Friends We Marry

June 6, 2011

When you get married, you marry family members and you marry into friends.  Like family, there are usually a few of the friends that come with the marriage that you love and others that may not be, let’s say your favorites.  Sassymouth is trying to do better.  If you are really lucky, you’ll marry into some treasures as I did.  One of the treasures I married into was Jonathan’s friend Vanessa.  They met at the University of Arkansas through mutual friends. She was a good old country girl. Vanessa became a Christian in college and like everything she did, she was passionate about it.  Her walk with the Lord made me ashamed of my own.  Vanessa and I connected from the first time we met.  She co- hosted a couples wedding shower for us at her home in Little Rock.  Not long after we moved to Little Rock, Vanessa got married.  We became pretty good friends with her husband, Brad, in spite of the fact that he was a Baylor graduate. We aren’t really sure how that happened as both of his parents were University of Arkansas graduates and his mom cheered at the UA!  That is just a fun little jab for Brad in case he happens to read this.  Brad was a good sport and even travelled down to Shreveport to the Independence Bowl with us. When Vanessa and Brad had their first baby, Tye, I helped to host a baby shower for her. We had lunch regularly and had a ton of fun and deep conversation. Vanessa was the ultimate hostess and the ultimate mom for boys.  When we moved off to Phoenix, we still stayed close friends and visited them when we would return to Arkansas. They had another son and eventually we moved to Memphis where we were able to see them more often. Vanessa was ever so thoughtful and for Rachel’s baby gift she had a painting done that hangs in her room and probably always will.  She asked me for pictures of our dogs, Festas and Teddy. She loved dogs like we did and had helped us hunt down Festas on more than one occasion. I remember going to see her when her beloved Luke died.  For the painting, she wanted us to share a verse that we would claim for Rachel, and we chose Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength”.  I scanned in the painting but you can’t see the details very well.


Festas and Teddy, UA Old Main and UA Cheerleaders, little girls having tea and a picnic with their bears. Simply lovely and included so many of the things that were and will always be near and dear to our hearts. Vanessa was thoughtful like that. 

Vanessa was not yet 40 when she discovered she had cancer. According to Vanessa, not a big deal.  Honestly, I don’t remember what kind but it did have something to do with her nose.  She would have surgery, a little radiation and chemo and all would be good.  She had a positive outlook on life. My timing is off a bit but it seems like this was in the winter.  We talked to her every few weeks and as end of spring was coming and we were moving into summer, I realized I hadn’t talked to her in a while. I was planning a trip over to Little Rock to do some visiting and perhaps we could get together. When she answered the phone, I knew all was not okay though. She was not her normal cheery self. She told me that she had complications but she didn’t think it had to do with her cancer. She had been having some serious intestinal issues and they couldn’t quite pinpoint the cause, so they were going in later that week to check on it. Probably some type of blockage.  Made me even more anxious to make it over to Little Rock and visit. A few days later we learned that it was more than “nothing”. Her cancer had metastasized to a different part of her body.  The description didn’t sound good. Jonathan decided that he too needed to go with us to visit Vanessa.  We went straight to the hospital where she was in isolation and had limited visitors.  Only one of us could go in, and she asked to see Jonathan. Brad apologized to me, which seemed so silly to me.  They were friends first and much longer than I had been her friend. They also had some common ground:  the C word.  My husband was a recent cancer survivor.  Later in the day it was decided she needed another surgery. Infection was pretty bad and I can’t even remember the name for the cancer she had but I have a good friend who is a radiation oncologist and I called her. She shielded me as much as she could but I could tell from what she was saying that it was not good.  Vanessa had surgery again in the night. We stood with a large group of her friends held hands and prayed for her.  The next morning, I got the call that Vanessa who was in ICU wanted to see me. I understood enough about what was going on to know that this might well be the last time I would see her on this earth.  I prayed.  I was overwhelmed. I called my Bible study leader and ask her to pray for me. Vanessa couldn’t speak because of the tube in her throat but she was alert and knew exactly what was going on. She had a chart that she could write a little on and she managed to ask me how long Jonathan and I had been married.  She smiled her beautiful smile.  Of all things, she wanted to know about Festas, and we laughed. That was appropriate because I laughed a lot with Vanessa. We prayed, and I told her that she was one of the best things that came with marrying Jonathan and I was so thankful for her friendship. Vanessa died three days later.


Her funeral was a beautiful celebration of life.  We sang “I Know My Redeemer Lives” and “The Potter’s Hand”. As we stood and sang “I Can Only Imagine”, I felt the trembling shoulders standing side by side down an entire row of her college friends (many big strong men) and those of us who had married into that friendship. I heard my husband sob and I knew he was wondering why he survived his cancer and she didn’t. I also knew that he knew what her boys were going through.  He was eight when his biological mom died – in the same age range as her boys. Sobering times.


Today is Vanessa’s birthday. I know she is singing praise to her Lord. Another irony because like Jonathan and me, Vanessa’s singing was a little off key. Not in heaven though. It is perfect.  Her life and her death have been a testimony to many.  Still, it was one of my most challenging moments. My faith in God tells me that He knows what He is doing.  I believe that in my heart of hearts and it is the essence of who I am and what makes me tick.  My earthly selfishness mourns for two little boys who probably vaguely remember their mom.  I mourned for Vanessa who trusted fully in God but must have felt a deep and pronounced sadness in knowing that she would leave two precious boys behind. Brad is a fine man of God but I knew that as a mother she must still wonder what their next mom would be like.  I mourned for Brad and the pain he endured.  I mourned for her parents because I have seen my own parents lose a child.  I mourned for her best friend.  I mourned for myself.


I miss our phone chats and lunches and teasing Brad about Baylor and the Hogs.  Today, I miss her a little more than usual, but her life inspired me and makes me want to live life as victoriously as Vanessa did. I said that Vanessa loved to entertain. Her house was a home. One day we stopped by and Jonathan was hungry. She had some leftover chicken enchiladas and she warmed some for Jonathan.  He concluded that they were one of the best things ever. She gave me the recipe and it is now my most requested recipe. I love to share it and I love to tell people that it came from my friend Vanessa because I can see her smile light up the room and know how happy she would be.  So today on her birthday, I share this recipe with my readers and I know you will love this recipe too.  I love you Vanessa!  Thank you for being a precious sister in Christ. I think of you every time I hear “I Can Only Imagine” and I can only imagine what a beautiful day you are having.


From the Kitchen of Jawanda Mast – Main Dish

(Compliments of the Kitchen of Vanessa) 

Chicken Enchiladas

10 flour tortillas

4 chicken breasts, cooked and coarsely chopped (about two pounds)

½ stick butter/margarine

1 medium onion, chopped

1 can chopped green chilies

1 8-oz block cream cheese

1-½ cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1-½ cups whipping cream

Salt & pepper

Sauté’ onion and green chilies in butter.  Add cream cheese and stir until melted.  Stir in chicken, salt & pepper.  Spray 9 x 13 inch baking dish with non-stick spray.  Place filling in tortillas and place seam side down in baking dish.  Sprinkle cheese over and pour whipping cream over.  Bake uncovered at 350 for 30 minutes. Serves 8. Makes great leftovers and freezes well.




Posted from Olathe, KS

Jawanda Mast responded:
Jawanda Mast
What we all learned with our dear friend Vannesa’s leaving us too soon at least on our terms was the value of letting other friends know what they mean to us before the are gone. We should never wait until a funeral to express our love for those who mean so much to us.Vannessa made a difference in this world. I hope that others will think about me as much as I know those of her friends she left behind still think of her and cherish what she meant to each of us.

And yes another meal that will not dissapoint. Please share it around the world and think of our sweet friend when you are cooking.

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