January 1, 196? – May 3, 2016
I’ve always hated goodbyes. My dislike for them comes honestly via The United States Air Force. The first eight years of my life were spent moving to a new place every two years or less, and it was usually much sooner than two years. That meant going to a new school, making new friends, and settling in a strange place. Then before long my mom would announce another move and the cycle started again. I did mention I hated goodbyes, right?
This cycle taught me to be cautious when investing in friends. If I was going to pick you as a friend, you needed to be worth the inevitable trauma of losing you when it came time to move – again. It is a habit I have retained long into adulthood. I’m friendly, yes, but forming deeper friendships are major investments to me and not to be taken lightly. There was an up side. Moving around taught me to love my friends deeply without hesitation or reservation for as long as I could. See – it wasn’t all bad, but I still hate good byes.
Two days ago I was painfully reminded of that old cycle once again. My friend, Vanessa Morton, passed from this life and into her new one with Christ. Vanessa and her family have more than returned my investment of friendship. I have met and socialized with her husband Tom, and now trade critiques with Vanessa’s daughter, Hanna.
The Mortons and I share another important bond, we love and serve Our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that bond, I have not lost my friend Vanessa. 1 Thessalonians 4:13 states that we “sorrow not, even as others who have no hope.” Yes, I feel sorrow, but not a deep, hopeless sorrow. Christ has given me the hope (favorable expectation) that Vanessa and I shall meet again and fellowship, and yes, we will be talking books once more.
I really hate saying good bye, so this time I won’t say good bye. I will simply say, “See you later, Vanessa. Here’s a big hug for you.”
My experience with Vanessa was with a quiet, private person. Our group sometimes
didn’t hear from her for a while, and we could guess that she was suffering but
didn’t want to complain. Although she coped with serious illness, she was quick to inquire about my health when we communicated via email and later in person. I
soon learned that I must hurry to ask about her health before she asked about mine! We compared notes on what we had in common and recommended treatments to each other. Those discussions endeared her to me and make me smile when I think of her today. In addition to being a gifted writer and historian, Vanessa was a kind and patient writing buddy and personal friend. I wish we could have enjoyed her company for many more years, but I’m grateful for the knowledge that she entered the loving arms of the Lord.
She smiled when I met her.
The one time I met her in person.
She smiled and I remember thinking how pretty her smile was. How wonderful it was to finally meet the person whose words I was so well acquainted with. Even though we had never met before it was like cracking open a familiar book. I had fallen in love with her already with each sentence she had crafted and left in my care.
She smiled and introduced her husband, the man behind the camera. It was obvious that he loved her dearly. The evening was spent in laughter. Building memories.
And then it was over. Too quickly really. Only a brief moment with friends. Then we said goodbye and went to our homes. But our ties remained strong as we bared our souls to one another through the written word.
As we met up online I would see her face. Hear her voice. And even when she was not feeling her best—there was still that smile.
Vanessa, you blessed me with your written words. Your kindess.
But most of all that beautiful smile.
You will be missed.
The Scriblerians began in the fall of 2011 (five years this year). While Tim and Cynthia were figuring out how they could form a YA critique group through ACFW’s Scribes, I was praying for critique partners. One of the writers who caught my attention was this woman who wrote historical fiction with a speculative flair. Gorgeous descriptions of the ancient world and a mystical religion that were steeped in both history and whimsy. That talented author was Vanessa. Titled “The Last Equinox”, it became her novel Moonfall.
You can only imagine my excitement when Tim invited me to join Cyn, Beth, and Vanessa. “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,” (Philippians 1:3, NKJV) and really the entire introduction (Philippians 1:3-8) so perfectly describes my thoughts on Vanessa and all of the Scriblerians. I am truly thankful. We are a tight group who have monthly Google Hangout calls and take every opportunity to meet up.
As soon as I found out I was going to Texas for spring break, I let the Scriblerians know I was coming, and we set up a time and place to meet. Little did I know it would be the last time I’d see Vanessa this side of heaven.
There I stood in Lisa’s church next to Vanessa. One of my last memories of her will be a faint echo of the first one we’ll make in eternity. Worshiping God our Creator and Jesus our Saviour together. How beautiful is that?
Who knew back in 2009 how radically my teacher life was about to change when I entered the National Novel Writing Month challenge just for the fun of it? God did.
Who knew a precious group of writers would invite me to join them as together we improved our craft? God did.
Who knew I’d be writing a tribute to one of our own within four years of joining the Scriblerians? God did.
The history of Scriblerian friendship can only be described as a God Thing. The personalities of the nine members of “Scribs” clicked as instantaneously as our internet connections. When the ACFW conference rolled into Indianapolis, I had the joy and privilege of playing hostess to all Scriblerians who attended. Seven of eight — and we met the ninth.
Each of us had secretly feared that the reality of meeting in-the-flesh Scriblerians might be a depressing disappointment as compared to the online version of Scrib pals. What a relief to discover we liked each other even more! I believe 2013 cemented us. We all agreed: our group was a God Thing.
Within a year, both Cynthia and Vanessa became published authors of full length novels. Celebration! Shortly after the milestone, Vanessa’s renewed war against illness began. Never sharing her burden unless we asked, she endured days, then weeks, of debilitating weakness. Our prayers wafted to heaven, encouraging words shot through cyberspace, but we didn’t know Vanessa’s battle was to the death.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to have met Vanessa in person, to have read her book, Moonfall. Her love for history shines as she weaves Biblical, historical background throughout the novel.
Someday, I’ll get to see her again. Someday, every Scriblerian will enjoy a magnificent reunion. We’ll have all the time in the universe to plan the party.
Who knows when that reunion will actually happen? God does.
Oh, no. Lisa’s crying…
I tune in to the unscheduled Scriblerian chat via Google Hangouts and the first thing I see is Lisa crying.
Uh-oh. Must be bad news…
Oh, it was bad news alright. Of the worst kind.
“Vanessa died this morning.”
After the initial moments of not being able to think at all, of staring in horror at my fellow Scriblerians’ grim faces, I was immediately overwhelmed with buts…
“But this can’t be happening…because I only got to see her once.”
“But we spent so little time together. And now I’ll never get to see her again.”
As I tried to recall every detail of that one very special encounter where seven of the eight of us gathered (and also met soon-to-be member Loraine), a myriad of emotions assaulted me. I felt cheated out of getting to know her better, having more opportunities to be in the same place at the same time. I wallowed in the pit of why-oh-why couldn’t I go to the two events in Texas in the last year, where several Scriblerians including Vanessa spent time together. Why did Indiana have to be so darn far from Texas in the first place?
But soon my grieving heart and mind veered away from the pain toward a spirit of blessing. Our connection as a group of Christians first, writers second, is so totally a GOD thing that I couldn’t help but rejoice in the fact that my life had crossed paths with Vanessa’s. I will forever feel the time was too short, the opportunities to soak up face-to-face time far too few. Yet the very fact that I met and grew to love Vanessa is such a blessing. And that is what I’ll focus on in the days and weeks to come, the privilege of journeying a portion of this life with such a caring, loving person.
So long, my friend. Until in heaven we meet again.
I was dumbstruck by Tim’s message about Vanessa passing away, not able to comprehend that the Vanessa he was talking about was our own Scriblerian Vanessa. Surely it was someone’s cousin, or some other more distant relative. Our Vanessa was fine, right? Yes, she had some aches and pains like many of us. But slowly the story sunk in that she had suffered more than she let on.
Vanessa’s quiet and humble nature was so easy to be around. She always seemed to be happy and smiling and thankful for our time together, however long that was. Living further away from her than the rest and being the newbie of the group, our time together was mostly online, when we had a meeting every month and when we conversed on FB and email.
But when I read her book, Moonfall, I got to know a different Vanessa. I was completely transported into her historical world. It was obvious that she had a determination to create an authentic and believable book based upon a biblical story. This Vanessa took me by surprise. I was amazed at her attention to details and was eager to read the next book.
So in conclusion, I would have to say that there is one word that reminds me of Vanessa. Understated. Her writing talents were understated. She endured her pain silently. The fact that she has such a lovely, mature and kind young daughter, speaks volumes for her affection and dedication to family. The only thing that was not understated was her love and devotion for Jesus. That was so apparent reading her book, and I was awed by her determination to get her story out there for the rest of the world to enjoy.
Vanessa, till we meet again, and get to know each other better, you will be my inspiration.
Death is like goats on a school bus.
I travel to visit a friend and am surely mistaken. This must be the wrong house. “Vanessa doesn’t seem like the type that would have an old school bus parked on her property,” I say.
I am wrong.
Friendship is an old school bus.
A place for friends and family to have fun and share life. A vehicle large enough to take everyone you care about on your adventures. To drive around town looking at Christmas lights.
What do I really know about you until I’ve ridden in your school bus? I’ve only seen it parked in your yard.
You didn’t intend for the school bus to become a goat shed, you said, but old school buses require repair, just like bodies need rest, and you are tired. Besides, the old billy goat moved in and who are you to be the troll?
Death is like goats on a school bus. Both caught me by surprise. After reflection, all the clues were there. I ate at your table, laughed with your family, sipped the dreams of a future made in your very own vineyard. I caught a brief glimpse of your pain.
I never rode on your school bus, but I met the goats. They taught me that there’s more to people than first meets the eye. You remind me that death comes to us all.
Yours came all too soon, sweet Vanessa. Til we meet again … save me a seat on your school bus.