Update: My wife made a wonderful video tribute to Amanda that you should watch
I still remember meeting Ben — Allison and I had just moved to the middle of Nowhere (Iowa) and had met a college student named Isaac Law. His younger brother Ben, came with him for a Sunday afternoon meal at our house. Ben was a near-competitive eater. He polished of three brats and half a pizza that lazy afternoon on our back deck. High school metabolism — it’s the Formula One of gastrointestinal efficiency.
Months earlier my wife and I met a young high school girl who was a famous babysitter, well… famous in the mighty city of Ames. Her father, Bob Shuka, had offered me a few hours of Linux administration side work.
My wife and I had moved our budding family of three to fly-over cornville. We came as a part of a team of three other families to be a part of a new church group. (When that was too weird, we’d tell people we wanted an idyllic location to raise a family).
Allison and I met Bob’s daughter, Amanda, at some church event. We had heard stories about her being a child-charmer. There wasn’t a kid around who didn’t know or love Amanda. Somehow she became a regular babysitter for us. Joining us on a multi family trip to be our native au pair.
Amanda possessed a quality that many of us want to have, or even trick ourselves into thinking we have — she was happiest when serving others. It was truly amazing to see her babysit, clean, talk with others. She rarely complained, was quick to laugh, and serious about getting tasks done.
Ben moved from some rural farming community to Ames. He was eager to be a part of a quirky automotive restoration company1. Ben was also intrigued by the way we were thinking about community and church. He was a young man full of passion for doing the right thing; for helping others; and growing up into a mature and thoughtful adult. (He was also good at eating…).
It didn’t take long for Ben to notice Amanda. Some of which was fueled by Ben’s older sisters who were friends with Amanda. …Or that fact that they were both working at the automotive shop together.
They grew to know and love each other through babysitting, helping families in the church, wrangling Amanda’s four younger rambunctious brothers and always being the first to sign-up and show-up to help. Ben wanted to marry Amanda. That required waiting patiently to gain Bob’s approval. After many many months, Bob relented to Ben’s pursuit, finally satisfied that Ben was a man who would take care of Amanda.
It was the culmination of endless patience on their part — and serious love and attention on Bob and his wife, Becky. Everyone in the church was excited for them — two people who love Jesus and were filled with excitement for the life before them. We all joked that Amanda’s love for kids, and Ben’s monastic patience, would produce a honeymoon baby. They continued to serve and help people in the city. Babysitting, fixing vehicles, remodeling homes, lumberjacking, watching more kids, and tirelessly working at the boutique automotive shop. Amanda finished up her last year at of college at Iowa State and they were preparing for their future.
Then Amanda started to get sick. She got tired more easily. She wasn’t able to help out as often. She frequently had a pain or a cold that prevented her from leaving the house some days. The doctors ran batteries of tests and found nothing — suggesting that maybe Amanda was just depressed.
Their life was turned upside down in January when Amanda, being too weak to get ready for the day, went to the ER.
Amanda was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). This type of Leukemia causes “immature white blood cells to continuously multiply and overproduced in the bone marrow.” The blast cells then “crowding out normal cells in the bone marrow, and spread (infiltrating) to other organs.”2 It was a serious, the disease is fatal if not treated immediately. Amanda was initially in the hospital for 5 weeks receiving intensive chemotherapy. All of her friends rallied around her and Ben. Amanda’s treatment would be broken up into stages, the first six months would be intense, followed by another year of “maintenance.” Her immune system would be decimated by the chemo, she had to be extremely careful who she came in contact with. So Ben and Amanda’s friends and family came together to remodel a few rooms of their house. To make it more accessible for Amanda, since she’d be isolated and away from groups of people for so long.
Many women in the church sat by her side, for the better part of those six and four week hospital stays. People made meals when she was out of the hospital.
It was amazing. It was declared that Amanda’s cancer was “in remission” a couple months back. She still had some intense treatment in front of her, but the cancer was responding to the treatment. Amanda had good days where she could cautiously be out with a couple families.
A few weeks ago, July 5th, a family had their garage burn down. Ben and Amanda came out to help with the clean up. It was so good to see her there with all of us.
She became weak, tired and her hair began to look like mine.
The serious love and hopeful parenting that Bob and his wife embodied was on display for everyone to see. The result was a young woman, journeying through the hell of chemo therapy with hope and endurance. Ben’s love for Amanda and tireless desire to make their life together amount to something. They repurposed their lives, adjusted their life to her health needs. They remained hopeful.
It was a challenge to us all — Regardless of the current condition, stay focused and keep moving.
Amanda wrote a letter to all of those who helped her in late January:
I can’t thank all of you enough for everything you are doing for me and my family during this time. It’s so hard to feel “uprooted” instantly, to not have time to prepare for any of this. You really have been a true picture of the Church, to me, my family, and people who are seeing how well we’ve been taken care of. The nurses are always commenting on it. You have been such a beautiful example of the Tangible Kingdom on earth that we’ve been talking about. Even though the overall treatment outcome looks very good, Ben and I were talking last night about why it’s hard to think about it not working….
I miss you all, and wish that I could be with you, thank you again for everything you are doing for us. There really aren’t words to thank you all enough. We’ll just have to give everyone free babysitting for life or something once I’m better.
On Thursday July 18th Amanda returned, unexpectedly, to the hospital3 with serious abdominal pain. The doctors believed this to be side effects of the final round of intense chemotherapy. Things took a turn for the worse the following night and she was moved into the intensive care floor at the hospital, her blood pressure was dropping. They realized she had an infection in her intestines, something most people would fight off without a doctor visit. But to Amanda, whose body was frail and without the necessary white blood cells, it was a mountain to climb. Unable to get ahead of the infection her body began to shut down. She needed to be resuscitated on Saturday evening. She was placed on a ventilator. The decision was made that Amanda needed to be life flighted to Iowa City to receive additional care that was unavailable in Ames.
In Iowa City Hospital the doctor told the family Amanda’s body was shutting down.
Friends and Family gathered around a wonderful young couple, a little over two years into their marriage and battling cancer. They watched Amanda, seemingly full of life 72 hours earlier, take her last earthly breath.
Amanda’s life was a testimony of a selfless individual. Someone with patience to wait for her spouse, to respect her parents, to love God and serve & enjoy people. She wasn’t perfect, but she amounted to more than most people will. Her and Ben are a shining example of generosity and selfless living. It is with immense pain and sorrow that I am realizing what has happened over the last 24 hours. It is surreal.
Bob and Becky raised a young woman who left a monumental legacy4. Ben, and Amanda were some of the most selfless and caring people I’ve met. They served, helped, cared for, loved and impacted so many people. Her life will be remembered for many generations.
Dying shouldn’t be a sad thing for me, it would be a more wonderful experience than I can imagine. But God has blessed me with so much, through my family and my church. The thought of having to leave that is painful and scary. I don’t think that would be the case if I didn’t have such a beautiful picture of the church as a family and as God’s Kingdom on earth. It makes heaven seem even more unimaginable. …
(This image is from the time I helped Becky and Amanda “touch up” her High School graduation announcement picture. It was very funny to sit between a mother and daughter, photoshopping away any tiny imperfections… what a great memory)
Initial Photo by Andrew Stephenson, 2011
It’s too long to explain here, but I own half of that company. ↩
If only I can parent a tenth as well as Bob and Becky, I will be happy. ↩