I said goodbye to a close friend I didn’t know very well last night.
As I said on Facebook a couple of days ago, Jennifer Pastirik and I didn’t really interact all that much. Over the eight years we knew each other, we probably had five one-on-one conversations, and all of them were probably about church business of one form or another. I don’t know what kind of music she liked, or her favourite colour or or her favourite food.
But we moved in a lot of the same circles, and had a lot of loved ones in common. We were quite accustomed to each other’s presence, so I truly do think of her as a close friend, regardless of the fact I didn’t know a lot of information about her. Everything I did know about her, I loved and admired.
She was one of the leaders of our church’s youth group, and I know she meant a lot to all of the youth – including my 15-year-old daughter, Katie. Katie is a stronger, kinder, wiser, more confident young woman today than she was when she joined that youth group a few years ago; I’m not sure how much of that is attributable to Jenn and her capacity to radiate Christ’s love in whatever she did, but I know some of it is. And I am very grateful.
Jenn was also a part of the music team I lead with her little brother, Jeff Matsumiya. She was a strong keyboard player to be sure, but her contributions of faith, joy and love to the team are what I remember most. As was often shared last night, she gave people her undivided attention and laughed at their (often not that funny) jokes with such abandon. She was so good at making you feel important.
When she was in her first battle with cancer a couple of years ago, she continued to play in the band – with either a cute hat or an almost-lifelike wig sitting where her beautiful long, brown hair had been. She was pretty sick, but that didn’t stop her from making music that gave God glory. I’m sure that on some level, it was therapeutic for her. But it still had to be tough. Serving with her on those Sundays is a memory I will always treasure.
I was also the guy who roped Jenn into serving as the People’s Warden at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Calgary. My term in that role was about to wrap up, and we were having trouble finding the right person to take over. She was an introvert and not particularly passionate about administration. (There are some people who are, believe it or not – and thank God for them! But that’s not me, and that wasn’t Jenn.) And at that time, she still had a few months left in her veterinary nurse training in Olds – an hour north of Calgary, so she’d have to commute to attend a lot of the meetings. But despite all of those legitimate reasons to pass on the offer, she agreed to let her name stand. I don’t remember what she actually said, but what I remember interpreting from her answer is: ‘If God has prompted you to ask me to take this on, who am I to say no?’
Jenn’s life was cut brutally short last week, by a hideous disease that put her through an agonizing last few weeks. As our friend and pastor Stephen Hambidge said last night in his homily, “Cancer sucks.”
Watching powerlessly and impotently as she went through this; watching her brother and husband and mother suffer through the torturous rollercoaster – I think it brought out a lot of doubts in many of us. Doubts about the goodness – or maybe even the existence – of God.
But not for Jenn.
I’m sure she had her doubts, like anyone else. She was only human, after all. But throughout her life, including her last days, she chose not to focus on her doubts. She focused on her Father, her Comforter and her Saviour. And she spent the last few hours of her life helping the people who loved her prepare to let go of her. She ministered to them! She was at peace. She knew where she was going, and I think she was looking forward to it.
I wasn’t there at the hospital, but I had the privilege of helping to lead worship music at the celebration of her life last night. Jeff led the band, and he asked me to sing a couple of the songs he’d chosen. I mostly did OK, but I confess that I blubbered my way through some of the lyrics. The toughest one was the third verse of 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord):
And on that day, when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
10,000 years and then forevermore
Matt Redman wrote that song at least three years ago, and I’m pretty sure he never met my close friend who I didn’t know very well. But for me, at least, that verse is about Jenn.
Peace be with you.