Say What You Mean to Say

This post is in honor of an extraordinary woman who I had the opportunity to meet by chance. This weekend, she’s fighting her final battle. It was an honor and privilege to know her. And, today I’m reminded of how we never just know how much time we have left to say what we mean to say to folks.

This is a story about an unlikely encounter with an extraordinary woman named Kendra Williams. I first learned of Kendra Williams in 2007 while querying Midwest Living Magazine to write an article about our local mead shop. I remember looking at the Midwest Living masthead and seeing her listed as travel editor and thinking to myself, wow, I sure would love to have her job. I mailed my query, and while hopeful, realistic I would never hear from Ms. Williams. This would be the first of many times she proved me wrong.

In the fall of 2007, I started an unlikely after hour job scouting for Midwest Living Magazine. I explored state parks and public campgrounds; sought out scenic drives and island getaways; taste tested burgers, pizza and fish galore; and shared with Midwest Living readers why I love skipping rocks. I wrote about my experiences, uploaded reports, and filled out databases, all under the guidance of Kendra. And then there were the cats.

Thanks to Facebook, Kendra and I were connected outside of Midwest Living. She was in need of a quality home for her two cats. My husband and I had room. We met up in Duluth for our first non-virtual connection. I left with Chickpea and Mischief. These cats became a part of our annual Christmas card photo and appear on our Christmas tree ornaments. In other words, they became family. But, they also taught me about faith. Several years into our journey, both cats wandered away at different times. It pained me to notify Kendra of my inability to keep her pets safe. Rather than question our parenting abilities, Kendra prayed to the Saint of Lost things. In both cases, the cats returned. Perhaps it was coincidence, but her faith was unwavering and I couldn’t help but wonder, how can someone have such faith?

Kendra’s prayers for my family and I continued. As we grew closer over email chats and some serious redline editing, I discovered what an amazing editor, mentor and friend she was to everyone who crossed her path. She was honest with me about my strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and offered me real life advice about the journey to whether I wanted to transition from occasional freelance to full-time writer. It is because of this, I have finally found a career I love, while not losing sight of my desire to put words on paper daily.
Soon after, I discovered myself seeking out Kendra for more than professional advice. I shared my adoption struggles and sought comfort in her wisdom. Kendra could relate—because her journey to motherhood was similar. More than once, a kind email, message or tweet would lift my spirits. And when the pain hit of a heartbreaking failed adoption, Kendra sent messages of strength, hope and prayers. Months later I would become pregnant and my prayers would be answered.

Soon after, Kendra was diagnosed with MS and in 2014 officially left Midwest Living Magazine. While our professional relationship had come to a close, I continued to stay in-touch. Her posts from Des Moines offered inspiration and courage and reminded me of the power of resilience. And then the cancer came. It was aggressive and mean and relentless. It was painful to watch someone go through so much heartbreak, even virtually from hundreds of miles away. I didn’t understand why someone or something would do this to anyone, let alone to Kendra.

Even in her suffering, Kendra continued to draw strength from God. Over the past few years, she has shared her journey of hope. She has found humor in her pain and beauty in her life, even on the darkest of days. She’s fought harder than anyone I know and still continues to be grateful for all she has in her life. There’s making lemon-aid out of lemons and then there’s Kendra—a woman who has found a way to make life out of death.

This past month, she announced that her primary care doctors were in discussions with her about hospice care. Yet, she still continues to fight, taking baby doses of chemo to see if she can extend life just a little bit longer.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what we all want? To just have one more moment with those we love. To have one more conversation. One more interaction. One more memory with those whom we have lost. But, how many of us would continue to fight the fight like Kendra? It was during these moments that I truly began to understand the power of faith.

Eleven years ago, an ordinary letter created an extraordinary impact in my life. The recipient was Kendra Williams. And today, I just wanted to let her know that I’ll always be grateful for our connection. I pray she continues to find love, hope and strength in the coming days and weeks. I am forever grateful for this connection.

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