I was just about to continue my series on Thomas Jefferson and public education, when I read Jen's story. (I'll pick up that series again in two weeks, after I highlight another amazing story of sacrifice and leadership.)
Last December, Jen went to her doctor with a cough, and the young hairdresser was diagnosed with pneumonia. When the cough persisted, doctors ran more tests and discovered that Jen had stage 4 lung cancer, according to the New York Daily News.
After five months of intense treatment, Jen's doctors had to bring her the unfortunate news that it wasn't helping and that she had six months to live, at the most. Jen and her family were, of course, devastated, and so was her fiance, Jeff Lang.
But Jen wasn't ready to give up. With a positive and hopeful push forward, she let it be known that there was something that she wanted more than anything else: to marry Jeff. So she told her fiance: "Let's get married. I want to focus on life."
With virtually no time to plan, Jen discarded her dream wedding and settled on a small ceremony in her parents' backyard, with a few folding tables and a barbecue reception.
That's when Bay Area wedding planner Erica Ota heard of Jen's situation. Ota decided to call up her reserves and offer Jen the wedding that she had dreamed about since she was a young girl.
In just 12 days, Ota recruited more than 30 vendors, who donated about $50,000 worth of products and services, including a jazz band and a parade, which was planned by Jen's neighbors, according to NBC Bay Area.
The reception would be garnished with hundreds of feet of lighting so it would look "like a fantasy land," Ota described. And the tables would be decorated with Jen's favorites: succulents -- beautiful and tough drought-tolerant plants and flowers, just like the fighter she is.
Ota explained: "It was my goal for them not to pay a dime. I thought to myself, 'These people have already suffered enough. Why not be able to give them a gift, a wonderful gift that they and their families will never be able to forget?'"
She added: "The thing is they're such simple people -- so positive and so hopeful -- and they didn't ask for anything from anybody. But they deserve this and more. ... They are truly wonderful people with good hearts and good souls."
Jen and Jeff were married July 27 in a fairy tale wedding at a local park, where they exchanged their vows under some beautiful redwood trees. According to the San Jose Mercury News, when they did, they shouted, "I do!"
And then St. Gabriel's Celestial Brass Band led the marital party on a jazz march to Jen's parents' backyard, where they celebrated their love and marriage with 120 family members and friends in a dream reception. And they danced into the night under the twinkling of thousands of strung lights and the stars.
There are so many amazing and courageous life stories going on right now, I know. But I suppose this one stood out to me because I believe in fighting against all odds and for the things that matter most, such as love, marriage and family.
I'm not a theologian. I can't explain why bad things happen to good people or, for that matter, why good things happen to bad people. (See my good friend Randy Alcorn's book "If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil" for a surprisingly insightful treatise on that issue and much more. Go to http://www.epm.org.)
But this much I know: As my 92-year-old mom wrote in her autobiography, "Acts of Kindness: My Story," "bad things happen to good people, but good people can survive bad things with God's help."
As difficult and even cruel as life can be, the truth is that we must strive with hope and optimism until we can no longer. And when we've done all we can do, we must remember that our ultimate survival and healing are offered beyond this life with God's help.
Jesus said it this way: "I am the Resurrection and the Life. He (or she) who believes in Me will live even though he (or she) dies."
His words remind me of a poem titled "What Cancer Can't Do," which explains its limitations:
"Cancer is so limited. It cannot cripple love. It cannot shatter hope. It cannot corrode faith. It cannot eat away peace. It cannot destroy confidence. It cannot kill friendship. It cannot shut out memories. It cannot silence courage. It cannot invade the soul. It cannot reduce eternal life. It cannot quench the spirit. It cannot lesson the power of the resurrection. Amen -- amen."
Two things in particular stand out about Jen's situation to me.
First, as Ota put it, "there are opportunities every day to do extraordinary things for other people." She said: "This was an opportunity I saw to do something extraordinary for somebody else. So why not?"
This story reminds me that we're created for community. We're called to be a blessing to others; we shouldn't be consumed merely with ourselves.
Secondly, Jen and Jeff testify to us all about the power of love, courage, faith and never giving up.
One of my heroes, John Wayne, put it this way: "Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway."
This young couple epitomizes that bravery in a way that we all should follow.
My wife, Gena, and I pray that the weeks and months ahead are truly the best of their lives and relationship despite the obstacles and hardships that they will face.
We also in earnest hope and pray that Jen gets her last-minute miracle in this life. But if it awaits her in heaven, then we hope the sunsets that she sees this week on her honeymoon on the California coast are a vivid reminder that they're only a reflection of those who await her in an eternal home where the sun never stops shining.
A fund has been set up to help pay for Jen's medical expenses, as well as to send the newlyweds and their family on a last vacation together to Hawaii. They have about $30,000 of $75,000 needed and roughly a week to raise the remaining amount. To donate, go to https://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/25q2/jen-s-wedding-wish-cancer-fund. )