As a child, I wanted to be anyone other than myself and live anywhere but the house where I grew up. My mom had mental health issues that created an uncertain, toxic, and chaotic environment for my sister and me. I resented our constant struggles and envied the “perfect” lives of everyone around us.
When I was 22 years old, I escaped my chaotic home by moving two states away. Unfortunately, that meant leaving my friends and small support system behind as well. Perhaps the isolation was too much for me because that same year, I traded chaos for a new form of misery—marriage. He was 10 years older than me and our expectations were completely different. The escape I thought I’d found took me to a new emotional low. For the first time in my life, I didn’t want to live.
I know now that my hopelessness wasn’t because of my marital issues or the lack of relational support; it was because I wasn’t in the will of God. It would be decades, though, before I even knew what that meant.
When I was 27, my husband and I legally separated and I filed for bankruptcy. He refused to leave the house, however, which only made a bad situation worse. When a colleague told me about a lady named Monica who would likely welcome the company and additional income of a roommate, I called the next day. Monica had recently separated from her husband too, and she offered to rent a room to me in her tiny home.
Monica (aka Mo) and I had similar yet different backgrounds. She was a child of divorce and alcoholism, whereas I’d grown up in an intact yet dysfunctional home. Her brother had died at a young age, while my sister and I had never shared a real conversation.
We both felt very much alone in the world. We had been let down more than we thought we deserved. We’d made poor decisions. And now, we wanted more out of life.
God allowed our paths to cross at the right time, and we each soon felt like we’d found a long-lost sister. Mo was genuine, kind, and honest with everyone she met. A friendship like hers quickly becomes precious when you’ve never experienced a sense of belonging.
My whole life had been a soap opera, full of drama—much of which was self-created. But life with Mo had meaning and was conducive to hope; she was genuine, kind, and honest with everyone she met. I felt safe and welcomed in her home. For the first time in my life, I finally felt like I belonged somewhere and had someone who truly loved me, so believe me, I held on tight.
She was a woman of conviction and character who fought for what was right instead of settling for what was convenient. Mo had my back and encouraged me to be the best version of myself. She was my much-needed motivator.
I had considered college at one time, but my husband had laughed and told me I was too dumb to do that. Any money spent on such a “futile endeavor,” he said, would be wasted. Mo, however, encouraged me to apply. In fact, we both did, were accepted, and we both succeeded.
We didn’t have much money while we were in school, but we never lacked for anything. God provided. We received federal grants for school, and church friends and neighbors dropped off meals and left boxes of vegetables on our front doorstep. I’d never been so poor yet felt so rich.
We were grateful to God for His provision and gave back wherever we could. In the end, Mo completed her nursing degree, and I earned a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees in psychology, exercise physiology, and public health.
Mo loved the Lord and loved to tell people about His goodness. We traveled to churches where she would sing and share her testimony. She had an incredible voice. I remained in the background, taking care of the details.
Early in 2009, 17 years after we’d become roommates, Mo developed an intense backache. She went to a chiropractor for treatment, but there was no measurable improvement after a week. So, he ordered X-rays, and I accompanied Mo to the chiropractor for her results. “You have a pleural effusion, which is excess fluid around the lung,” he announced.
The words on the magazine in my hand blurred, and I felt flushed, short of breath, and sick to my stomach. I just knew that the world as I’d known it had ended. I wanted to run from the room and pretend I’d never heard the words pleural effusion, but it was too late.
Mo handled it better than I did. As a nurse, she assured me that there could be several reasons for pleural effusions and that it didn’t automatically mean cancer, although it was one way melanoma could present itself. Keeping my horrible thoughts and out-of-control emotions to myself was challenging.
Monica’s backaches worsened, and she was referred to a specialist. As we left the doctor’s office, I overheard the pulmonologist say, “That’s going to be a sad case over the next several months.” Stabbing me in the heart with a knife would have been less painful. Please, God, anything but this. Anything!
It wasn’t long before Mo was debilitated and unable to drive. I became her caretaker when she was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma and given a prognosis of six months to live.
Monica was convinced that God would heal her and asked me to keep a journal of our journey. She was sure that God would use her testimony of healing to change more lives than she could count. I granted her wish and kept a journal, but most of what I wrote was a record of her increasing pain and the time we spent trying to find relief.
She never asked me to read the journal to her, but she did request that I include a section called the BPOD—it stood for the best part of the day. In my eyes, there were no best parts of any day, but for Mo, something good was always happening.
One evening after a horrendous day at the hospital, Mo said, “We had a great day, didn’t we?” She meant it, and that angered me.
“Yup, we did,” I lied. Then I asked Mo to recap it so I could see events through her eyes.
Her answer came quickly and with little deliberation. She said she was thankful I had ridden in the ambulance with her and that three of our closest friends (all nurses) had spent their entire day with us. She said she was treated like a queen. Then she became emotional, sharing how God was so good to her, always ensuring she was well cared for.
I marveled then and I marvel now at how we viewed the same experiences so differently—but that day exemplified Mo’s journey. She endured each test and procedure like a trouper, despite being in pain, exhausted, and unable to move or find comfort. No matter what happened, she chose to see the good and told people, often in a whisper, that she was getting stronger by the day.
It took me a long time to realize that Mo was getting stronger each day—stronger in her faith and confidence in what God was doing. I saw Mo’s physical pain—her inability to move, breathe, or eat without getting sick. I didn’t see what was happening in her heart and mind and soul.
I understand now how Mo had such an optimistic view. She had fixed her eyes “not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18 NIV). She zeroed in on God’s promises. I focused on the unbearable physical circumstances, and that led me to question God and my faith.
Mo remained at home until the last 12 days of her life; at which point, we moved her into a hospice house. As they rolled her in on a gurney, she told the staff, “I’m here to complete my healing.”
Mo’s life blessed me in countless ways, but her death changed me. I had been caring for my friend for six months. I was physically exhausted and had lost almost forty pounds. But I had become spiritually strong as I developed a deep relationship with God—something I’d never experienced before. That’s a good thing, because when Mo was gone, I questioned everything.
I grieved a full year before I stopped accusing God of blowing up my life, yet again. It took another year before I could say, “Okay—You’re God, and I’m just going to trust that Your plan is better than mine.”
That’s the moment I finally accepted God’s sovereignty and surrendered the rest of my life to His plan.
No, life has never been what I thought it would be, and I’ve realized now that no one in this life has it easy. But when we let Him, God will take all the strangely shaped and often painful pieces of our lives and bring them together for His great and perfect purpose.
I’m 56 now, and I’ve lived through change, loss, and grief that I truly thought (maybe hoped) would kill me. But I continue to survive (and even thrive) as I’m living out a calling I never asked for or expected. My experiences have equipped me to help others facing unwanted and unexpected events and circumstances in their lives.
In 2021, I launched a podcast to support grieving women called Grief 2 Great Day. I even wrote a book about Mo’s journey, Dying to Be Healed, to honor her incredible example of faith.
Regardless of the circumstances affecting your life, I encourage you to find your BPOD each and every day. Finding the good and praising God for it will enable you to survive and thrive despite the pain.
What’s your BPOD?
STEFANIE CABANISS was a public health professional before beginning Grief 2 Great Day. She is Southern by choice, a turtle-paced triathlete, wife, and follower of Jesus. She helps Christian women navigate loss through understanding their grief, growing their faith, and processing daily life to find hope. She and her husband, Jeff, live in eastern North Carolina.