Sitting on the shelf in our living room is a framed picture of our Brown–Eyed Beauty, Bethany Joy. The photo was taken when she was 12 years old and had just graduated from primary school. Her grandparents presented her with this special frame to encase her image from this happy day. The famous Bible verse from Jeremiah 29:11 is engraved underneath her smile… “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.”
This summary of Beth’s life and her year-long ordeal with brain cancer, would seem to ‘laugh in the face of’ and defy that promise. But does it?
Bethany Joy Wake was born by caesarian section into welcoming arms on 31 March 1995. Her brother James was overjoyed to have a little sister. Her grandparents all have precious memories of holding her as a newborn and being amazed as she stared up at them for long periods of time with her big, dark eyes. We were sure from the beginning that they would be chocolate brown like her Mummy’s.
Two little sisters came along later to complete the family. Rachael and Nicole loved their ‘sissy’ dearly.
As a toddler, Beth joined us as we studied at the Capernwray Bible School in NSW to prepare for our service with Wycliffe Bible Translators. There Beth met young people from all over the world who became ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’ to her. She became a ‘missionary kid’ when we joined Wycliffe and she loved it that she was an ‘MK’. Beth’s life was blessed and in turn was a rich blessing to many as she shared experiences with people of different ages and cultures in her travels to Papua New Guinea and outback Australia.
In her early years, she attended the Kangaroo Ground Pre-School in Victoria and is remembered for her ‘to the max’ art and craft work. She began her school years at Plenty Valley Christian College and we soon saw that school for Bethy was all about fun and friends – academics was pretty low on the agenda! On her second day of Year 7, Beth nearly burned the science room down due to a faulty Bunsen burner. The students hailed her as a hero as they got to go home early with no weekend homework due to the evacuation!
A huge part of Beth’s life was enjoyed with her church family at Mill Park Baptist. It was there we publicly dedicated her to the Lord and then at the age of thirteen she made her own public declaration of faith in Jesus Christ when she was baptized. She had a depth of friendship at church that was rare and family friends became ‘family’ to her.
At first, Beth did not want to go with us to Papua New Guinea – she knew that she would miss her beloved family and friends way too much. However, by the end of our time there in 2007, she was deeply saddened to leave her newly found friends from all over the world. 2008 was marked with uncertainty for Beth as she grappled with teenage and identity issues and attempted to settle in Australia again. It was not until she was able to go back to visit her friends in PNG in 2009 that things settled down in her life and she again began to flourish.
Beth’s love of Jesus and people marked every aspect of her life and helped her to enjoy her favorite things even more… the ocean, swimming, wombats, baby elephants, cows, potato chips of any kind, cheesecake, the color purple, tulips, perfume, listening to music, playing the flute and bass guitar and singing at the top of her lungs! She loved all types of savory food and loved to cook– but absolutely hated the kitchen clean up afterwards! We held great expectations that she would continue to grow and go from strength to strength in life. She had so many plans to help people who touched her compassionate heart, but these plans never came to fruition in the way we imagined…
In early March 2010, Beth began to experience weird symptoms that included some vision loss and pain that eventually led to her appendix being removed. We know now that it was not appendicitis at all but the beginnings of a deadly disease that quickly manifested throughout her body as that month continued. By her 15th birthday Beth was in hospital with numbness and weakness down the left side of her body. It took the doctors the good part of the next month to eventually diagnose aggressive brain cancer. By this stage, Beth could barely talk and had lost the use of her left arm and leg completely. A seven-week, life-saving, intensive treatment plan was recommended and while this halted the disease for a while, the treatment was so harsh that Beth became very ill and lived with constant pain and nausea. After the treatment, Beth was eventually able to come home where we had the privilege of nursing her with the help of family and friends. However, seven months after the treatment had ended, it became apparent that the tumor was again on the move and this time would take her life. The last three months of Beth’s life were horrific as she defied medical expectation and lingered with us much longer than expected, gradually losing every bodily function. Our Brown-Eyed Beauty breathed her last breath on this earth on 5 March 2011.
On the surface, this story is absolutely devastating and in no way do we deny the agony of pain we have suffered, and still feel, as our hearts have been wrenched in two. However, like Beth, we too are coming to know the Healer of all broken hearts and through the anguish, Jesus has begun to reveal some beautiful things to us that run far deeper than what our eyes can see. Friends, if we believed that Beth’s story ended here and that our beloved daughter no longer existed, you would reading her story now. What would be the purpose of sharing her remarkable and courageous journey of faith, love and hope if the valley she had to travel led to nowhere but a cold grave? The reason we have a heartbreakingly beautiful story to share with you is because bodily death is not the end but just the beginning of everlasting life for the believer in Jesus Christ!
Beth’s ‘graduation verse’ in Jeremiah 29:11 declares communal, multigenerational, eternal principles for the entirety of God’s people throughout the ages. God’s promises of hope and restoration in Him far exceed any suffering on this earth! They are promises and wisdom for Bethany Joy – and for you and me if we choose to believe. They are promises that go way beyond the confines of this world! Based on this ‘graduation promise’, and countless other promises in God’s Word, we have no doubt that we will be reunited with our Brown-Eyed Beauty. Sounds like there is a wonderful plan of hope and a glorious future to share after all!
“In those days (of exile, homelessness and suffering) when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you, says the Lord… I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes.” Jeremiah 29:12-14