Taking A Hill
When I lived in Tennessee I did not have a car to get to work. My job was about 1 ½ miles from were I lived so I walked there almost every day. Rain or shine, cold and snow, I never missed a scheduled day in 2 ½ years. Now and then somebody I knew would stop and give me a ride. On occasion my manager would leave the store and come and get me if the weather was really bad. Mostly I walked. Even on my days off, to go shopping, do my laundry or go to the bank, I would walk.
I usually spent the time as I walked praying, conversing with the Lord and joining my footsteps to the footsteps of the Lord as he walked this earth. A good part of the walk to work was on an uphill grade but some parts were easier than others. I started out walking through the park across the street from my apartment which was relatively flat. After the park I had a choice. There was an extremely steep hill a couple of blocks long and then there was the way that was just a little longer but sloped at a much easier climb. I very rarely took the hill but usually chose the other way. That hill was always grueling for me. At some point on that hill I always wanted to give up, turn around and go the other way. I would think that maybe I wasn’t going to make it without stopping to rest and it would take an act of will and determination to finish it. I didn’t like to take the hill.
About a year after moving to Tennessee I found out that my sister, Joni, had breast cancer. She was living in Indiana. We were far from each other but we talked on the phone frequently. There was surgery. There was chemotherapy. There was radiation. She lost her hair along with experiencing all the discomforts that go along with cancer treatments. I prayed for her and encouraged her when we talked on the phone.
One day on my way to work I came to the place of choice, as I did every day. Go the longer but easier way or take the hill. I decided to take the hill. I decided to take the hill, to pray the hill and to offer it for my sister. So I started up the hill and it was as hard as I knew it would be. Halfway up the hill, I stopped and looked to the top of the hill which I knew would be a struggle to make. I looked back down to the bottom of the hill and contemplated taking the easy way out. Then I thought about my sister and took a step toward the top of the hill. One foot after the other, step by step I pushed through until I crested that hill. As I rounded the top I felt the most wonderful release and relief. I had taken the hill. I prayed that the Lord take my effort and use it for Joni, to give her the strength to push through what ever she was facing. That when it got too hard he would ease her suffering with a release and relief like I had felt as I finished that hill. I did not take the hill every day for my sister. If I had I am sure that it eventually would have gotten easier. But it wasn’t supposed to be easy. I took that hill once a week or so. Each and every time it was a struggle for me.
The next time I talked to my sister I told her that I took the hill for her and explained to her what that was and what it meant. She liked the idea of taking the hill and that became a phrase between us for sacrificing for the intention of another. Taking a hill was no small sacrifice. It meant to struggle, it meant that you don’t turn around and take the easy way. It is an act of will and of determination. She began to take hills for others through her cancer. Whenever someone was facing something hard she would tell them that she would pray for them. Then she would say “I will take a hill for you” and she would begin to offer something of her discomfort, her disappointment or her fear for their sake. So that is what she and I did for the next year and a half. She would take the hills of her cancer for others, and I would literally take a hill for her. At the end of the treatments they took the final scan, told her that the cancer was gone and we praised the Lord.
A year after that, however, we found out that the cancer was back. This time it was in her brain. They tried more radiation and she lost her hair again. Thankfully I had moved back to Indiana by then. I am grateful to God that I was close by for what turned out to be the last year of her life and that I was there with her during her last day on this earth. Joni continued to take the hills of her cancer and though I could not literally take that hill for her any more I supported her climbs with my prayers. The doctors had said that because of the lesions on her brain that she would begin to experience headaches and seizures. They said that she would probably lose her mental capabilities and would slip into a comma before she died. She feared the idea of losing herself mentally. Those things did not happen to her as she feared. Yes, there was pain at the end and she sometimes had to work a little harder to gather her thoughts, but she didn’t have the headaches and she didn’t have the seizures. She didn’t lose her mind and she didn’t go into a coma. I know that was through our prayers and because of the hills I had taken for her. She could pray her rosary until almost the end, but even at the end she could hold her rosary as we prayed and she knew that we were praying the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. She received her last sacraments, so in the arms of the Church and her family, in the arms of Our Lord and his Mother she took her last breath on December 22, 2011.
I have often said that I think that Joni’s cancer was purgative. Catholics know what I mean by that. When I say that to some Protestants they suck in their breath as if I had just said the most blasphemous thing. They think that I am saying that Joni earned her way into heaven but I am not. Jesus alone paid that price. But out of love for Jesus and for others Joni took those hills to her death. She laid down her life for that love in a true reflection of the Gospel. “This is my commandment; love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” Jn 15:12-14. I believe that Jesus calls her friend.
“As a result, those who suffer in accord with God’s will hand their souls over to a faithful creator as they do good” 1Pt 4:19
In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Although you have not seen him you love him; even through you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1Pt 1:6-9
Through suffering Joni’s faith was tested as gold is tested in fire and she shared in the sufferings of Christ for the praise, honor and glory of his name. This is what we mean by saying that suffering is purgative.
Joni Carol Knapp Green
July 27, 1959 - December 22, 2011
Eternal rest grant unto her O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon her.The next time you have the chance, out of love for our Lord and love for another take a hill for them.