The first time I met Amber she stood beside the preacher and he announced she needed money for car insurance. A line formed to give money. It happened again a few months later and then again. Except it wasn't car insurance. Amber needed college tuition and health insurance. I finally remembered to ask my friend, who is Amber? And why is the church lining up paying her insurance and tuition?
Amber is that little girl, my friend explained, who until she was about 10 or so, had lived with her mother in an unkempt run down trailer and they were very poor. Her mother decided she did not have room for both her and her new boyfriend, and Amber had to go. Kicked out of her house at 10 years old. She started going to school every day with the only possession she had, her pillow, and going home each night with a different friend, spending the night, and bringing her pillow back to school the next day to do it all over again.
That is until she was 13 or so and went home with a girl named Ashley at church. Although they had a houseful of kids already, didn't have a lot of room or money, and Amber had to stay on the couch, Ashely's mother thought she should leave her pillow, and just come back to it every night from school. And they brought her to church, for the first time in her life, and she met Jesus and she fell in love with him hard. And the church fell in love with her hard and took her in, literally, took her in. And when she had a need and every time she asked, money was given. No matter what it was, car insurance, college, gas money, lunch money. Amber asked the church and the church provided.
I could stop right there, and it would be a wonderful story that I want to remember about Amber and how I saw God working through the church. I'd like to stop there but, there is more to this story...
Amber first got cancer in high school. She beat it. But then it came back in her Senior year. She thought she had it beat again and tried to go on with her life, getting a job, saving for a very cheap car, and starting college. She still lived with Ashley's family, with occasional visits to other's friends houses, and tryed to get her own place a few times. For a little while everything was looking good. This is when I first met her. When she first asked for money for car insurance. She was in college, had a car, had a job, was in remission. It was about a year later when the cancer came back and she spent many months in the hospital. The reports we heard were more and more bleak. The chemo and drugs made her sicker and sicker.
After months in the hospital, the doctors said there was nothing else to be done, she would not beat it this time. Amber decided she wanted to spend her time out of the hospital and off of machines and tubes and she asked for three things. To go to the mall, to have Thanksgiving dinner, and to go to church on Sunday.
It doesn't sound as complex as it was. But there was a group that Amber really affected and it took an army inside the church to mobilize of her behalf, I have so much respect for all the people involved.
A family at church asked her to come to their house, where they had room for everyone to visit and for her friends to stay. Before she came, they went to Wal-Mart and turned a spare room into Amber's bedroom. She cried when she saw it. Said she had never had a room of her own, and such nice things. She was especially in love with one fuzzy purple pillow.
Every day and night was a huge party at their house, teenagers popping fireworks, a bonfire one night, the whole church youth group having movie nights and sleep overs. A dinner ministry was instantly created with only one family to deliver to each night. The one Amber was at. But because she was surrounded at all times by so many people, instead of one family bringing dinner, it took two to three families cooking and delivering each night. I made BBQ chicken deliveries, asked my husband to drive me each time, walked in, set it down and walked out without speaking to anyone, just trying not to cry in front of her, and crying a whole lot every night as we drove home. A few nights I was called back in the middle of the night when Amber wanted to talk about some legal issues. I barely kept it together inside, and always lost it outside. I wondered if she knew how deeply she affected us, how we barely knew her but we loved her so.
Amber did go to the mall, but she was too weak to really do much shopping. She only bought one thing. A red bra. She said she wanted to be buried in it. She also had Thanksgiving dinner. This is the year that Thanksgiving came one week early. No one was sure if she could make it to the holiday, so the holiday came to her. She sat around a big Thanksgiving table full of her church family, but she couldn't eat much. She also went to Church one last time. Her mother came with her. By this time, she was in a full body hospital wheelchair with oxygen and had to have a medical van drive her to church. That was the last time I saw her. She died a couple of days later. Her mother refused to bury her at the church. We didn't get to go to her funeral. Were not even sure where her grave is.
But I still think of her, out of the blue, she will come to my mind. There is still a small group of us who call each others around Thanksgiving and remind each other that Amber died this week however many years ago. I didn't know that today would be her 24th Birthday until I saw the flowers in her honor at church this morning. I think Ashley's family put them there with a little happy birthday Amber note on them.
I whispered to my husband. Its Amber's 24th birthday. He just nodded. Do you know who I am talking about? He nodded again.
Happy 24th Birthday Amber.