For Chris Ann

I met Chris Ann Nelson the first summer we owned our condo on Mackinac – before I knew a soul there and before Bree’s Blog (which I started the next summer) was even a thought in my mind.  I walked into Sutler’s Store at Fort Mackinac looking for bed linens for our master bedroom.  I didn’t have a clue where to go back then to find things like that off the Island, and I’d heard the fort store had a pretty good variety of spreads and quilts.  I found the perfect queen-size coverlet and pillow shams, but needed another coverlet in a twin to bring home with me to Georgia to have a window treatment made that would match.  When I approached the lady behind the check-out computer, she looked up with a dazzling smile and said, “Hello! How may I help you today?”  I’m smiling as I write that because I really don’t remember what her words were.  But I sure remember the smile.

I told her my dilemma, and she spent a few minutes phoning the store at Fort Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City.  They were busy and would have to call back.  I gave this kind lady my cellphone number, and she promised to call as soon as she knew something – which she did that afternoon.  I saw her often that summer because I was in and out of Sutler’s on several occasions, and we always chatted like old friends.  Me – being me – told her my whole life’s story, and she shared with me about her wonderful, huge family and her love of Mackinac Island.

Fast forward to the next spring – May, 2009 – I began Bree’s Blog.  On May 11 (two or three days after the first post) I received a comment from a Chris Ann Nelson saying that she would be following our journey back north, and I replied my “thanks” to her.  Then she commented, “I am anxious to follow you on your island journey. My husband and I have traveled to the straits for over 50 years, and in 1970, when we married, we chose Mackinac as our ‘short’  honeymoon. We found our home in Mackinaw City in 2004, while making our annual anniversary trip to the Island. We live in Pine Island Florida part of the year, but Mackinaw is our HOME. We always thought that we would retire to Mackinac Island, but when this place became available we jumped on it. We went to the island yesterday for Mothers Day, and I often work at the fort there for the park service. More later – we are shopping in Petoskey right now.”

Well, THAT story certainly sounded familiar!  I quickly wrote back, “Are you the Chris Ann who works at Sutler’s and helped this Georgia girl out last summer?”  And she was – one and the same.

Our friendship grew from that moment.  We saw each other sporadically over the next four summers, and she was always the same – a joyful blend of smiles, kind words, bright laughter, and the peace that shows through in people of great faith. When the state park decided they needed Chris Ann more at Fort Michilimackinac than Fort Mackinac, we didn’t get to see each other as often, but we still found ways to keep in touch.  We met for lunch on the Island a few times, she and Burton would come to Shepler’s to welcome us back when we’d arrive at the dock in Mackinac City, we’d see them on the Island when they’d come over to watch their children or grandchildren run races, and last year they spent the night with us at the lake on their way back to Michigan from Florida (they always arrive up north earlier than we do).

Chris Ann and Burton – welcoming us back to Michigan at Shepler’s Mackinaw City dock.

Chris Ann and I love volunteering for Shepler’s. Here we are finishing up a full day of welcoming ladies to a Winsome Women’s Conference. That’s Captain Bill Shepler (the patriach of the business) giving us a little thank you hug.

Those of us who know Chris Ann – and there are many around the world –  knew little of what was happening with her over this past summer – except for an occasional word that she didn’t feel well and was in some pain.   But now we know Chris Ann knew something was very wrong, and she was almost positive what it was.  She had fought cancer before, and she had won.  She found out this week, with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer that has spread to her major organs, that this time she will win again – but in an entirely different way.

I knew a teacher once who was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She told her students that she would be ok either way.  If she beat the cancer, she got to stay here and live with her family and friends.  If she didn’t, she got to go live with Jesus.  To her it was a win-win situation.  I believe that’s the way Chris Ann looks at it also.

Chris Ann posted her diagnosis on Facebook yesterday.  She has Hospice care now, and she said, “If any of you have any memories you’d like to share with me, I’d love to read them.”  And I thought to myself, what an amazing idea!  Her Facebook page is filled with memories now, with more being added by the hour.

When I look at my most recent photos of Chris Ann, I see them differently.  Our time together with the Harlem Globetrotters, the Shepler’s Lighthouse Cruise in September, and the day in October she came to the Island, thinking she would spend the day, but having to leave after only a few hours because she was so tired.  What I see in these photos now is not pain – what I see is a glow.

Camping it up with the Globetrotters.

Ready for our cruise!

Hanging onto the pilot house wall in rough seas.  She would not sit down, and  I remember thinking, “She is having such a good time!”

Tinkering with her smart phone.  Chris Ann LOVES technology!

Arriving in her Halloween sweater at the Carriage Museum the first part of October – that beaming smile!

One of Chris Ann’s favorite news anchors from 9 & 10 News was covering a story on the new Grand stable the day she was there, and Chris Ann wanted a photo.

Chris Ann and Burton left their cottage in Mackinaw City at the foot of the Mackinac Bridge a little early this year.  Ted and I were going over to help them with a few outdoor “closing” things, but the morning we were to go over, the weather was terrible.  We were walking out the door to catch the ferry when Chris Ann called and said, “Don’t come out in this.  We’ve got it handled.”  She talked me into not coming, and I let her do it.  I can’t tell you how much I regret that now.  Because I know – if the situation was reversed – she would have ignored me and come anyway.

Chris Ann is one of the most caring people I know.  I cannot remember how many times she’s offered to let one of our children stay at her house in Mac City if their plane was arriving after ferries stopped running.  She’s offered to pick them up at the airport and take them back – anything to help.  It didn’t matter if she was having 30 folks arrive for a family reunion the next day – she had time!  God, I wish I was more like her!

All of it – her joy for life, her love for friends and family, her heart that won’t quit giving – it all comes from her faith.  Without being preachy or the least bit judgmental, she carries her faith with a peace and calm  – and glow – that radiates for all to see.

The winter of 2010 my Georgia friend Dawn and I, along with Mike Forrester and Jill, flew to Mackinac Island in February for Winter Festival.  While we were there two ladies were accidentally killed on their snowmobile.  The night they went missing Mike and Jill spent a couple of hours going into the restaurants and taverns open on Mackinac during the winter and asking if anyone had seen the two ladies.  The morning after the accident the four of us flew off the island and before we started our trip to the Flint airport, we stopped in Mac City, and I called Chris Ann.  With tears in her voice she told me this story:  She had received a call that morning from a friend of hers who works for the state park who knew she knew me.  For a brief time the evening before, because of Mike and Jill’s inquiries into the whereabouts of their “friends”, it was thought that it was Dawn and I who were missing.  When news came early that morning that the two ladies had been found, there were some who still thought it was us, and one park employee called Chris Ann to tell her we were gone.

I will never forget what Chris Ann told me she said to that person.  She said, “Brenda’s faith was so strong.  I know she was ready for Heaven.”  Those words impacted me so much, and to this day, I hold them in my heart  and try to live up to them with every breath I take.  I usually fail miserably.

But today, I echo those words back to Chris Ann.  “Your faith is so strong, my friend.  I know you are ready for Heaven, and I know what a great celebration there will be when you get there.”

Chris Ann, you are one of my biggest heroes.  You make me want to be a better person, a better wife, a better mother, a better friend – a better Christian.  When I think of you in the years to come, I will remember your smile, your joy for life, your peaceful nature, and your love for Burton, your family, your friends and your Lord.  I will remember you, not with sadness – though I will miss you greatly – but with the steadfast knowledge that I will see you again.

“In my Father’s house are many mansions.”  I hope ours are right next door to each other.

I love you, my friend.  I love you.

The Burton reunion at their cottage in Mac City this fall. What a wonderful legacy.

52 thoughts on “For Chris Ann

  1. Brenda, what a beautiful tribute to a beautiful person. A person I never met but feel like were old friends. Tears are flowing down my face as I write this but God will take care of Chris Ann as he will take care of each of us. This has been one hard year; without God in my life I could not have made it this far. AND I`ll never forget the snowmobile accident. I was told it was you and Dawn and I completly lost it. Just remember all the good times ya`ll have had together.

  2. Oh Brenda…my heart is so heavy right now..tears are flowing…I could not read this without crying. I remember Chris Ann taking in a complete stranger to her…welcoming them into her home and sitting with her and Burton on their beautiful beachfront home while we pasted the time just talking and enjoying our new friendship. Chris Ann is a VERY special person…I just don’t have the words to do her justice…I know God has a special place just for her….I wish we had more time to spend together… 😦

  3. Oh Bree, I knew from your title of this blog it wasn’t going to be good. I am only familiar of Chris Ann from reading your blog, but what a wonderful, caring Christian woman she is. Your tribute to her was beautiful and so full of love. I will be praying for her and her beautiful family.

    • I just have to add that I agree with this comment so much. All of us who read your blog feel like we know you and through you, your family and friends. I will send a prayer up for Chris and her friends and family.

  4. I echo the thoughts that have been posted already..I have never met Chris Ann but after your beautiful tribute to her I feel like I have known her personally…beautiful Brenda….thank you for writing this…will be praying for her and her family during this time…so thankful she knows the Lord!!

    • Carol,
      Your mom is one of the most special women I’ve ever met, and I was never in her presence that she didn’t share something wonderful with me about her loving children and grandchildren. What a blessing she is to all who know her. My prayers are with you and the family. Brenda

  5. Your words are very comforting; even for those of us who haven’t had the fortune of meeting Chris Ann. May God ease the burden of your heavy heart during these painful times.


  6. Dear Brenda, God has truly blessed you with the gift to write and to love, you have this gift of meeting people and making them feel like old friends, I know I am one of them. Reading this blog I too have tears in my eyes. Your words truly do touch our hearts, my thoughts and prayers go out to Chris Ann and her family. May we all get to meet someday in our Fathers kingdom!

  7. Message to Chris Ann: “May flights of angels sing Thee to Thy Rest”

    Brenda, I know how much this hurts. I’ve lost too many friends to various forms of cancer and other diseases that took them far too soon. That said, they live in my heart and memories. I know you will cherish the memories you and Chris Ann made and share. They will hold you in good stead all the days of your life.

  8. So sorry to hear such news, Brenda. Felt like I got to know Chris Ann a bit thru your blog and pics. always such a great smile! Prayers go out to her, her family and you, her special friend. Sue

  9. I am heartbroken for you and those who are fortunate enough to receive Chris Ann’s love. Your words are like magic. I feel as if I had a chance to be connected to someone I have never even met. Wishing Chris Ann great strength on her journey ahead. Thank you for sharing her with us Bree. Sending you much love.

  10. Thank you, Brenda, for letting us know this lovely lady as your wonderful friend. Your tribute is so very touching and I know the friendship that you share is a treasure for both you and Chris Ann. You have given us the ability to know her as well, even if we have not had the good fortune to meet her in person. I’m sending up a prayer for Chris Ann and her family that the Lord will give them strength and comfort in the days ahead, and also that He will comfort you during this time. Your memories of great times together are such a beautiful blessing.

  11. Beautiful, Brenda, simply beautiful. I have not had the pleasure of meeting Chris Ann (except through the comments here and now your lovely post) but my heart goes out to her and her family. Sending prayers and good thoughts.

  12. Beautifully written, Bree. I’ve never met Chris Ann but I feel like I have throu your words. How lucky you both are to have found such a wonderful kinship. I wish peace and comfort to you,to Chris Ann, and to her family and friends.

  13. Brenda, Yesterday while unpacking some boxes, I found this beautiful lilac picture frame I forget I had purchased at Sutler’s several years ago.. I dusted it off and put it up on my bedroom dresser. It was Chris Ann who helped me find the picture frame. I remember that first meeting thinking what a beautiful and kind lady she is. You are right about that infectious smile. Thank you for sharing your fiendship story with this truely amazing person. My Prayers go out to Chris Ann, her family and to you Brenda. It is always difficult to say goodbye to someone you love.

  14. Sometimes in this crazy world I all get caught up in my everyday life and then a blog like this slaps me in the face and makes me realize what REALLY matters. It is so heart breakening to hear of Chris Ann’s struggles yet she has handled it with such grace. The picture of her looking up to the sky tells it all. I pray for her and her family as she continues on this next journey. God bless.

  15. I just don’t know what to say. Chris Ann, I feel I know you a little because Brenda has mentioned you so many times in her blogs, and I also feel I should be able to do something for you, and it makes me so angry that I can’t.

    Brenda, what you have done in writing this tribute to such a fine lady is so thoughtful and wonderful. Thank you so much, and I hope she has been able to read it and know how much she is loved and appreciated.

    • What a beautiful story for such a beautiful women, Brenda. I sit here at home with my anurysms in my head never knowing when they’ll take my life, but knowing our Lord has giving the same peace she’s holding. It’s a gift from God I believe. Your precious loved one will be O.K. in God hands.If we have any anger give it over to Him, in our prayer’s we’ll find our peace. Blessings, Debra

  16. Hello Bree. This was a very nice and well thought out tribute to your friend. I know that I have seen her around the island on my ventures there over the years. I have lost a few family members to cancer…it’s an awful disease. You have a great talent in writing with charm and grace. On another more upbeat note…you may already know about this but in case you dont the chippewa hotel on the island has a great webcam mounted on its roof that gives you a 360 panaramic view of the island 24/7. I check it everyday to get my ‘fix and it’s especially interesting in the winter to see what’s going on there. It looks like snow/frost last night. Anyway, below is the link if you are interested.

    • Hi Jeff. I DO know about the camera and use it a lot to get my “real-time” fix of what’s happening on the Island. Heard from someone up there this morning – that’s a dusting of snow you’re seeing, with red skies this morning. Hmmm . . . .

  17. This was a beautiful thing that you wrote Brenda. Although I personally did not know Chris Ann, I “knew” her very well through your posts. I also used to see her post on Shepler’s Facebook and things like that. It was always nice to see a familiar “island” name that I knew something about, and knew was such a wonderful person as you always portrayed.

    I pray her passing is peaceful. Having dealt with death very much this year, my faith in the afterlife has been strengthened. I also know that although she will not be here physically, Chris Ann will be present all around the Island and Mackinaw City. Our friends and family never truly leave us.

  18. Very touching tribute about Chris Ann. She sounds like a wonderful person and I think we can all aspire to be like her! It’s hard to find any words of comfort during a time like this, but know anyone who knew Chris Ann is probably a better person for it.

  19. Chris Ann: If you are reading this today I just want to say that you have been in my thoughts many times during the day. I hope you are not in a lot of pain and God is giving you comfort. You have such a nice looking family and I my heart goes out to them.

  20. It is such a wonderful gift you are giving Chris Ann. So many times our special thoughts and memories ever get to be shared with a loved one until after they leave us. But Chris Ann knows how much she is loved and will take this beautiful tribute with her. God bless you, Chris Ann.

  21. The more we get together,
    The happier we’ll be
    For your friends are my friends
    And my friends are your friends
    To Brenda: From the comments you can tell that many of us feel that your friends are our friends. And we thank you for that. Because of your willingness to share them, your friends have brightened our lives. So thank you, to you, and to Chris Ann, your friend.
    To Chris Ann: May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. Now and forevermore. Num 6

  22. Oh my goodness, I am so sorry to hear this. Your writing and your tribute is just beautiful Bree. I am crying as I write this, it is just so beautiful. Prayers…..

  23. As a former college roommate of Chris Ann’s at CMU — you have so identified her. She was courageous, happy, free spirited beyond words . . . . I was serious and she worked hard to change me. :-)) How I often wish she had been more successful. :-)) Chris Ann was/is Chris Ann — always was and always will be. She is lighting up heaven for sure.

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