when a friend crosses to Canaan ahead of you…

Judith made it home to Jesus on Thanksgiving Day. I’ve been living with her absence since then. Four days is hardly enough time to displace my grief. I don’t have a place to put my grief, not really. I can’t send a casserole to the West Coast… can’t stop by the family living room to offer my condolences. I wouldn’t even recognize her family members if I saw one of them on the street. I’ve never met any of them face-to-face. Not even her—my Judith friend. Our lives didn’t connect the regular way. Our lives connected here … in this place, this space that I have reserved for the public sharing of thoughts. A domain named “Peace for the Journey.” A home for my words and the birthplace of some rich, kindred friendships.

Judith was one of the first of you, extending our relationship beyond customary comments to include nearly four years’ worth of phone conversations, e-mails, snail mails, all kinds of communication that move a friendship past common courtesy. In doing so, I’ve experienced one of the truest, most honest and encouraging relationships of my lifetime. Judith has been my mentor, my cancer sister, my sounding board, my “middle-of-the-night” friend who listened to me and understood me when others couldn’t. She was the second person I called after receiving my diagnosis and almost always the first person I called when I was hunkered down in the middle of my pain. These last years with Judith have strengthened my heart and my faith in a way that furthers the cause of Jesus Christ.

Judith sometimes worried about her doing enough for the kingdom. She wanted to be used by God but often didn’t recognize the weightiness of her witness to others. Who I am today, in part, is a direct reflection of the time that Judith Guerino invested in me. She was never too busy, too sick, too tired, or too perfect to take me on. She was just willing, and that willingness, friends, is an extraordinary gift to receive. I recognized its worthiness early on in our friendship, and I cherished each moment that I was able to share with my beloved friend. One of those moments came six weeks prior to Thanksgiving.

While out for an afternoon walk, I felt strongly that I should try and call Judith. She’d been in and out of the hospital, not able to take calls most days, so I was uncertain about her availability to speak with me. One of our great concerns for each other (especially during our sick days) was not to wear one another out with conversation. We made a deal. If we couldn’t talk (for whatever reason), we wouldn’t answer the phone, and we wouldn’t be mad about it … we’d just understand.

Six weeks ago was not one of those moments. Instead, six weeks ago hosted a God-ordained moment for both of us.

“Judith, if this needs to be our good-bye, then let’s do it right. Let’s say everything we need to say, and let’s do so with great clarity. This could be our hand-holding, bedside release.”

And so it was. Our final conversation. We talked for over an hour … laughed, cried, prayed, and tenderly released one another to the roads in front of us. We knew where hers was heading, and while it seemed that my road was taking a detour or two that would eventually catch up with hers, I couldn’t escape the fact that no matter the path in front of both of us, we would stay connected because of our kinship in Jesus Christ.

“Wherever I go, Judith, from this point forward, you’ll be with me. I’ll keep your story as a part of my own. I’ll wear this mantle you have given me and place it on the shoulders of other cancer patients who need the love and encouragement of a friend like you. I will do so in honor of you. I’ll carry it for both of us.”

It’s not easy to speak words like these … not easy to articulate the inevitabilities of our up-and-coming departures, but when it happens, it’s a sacred gift to those who are standing at the portal of heaven and to those who are left behind to wonder, to imagine, to believe and to grieve. Judith may have crossed the Jordan River into Canaan ahead of me, but she didn’t do so without me. She carried my story with her and, in return, she left her story with me. This is the unity we share as believers in Jesus Christ—the eternal thread that links us together and that pulls our heartstrings forward in faith.

We don’t enter into the presence of Jesus Christ without the present witness of others. Those we love and those who have loved us, well, I believe they’re part of the cargo that we’ll carry with us into our forevers. When our crossing-over day comes and we arrive on the shores of Canaan, not only will we step forward into the arms of our Father, but also the testimony of a great many heart-investors will step with us. It’s just how it works, friends, this investing of love. Eternal love rooted in Christ’s love plants seeds, and all eternal seeds harvest hugely for the kingdom.

It matters what we do here, how we love here. How we give and share God here. And while we aren’t privy to the arrival of others when they finally meet our Father face-to-face, wouldn’t it be wonderful to know that a part of us arrives there with them as a lasting witness to our willingness to love on the front side of heaven?

Yes, Judith went home to Jesus on Thanksgiving Day. Part of me did as well, friends, and I cannot tell you the joy this brings to my sadness—knowing that as she steps in glory, so do I. A little bit of my faith, a little bit of my heart is already dancing in heaven, alongside my kindred friend. Oh that I… that we would take each step, live each day, love this way with eternity in mind!

Our stories belong to one another, and I can’t think of a finer group of people I’d rather carry with me into Canaan when my crossing-over day arrives. Until then, let’s keep planting God’s eternal seed into the hearts of those we love, and let us celebrate the thread that binds us all together as one–Jesus Christ.

Let’s do it right … say everything we need to say and do so with God’s great clarity while today is still today. It’s the best we can do. I love you each one.

Peace for the journey,

PS: To read the guest post that Judith wrote for me last summer, click on this link.

35 Responses to when a friend crosses to Canaan ahead of you…

  1. Judith has a worthy torch-bearer in you Elaine.

    His blessings as you continue the journey for both of you.


  2. Elaine, what a beautiful legacy of true friendship and faithfulness to the end…I feel your grief…but what a God-send you were for each other and for so many more who will be greatly encouraged by this…(((HUGS)))

  3. I am so sorry for your loss, Elaine. Judith must have been an amazing lady.

    This post was so beautifully written that it brought tears to my eyes. Your friend would be honored and touched.

    Thank you for sharing your gift and your heart with all of us.

    Many blessings to you,

  4. Oh, Elaine…what a beautiful tribute to your dear friend…I agree that she would be very pleased with the "heavenly insight" you have shared…

    I first "met" Judith through that guest post last summer…and quickly became an avid follower of her soul stirring writings…she occasionally would email me with a comment on one of my blog posts…they would mostly contain only one or two sentences…but Judith would say more in those few words than most could write in a dozen paragraphs…

    My deepest condolences for the loss of your kindred spirit…may the assurance of one day finally meeting her face to face bring you comfort and hope….

  5. God gives us wonderful blessings of His insights…and the one He shared with you about 'carrying part of us with them' into His Presence is so wonderfully stirring…she's talking directly to Jesus about the His love being shared between the two of you…amazing…and He's with you at the same time…amazing.
    Love DOES win 😉

  6. ""say everything we need to say and do so with God’s great clarity while today is still today. It’s the best we can do.""

    YES, it is the best we can do!
    Beautiful tribute to a friendship that many do not ever hold this side of heaven!

    My heart grieves and rejoices with yours, Elaine!!

    Blessings sent your way

  7. Elaine, I love your thoughts about how part of us arrives with our loved ones and friends when they go home to heaven — about how part of us is already there. Such amazing and beautiful thoughts.

    Sending you hugs as you miss your dear, dear friend. Love you.

  8. What a great gift from the Father to have your lives woven together for such a time as this! I know you were a blessing to her on the journey because you bless us every time you put your fingers to the keyboard! Thanks for sharing your heart…prayers for peace!

  9. Thank you for telling us about your friend, and your special friendship…what a blessing…both posts are so beautiful…praying for you at this time.

  10. I cannot imagine a more tender and beautiful tribute to Judith. I missed your blog when she guest posted, so I just hopped over there and read it.

    Like you, I feel a genuine sense of loss at Judith's passing on Thanksgiving. I never knew her either, or her family, but through emails and blogs over the past 6 months or so.

    Her faith and her attitude of heart had a profound impact on me. I told Amy, Judith's dil, that she challenged me to always 'look higher', in everything.

    It was no accident that your paths crossed when they did. I can only imagine how you blessed and encouraged each other.

    Elaine, this is such a fitting post, and you have captured who Judith was, and what she has left will not be forgotten by me either. I have seldom connected so immediately with anyone, and what she taught me by how she lived will forever challenge me to be more.

    One more time I'm left with the sense that the crowd up there is growing.

    Thank you for this exceptional tribute. She would have been so blessed, as am I.


  11. Elaine,
    This is such a beautiful, touching post. I am so sorry for the loss of your friend. Both posts have blessed me so much, thank you

  12. Wow, Elaine,

    I am so sorry for your loss of Judith. Thank you for giving us a glimpse of this godly-sounding woman and a kind loyal friend. What a wonderful gift it was that you had each other, and that you got to end with no regrets of things unsaid. May you be comforted as you miss her now, and may your reunion some day be sweet!

    Jennifer Dougan

  13. This is the epitome of a "poignant post", Eileen — painful, powerful, and joy-filed, all at the same time.

    One of my favorite parts of Pilgrim's Progress is the "crossing" scene. This post brought that picture to my mind.

    May the comfort and peace of the Lord Jesus continue to flourish in your heart and mind. (I went to Judith's site and read a bit. Though silenced, she speaks.)

  14. What a rare gift & blessing she is to you. Who could have known how God had ordained this "virtual" community in such a way as to foster such as this?

    My condolences, Elaine. I know she was a dear sister, neighbor & friend on a level few ever get to experience.

  15. I had a dear friend, Joan, cross over to Canann last Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving. She was a victim of cancer, but a victor over death…just like Judith. Perhaps they are dancing in heaven together!


  16. What a beautiful tribute to your friend. I am so sorry for your loss. But how precious to know that the Lord placed you in each other's lives for such special purposes. What a gift you must have been for each other. But knowing she waits there for you brings such comfort I'm sure. HUGS, Debbie

  17. Once again you have touched the deepest part of our hearts with the power of your words.
    Truly our Awesome GOD uses your gift to bring Hope and Healing to many. I couldn't help but rejoice that my Loved Ones who have gone ahead have taken part of my story with them.
    Much Love dear friend~ Jess

  18. Elaine this touched me WAY down deep! It made me cry. Not just tear up but cry! Tears of sorrow…of joy…of longing. What a great friendship you two have had! What a blessing!

    I have been so encouraged and blessed myself through YOUR friendship over the years! Thank you for sharing yourself with others!

    Love you Elaine!

    Marilyn…in Mississippi

  19. Elaine,
    I've often thought of cultivating, with you, this special kind of friendship you continue to have with Judith. Personal grief, health, time… None of them are reasons not too, but they are the reasons we sometimes tell ourselves. I'm so sorry for your loss of her friendship here, but she has taken it with her. You're so right when you say "It matters what we do here, how we love here. How we give and share God here." Thank you for sharing with all of us.


  20. I am so thankful the Lord provided you with a special friend, just when you needed her most. What a beautiful tribute to her.

    Prayers for her family…and you.

  21. What a beautiful post to honor your friend. We all need a friend like that. You were truly blessed to have that friendship with her.

  22. Elaine,

    Thanks for your kind words regarding mom. It's been fun this past week to see how so many different people were marked in some way by her life.

    She was indeed quite convinced she never did much for the Kingdom, and of course that is preposterous, as many of us can plainly see in a way she could not. And yet in another way she was right: none of us really "do" much for the kingdom that is of any lasting value, other than reflect – and thereby display – the majestic love of Christ. This my mother did extremely well, and you experienced some of that yourself: "She was just willing, and that willingness, friends, is an extraordinary gift to receive." Amen. It reminds me of the willingness of a God who becomes mortal, dies, and then rises from the grave so that whomever will may find life the way it was meant to be.

    So the self-giving work of a self-giving God bore fruit in the life of a self-giving daughter. His glory refracted through her in a hundred colorful ways, and you experienced a few of those rays yourself. Thank you for capturing them in words here for others to see. It honors mom, but more importantly it honors Christ.

    And she wouldn't have it any other way.

  23. Eliane, I'm so sorry for your loss. Your thoughts are so encouraging. I've never connected our relationships with people on earth to what happens when they go home. Thank you for painting that picture for me! Elaine, you are such a gracious encouragement.

  24. Elaine, this stirs up a lot of thoughts and emotions for me. I am sorry about your loss of such a kindred spirit. Thank you for putting to pen these words that remind us how the relationships we make through this digital world are very real and very needed and very healing. Perhaps a bit of me went on with Judith, too… because I am part of you as you are of me… and then I guess I carry on part of her story, too. How wonderfully blessed!

  25. Elaine,

    It is a hard thing for sure to lose a beloved person in your life. I will be praying for you. I was encouraged by what you said about Judith not realizing the impact she actually had for the Lord while she was here on earth. Thanks so much for sharing:)

  26. Elaine,
    Thank you for posting such a beautiful tribute to my cherished mom-in-love. I so wish you could be at her Memorial Service on the 10th in California. I could use one of those precious hugs. Judith and I talked of you often. I was so thankful that she took the plunge of blogging…and found such kindred spirits. Her stories live on through those she has touched and as you told her….we do indeed wear the mantle that she gave us. I'm glad you can take it to other cancer patients in her name, in her memory, as she has reflected the love of her Savior.

    I hope we can talk on the phone some day soon. I need to hear more of how she touched you. A voice to voice conversation about my Judy-Mom would be better than a hug or a casserole.


  27. Hi Elaine,
    I too shed tears at Judith's homegoing.

    I had known her for only about a year or two… but in the few emails we exchanged with each other, and the few sincere comments at our blogs, I know there was a friendship formed that can never be replaced. A friend like Judith happens only once in this life.

    Your words touched my heart deeply, and in reading this post, I cried again. How can I miss someone I have never met face to face? But really, you are right. Blog friendships are sometimes (or should I say oftentimes?) more precious than face to face friendships.

    Judith was such a friend to me. You are, too.

    Thank you for sharing your heart so unselfishly with us on your blog.

    Much love

  28. Thank you for sharing Judith with us. May her beautiful light shine on in your heart always. take care dear one.

  29. I am obviously a little late in offering condolences, but I sincerely do. I'm so thankful that we don't have to weep like the world weeps, but we weep just the same, and God knows that. He allows us our grief. I wish I had read that guest post of hers sooner, because it sounds like she had words I'd like to read, often. What an adequate and eloquent memorial for her.

  30. This is one of the most beautifully woven and heartfelt posts that I have ever read. My grandma went to be with Jesus on December 23, 2001–almost 10 years ago. My aunt used some quilting squares that my grandma had cut out just prior to meeting Jesus face-to-face to make my sister and me a quilt. I've cherished the quilt in a plastic zip up bag so that it wouldn't get ruined. Just this morning I thought about taking it out and using what my grandma's hands had touched. I want to feel her love wrap around me as I cover myself with the quilt. This post has cemented the decision to get it out and feel the love that my grandma had for me through a beautiful quilt. Thank you.

    I'm sorry for the loss of your friend, but I'm grateful that she knew Jesus and is having a glorious time in heaven!

    Prayers and blessings,

  31. Elaine – what a beautiful tribute to a very special woman, a very special friend. I know that your heart grieves for the earthly loss of your friend, but oh how you have made it abundantly clear that Judith is with our Lord! That is the grief with hope that only God can bestow.

    So very grateful for the thread that binds us all together. In the Body of Christ, we are all family, all united in our pursuit of excellence – as we represent Christ to a lost and lonely world.

    Love you too, friend!


  32. What a beautiful post. I am so sorry for the loss of your dear friend, and I am glad that you found each other. God is Good, isn't he? He knows what we need, right when we need it. Thanks for sharing your friend with us.

    God Bless~

  33. How touching. Isn't it wonderful we can gain eternal friends thanks so technology. There are so many I can't wait to meet face-to-face in heaven. You are one dear friend Elaine.

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