by Peggi Tustan

Eva knew. She was dying. Though only God knew how long—a day, a week, a month. I visited her in December. A season of joy overshadowed with grief.

Jesus knew. Within twenty-four hours he’d hang on a cross. After the last supper with his disciples, he tried to prepare them. They didn’t want to hear it. Jesus was not only Lord, he was their friend. They wanted him to stay. “Now is your time of grief,” Jesus told them, “but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy” (John 16:22 NIV).

“I can’t wait to lay this tired body down and be with Jesus,” Eva told me through smiling tears. And yet, the grief her death would bring us—family, friends, and especially her husband—burdened her. That morning, I had read Jesus’ words in my devotions. They comforted her.

Now is our time of grief,
but we will see you again and rejoice
and no one will take away our joy!

A wild child at sixteen, I knelt at an altar and invited Jesus in. Pastor Don Rice, the preacher, and his wife Eva discipled me. They laid a firm foundation of God’s truth in my soul.

Not only that, Eva welcomed me. I felt comfortable in their home. I became older sister to their kids, Donny and Amy. Even Peekie, the dog, accepted me as family. Eva lived in full view. I watched a godly woman, wife, and mother in action.

The family grew. They fostered, then adopted Billy and Winnie. Days grew hectic. Eva wasn’t perfect. Their home wasn’t perfect. Still her door remained open.

Within the decade, while Eva was in her forties, she received the first diagnosis—breast cancer. This ruddy country girl, gardener, canner, quilter, pastor’s wife fought hard through debilitating chemotherapy. “My family needs me. My children are young.” She won. Cancer retreated.

Then, a few years later, breast cancer invaded her lung. Eva again fought. This time, with surgery, followed by radiation therapy. Again, she was victorious!

Eva battled honestly, openly, vulnerably. Though she clung to Jesus, she refused to mask pain behind “Praise the Lord” platitudes. Because of her openness, when I began to experience depression, insomnia, loss of appetite, I knew Eva understood. I sought her advice. Even today, I use her strategies for battling insomnia.

“How will I have the energy to care for my infant and toddler?” I worried after a sleepless night during my bout of postpartum depression. My husband had left for work. My parents lived out-of-state.

“Of course! Come on over,” Eva responded to my plea for help. It didn’t matter I no longer attended their church. Still, she welcomed me. She tucked me into their bed. She and Winnie watched my babies while I rested.

As time went on, Eva modeled how to mother adult children. Regularly checking in, she supported without meddling. Turning cares into prayers. As she and Pastor Don aged, I watched her undergird him through heart by-pass and hip replacement surgeries.

Pastor Don, Eva Rice, and Peggi (December 2014)

After more than twenty years cancer-free, the enemy returned. Ovarian cancer. This time, Eva refused treatment. She was battle-weary. She had endured ten years of chronic nerve pain. It was a delayed side-effect from the original chemotherapy poison—still present in her body. In her final lesson, this woman of faith taught me how to die.

On the day I visited, a young single mom was present. “I’m mentoring her,” Eva explained, “and she insisted on staying to clean my home.” Almost eighty, sick and dying, Eva continued pouring herself into others.

“I haven’t done anything ‘great.’ I’m not famous; I never wrote a book,” my spiritual mother told me from her bed that December day. Then, after a pause, “Actually, I guess I’ve written four books: Donny, Amy, Billy, and Winnie. It’s amazing how many lives we touch along the way.” She pointed to a stack of cards and letters on the bedside table. Cherished expressions of appreciation from those she’s impacted—people like me.

When I returned home, I added one more to her stack:

You are a GREAT woman, Eva! You’re a hero in my “Faith Hall of Fame.” I am grateful for your spiritual mothering. I’m so glad our goodbye is temporary. I’ll see you in a little while in our Father’s house. Thank you for loving me well and teaching me how to follow Jesus.

A month later, at Eva’s memorial service, her daughter Amy shared an anecdote. As a young teen in rural Michigan, a friend invited Eva to church. She went and was turned away. She had arrived barefoot. Eventually, Eva came to know Jesus Christ. Ever after, she welcomed the stranger, the outsider, the wild child—people just like me.

I’m Peggi Tustan—an ordinary woman seeking to live an extraordinary Real Life in Christ. I write, teach, speak, and mentor women in Northeast Ohio. Stop by and visit me at

Cover photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash