Jeff Knapp: A Death that Inspired Life

Posted by in Faith | May 14, 2013


Editor’s Note: This week, Jeff Knapp is contributing to the blog personally. He was moved beyond words by the passing of Beth Russell, the mother of two of the young men in IRON and FIRE’s brotherhood, and a board member for the ministry. Jeff was very close to the family and was at her side at the very end. Reflecting on that difficult time and the lessons he took from Beth as she struggled over the last 10 months, Jeff found the words for this blog post. Thanks Jeff, for the incredible investment in so many families’ lives and your ability to soak up wisdom, even in the darkest moments; And thanks Beth, for never failing to inspire us, even in the face of insurmountable odds.

“Last week I had the privilege of witnessing an incredible woman die gracefully. In severe pain and struggle, she taught me more about perseverance and success than any of my mentors ever have. Her name is Beth Russell and she changed my life.

Beth has a wonderful husband and two amazing sons. I’ve had the honor of investing in her boys, who are now young men, for about 5 years. In that time, I have observed grace, received encouragement, and experienced love that seemed to grow in adversity as opposed to shrinking back. Yet as much as I’ve learned over the years from her encouragement and faith, Beth taught me the most in the last 10 months of her life.

In June of last year, Beth was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. At that time she stepped off of my board of directors at IRON and FIRE Ministries in order to give all of her efforts to fighting the disease. Because I was uniquely invested in her sons’ lives, I was very close to the struggles and pain of the process. Through many procedures and 8 rounds of intense chemo, Beth continued to be thankful. Yes that’s right, thankful. Not for the cancer, but for the many incredible things that were happening in spite of it and for all the years of blessings she had lived.

Beth wanted to be healed; yet she also wanted God’s best for her. And she considered life or death a win-win situation. You see, she had an appreciation for the good being done even amidst the bad. She focused her energy on appreciation and love instead of frustration and loss.

People from all over the world were hearing about Beth and being inspired to press on and not give up. They were finding encouragement through her hardship. Her attitude was affecting nurses, doctors, pastors, teachers, children and especially me. In the middle of incredible physical pain and ongoing side effects from the chemo and the multiple surgeries, Beth kept smiling. She kept asking how everyone else was doing. But most compelling to me was how she never complained, not once in 10 months.

You see, lately I’ve been complaining a lot. I’ve been frustrated that things aren’t easier in my life. My wife and I have a 22-month-old boy and a 6-week-old girl and we’re just tired. I’ve been fighting hard to invest in over 60 young men who will change the face of our world, but it’s exhausting. I’m in school, I run two organizations, and I am trying to raise thousands of dollars for our mission in a bad economy. My attitude had begun to get pretty cranky. That is, until last week.

I watched Beth smile the day she died. It wasn’t a smile born out of good circumstances. No, her smile was born out of a deep belief that her life was bigger than what was happening to her, it was more about who was with her.

Today, let’s take some time to consider the hard things in our lives. Then let’s commit to looking around at those we are blessed to share life with. Your life doesn’t just affect you and neither do your struggles. How we perceive hard things and how we react to them directly affects those around us, to their benefit or their detriment. So let’s seek to consider how we might encourage others to press on, as we ourselves press on, maybe even with a smile. Blessings.”

Jeff Knapp

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