(Note from Shane: This is the eulogy I wrote for Kristi, which my friend Max Shearer read for me at Kristi’s memorial service)
Kristi and I first met in an inauspicious way. I was a sophomore at Florida College, and was asked to be part of a service club that helped incoming freshmen move into the dormitories. I was assigned to a lady’s dorm, Sutton Hall, where I saw an enormous van from Illinois pull in. Little did I have any idea how profoundly my life would be changed by the gorgeous woman who stepped out of that van. Of course, it took a few years for that story to get going, but believe me, it was worth the wait.
Years later, after we were married, my friends who had never met Kristi would ask to see her picture, and their reaction was universal and unanimous. They would exclaim, “Your wife is beautiful!?!?” with an equal mix of admiration and astonishment! I couldn’t blame them – I was amazed as well.
Kristi was stunningly beautiful. And that wasn’t just my assessment. Many of you have said the same thing, either in person or on Facebook posts. Even total strangers found Kristi alluring, and on more than one occasion she received proposals from random guys while she was running errands. Once, after a trip to the grocery, as Kristi was putting bags in the car, someone who was pulling through the parking lot hit the breaks, put the car in reverse, rolled down the window, and yelled: “HEY – YOU GOT AN OLE MAN?!?” Fortunately, we were already engaged!
To be honest, I don’t blame that guy. I was mesmerized by Kristi’s beauty. It was almost embarrassing how many times a day I would just blurt out to her, “You’re beautiful.” Like the groom in the Song of Solomon, I couldn’t stop saying, “Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful” (4:1). Sometimes I would just have to turn my eyes away from her because I was so overwhelmed by her beauty.
Now, I recognize that “charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised”, as the proverb says. But as you know, Kristi wasn’t just beautiful physically; she also possessed what Scripture describes as the “imperishable beauty” of the “hidden person of the heart” (1 Peter 3:4). Even then, Kristi’s inward and outward beauty were uniquely connected. Throughout all of her treatments, and throughout the six years she fought cancer, Kristi was determined NOT to look like a cancer patient. That’s why people were always so surprised to learn just how ill she actually was. Even to the very moment of her passing, she was radiantly beautiful.
But to make this happen, in light of the physical toll the disease took on her, she had to put forth a concerted effort. In fact, in her last few days, Kristi wondered whether she had been vain to invest so much time in her makeup, clothing, and accessories. Of course, the mere fact that she was concerned about being vain shows that she was anything but that. I reassured her – and she knew deep down – that her effort to look outwardly beautiful in the face of this disease was a crucial part of maintaining her beautiful inward resolve, and of inspiring others in the process.
Kristi didn’t want to look like a cancer patient because she did not want to evoke pity. She wanted to instill courage, in herself and in others. That character, that inner beauty, simply flowed out of her to create her outer beauty. It’s the sort of character I wish I had. When I get a common cold, I want to the world to screech to a halt to pamper me! But Kristi was not self-seeking, even in a situation in which self-pity is frankly understandable.
And my only regret today is that I cannot adequately put into words just how glorious Kristi’s inner beauty actually was. She was so strong, so determined, so courageous. Throughout all the treatments and surgeries, in the face of almost constant diarrhea and the other indignities rectal cancer brings, an even on the brink of death, Kristi’s mantra was simple: “You do whatcha gotta do.” And while it was my job as her caregiver to support, encourage, and console her throughout her illness, she spent much more time supporting, encouraging, and consoling me than I ever did her. She had strength for the both of us.
Some of you may remember seeing a picture of Kristi that I posted just a little more than a month before she passed. She was on oxygen by that point, and found it difficult to walk very much. But she really wanted to use the vacuum in the living room, to feel the satisfaction of being able to still work around the house. So she sat down on the couch and ran the sweeper on our living room rug, all with a huge smile on her face. That captures the beauty of her irrepressible spirit. I can’t begin to tell you how much I admired her.
This doesn’t mean that our faith never wavered. Quite the contrary. We both felt waves of frustration, doubt, and even anger that our prayers were not answered in the way that we hoped. On September 11th, when we learned the clinical trial she was on was not working and that the cancer was rapidly progressing, we faced the darkest night of the soul we ever experienced. I am telling you this because I think of a lot of us who are believers assume that we are never allowed to feel this way, that it is impious to be so transparently honest with God.
But this just isn’t the case. Kristi and I began slowly reading through the Psalms in that bleak moment, and as we moved through the book, we could see the same heartbreaking despair that we were feeling, in passages like this one from the beginning of the tenth psalm: “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” Reading psalms such as this reminded us that a beautiful faith is not trusting in the absence of doubt, but trusting in the presence of doubt. And Kristi’s faith was beautiful.
And so was her love. Do you remember the story in Matthew 26 when Mary anointed Jesus in Bethany? Jesus rebuked the critical disciples who complained about the lavish display by saying, “She has done a beautiful thing to me.” If an outpouring of sacrificial love is beautiful, then Kristi showered me with beautiful love.
When you are single for a long time, as I was, you begin to wonder if you are just unlovable. I never quite understood why someone as elegantly beautiful as Kristi loved me. She teased me our entire marriage for the way I responded to her the first time she told me she loved me. We were at my apartment, and she very passionately said, “I love you,” and I very clumsily replied, “You do?!?” To this day, I don’t quite get it, but I’m grateful for her love, the greatest gift I have ever received apart from the love of God.
Kristi’s love reflected God’s love, which is active and giving. It wasn’t merely sentimental. It did not consist of mindless platitudes. She loved me at my fattest. She loved me at my sickest. She loved me at my sinfulest. She loved me at my worst, and she poured herself out to do it, even throughout this illness. “She has done a beautiful thing.”
At the very end of her life, Kristi told me that she had always felt inadequate as a “preacher’s wife.” She wasn’t comfortable speaking in public or teaching classes, which some preacher’s wives do exceptionally well. But I assured her, as I had our entire time together, that her gifts were no less vital or spiritual. Kristi was a servant. She cooked for others, cleaned for others, drove for others, cared for others, with the same beautiful touch that was a daily part of my life.
But I also told her that last weekend together that she had in fact taught many people, and in a much more meaningful way than I could. I assured her that by the power of her example of steadfastness in the face of this horrible disease, she had impacted countless lives. And as the messages, cards, and calls have flooded our family, you have confirmed that Kristi was a much greater teacher than I will ever be. Her life was her lesson, and it’s the most beautiful lesson I’ve ever seen.
I am sad today because there is so much more I wanted to learn from her. Kristi loved beautiful things: art, music, flowers, gems. And she seemingly had an encyclopedic knowledge of all of them. I loved going to museums with her to learn about what makes beautiful art, or driving through the country to learn about different flowers. I loved watching musicals with her, and was always amazed by her insights into what makes a beautiful song or a beautiful performance.
She also loved to make beautiful things. Watching her decorate cupcakes for Darby’s birthday, or our Christmas tree during the holidays, was truly like watching an artist at work. Whatever she did, it reflected Kristi’s elegant beauty. My only concern was why someone who valued beauty so much would ever want to be with me!
If you are like me, you grew up hearing about the importance of what is true and what is good, but not so much about the importance of what is beautiful. And yet, the greatest thinkers in history have taught that truth, goodness, and beauty are really just the same perfection viewed from different perspectives. If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. A beautiful pass from a quarterback is true to its target and results in a good play. A beautiful singer is true to the key of the music and thus creates a good performance. What is true and good is also beautiful.
This is why – in addition to teaching that God is true and good –the Bible frequently says that God is beautiful. The writer of Psalm 27 had one burning ambition: “to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.” The prophet Isaiah promised that someday the people of God “will behold the King in his beauty.”
For someone like Kristi who loved beautiful things, I can hardly imagine what she is experiencing right now as she gazes upon the beauty of the Lord.
And there is more to come. Right now, according to the Scriptures, Kristi’s soul and body are separated from each other. But some day, because of the redeeming work of Christ, Kristi’s soul will be reunited with a new body – one that is imperishable, glorious, and immortal. In other words, beautiful.
And while it broke my heart to say goodbye to my beautiful Kristi, my hope is that her greatest beauty is yet to come, that as the Scripture says in Isaiah 62:3, she will be a “crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord.”
And just as she will receive a new body, she will inhabit a new heavens and earth, pictured as having exquisite jewels, a crystal river, and the tree of life. In other words, the most beautiful existence we can imagine. It will be beautiful because we will dwell in the presence of the One who is the source of all beauty, the One who is Beauty itself.
But for now, while Kristi’s spirit is in the presence of Christ, her physical remains have returned to the dust from which they came. Which leads me to a story that sums up all that I loved about Kristi.
The last morning we spent together, I could see that the end was coming, and because things declined so quickly, we had not had time to talk about this service very much. I knew that she wanted to be cremated, but not much more.
So, I said to her, “Kristi, I know you want to be cremated, but we’ve never really talked about what you want me to do with the remains. So, I’ll list some choices, and you just squeeze my hand when it’s the option you want.”
I started by asking if she wanted me to spread the ashes somewhere she loved, like Hawaii or the mountains; then if she wanted me to find a mausoleum; or to bury them in Illinois or Tennessee or Florida. None of these options was what she wanted.
Last of all, I proposed that I just keep them at home – and at that suggestion, she squeezed my hand. Then she looked up, locked her eyes with mine, smiled, and said: “To bother you.”
What a beautiful person, what a beautiful woman, what a beautiful spirit.
So for now, we wait, and Kristi will “bother” me. But some day our wait will be over. There’s a beautiful passage in the love poetry of the Song of Solomon in which the bride-to-be longs for the summons of her groom. Since the relationship of God and his people is often portrayed as that of a husband and wife, through the centuries, many believers have applied the message of the book to this divine relationship. And here is how the groom tenderly calls for his beautiful bride:
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away,
for behold, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing has come.”
Kristi, I loved you bigger than the sky, but the One who loves you beyond all measure, and who will make you more beautiful than I can fathom, will raise you to new life, to come away when the winter is past, the rain is gone, the flowers bloom, and the time of singing has come.
The Sunday after Kristi died, I visited our previous church family in Nashville so I could see those who loved Kristi but wouldn’t be able to be here today. The preacher that morning spoke on a passage from 2 Corinthians 1, in which Paul expresses his desire in verse 14 “that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.” Now, we all understand that our ultimate ground of boasting is only in the Lord, but at the same time, we also see Paul’s point that it is appropriate to honor what our loved ones in Christ have done by his power.
And, Kristi, I can’t wait to brag on you when that day comes.