By Jonathan David Faulkner.
“For by doing so, some have entertained Angels, unaware”
Of all the people in my life who have passed on I can think of few who have impacted me more deeply than Jennifer Shannon. She entered my life at the age of 21, my junior year of college and one of the first people I was blessed to meet after Denver. She was small, with curly blonde hair and a round face. Her skin was about as pale as could be and when she spoke she was often interrupted by severe coughing that, if I remember correctly, drove some of her classmates crazy. I had the privilege of serving as her Foundations of Servant Leadership Mentor under Pastor Joel Wood whose church would become her home in the year and a half she was at Sterling.
She had Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic disease that causes trouble breathing, long hospital stays, strict medical treatments and regiments, dependence on medication for survival and illness. Like my own, Jennifer’s battle had been life long, but unlike my own blindness Jennifer was in pain, coughing and fighting for every breath. Fighting her body just to get up in the morning. She quickly found a home amongst our group, a group of loveable misfits that also included a Paraplegic.
Her gentleness was contagious, her joy was evident, her hope in the Lord. For the next year and one-half we would be blessed by her. I remember one instance when I had offended one of my sisters in Christ and walked away without resolving the issue (I was much rougher around the edges then) and upon feeling the conviction of the Holy Spirit returned to apologize to that sister for my offense. After it was done and the wrong had been forgiven Jennifer said “Wow, I am so glad I got to witness that.” I do not know what impact that incident had on her, but her response to it seemed to be affirmation from heaven and I still hear her whisper those words three years since whenever I have to repent and ask someone for forgiveness.
I do not know why, perhaps because I was the peer mentor for the entire class, but she actively sought to continue that mentoring relationship, being gracious with me in my own missteps and miss spoken words that I was quite well-known for. I was blessed to be one of the people she would call upon for prayer and blessed to be able to pray for her. When her grandfather died she came to us for comfort, when her friend Ben, a Sterling Resident, passed away we had a conversation about it.
Jennifer was aware that she might not live very long, yet she pursued the dream of becoming a teacher, coming to college with the hope of earning a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. This alone spoke volumes; CF was not going to slow her down if it could be helped. She showed the willpower and drive to do the work asked of her. She felt the strong call of God on her life towards that and blessed us with an example of working towards a goal in the midst of vast obstacles. Her entire body was such an obstacle, having to stop speaking or working to cough. In her suffering she found peace in Jesus. In her pain she found comfort in her heavenly father, in deterioration she found rest in the Holy Spirit.
In 2014 we got the news that she was to have a Lung transplant. Finally, it seemed, the thing that had kept her from us may be alleviated, perhaps she may be able to return to us, to teach us again about perseverance. We rejoiced as we prayed the transplant would go well and for a time we heard good reports. We thought we were going to get our friend back.
I was at work on a Wednesday in late January when I got the call. “My body rejected the lung” she said “They told me I don’t have long left but I wanted to thank you and say goodbye, thank you for always praying for me and for being my mentor and friend.” I left work in a daze, sitting down at the lake praying and crying. A week and a half later, on a Sunday Morning, February 7th, while I was delivering a sermon on Joseph, Jennifer Shannon went to be with the Lord. I got a text message during the sermon, though I did not read it until I was in my office after the service.
What is the measure of a life well lived? That I do not know, but maybe Jennifer gave me an example. Maybe, it is, in the face of every opposition, persevering, following after Christ and loving Him with all your heart, soul and mind and blessing others with your words and with your life. Maybe it is not giving up, knowing that you live for something higher than yourself and bringing Glory to God is just the natural by-product of every act. I do not know, but I do believe I have visited with an Angel here on Earth and though she be in heaven, free from her sorrow and suffering, I was blessed to be able to call her sister and friend.
In her last days Jennifer’s family told us that she was at peace, fighting for every breath, willing to live so that she could grace us with her love for a few more hours. She was a Saint if ever we have met one. Pure in heart and spirit and one day we will see her again, walking with her savior she will be sitting at His feet, breathing without pain, praising without being interrupted by a cough.
I have included here another story from another friend who knew her during her time at Sterling. So that her testimony might live on and we might praise God because of her life.
This is one of the most memorable moments that I had with Jen, and I have never shared it with anyone because it was a very memorable moment that I had with her and is one of the memories that I think the most on.
The lesson I learned from her was that life is difficult and knowing what decision to make can be even harder.
It was during her last year at Sterling before she could not return due to her health. I do not remember what season it was, but it was very late at night like 2 a.m. It felt like everyone was asleep in the McCreery dorm but me and Jen. She came to my room in 2nd East to see if I was still awake, and she wanted to talk. I went to her room in Parlour because she had more seating in her room and she felt more comfortable there. We started to discuss certain guys on campus that we liked and what we should do about our relationships because we didn’t know if we should be brave and take the first step and ask them on a date or let them ask us. We were having a good time laughing in the middle of the night talking about guys, homework, and classes. Simple and ridiculous things. The conversation though turned and she asked me about her lung transplant. She trying to get advice on what she should do. She told me about the risks about getting a lung transplant, and what life would be if she was able to get a new set of lungs, and the complications she would live with for the rest of her life. Yet, we also talked about the fact that if the transplant was successful she could return to Sterling and graduate with an elementary teaching degree and work with children which she loved to do. There were risks and benefits to her decision, but it was a major choice that she had to make and did not want to make alone. She was scared and I did not know what exactly to say to her. I told her to do what was in her heart, and she was the one of the bravest person I have ever met. She faced one of the biggest decisions in her life with her faith held strong and a smile. She loved God, but was still scared. I remember her crying on my shoulder as I rubbed her back praying that I would say something that would sooth her. I don’t know if I did, and it is too late to ask now. There is so much I would love to say to her now, and I still talk even though she is in Heaven. Her life was difficult and I could see it in her eyes that night, but she was a great friend and I am happy that she allowed me into her life. She taught me many lesson about life despite her youth, and I hope that she thought me as good friend as well. I was always there to listen to her in her times of need no matter the late hour, and she has left a profound impact on my life.
Jonathan David Faulkner is a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry