This week I learned that one of my dearest friends has been placed in Hospice care as she draws near to the finish line of her battle with cancer. While her days here may be short, she has an eternity to look forward to. She has run her race well and her husband and children call her blessed. I want to share a few things I’ve learned from Tori.
I think it was sometime around 2002 or 2003. As I get older, the specific year becomes fuzzier. It was the year my best friend Carson and I moved to what has been affectionately labeled as the “Ghetto” of Graceville, Florida. We were very excited to move into a duplex of government housing located about a block from where we were attending college. We were pretty sure there were people selling crack just a couple of duplexes down from ours, but it did not concern us in the day to day. However, what DID concern Carson and I was with whom we would be sharing a duplex. Who would be our very close next-door neighbors? We were both just over 20 years old and single so our first question was, if they are girls, are they cute?
If memory serves me correctly, when were moving our stuff in over the summer we had our first encounter with our neighbors, at least one of them. We met a girl named Tori. She had on yellow cleaning gloves with a dew rag around her head. She had a mop in her hands and looked as if she was doing some serious cleaning. She was kind but said very little.
I did not realize it then, but this first encounter with Tori would accurately paint a picture of who she was. Carson did not realize it then but this glove-bearing lady with the mop would turn out to be the love of his life. The mop and bucket would signify her servant’s heart that never feared hard work and was always willing to get her hands dirty. Her quiet kindness would well represent her personality. She was not flamboyant and did not draw attention to herself, but she has always had a great ability to make others feel important.
TORI IS SMART
I can remember Tori reading through an entire Systematic Theology book in just a couple of days (I think over 500 pages). She was always well versed in scripture. In her grade school days she memorized the entire book of Philippians. She could still quote it when she was in college. Some of my favorite verses in the entire Bible I think very adequately describe Tori. “Philippians 2:3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” Tori never used her intelligence to belittle or demean others.
TORI IS PATIENT
Carson, Hope (Tori’s Roommate), James Bridwell and I would often get in disputes (I remember a particular time when James threw Hope’s shoes on top of the roof). Tori was the patient one who would bring peace (literally her last name was Peace before she married Carson) to the situation. She never lost her cool. She has always been the picture of stability.
TORI LISTENS TO OTHERS
Tori had a gift for counseling people. So many people would come and talk to Tori when they had problems. This was not because Tori would give wise sage advice (although she would if you asked). It was mainly because Tori had the gift of listening. She had the amazing ability of making you feel heard and important. She made you feel valuable without having to fix you. Many times in talking to Tori you would work out your own problems by simple questions she would ask.
TORI IS A SERVANT
Most Christians find service as a duty that must be done and we begrudgingly comply in order to be like Christ. It seemed that Tori found service as a delight. There was never a task that was beneath her.
One vivid reminder of her heart for service happened in the Ghetto of Graceville. As Carson and I were roommates, neither of us was the cleanest person. Our apartment was a typical bachelor pad with two couches that were donated to us, and a large TV that worked some of the time. Our ghetto apartment had no dishwasher so we had to do it by hand (oh the horror). We would buy as many paper products as possible and would take turns doing the dishes. The greatest argument Carson and I ever had was over the dishes. It almost ruined our friendship (no, neither one of us has a pride problem). I swore it was his turn to do the dishes and he swore it was my turn to do the dishes. Instead of us acting like Christian men and offering to serve one another, we were at a match of the wills in which neither of us would submit. The large pile of dishes stayed in the sink for literally months. IT WAS GROSS! Our whole house stunk because of the decomposing food matter rotting in our sink. This was deplorable and sad looking back on it, but it is the sad truth. When school was on break for a few weeks Carson and I both went home to our parent’s houses to spend time with them. Do you think we washed the dishes before we left? That would be a resounding, NO! Our Duplex mates (Tori and Hope) at first enjoyed the dish drama but finally saw it as real problem between Carson and I. When Carson and I arrived back from break we came home to a house with clean dishes, and a lemon fresh smell. When I arrived I thanked him for finally realizing that I was right and it was his turn to wash the dishes. Carson said, “I didn’t wash the dishes, I thought you did!” We were both perplexed at the mystery of the clean kitchen and clean dishes. When we started looking at things we realized it was much too clean to have been done by a man. We finally found the answer to our mystery. Tori broke into our house (I think she climbed in a window) over break and cleaned everything for us. She thought our friendship was more important than dirty dishes. She was so right! I am thankful for this lesson in humility and service that she taught me.
TORI AND CARSON HAVE SUFFERED WELL FOR THE LORD
I have talked to Carson and Tori from day one of her cancer diagnosis. It has been a heart wrenching thing to watch a perfectly healthy, hard-working woman to become quickly ill with a debilitating cancer. Carson and Tori have shown us all how to suffer well. Tori has used her cancer to show all of us how to trust the Lord and depend on Him each day for strength. She has been an amazing witness to her nurses and doctors. She has fought hard and she is nearing the finish line to soon receive her crown of glory. I know Tori; she will gladly lay that crown down at the feet Christ. Perhaps just as hard as having cancer is watching someone you love with all your heart be stripped of her health and know there is nothing you can do to take her pain and suffering from her. Carson has made the love and care of his wife first priority in his life. I have watched my friend put life on hold in order to be there to hold Tori. I am so proud of my friends and their passion for Jesus. They have believed together that to live is Christ and to die is gain. Tori’s family has also been an amazing testimony of the Lord’s grace during this time. Tori’s sister, Joy, has been through much to give her sister every chance at healing. Joy went through the process of a bone marrow transplant for Tori. Sadly, the transplant did not work, but Joy’s selfless sacrifice is to be much-admired. My wife and I were so touched by Tori’s strength and faith that we named our youngest daughter after her (Victoria Joy Hermann). We pray that the strength and faith found in Tori would be found in her as well.
We all wanted to see Tori healed of her cancer. All of us who know her are heart broken at the loss of her presence among us. When I think about my friend I think about a life well lived for Christ. She may only have a short number of days left here, but we rejoice that this is not the end of Tori. She is going to be with her Lord Jesus.
Please pray for Tori, Carson, Caleb and Gracie! This sweet family has some very bittersweet days ahead. Pray specifically for Caleb and Gracie that God would protect their hearts from bitterness towards the Lord. Pray that they would love the same God their mother has so faithfully loved all these years. Pray that Carson would have wisdom and strength in the days ahead to be all he needs to be for Tori and his kids. Pray that Tori finishes her race well.