Chelsea Rethlake died of cancer on September 29, 2013, one year after graduating with a degree in math education.
Well into 2014, her Facebook wall remains current with notes and updates from her friends:
April 1: Britta Sjoberg: “I heard ‘Man in the Mirror’ playing in the store today and I thought of the time you, Kelsey and I were rocking out to MJ on our way to a corn maze in Kokomo. But for real, when were you not jamming to MJ’s tunes?
“I miss your enthusiasm and love of life. You left an amazing legacy.”
March 11: Hailey Ann Tompkins: “Hey Chelsea Morgan. Today was a rough one. I miss you. Most times, I still don’t believe it. I love you. As always, wish you were here.”
February 2: Amanda Smith: “We miss you at The River Chelsea, but we know you are enjoying a happiness none of us could even imagine right now.”
People close to Chelsea consistently remember a person full of joy. Her smile, her laughter and her words of encouragement for those she cared about are what people hold onto when they think about who she was.
“There was no hiding Chelsea’s joy of her salvation,” said Pastor Matt Trexler ‘99 of The River Community Church in Marion, where Chelsea attended since its founding in 2007. “She had this amazing ability to brighten a room with who Christ was in her.”
When she found out about the cancer, Trexler recalls, her thoughts were for other people before herself.
“Chelsea’s prayer simply was, even in that first conversation, ‘Matthew, I’ll do cancer if somehow my family can come to know Jesus’…Chelsea never got to see the completion of that on this side of heaven.”
She never lost faith,” says her mother, Pam Zirzow. “You never heard her complain… she continued working and going to school and all of her church activities, all through her chemo and radiation.”
“She had just been told on a Thursday that we were out of time, we were out of treatments, and that she probably had two to five weeks left. She asked me if I’d take her to church, and I did, and she walked in and started singing and raising her hands in praise, and I was just amazed….the joy on her face, and the peace in her face, there had to be something to it.”
At the celebration of life event that The River held to honor Chelsea, her mother was baptized in a portable tank brought in for the event. Spontaneously, several other people chose to be baptized as well, including Chelsea’s uncle and his family.
Chelsea’s story, as told by her friends and through her blog, has influenced people across Marion and even throughout the world to make decisions for Christ.
“Chelsea’s prayer was answered,” Trexler said. “Her cancer and her death were not in vain. Chelsea walked with cancer…with a faith and with a joy that I’ve never seen before.”