Shannon Thompson

Tuesday night I sat at the bedside of my dear friend, Shannon Thompson, as she lay dying. I am thankful to her Lord and mine that, while she declined with astonishing rapidity, she died as pain-free as possible, surrounded at home by the people who loved her. She would have been 46 on May 21. She’s eternally young, healthy, and at peace now.

Shannon had cancer, a particularly aggressive, genetically-linked form that seeped through her body at first and gleefully roiled through it toward the end. That is the official cause of death; her brain, bones, and lungs were poisoned by the cancer that had previously invaded her breasts. But Shannon’s battle with cancer was one of many she had fought throughout her life, and I think that exhaustion, combined with an overwhelming longing to be with Jesus, contributed to her death and to the almost frenetic pace at which she declined in her last two weeks.

Shannon would want you to know about Christ and how he worked in her life. I want you to know what a remarkable woman God gave me in her and how important her friendship was to Jeff and me. Her purpose in this was more noble than mine; she lived to show Christ, bearing the risk of rejection and disgust if only the light of the Gospel were made brighter next to the horror that often accompanied her life. I just want to pay tribute to my friend, to tell everyone I know about who she was. She’d tell me to pour out her story so that others might believe. I pour it out now because it wells up inside me — both the beauty of her transformation and the sadness I feel in losing her. And yet God is glorified in both, in grief and in joy, in loss and in redemption.

I met Shannon when she had finished her first round of chemo, three years ago in March. She was addicted to meth and alcohol and cigarettes; she was also addicted, in ways not altogether different, to the turmoil, violence, and trauma that had dogged her since birth. That day, she called a pastor friend of mine after seeing the word “evangelical” in the name of his church written in the phone book. She remembered, through her despair and depression, that “evangelical” was good, so she called him to ask if Jesus would send her to hell if she killed herself. My friend wisely set up a coffee date with her and asked me to come along. For three hours, we listened to her story. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer that, the doctors said, would inevitably migrate to her ovaries and uterus and would kill her some day. Her partner, Bob, had just been arrested on possession and distribution charges; she was estranged from two of her three children and torn up by the drug use of the third. She lived in a flophouse in Moscow, and less than a week after I met her, she overdosed in a suicide attempt. When she woke up in the ICU, she decided that, maybe, she could trust that Christ had allowed her to, and she began a journey of childlike faith and superhuman strength that touched the lives of countless people, and changed my life forever.

Shannon lived to lead people to Christ. She was steadfast in proclaiming that her victories were his and her failures only hers, and only then opportunities for faith. And she knew, contrary to what a lifetime of rejection and condemnation wrought in her, that she was never beyond the reach of the One who loves the poor, inclines His ear to the pleas of the oppressed, and turns in love to the humble and contrite. She knew she would die sooner rather than later of her cancer, and she was determined that no one who knew her before Christ would miss out on her telling what was true in her life after Christ. She had a study Bible the size of a toaster oven, and she cut through the fluff and garbage that often clutters the Evangelical community’s witness by insisting that if God said it, it was true, and that love was the only imperative for those who called on Christ. She couldn’t abide stuffiness and hypocrisy, and she made sure you knew it. She never finished a conversation without an “I love you,” and the lovingkindness she exhibited toward the people in her life was irrepresible. Even when more “mature” believers would’ve given up on some of her friends, more out of weariness and a weak claim to propriety, Shannon would hang in there, recklessly believing that Jesus was enough. Period.

She is survived by her beloved husband, Bob, who is serving a prison term on drug charges, and who also has come to know Christ. Bob is part of my family, and he’s heartbroken to lose the woman he’s loved for the last decade. I’m heartbroken for him. Our brother hurts, and Jeff and I ache for him. Her two daughters, Linda and Jessica, are beautiful; they were the delight of her heart, and she prayed ’til the end for reconciliation with her son, Michael. May it be. She had six grandchildren, including a beautiful little girl born two weeks ago, and in Christ became the grandma who poured out the love and laughter, attention and affection, that eluded her when she was a young mom struggling with addiction, poverty, despair, and violence. She had a church home in Pullman and a family cobbled together in grace, full of hurting, worn-out, and thrown-out souls who came to Shannon because of the light within her. Sometimes it was brilliant; other times, it flickered in encroaching twilight. But she only reflected the Lightgiver, and God worked mightily through her, even when her view got cloudy and she thought she could see only darkness.

She was braver than I’ve ever been, and I wish she were still here.

One Response to “Shannon Thompson”

  1. Linda Webb says:

    even though this was years ago I come back to read these beautiful words you wrote over 2 years ago about my mother Thank You

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