When you say thirty-two-oh-five, you think solely of a number (although why you would say 3205, I'm not quite sure), but when I say 3205 -- which I do from time to time -- immediately hugs, laughter, friendship springs to mind. Thirty-two-oh-five was my dorm room number during the 1998 - 1999 college school year, and four of us girls laughed, cried, loved and played in that room: Brandy (who we called Caprice), Allie, Rachel and Me.

Allie and I became girlfriends to the men who are now our husbands while we lived in that room; Caprice chose to give her former boyfriend a second chance while she lived in that room (oh, what hilarious and serious pros and cons we discussed during that decision!) and Rachel cheered us all on. Caprice and Dan also got engaged towards the end of that year, and the rest of us watched and made suggestions as she cut out dresses from magazines and sewed gorgeous lacy underthings in preparation for her honeymoon. That girl could SEW! My goodness!

Together, the four of us survived Hurricane Georges, hunkered down in 3205, with our essentials at hand in case we had to flee to the hallways and stairwells: bowls of popcorn, liters of soda/pop/coke (see how I compromised there?), textbooks, Bibles, card games, flashlights, blankets and pillows, ID cards. Dan was on hold on phone line one, Rachel's parents were on hold on line two, Rodney held on line three, while Jeremy held on line four. We did not dare disconnect because every other college student on campus was also routing calls through the switchboard, and disconnection meant The End of your outside contact, Forever! The four of us rotated phone time easily. We didn't keep track or time each other. If I had something funny to tell Jeremy, I'd just ask for the phone. When Rachel thought her parents might be getting antsy, she'd ask for a turn.

That was the year the emergency hurricane boxes containing accidentally frozen solid lunches were delivered to dormitories full of starving college students, and the lines for the microwaves rivaled the length of the Great Wall of China! Jeremy and I still refer to Georges whenever we encounter food unfit for consumption. "Well, at least it's not frozen," we say with a grin, or sometimes simply, "Georges," and shrug.

I share these memories with you today because my friend and sister Rachel died peacefully in her sleep earlier this week. Although she had an inoperable brain tumor, she had been living with it for decades, and her passing took us all by surprise.

Allie and I wrote a tribute to her to be shared at her funeral because we cannot get to Canada on such short notice. Allie's words are in bold; mine are italicized.

Yesterday morning, I took some quiet time to write a little history of my friendship with Rachel. When I sent it to Missy, she added her own words, and I think you'll agree that the harmony tells a unique story. This side of heaven, we'll never know all the lives that Rachel touched, but this is the story of how she touched ours.

Rachel ~ September 19, 1978 - September 14, 2010

I met Rachel our first week as college freshmen at Pensacola Christian College, in 1996. Not quite 18, we were both far from home and needed someone to talk to. At that point, we became acquaintances, and she was simply someone I recognized as I moved among the thousands of students, someone I always associated with our shared birthday, a special connection that somehow set her apart in my mind even though we spent little meaningful time together that year.

In the summer of 1997, I met Missy, beginning a friendship that will always be inextricably linked with Rachel’s. Missy and I requested to be roommates for the school year beginning Fall of 1997 and then again in 1998. I remember getting our room assignment that second year and rushing over to see who our new roommates would be. Stacked to one side were boxes with Rachel's name, and another stack with Brandy's (who we all knew as Caprice back then). I was so excited that I already knew who Rachel was. That year was the highlight of my roommate experience.

I remember Allie's excitement the day we read Rachel's name on those boxes. Somehow, in that brief getting-acquainted time a year earlier, Rachel had made a really wonderful impression on Allie. When I asked her what Rachel was like, she said, "I don't really know her; I just feel like I do. I only met her once, and since then we've said hi, but I know you're going to like her! I've been wanting to know her better for a long time. She's going to be a great roommate!"

It turns out, Allie was more than right; both Caprice and Rachel were amazing.

What a blessing it was to have such good friends to come “home” to at the end of the day. As roommates, we did more than just talk about classes and boys (although we did that, too), but we prayed together. More than the mandatory nightly “Prayer Group,” we would wait for “lights out” every evening and take turns praying aloud. Sometimes, in twos or threes, we would go to the “Prayer Room” on our floor to open our Bibles and really talk to God.

Praying together after lights out was the highlight of my year also. It was after dark one night during an impassioned discussion from our bunkbeds when the four of us determined that we would always be "Sister Vessels," a term we made up to define our longing to be used wholly by our Lord and to love each other through anything life brought, always strengthening each other and pointing each other back to glorifying our Lord.

I don’t remember when Rachel’s academic struggles began to intensify. She never focused on her limitations. Years later, she would remind me of how difficult some things were for her, even then, but all I ever saw was her strength. All I ever knew was that we understood each other, that our faith was stronger together. “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (from 2 Cor 12:9)

I did notice Rachel's physical struggles, but as Allie said, not because Rachel spoke about them or made them prominent. I watched Rachel prepare her hair in the mornings or sit at the desk in the evenings and attempt to focus on her homework. One day I asked her about her symptoms, and without asking for pity, she calmly described a typical day to me. She talked about her frustration in the classroom. She talked about her inability to keep up with her friends. She talked about her embarrassment when she fell in front of others, especially boys. That's the kind of easy, no-pretenses type of relationship we all shared in that college dorm room. Rachel knew that, with us, she did not have to cover up or act like she was able to do everything. We all loved each other the way we were.

What impressed me the most was the way she did not make excuses or ask for a pass on life. She proudly told me how hard she had worked to get to where she was. She ALWAYS gave glory to God and credit to her parents for her present condition and abilities. She was so thankful to have made it to college, and she was determined to finish. Rachel was a very driven person, but in chatting with her, you would never know it. She always made time to stop and talk. She always made time to hug a friend that she happened to be passing. She always asked passing friends about intimate details of their lives about which she was praying. She looked beyond herself and blessed everyone nearby.

After most of our classmates graduated in May of 2000, Rachel and I had one more semester to go, and again, we spent it as roommates. In July of 2001, she flew to California to be a bridesmaid in my wedding.

For the next few years, our contact was sporadic. She was always good about sending cards, but we both had a lot going on with our adult lives. She became involved in several different ministries over the years, but none of them seemed a good permanent fit. I suppose her light was too special to be hidden away in one place. Never was this more apparent than in 2004 when Rachel joined Live Journal. In the days before everyone was on Facebook and people everywhere could tweet from their phones, Rachel took to blogging like a bird taking flight.

Rachel shared with me one time that blogging for her was freedom from her limitations. Somehow, typing used a different part of her brain, an unhindered part, and her thoughts and fingers flowed effortlessly together in a way that rarely occurred for her in any other activity. When that effortless activity finally became fettered too, she struggled internally with that limitation, and that is the first time that I recall seeing her truly down.

Rachel was also an artist. She had an aesthetic sense that I could never comprehend. I could see a pretty picture, but she had an intuition of how to crop it, add text, and lay it out on a page. She was almost always crafting, typically painting or crochet.

Rachel was the best sounding board. She always made me want to do better while still reminding me not to be too hard on myself when I didn’t succeed.

So true! Rachel had a rare combination of compassion, drive and practicality, and as my Sister Vessel, she hugged me, pushed me, and brainstormed with me through various life situations. Oh, how I needed that and will miss her in my life!

Happy Birthday, Rachel. Your pain and limitations are gone. You always wanted to live to the fullest, and now you have life that will never end. I hope I never forget everything the Lord used you to teach me. I hope I always remember to glorify Him in all things as you did.

You made it, Rachel! You finished your race well, and your broken vessel is filled with God's brilliant glory spilling out through all the cracks and overflowing from the top, just like we dreamed.

Thank you for being my friend.
4 Responses
  1. Suanna Says:

    How beautiful! I know I've met her multiple times at school and your wedding, I'm glad you have wonderful memories to share.

  2. Spencer Park Says:

    Such a lovely tribute. Sorry to read about your great loss.

  3. Beth Says:

    Beautiful, touching post.

  4. Annie Says:

    This brought tears to my eyes. I am so glad you knew her and loved her; that you honored God's gift in her, and that she touched your lives. And so glad she's dancing with joy in the presence of our Savior.

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