Pre-Order So God Made a Mother

I was sitting on the curb at the end of my grandma and grandpa’s driveway. Shoulders stooped, my head resting in my hands, wondering how I ended up here. My heart was heavy and my thoughts were anxiety-filled as I tried to imagine what the upcoming first day of school may look like. Will I have any friends? What if nobody likes me? Will I be able to get around OK? What about the bus? Will I sit by myself? 

I missed our home. I missed my bed. 

I missed my dad. 

I was really close to Grandma and Grandpa, and they were taking great care of us while our house was being built across the pond, but I wanted to go home. 

No matter how much I wanted that, or how badly I wished it would happen, I knew in my tender, young heart that this was our new reality. 

Our house had already sold. My mom and dad weren’t together anymore. My dad had a girlfriend and was starting a new life. I would never live in my old neighborhood. And I would never be going back to my old school. 

In that moment of sadness and melancholy, something happened. It wasn’t a huge something, but it was all my lonely, getting-ready-to-go-into-fourth-grade-self needed to feel slightly better about the world that I now understood could crumble at any given second. 

I heard a noise and looked up to see two girls speeding down the road on one bicycle—one was driving, the other was perched precariously on the front, legs dangling over the edge, as her body rested on the handlebars. The driver had the most beautiful curls I had ever seen atop her head and a smile that was warm, inviting, sincere and well, perfect. 

She was not shy. She stopped and smiled and began talking to me like we had known each other for years. I found out her name was Emily. Was I making a friend? I discovered her parents lived just down the road from my grandparents. 

I believe I just made a friend. 

I was lonely and scared about being the new girl at school in the fall. In that moment, meeting Emily made everything feel better. Where there was once despair, I now found promise. And hope. 

We became fast friends and that friendship stood the test of time. We stayed close through the ups and downs of life and the myriad of changes that come with being preteens and teenagers, young adults, wives, and parents. We both married and were in each other’s weddings, shedding tears and beaming bright smiles. We went from being carefree teenagers to mature adults. Whether we lived in the same state or miles apart, our friendship blossomed and grew through life’s ever-changing seasons. We talked on the phone regularly, wrote each other letters (yes, actual pen-to-paper, put them in the mailbox letters), and eventually, emails. 

Loyal, kind, generous, thoughtful, considerate, steadfast—she was the stuff lifelong friends are made of and she was one of my very, very best friends. 

And then, something happened. Emily became very sick.

It began with flu-like symptoms that wouldn’t go away. I remember talking with her and thinking this flu she had didn’t seem normal. She was pregnant with her third and was so sick that it became difficult for her to get up from the couch. Her mom was in town and, with nudging from her mom and husband, it was decided she should go to the hospital. Once Emily arrived, she learned her body was beginning to shut down. Whatever this was, it was most definitely not the flu. Emily’s condition worsened as the doctors struggled to find answers. Finally, the doctor Emily referred to as “her angel” pinpointed that she had a rare systemic auto-inflammatory disease called Still’s Disease.

Emily was treated and sent home. She believed she would be better. Her family believed she would be better. I believed she would be better. We all believed she would be better. This would be the end of her struggles and sickness. Sure she might need medication, but ultimately, she would be OK. 

The next years proved those thoughts to be wrong. 

Emily began taking a medication called Enbrel that her body did not respond well to. The result was that her bone marrow stopped working. Bone marrow produces 200 billion new red blood cells every day, along with white blood cells and platelets. Without her bone marrow functioning, Emily constantly battled fatigue and was regularly in need of blood transfusions. I remember her telling me the best thing I could do to help was to give blood. Emily ultimately developed Myelodysplastic Syndrome (Preleukemia). 

Here are Emily’s words in a letter she sent out to friends and family: 

I have news that I had hoped would never come. I thought we had licked this and I was living my new “normal” life accepting the card that I was dealt. For our spring break this year we went to Indy for a visit with friends, to the Children’s Museum and a doctors appointment. It had been two years since my last bone marrow biopsy and Dr. Nelson wanted to have another look. It was agonizing pain, as I am sure you can imagine, but I am blessed that we did.

After waiting several sleepless nights, I had a nasty feeling in my gut; Dr. Bob as he calls himself, called with the results: Bone Marrow Failure! It was quite a lengthy and numbing conversation, with lots of big words and unfamiliar terms. To give some understanding this is how I will explain it in my own words, my nuclei (DNA) is bigger than it is supposed to be. Starting from the very beginning of its life in the stem cell it appears as being abnormal, LIKE in leukemia, but it IS NOT CANCER. I had been diagnosed with Aplastic Anemia (because of the cellularity in my marrow was very low) and the Still’s Disease (auto immune inflammation and stuff), but now because of the slight changes it has turned into MDS, myelodysplastic disease, AKA bone marrow failure.

My only hope is a bone marrow transplant. Dr. Nelson said within the next 6 months! Oh my! What the heck—I feel fine, I look fine. I had adjusted to my new “normal” life and thrown everything else in the closet and shut the door. I don’t regret having that attitude because it got me through a lot, but well, the door was reopened and everything fell on top of me (and the boys).

Emily would be having a bone marrow transplant. 

The date was set: August 12. 

As I mentioned before, Emily had an unforgettable head of beautiful thick curls and was often told how much she looked like Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock. Because she would be needing chemo prior to the transplant, she decided she wanted to cut her hair so that her boys would not have to go through the shock of seeing it slowly fall out. 

I was living in Indy at the time, and she was in a small town right outside of Fort Wayne. She asked if I may be able to come and spend the day with her. I did not hesitate in my reply. Absolutely. 100%. Of course. I will be there for you. Whatever you need. I will wipe your eyes. Hold your hand. We can keep it light if you want. Or we can go there. Whatever you need. 

That day is forever etched in my mind. As I watched the beautician cut her hair, and saw the beautiful curls fall to the ground, she began to tell me about the letters she had written her boys in case the transplant didn’t go well. And my heart broke. But I had hope. We both had hope. This transplant would be the beginning of the end of her struggle with her bone marrow. This transplant would be the return to a normal life. 

After the haircut, we went to lunch and talked and laughed and shed some tears. As we were walking through the parking lot preparing to say our goodbyes, she turned to me, looked into my eyes and asked if I thought this was the right decision. 

“Of course. Of course this is the right decision. This will make you better.” 

She was nervous. “I know. You’re right. But, what if it doesn’t?” 

No, we decided. We were sticking with hope. The idea of this not making her better was not an option. 

She was going through with it. 

I will spare the details, but around a week after the transplant, it became evident that something was not right. She did not seem to be getting better. On the contrary, she now seemed sicker than ever before. It began with her bowels. And then her liver. And eventually her skin. Emily had developed graft-versus-host disease. 

For the next months, Emily lived in Indianapolis while her husband and boys would travel to see her. It was heartbreaking to see her suffering. The graft-versus-host had taken over. She battled constant fevers and fatigue. She struggled to walk and one time, when visiting, even took a tumble down our front step because she was too weak to lift her legs. She was covered from head to toe in an itchy rash. Her eyes and skin were yellow with jaundice. But through it all, she remained very much Emily. She found reasons to laugh. She delighted in her family. She stayed occupied. She relished in the gift of her children. She rejoiced in her love for Jesus and His love for her. She found joy. 

She eventually returned home, and although she wasn’t showing signs of real improvement, there was hope she would get better. 

We talked regularly and she spoke of the boys’ games, organizing her closets, having garage sales and what was for dinner. Although she was still sick, it appeared her life was returning to some level of a new normal. 

On May 15, 2009, I received a call from Stan that he and Emily had arrived in Indy that morning—and she was unresponsive. I was shocked. We had just talked a couple of days ago. He did not think she had long. I hung up the phone and rushed out the door. 

There are no words to describe what I felt when I walked into her hospital room. There was my sweet Emily lying in the hospital bed, tubes everywhere, machines pumping. I had seen her in hospital rooms many, many times before—but never like this. 

I never wanted to see this. 

Her parents and family were gathered around her. Although she could not respond, I like to think she heard all of us. I held her hand and told her I loved her, as I had many times before. I spent time in the room with her, and in the waiting room with her family. With her boys. And my heart felt like it would break into a million pieces. 

After a few hours had passed, I decided it was time to go home. When I called Stan the next morning to tell him I was on my way to the hospital, and to see if he would like a cup of coffee, he broke the news to me that she had passed away early that morning.

I fell to the ground and sobbed. 

On May 16, 2009, Emily went home to be with Jesus.

On May 16, 2009, I lost one of the best friends I have ever had the privilege of having. 

Until we meet again my dear sweet friend, until we meet again . . . 

It has been nearly a decade since Emily has passed, and I can think of no better way to honor her life than to help another family who may be going through what the Koehls went through. This is a gift of hope. I pray a cure will be found and that lives will be saved with the help of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. 

Here is the closing prayer and some of her favorite scriptures from Emily’s letter letting her loved ones know about her bone marrow failure:

“Dear Heavenly Father, please help our family stay strong in hope and in faith on the road we must travel. Place the Spirit with all of us through the days that lie ahead to maintain our faith in You and that You are the Almighty that knows what we need, Lord I ask that the strength You give us will carry us on. Amen.”

(Just a few of my favorite scriptures)

“All things are done according to God’s plan and decision; and God chose us to be his own people in union with Christ because of his own purpose, based on what he had decided from the very beginning”   (Ephesians 1 1:11)

“I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me. Philippians 4:13”

Originally published on the author’s blog

You may also like:

I’m So Grateful For My “Always” Friends

To the Friends Who Stay—Thank You

Friendship Requires Sacrifice

So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

If you liked this, you'll love our new book, SO GOD MADE A MOTHER available for pre-order now!

Pre-Order Now

Jennifer Thompson

Jennifer Thompson is a freelance writer, preschool art teacher and mother of four with a heart for Jesus. Her work can be found on a number of blogs and parenting publications. Recently relocated from Indianapolis to Nashville, Tennessee. She is a passionate storyteller and believes every person has an important story to tell. We grow when we share. And even more when we listen.  

Dear Daughter, Friendships Are Like Blue Jeans

In: Friendship, Motherhood
Friends holding hands no faces showing, wearing blue jeans

Dear daughter, As you grow, relationships with other girls will often be complicated and sometimes feel discouraging. Friendships can be life-giving and beautiful. They can also be dramatic and draining.  Here’s a little trick to understanding the ebb and flow of friendships in your life.  Think of friendships like blue jeans.  They might be in your life for just a season. They can be trendy, but not last very long. Sometimes you will outgrow them. Sometimes they won’t fit, and you will have to put them back.  RELATED: Not All Friendships Are Meant To Last Forever Sometimes they are brand new, but...

Keep Reading

I Didn’t Know Who My Real Friends Were until I Went Through Hell

In: Friendship
Hands hooked at pinkies

This past year has been one of the hardest years of my life. I had a ton going on emotionally, I went through some unexpected life changes that left me reeling, parenting was beyond challenging, and I felt in over my head constantly. During that season I had nothing left to give and I realized something: I had never learned to love myself outside of what I did for others.  Since middle school, I’ve prided myself on being a giver and not needing much back. I was amazing at loving people at their worst and at their best with no...

Keep Reading

The Power of Connection: Making Friends As a Single Mom

In: Friendship, Living, Motherhood
Two young men with their mothers, color photo

I was sitting at the beach with a friend, watching our almost 2-year-old kids play at the edge of the water when we noticed a little boy interacting with our children. As we watched the kids dig holes and laugh together, I noticed a young mom sitting on her own not far from us. I realized it was the little boy’s mom. I invited her to join us. She told us her name was Molly and her family had just moved into the neighborhood. She didn’t know anyone in the area, so she was happy to make new friends. It...

Keep Reading

Sometimes the Strong Ones Are Really Struggling

In: Friendship, Living

I am the friend who’s always there for others. I’m the empath who takes your problems and makes them my own. I’m the one who checks in on you, who always has the right things to say. The one who’s classified as “strong.” But here’s the thing . . .  I carefully overanalyze and weigh every single word before I speak to you. I research what words can be of comfort in your particular situation.  I search for memes that will make you smile.  RELATED: Be the Friend You Want to Have I think about what it is that you...

Keep Reading

Dear Momma, I Will Be Your Friend

In: Faith, Friendship, Motherhood
Woman sitting in hammock with baby, color photo

Dear momma, You got this. Every fiber of your being was uniquely designed to do what you say you can’t. Your uniqueness, talents, drive, warmth, and smiles are all part of God’s perfect plan. Being a mother is no easy task. It requires the Lord, patience, endurance, steadfastness, and a friend. Dear momma, I’ll be your friend. We don’t have to have the same beliefs or ways of doing things to share our burdens with each other. Know that my walk weighs heavily on God, His strength, His peace and His purpose. I will share my heart with you and...

Keep Reading

Let People Show Up For You

In: Friendship, Motherhood
Gift with balloons left in driveway, color photo

People were not meant to be alone, but despite that inherent understanding, the first thing we do when we are hurt, struggling, or grieving is retreat. There are various degrees, from the short “I’m fine” reply to full silence. That darkness becomes like a heavy weighted blanket—oddly comforting but it feels like you might suffocate too. Our mind plays these evil tricks on us and makes us think we will be a burden or an inconvenience, or that people have their own busyness and troubles without taking on ours as well. We think about making the calls to reach out...

Keep Reading

We Need Each Other

In: Friendship, Living
Two friends with arms around each other

Does she know the many tears I’ve cried, missing her so much it hurts deep down to the base of my soul? The world changed when she went away. And while I know she is in a better place, the piece missing from my heart is a constant reminder that I will never again be whole.  Does she know? Does she know I am sorry for the things I said? That the anger and bitterness were not about her, it was about me? Does she know I think of her when I drive by our place, and I long to...

Keep Reading

Happy Galentine’s Day to the Women Who Mean Everything

In: Friendship, Living, Motherhood
Women friends walking and laughing

To the wonderful women in my life on this Galentine’s Day, I just want to tell you how much you mean to me. I know with all our busy schedules I don’t say it enough, but you are each so special and such an important part of my life. As much as I would like to, I can’t send you all chocolate and flowers, but today I want to send my most heartfelt wishes to some amazing women. Happy Galentine’s Day to: My mom friends, my people: We are raising our children together from babies to teens and beyond, and...

Keep Reading

So God Made a Best Friend

In: Friendship, Living
Two friends holding drinks and smiling

It’s 6 p.m., the precarious hour between dinner time and bedtime. The kids are in the bathtub begging for more bubbles, I am in the kitchen cleaning up the never-ending array of dishes, and my husband is mindlessly watching Sports Center while scrolling on his phone.  I feel a pang of guilt as I look at my phone and see the missed calls from clients, a text from my mom I haven’t responded to in four hours, and the never-ending tick of unread and unanswered emails. Then there is the text from the one person who gets it, my best...

Keep Reading

Winter Can be Lonely; Please Check In On Your Friends

In: Friendship, Living
Winter street

Winter can be hard for a mom.  In the summer months, she often sends her kids outside, the warm sun beaming down and the windows wedged open as she listens to everyone run around the backyard.  She cherishes the opportunity to gather everybody for walks in the springtime, bright tulips peeking through, whenever the weather is nice.  Autumn offers respite with its crisp leaves and bearable temperatures.  But winter? Sometimes winter is hard. RELATED: The Lonely I’m Hiding Is Heavy Though beautiful, winter can feel like a ceaseless parade of dark nights. Winter can feel like isolation.  Winter can feel...

Keep Reading