Published February 25, 2023
Amber and I met decades ago. She was a teenager, in a new town at a new high school and I was a graduate student at Franciscan University. I knew she was terribly homesick for her old life in Grand Rapids, so we started having regular dinners out. Despite the gap in our age, we became close friends, a friendship which continued after I left Steubenville.
The first thing everyone noticed about Amber was her beauty. I don’t think Amber ever knew just how beautiful she was, in body and soul, which of course, made her even more attractive. It was a grace given to her by her parents, who understood humility, but also perhaps because of the move they made with her to Steubenville, plucking her from comfort and cliques. She never took herself too seriously.
With her megawatt smile, she always had a story to tell. Her dramatic retelling of tales, mostly funny things that happened to her, included lots of gesticulation and vivid descriptions. I remember her crush on Ricky Martin and the night the “limousine” arrived for prom, but it wasn’t the cool black stretch she thought she had ordered, but a bulky, boxy bus.
When I moved to Washington, D.C., she came for a visit. I’ll never forget walking the National Mall with her and overhearing the tourists behind talking about finding the “are-chives” instead of using the correct pronunciation of archives. Words were important, and funny, and a friend to her.
As time wore on, Amber met dear Dave and our relationship continued in small drips through phone calls, emails, and snapshots of weddings and children on social media. I prayed with them when Dave took their son Max on a trip in hopes that he could some day walk. I prayed with them again when their daughter Josephine had a stroke. And I prayed even more when Louisa was born with spina bifida. Amber’s mother, Sharon, told me that nurses who helped with Louisa didn’t even know how to handle her body because they had never seen a baby with that disease. Most are aborted. But Dave and Amber, Amber’s parents, and the whole family, loved her with with all they had in those early days of her life.
Eventually, I started the blog that would become TheologyofHome.com. I asked Amber to write something for it. Theology of Home was just getting started and I didn’t have money to pay our writers. She wrote a few pieces for us for free, but there were some that I knew needed a bigger audience. I also knew she should be paid for her fine work, so we sent them over to our friend Kevin Knight at the National Catholic Register and he published them. They feel so poignant now, her hard-earned wisdom shining through (see links below).
I recall one afternoon, both of us puttering around our homes and children, talking about writing. “Writing feels like flying to me,” she confided. It offered her a tiny break from some of her daily duties that she didn’t resent, but that were often challenging.
And then she got sick.
It is a story, a Job-like story, that one can scarcely wrap one’s mind around. How could this happen? How could a family who is so in need of a mother, not have a mother? How could a family who has suffered so much endure this new round of suffering?
Amber fought valiantly, but lost her battle with cancer February 23. The void she leaves is unfillable, for Dave, the children, her parents, and all their family. But we trust, like Job of old, that God has a plan and will do something beautiful with this suffering.
Amber’s words, written years ago, offer us today some consolation. Of the challenges in her life, she wrote:
I have learned to stop asking why, and to start asking what. As Father Jacques Phillipe says, to have “courage” to leave some questions unanswered and ask, “What does God want from me?” Freedom. Broken chains. Freedom in knowing that it’s not my picture, but God’s. Freedom in knowing that God’s ways are beyond us, beyond our understanding. Freedom to know that God will do anything to bring us to him, even break our hearts, because the reward is so much greater.
Thank you, Amber, for your hard-won wisdom, your heroic witness, and your fierce love of Jesus, family, life, the cross. Your death breaks our hearts, but we will join you in your quest for true freedom. How you will be missed. May you rest in peace.
Carrie Gress, Ph.D., is a Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center where she co-directs EPPC’s Theology of Home Project. She earned her doctorate in philosophy from the Catholic University of America, as is the co-editor at the online women’s magazine Theology of Home.
Carrie Gress, Ph.D., is a Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where she co-directs EPPC’s Theology of Home Project. She earned her doctorate in philosophy from the Catholic University of America and is the co-editor at the online women’s magazine Theology of Home.