I’m Rachel Stovall, and this is how I’m living deeply.
“When I think of Mary Mitchell, I think of who she was before the terminal genetic disease [commonly known as Childhood Alzheimer’s] took over her body and her brain. I think of her red hair and her voice. She was a spitfire- so full of life and personality. She was funny and she used to sing all the time. She loved Dolly Parton, so she sang “Jolene.” Her sweet little preschool taught her all the songs, and so she would sing “My God is So Big” or “This Little Light of Mine.” Even when she started to decline and stopped talking, she still remembered those songs. And even when she lost words, she knew the tunes and would hum the tunes. When Mary Mitchell returned from New York, where she had been for a month for her brain surgery, the day she came back we were all at my sister Sarah’s house. I was sitting on the stairs with Mary Mitchell. She had never said this to me before, but on her own she sat in my lap and said ‘Love you, Rach.’ That was the one and only time she on her own ever said those words to me. That’s a really sweet memory. Watching her descent after that was absolutely awful. Sarah, my sister who’s my best friend, and Mitch, my brother in law who’s become a best friend… those are my people. We were all at Disney World –my mom, dad, Mitch, Sarah, Reynolds, Mary Mitchell and me- when Sarah got that phone call [when the doctor shared the condition he suspected was afflicting Mary Mitchell]. We all were just devastated. It was the first day of the trip, end of the day, and we were on the tram that takes you back to your car. I can still see Sarah’s face -because I was sitting across from her on the tram- just the life come out of her face. That was when he first told her the name of the disease. I just felt helpless- there’s nothing I can say, I’m feeling my own grief and torn up over it. There’s nothing you can do, so I just came to terms with ‘I’ll just be there, just be present. Just be with Sarah and be with their family.’ And I was, up through Mary Mitchell’s passing last October.
My big question was ‘Why, God? Why little Mary Mitchell?’ She was only three at the time of her diagnosis. To be honest, I still have these questions and conversations with God. I’ll never know the answers until I’m in Heaven and I can ask him. I remember having the thought, ‘Why can’t I be sick? Why can’t it be me? I don’t have a husband, don’t have a family.’ I was asking ‘God, where are you? Why would you let something like this happen? Let alone to a child?’ I don’t know. I can’t figure it out. But I do know the Lord… He does not promise me a comfortable life. Going through this, I really understand that now. The Lord’s goodness and faithfulness in my life does not guarantee that I’m going to be comfortable or that my life is going to be easy. Today life is kind of separated into before Mary Mitchell’s diagnosis and since then. Looking back, I can see little moments along the way, going back years, where I can now say ‘Oh, God was preparing me for this.’ Being able to have eyes to see the faithfulness of God in those things, it helps. Even in little things, I can see He was preparing my family to walk this road with Mary Mitchell. For instance, Sarah and I went down to Saint Tattoo one Friday night –this was when Mary Mitchell was probably a baby- and we each got tattoos on our wrists. Mine says “Emmanuel, God with us”- that name of the Lord has always resonated with me. Especially in my 30s, being single and dealing with loneliness. But now it’s taken on an even bigger meaning in my life. And Sarah has a tattoo that says “Even so.” Now that all makes sense.
There’s also this ministry called Hope Heals. It helps people affected by disabilities. It’s based on a book of the same name. Sarah stumbled across the book years ago and we both read it around the same time. We talked about the author, saying, ‘Man, her life, she has suffered. And she’s still here, claiming Jesus. What a story. How could that be possible? How could she live through that and still say that the Lord is good?’ It’s really special for me because I got to serve at the Hope Heals camp this past summer. I never would’ve ended up there had I not read that book. The Lord used that book in my life to prepare me for suffering that I had no idea was coming. I kept telling people about that at the camp. God has shown me everybody has a story and everybody has suffering. Once that suffering happens to you, you get it and you’re immediately bonded with somebody else who’s been through something hard. I have always struggled just being single and feeling lonely. In the early days of Mary Mitchell’s diagnosis and illness, I felt alone in my grief. The Lord has used this to free me a little bit of that. He for sure gave my singleness purpose. I live three minutes from Sarah. I’m at her house more than I’m at my own. I can’t imagine not being present for her during all this. I feel like that was a gift from the Lord- I can see that now. So it is affirming and encouraging and hopeful for me to see my singleness as a gift. And Sarah and Mitch and their family are as big a gift to me as I’ve hopefully been for them. This grief has pushed us all even closer together and helped us value that closeness and support. Life is so hard. But God is so good even in the midst of the hard.”