CAME home to some awful news Saturday night. Just as I processed what was happening and my heart began aching at the thought of it, the sound of my wife’s tears could be heard from the other room.
In the exact moment, we were both learning of deaths involving beloved friends of ours. One had succumbed to cancer down the street from us. From far away in Kentucky, the other was losing a spouse and the father of their very young children in a tragic accident. Both are young families, friends our age, just now entering the prime of life, who now find themselves entering widowhood.
Amanda loved Teresa. Her heart was sensitive to those suffering and in need. She lived to put smiles on their faces and nice things in their hands that they couldn’t afford. 36 years old. A health coach. Never smoked a day in her life.
I love Christa. Has a smile that lights up the room. She saw a sad and lonely boy, so terrified of his own shadow, and she helped to make him feel special and valuable and beautiful. She stepped into his loneliness and his scared little outcast world and helped him discover his voice and helped him find the courage to show the world who he was.
That boy was me, fifteen years ago. Everywhere I’ve been and everything I’ve done since would have likely never happened without people like her coming into my life at that age. She went off to college and played softball. Later coached it and became a mentor. A man walked into her life who soon would become her husband, one who cherished her and treated her like a Queen. And then along came two precious children.
Power line accident. Just days after celebrating Christmas and New Year’s.
Ever since Saturday night, the feeling of sadness for them has pierced my heart deeper and deeper. I can’t get them out of my mind. I tried to write something funny for a friend today to get my mind away from it. But the tears returned. And the jokes fell flat. I stared at the ceiling at 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock, 4 o’clock in the morning, sobbing in the dark, sobbing for their children and for my friend. And in a moment of complete selfishness, once it registered that these are people our age, I thought about my own mortality and how quickly life as we know it can change – and how sudden and thudding a finality death is.
I never hugged my wife harder than I did Saturday night. Life is precious. Life is sacred. It is to be savored, not to squandered going through the motions. How can I live as sweetly and as beautifully as I wish I could, without getting sucked into the raging vortex of work and bills and debt and drama and sorrow and pain?
I finally learned how to this weekend – by becoming less like myself and more like Christa. And more like Teresa and her family.
She just wished me a happy birthday. Even in her final few days, while she lied vanquished on her deathbed, she cared for me.
We just saw her. We stood before them with a dozen others, singing Christmas carols late into the night with candles in our hands. Teresa was sitting there with her husband and daughter at her side. And the entire time, their faces were radiant. She didn’t look like someone whose life was being extinguished. They looked like they were at Disney World. Like it was the happiest day of their lives. It so poignant and powerful a lesson, I couldn’t even sing – my eyes were stinging the entire time. We smiled into each others faces. We embraced, we said good night. She limped back into her house holding on to her husbands hand and the empty chair was left behind on the porch as light dissolved into the darkness of the night.
She passed away just three weeks later.
It happens so fast…
Just half an hour ago, I sat at my desk weeping for Christa and her children. I felt nauseous, imagining how inconsolable I would have been in that circumstance; wishing it was all some strange nightmare that really didn’t happen that she can awake from and get back to the life she awoke to on New Year’s Day.
Then I go to Christa’s timeline. And although heartbroken, her mindset is not mine. At all. Her mindset is, “This hurts. But this isn’t the end. This is the greatest pain I will ever know. But it is not hopeless! He’s no longer here. But he’s in Paradise now! He’s going home. And one day, very soon, we are joining him.”
I’ve traveled all over the world as a minister of the Word. Every single week, I stand in a pulpit and preach my heart out and I don’t have the amount of faith that Christa has that is carrying her through this nightmare. I don’t have the unquenchable joy that radiated within Teresa until her final breath.
But I’ve seen the examples right before my eyes.
Some day, I hope to have the faith of Christa Franklin and the joy of Teresa Bissett. And when I do, I will carry it until my final breath.