Sometimes life hits you like a roundhouse kick and you’re reminded what really matters. That happened to me last week with the life, bravery and fighting spirit of 35-year-old Jen Bulik.
I was just about to continue my column series on Thomas Jefferson and public education when I read Bulik’s story. (I’ll actually pick up that series again in two weeks after I highlight another amazing story of sacrifice and leadership.)
Last December, Jen went to her doctor with a cough, and the young hairdresser was diagnosed with pneumonia. When the cough persisted, they ran more tests and discovered Jen had Stage IV lung cancer, according to the New York Times Daily News.
After five months of intense treatment, Jen’s doctors had to bring her the unfortunate news that it wasn’t helping and that she had six months to live, at the most. Jen and her family were, of course, devastated, and so was her fiancé, Jeff Lang.
But Jen wasn’t ready to give up. With a positive and hopeful push forward, she let it be known that there was something that she wanted more than anything else: to marry Jeff. (They were looking for a ring last December about the time that she was diagnosed with cancer.)
So she told her fiancé, “Let’s get married. I want to focus on life.”
With virtually no time to plan, Bulik discarded her dream wedding and relegated to a small ceremony in her parent’s backyard, with a few folding tables and a barbecue reception.
That’s about when Bay Area wedding planner Erica Ota heard of Bulik’s situation and story on social media. Ota decided to call up her reserves and offer Jen the wedding that she had always dreamed about since she was young girl.
In just 12 days, Ota recruited more than 40 Bay Area vendors who donated around $50,000 in products and services, including a jazz band and a parade planned by Jen’s neighbors, according to NBC Bay Area.
The reception would be garnished with hundreds of feet of lighting, “so it looked like a fantasy land,” Ota described. And the tables would be decorated with Jen’s favorites: succulents – beautiful and tough drought tolerant plants and flowers, just like the fighter she is.
Ota explained, “It was my goal for them not to pay a dime. I thought to myself these people have already suffered enough, why not be able to give them a gift? A wonderful gift that they, and their families, will never be able to forget.”
She added, “The thing is, they’re such simple people. So positive and so hopeful, and they didn’t ask for anything from anybody. But they deserve this and more. … They are truly wonderful people with good hearts and good souls.”
Jen and Jeff were married Saturday, July 27, at 2 p.m. in a fairytale wedding at a local park, where they exchanged their vows under some beautiful redwood trees. According to the San Jose Mercury News, when they did, they shouted, “I do!”
And then St. Gabriel’s Celestial Brass Band led the marital party on a jazz march to Jen’s parents’ backyard, where they celebrated their love and marriage with 120 family and friends in a dream reception. And they danced into the night under the twinkling of thousands of strung lights and the stars.
There are so many amazing and courageous life stories going on right now, I know. But I suppose this one stood out to me because I believe in fighting against all odds and for the things that matter most, such as love, marriage and family.
I’m not a theologian. I can’t explain why bad things happen to good people, or, for that matter, why good things happen to bad people. (See my good friend Randy Alcorn’s book, “If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil,” for a surprisingly insightful treatise on that issue and much more at epm.org.)
But this much I know. As my 92-year-old mom wrote in her new autobiography, “Acts of Kindness: My Story”: “Bad things happen to good people, but good people can survive bad things with God’s help.”
As difficult and even cruel as life can be, the truth is that we must strive with hope and optimism until we can no longer. And when we’ve done all we can do, we must remember that our ultimate survival and healing is offered beyond this life with God’s help.
Jesus said it this way: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He (or she) who believes in Me will live even though he (or she) dies.”
His words remind me of a poem titled “What cancer can’t do,” which explains its limitations:
Cancer is so limited…
It cannot cripple love.
It cannot shatter hope.
It cannot corrode faith.
It cannot eat away peace.
It cannot destroy confidence.
It cannot kill friendship.
It cannot shut out memories.
It cannot silence courage.
It cannot reduce eternal life.
It cannot quench the Spirit.
Two things in particular stand out about Jen’s situation to me.
First, Erica Ota again put it well: “There are opportunities every day to do extraordinary things for other people. This was an opportunity I saw to do something for somebody else. So why not?”
Jen and Erica’s journeys remind me again that we’re created for community; we’re called to be a blessing to others and not merely be consumed with ourselves.
Second, and mostly, Jen and Jeff again testify to us all about the power of love, courage, faith and never giving up.
One of my heroes, John Wayne, put it this way, “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.”
This young couple epitomizes that bravery in a way that we all should follow.
My wife, Gena, and I pray that the weeks and hopefully months ahead are truly the best of their lives and relationship despite the obstacles and hardships that they will face.
We also in earnest hope and pray that Jen gets her last-minute miracle in this life. But if it awaits her in heaven, then we hope the sunsets that she sees this week on her honeymoon on the California Coast are a vivid reminder that they’re only a reflection of those that await her in an eternal home where the sun never stops shining.
(A fund has been set up on GiveForward.com to help pay for Jen’s medical expenses as well as to send the newlyweds and their family on a last vacation together in the days ahead to Hawaii. They have about $30,000 of $75,000 needed, and roughly a week to raise the remaining amount. To donate, click here.)