from her bedroom, heading for the car. She made a quick turn and—snap! Her right leg broke easily—at the hip. The doctor discovered a small tumor. It was cancer.
Beverly Diane Penn was the nicest, and genuinely sweetest, girl on earth. We had become fast friends while attending seventh grade at Brethren Christian Junior High School, and found nothing could come between us. We were 12.
Bev had an older brother, and so did I. I had a younger sister. We joked if she had a younger sister we would be twins. Guess what! That year, her mom got pregnant with a baby girl. We were twins! Two years later, Bev had another baby sister. So, she “beat me” in the sibling competition.
She visited my church. I went to camp with her church. We wore our first high heels together. We wore our first lipstick to the same party. We babysat her little sisters. It is a wonder they made it out alive.
Both of us believed in the Lord but Bev knew Him better, much better. She loved Jesus so much! She is one reason my walk with God is what it is today.
Bev didn’t just memorize verses from the Bible. She applied them to her life. When I slept over, she would talk for hours about different promises she had found in Scripture. I wanted to talk about boys. She was excited about Jesus. She knew God’s promises were meant for her.
At 15, we had mad crushes on two boys at her church. Our parents, not interested in either of us dating, allowed the boys to come over to Bev’s house after school. We played board games and laughed so hard our sides hurt. Her mom, listening from the kitchen, peeked around the corner so often we wondered what she thought we were doing. Ah, young love.
The weekend she broke her leg, she was 16, I was supposed to have gone to camp with her but our church youth group had a conflicting event. Then, they found cancer.
We never went to camp together again.
Bev changed schools during our junior year to be closer to her hospital visits. Our senior year, she studied from home. She was too weak to attend school. The treatments were taking their toll. We did homework over the phone. She was a much better student than I. She was a much better Christian than I. I was scared. She wasn’t.
I remember my dad saying, “God has a plan for everything that happens to His children. You just have to trust Him.” It was extremely hard to understand this concept.
I wish there had been a help book for teens back then. Information was slim pickins compared to what today’s kids have as support systems—walking them through critical illnesses.
Brethren High School graduation was a big day. Bev was wheeled down the aisle to a standing ovation. Hundreds had been praying for her on this journey.
Most of the following summer I spent at her house. We solved the world’s problems with our late night talks. We spent a lot of energy keeping her little sisters out of her room. The two handsome guys were still in the picture. They would come for visits, too.
Then, medical hope faded.
I had expected prayers to be answered for her healing. I had begged God to remove her cancer. After all, she was the closest thing to perfect I had ever met! God knew this. What was He thinking?
I left for college (two hours from home) dragging my feet, worrying that Bev would feel I had deserted her. She had told me she was going to live vicariously through me for her college experience. She faithfully wrote for the first month.
October arrived and her mom said Bev could no longer write; but, could I please keep the letters coming.
On October 22nd, my mom made an unexpected visit to my college. I saw the look on her face, as she walked toward me in front of the Admin building. I knew Bev was gone.
There was standing room only at her funeral. I was so distraught, to think my 18-year old friend was gone. I stayed home for two weeks. It was a rough year.
Knowing what I know now, my faith has experienced a radical transformation. Bev was beyond blessed to meet Jesus as a teen. She never had to experience the pain or struggles of this earth. Instead, she has been walking the streets of Heaven, hand in hand with her Savior, all these years.
I smile at the thought.
I am looking forward to picking up where we left off when I join her someday. What a reunion it will be!
Remembering Bev today, I realize just how much God blessed me with her friendship.
If you know any teens going through such an experience, there are great recourses available now. How to Handle Your Emotions by June Hunt has a powerful chapter on grief.
Also Hope for Hurting Hearts by Greg Laurie