A Wingo woman's commitment to share her faith with others lives on, even following her death from breast cancer.
Wendy's Share the Cross Ministry puts 2-inch olive wood crosses from the Holy Land in the hands of anyone who may need uplifting. They were originally the idea of Wendy Crass Mays, who died Oct. 1, 2018, at age 57.
Mays' battle with breast cancer began in July 2016, when she found a lump in her breast. She had only missed one mammogram, her sister, Shannon Usher, said.
"Immediately they wanted to do a biopsy," she said. When doctors determined Mays had breast cancer, she decided on a lumpectomy, followed later by chemotherapy, radiation and breast reduction and reconstruction.
In 2017, she began having what she thought were inner ear problems. After treatment did not improve her symptoms, Mays had a CT scan that determined it was a brain tumor that had metastasized from her breast to her brain, Usher said. She had neurosurgery in January 2018.
"We still thought everything would be OK because the tumor at the base of her brain stem was actually encapsulated, so we were very hopeful," Usher said.
During each of her many treatments, Mays held a small wooden cross.
"She would have it in her hand, and she would rub it the whole time," Usher said. "When she was leaving, she would pass that cross off."
Usher went back and forth with Mays to her treatments.
"The whole time we would talk about the Lord and not letting things worry us, that life's too short," Usher said. "She was a very faithful woman."
Eventually, Mays started buying the crosses by the bag for the purpose of sharing them. She and her family would encourage others to take them, especially if the person was sick or seemed afraid or needed peace.
"As we went to chemo, to these hospitals, she would keep a bag of these crosses. She would tap me and tell me give them a cross," Usher said.
Sometimes, Usher said, Mays was quite insistent. That was the case when during a radiation treatment in Paducah, Mays heard a man who was very upset and not treating medical staff well. She insisted her husband find the man and pass along a cross.
"I know you don't know me, but my wife wants you to have this," Usher recalled him saying. "That man, he reluctantly took it, but he took it."
The next week, upon returning for treatment, a nurse came up to them.
"She said that man is a totally different man now," Usher said. He said he was not upset any more and told nurses that having the cross to hold is what made the difference for him.
Those who received the crosses were encouraged to pass them along to others, as well. Many times they were mailed out with get well cards and sympathy cards or handed to someone at a hospital or funeral home. Family members carried them in their purses.
"She said you must share the cross. That's all she kept telling us," Usher said.
The olive wood crosses are not symmetrical. They have uneven curves and show the grain of the wood from which they were carved. Mays told Usher she liked the crosses because of the imperfections. "She said we're imperfect, too," Usher said.
Mays asked her family to continue sharing the crosses, even when she was too weak to do so. Over time, the crosses made their way across the United States, and then on to other countries. Mays' family members learned of crosses in Brazil and in Germany.
At the same time, Mays was losing her battle with cancer.
In July 2018, doctors told her she had roughly two weeks to live. She had lost her vision and was in a wheel chair by then, but she kept talking about having a celebration for the cross ministry to encourage even more people to pass them out. By then, some churches, including her home church, Wingo United Methodist, had ordered crosses and made them available to members and visitors to share.
Mays' family asked her when the celebration should be. She said Oct. 6 and that it was a Saturday. The family was surprised to find out she had the day of the week correct as by then she couldn't see to read a calendar.
Mays talked about the food and music that would be at the celebration. Meanwhile, her family worried about how they were going to get here there.
"She said don't worry. I'm going to be there," Usher said. When family members would ask her how she knew about the date or the celebration details, she would only say, "Jesus told me."
Mays died Oct. 1 at the Ray & Kay Eckstein Hospice Care Center in Paducah. A sister flew in Oct. 2, and her visitation was Oct. 3. She was buried Oct. 4. In keeping with Mays' wishes, Mays' family and friends prepared for the cross celebration Oct. 5 and held it Oct. 6. They believe she was there in spirit to see it.
A year after her passing, more than 10,000 of the little crosses have been given away, and stories keep coming in of how much they have meant to those receiving them.
The ministry has also spread to other churches, including First Presbyterian in Mayfield.
"We share them everywhere," Usher said, "and they are just spreading."