by Anita Miles
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
I can still remember the sounds and the smell in the atmosphere on that blistering August day in the quaint little town of Gilbertown, Alabama. I’m pretty sure the women of the church had cooked fried chicken that afternoon for the guests who had come for campmeeting. The scent of that southern goodness drifted through the air up to the top of the hot steps where my 12 year old self had run to perch on. There was one pre-occupation on my brain that day...and nothing else. I had caught a glimpse of her and her fiance’ as they had walked out of the fellowship hall to go for a stroll down the little dirt trail that ran in front of the church. I had taken the back route and bustled my way through the inside of the dorms to remain undetected so I could watch them at a bird’s eye view from the top step outside as they walked away. I just wanted to observe. She carried herself with a dignity and grace that I thought to be rare in young ladies her age. She wasn’t clamorous or flirty - nor did she feel the need to constantly bring attention to herself. She seemed to have her life all pulled together and I admired that immensely. I knew she was brilliant and I also was aware that even as young as she was - barely in her 20s - she was well respected. There was just something about her... She had always just stood out from the crowd to me. I really couldn’t define what all it was in my young mind that made me want to watch her every move, but if it could be discovered, I was going to figure it out. I only knew I had one recurring thought that day as I sat there. I wanted to be just like her! And if I was going to be like her, I needed to study her ways.
My fascination with her over a span of many years was well known to my family. But where she was concerned, I preferred to remain in the shadows just to watch. I wasn’t around her very often. I mostly saw her at campmeetings like Allentown or Gilbertown, and if they came to Citronelle for family gatherings. When I would see her at any of these meetings, I chose my seat in church services strategically so that I could have her in my direct line of sight! I watched her pray. I watched her worship. I watched her quirky smile and expressions. I watched her thoughtful demeanor. I watched her (sometimes spunky) interaction with people and eventually with her husband. I watched who she interacted with. And later on, I watched how she handled her children. I wasn’t a stalker. I was a student. She was the teacher, but she didn’t know that. The characteristics about her that I admired most were always the same – year after year. To me, she became the definition of consistency. I never had to wonder about her commitment nor her dedication to Christ. At one point in my early teens, my mom knew that I was intrigued by her and her chosen profession and encouraged me to ask her about her life. So I did. I garnered up enough nerve to write a note to her. Honestly, I really thought that even IF she took the time to acknowledge my correspondence, it would be a brief and general reply – just to get it over with. I checked the mail regularly after I sent off my list of questions with high hopes that just maybe she would at least send a little return note. I’ll never forget the day that I ran out to check the mail to find an envelope with my name on it and the return address that read "Lana Holden." I ran furiously back to my room and shut the door. I gently opened the envelope, taking in every single detail and making sure nothing was damaged in my haste and excitement. She had not replied to me with just a simple note. What I discovered under that sealed flap was a three page, handwritten letter that detailed what her life was like as a pediatric nurse and balancing that with her new role as a young wife. Tucked inside the letter were also 2 wallet sized pictures. One was an engagement picture and the other was from her wedding. The time that she took to reply to a young girl, who was (unbeknownst to her) watching her life intensely, was more important to me than if you had handed me a bag full of riches. I’ve never forgotten that moment nor that feeling. Twenty-six years later, I still have the letter and the pictures. They will always be beyond value to me.
As the years progressed, and I got a little older, Lana and I became familiar friendly acquaintances and conversed easily on the rare occasions that we saw each other. It was usually casual conversations that revolved around our families, my work, and our stomping grounds and history in southern Alabama. That was a topic of common interest. I was 10 years her junior, so there was somewhat of a generation gap that was a bit awkward and intimidating for me – just because. It was MUCH easier admiring from afar off. I also didn’t risk being disappointed if my perceptions of her were different than reality. But I never stopped studying her. Even after I had followed in her footsteps and became a nurse myself (although she had quit practicing by then) and then eventually a young wife and mother.
A few years ago, when I was almost halfway into my 30s, I decided to be brave and overcome my own feelings of intimidation to become intentional in expressing my gratitude for her faithfulness that I had witnessed through my most impressionable years. If there’s only one regret that I have about that decision, it is that I had not mustered up the courage to do that sooner than I did. Somehow, although I don’t really know how to explain how it happened, through that decision of intentionality, one of the greatest heroes of my youth, very quickly became a true and treasured friend. I will tell you without an ounce of hesitation - there was not even a sliver of disappointment or disillusion on my part after all those years of wondering.
It was only a matter of months after this decision, that Lana began the fight of and for her life. I NEVER imagined that after 20 + years of studying her ways and character that the learning on my part had just begun. I do not have the space nor the emotional energy to delve into the physical and emotional trauma that would follow in her world.
To put it into perspective, though, I remember telling her at one point in it all that her transparency into her fears, her emotions, her pain and her consistent AND insistent faith in a God that she was convinced would not fail her, had made her and her life so much more heroic and beautiful to me than it had EVER been in the past.
About 3.5 months before she completed her earthly race, she and her family made the LONG and her last trek to Savannah. The time that I got to spend with her face to face as my friend are moments that stood still in history for me and will forever be engraved in my heart. Her circumstances had brought her to a point of significant dependence on others because of her unsteady gait and poor vision. In the physical realm, she had to hold onto my arm just to walk down the hall without stumbling. I knew she wasn’t the confident young woman who had her life all pulled together that I had watched as a young 12 year old girl from the top of the steps of the dorms... At that moment, to me, she was SOOO much more!! If she could have only seen herself through my eyes! I could only see the mighty warrior that she truly was! I had learned what REAL faith looked like from her. She was much more of a hero to me that day than she had ever been!
Lana didn’t win the battle in her physical body here on this earth. But she ultimately won and she won big!! And she showed me by a living example how it’s done! She was exactly who she said she was and claimed to be and she lived out loud! And the toughest hurdles that life could place in her way did not remotely waver her.
She was running with purpose!
The day we were forced to bid farewell, I found myself with more resolve that I would do whatever it took to go to Heaven than I had ever had on any day of my life prior. And my heels were already dug in deep! There simply wasn’t a price too high to get to go where she had gone!! If she could fight this hard in all that she went through, surely God would give me the grace and the courage to finish too!! She taught me that Scripture is true – NOTHING – NOT EVEN DEATH or the threat of it, not the powers or the minions of darkness, not the present, not the future , not the steep climbs that may be required of us, not the pit of despair that we may be tempted to sink to – NOTHING - can separate me from the love of MY Almighty God!
A few days ago (this past Sunday) was 3 years ago that Lana met Jesus face to face. Thoughts of her and the realization of the power that ONE life can possess have been constant reflections to me throughout the past few days in pondering, writing, and honoring her and her legacy.
I want to remind us that in our lives we lead – day in and day out – whether it’s on the routine and mundane days or whether it’s in the midst of the fiercest storm with waves so high that we are certain to be overtaken, someone is watching how we live that out.
It may be a young 12 year old girl watching from afar off or it may be an unsaved co-worker who we work shoulder to shoulder with on a daily basis. It may be our own daughters or nieces. It may be a young teenager who is in the throws of her "who am I?" years. It may be the struggling new mother who is learning how to juggle a marriage, a home, and the utter exhaustion of a new baby who has kept her up nearly every night since its birth and is past the point of thinking coherently.
We never know when the influence of our steadfastness may be the tool that God uses and the motivation that another young woman needs to continue her Christian race. Let us not grow weary in well doing!
Even without her knowledge, Lana fulfilled the Biblical command of teaching the young me what behavior that becometh Holiness is. She showed me what it is to behold the ways of the upright – even on the days she was struggling and later battling fiercely for her very survival. Oh, the things that she taught me! She had the end goal in mind and she had her eye intently set on the prize!
She could not be deterred! She finished WELL!