This is something I thought I'd share from a couple of weeks ago. Back in October, we lost a sweet soul on this Earth. This loss triggered so many emotions inside of me and brought me back to all the moments I'd felt this way before. Reminding me of experiences that made me truly question the idea of death and the "why"'s of it all. The frustration and confusion of it. The sting of it. The sadness. The process of losing someone, and the painful reality that follows. So after some deep thought and heartache, I felt prompted to write about it.
Papa, Eme, Lutz, and Mr. M, this one's for you.
Recently over the weekend, a young freshman girl in my sorority was killed in a fatal car crash that claimed her life. In the late hours of Saturday night, a family's entire world was ripped to pieces. The lives of those she loved completely altered forever. Upon receiving this news in our chapter's Sunday email the next morning, I felt a cold shock catch my body as I re-read the email over and over again.
It just did not seem real. It couldn't be. It felt so close.
A young girl in our chapter had died. A sister that was a part of the same sorority I hold so near and dear to my own heart was gone. A freshman girl starting her brand new confusing, yet exciting college journey miles away from the comfort of her home for the first time ever. The same exact spot I was in less than two years ago. That could have been me, I remember thinking. That could have been any of us. But I did not think that selfishly. I thought that in the sense that we all believe death is avoidable to us personally.
We do. We all believe it could never happen to us. There's just no way, right? That person will never be us.
We go to an expensive college, cheer on a big football team, and attend social events with all of our friends. That stuff just doesn't happen to people like me. We are all guilty of thinking this at one point or another, aren't we? I'm right there with you. Life feels too real. As hard as it is to admit, I think those things too. Often. We never pay attention to the ultimate consequence this world could bring us until we're shaken awake. Until it reminds us. Otherwise, we ignore it. We push it away. We run from it. We convince ourselves things like that only happen to people far outside of our towns and circles.
But Sunday as I got that email, I was quickly reminded just how real of a thing it is.
Just how real an 18-year-old girl dying before she could enjoy the best years of her life are. Just how real a college student leaving her family for a degree and never returning home to hug her parents one last time is. Because death is real. And it hit me. Death does not discriminate. Life that we know is short. It can be snatched from us in an instant. It is absolutely unavoidable. How utterly depressing and hopeless of a thought is that? How real can that be? The idea of it gripped me so hard and wouldn't let go.
In the midst of driving to our chapter meeting tonight specifically dedicated to Eme, our own sweet sister, I was internally distraught. Not because I knew her closely or personally, grieving on the level that her close friends and family did, but simply because I grieved her short, young life. The loss of something so beautiful. I grieved the idea of that girl being me, my best friend, or my sister. I grieved the relevance and the realness of it.
I grieved for her, and all the things in life she was going to miss. I grieved the thought of losing someone so new to this world; A world she barely knew yet. It was so hard for me to grasp. The idea that the same freshman girl that I was only years before, would never get to wake up in the comfort of her own dorm room ever again. She would never laugh with her friends. She would never attend another sorority event with her sisters, she would never be able to hear her mom's voice through the phone hours away, and she would never get to encounter the joys of fully growing up and experiencing life. The joys of graduating, falling in love, getting married, or having kids.
All the things that we, as young women, so deeply anticipate. It was heartbreaking. Just simply the thought of it crippled me to my core. And the worst part is, she never knew. She never knew Saturday would be her last breath on earth. She never knew she was moments from her final time behind a wheel. She just never knew. We all never know. That's the scariest part. We take life for granted. We never think it could be us. We forget to appreciate all the things we assume will always be there.
I was sitting in our chapter room listening to our president talk about her, and my heart weighed a million pounds. The mere idea of her family getting that phone call shattered me to pieces and left me nauseous. My body felt numb in my chair. Because for the first time in a long time, the idea of a death so close to me and so relevant to my own life felt real. It felt close. A college world that I get so easily caught-up & lost in, sometimes losing my sense of reality, suddenly felt so small and scary. I began to remember that no fraternity party, no big exam, no Auburn football game or new college adventure could protect me from avoiding the reality of death being real. Death being there. It could only distract me from it. While leaving the chapter room and walking to my car, I thought in silence.
I thought about the night I held my best friend in my arms as she screamed and sobbed for her dad at the top of her lungs until she physically couldn't anymore. A heap of pure pain and agonizing sorrow. An unrecognizable, shattered heart. It was gut-wrenching to witness. Truly unexplainable. I remembered the sudden hit of reality that night when I, too, realized he was gone forever. It was real. Just like that. In a second. Without a goodbye or a warning. Leaving her, and those he loved, in complete ruins.
One of the most amazing Christian men you would have ever gotten the opportunity to know, and he was gone.
A man with the warmest smile and biggest heart.
Gone from his family.
Gone from a daughter who desperately needed him. A daughter who would spend years of her life figuring out who she was without him, and how she would survive it all alone.
And I knew holding her that night that nothing from then on would ever be the same again. She would never be the same again. And for weeks after, I found myself laying in bed at night, wide-awake, sobbing and asking God why. Why did things like this happen to people. Why did it have to hurt so much. Naturally, I shared the same sorrow and heartache that my best friend did, because I loved her. Because with everything in me, I knew it wasn't fair. And because it changed my life. I had never heard the sound of true heartbreak and pain until that night. It will stick with me forever. I will never forget it. Because it was real. It was one of the rawest things I had ever witnessed. And as I stood back and watched, I knew I could do absolutely nothing in my power to fix it. I could do nothing to take it away or make it better.
That broke me. I could only watch someone I loved with all my heart suffer the deepest kind of pain. A pain that never truly goes away.
Later that same night, I walked up to my dad latching onto him tightly and not letting go. I buried my face into his chest and quietly cried. He held me close and softly whispered, "Let's go take a walk." We began walking, and he looked down at me with eyes that had seen all sides of pain, and joy, throughout the years. I asked him why things like this happened, and why God would allow it. I just didn't understand. I firmly believed he was a God of love, so why? It didn't make sense. My dad gave me a sad smile and quietly replied, "We don't know why they happen, Lan. We never will. Because sadly, that's just life." He continued, "And life can be painful. And it can be unfair. But what we do know is that we serve a God of purpose. And where we are wrong, is trying to question and understand the same God who positioned the stars in the sky and put the earth into motion. We have to trust and remember that his love is unfailing for us."
I looked up at the sky and felt a mixture of shame and confusion. It took me years after to finally understand what my dad was saying that night.
That was the first time in my life that I had truly questioned God's intentions.
I had never gotten the chance to experience and witness sorrow like that before. It was a whole new type of sadness that I never actually knew. One that God needed me to see in order to understand that his love on this earth would never be easy. It would never be without low valleys and high mountaintops. We would always find a reason to push it away or be angry. We would always hurt encountering something we feel like we don't deserve.
But, amidst the confusion, his love will always be purposeful. It will always be worth it. It will always be for our own good. And it will always win. Because even at our darkest moments, God's love is what saves us. Even when we don't understand it.
I then thought about the day I was driving home from class back to my dorm when I got the call that my precious papa had passed away. A call that I never thought would come. A call that I just didn't think could be true. I sat there in my car and physically could not fight the tears and the aching; it completely overtook me. The man I spent so many summers with, most holidays with, who taught me to tie my shoes, fish, love Jesus, and love others, was just...gone. So suddenly. One of my biggest mentors and role models from the youngest age. A man whose heart was so pure and intentions always true. A man who fought every day with a smile on his face to make the best of a disease that slowly crippled him. He was so strong. I always admired his strength. I admired the way he loved. I admired his gentleness with others.
And I just always thought he'd be there. I took advantage of that. For years as I grew older, I never truly processed the potential of losing him. But in that moment, unable to resist, I thought back to the last time I saw him. Of course, having no idea it was the last time. Not appreciating his presence there like I should've. Not spending just one more minute. Not loving on him a little bit more. Not giving him one last bear hug to remind him the infinite love I had for him; a love that I still to this day deeply cherish and carry with me. There was so much guilt. So much pain. That was a hard one for me to let go of for some time. Knowing I could've done maybe a little bit more. It was a hard reality for me to swallow. That someone I loved so much was here one day and gone the next.
Then I thought back to the day I was sitting in church and got the text that one of my dad's favorite football players, an incredible person on and off the field, and a man very special and close to my family, had been killed in a car wreck. A man who loved the Lord with everything in him, and lived every day proving that. A man who genuinely understood the idea of true leadership, and the importance of showing God's heart to others. Leaving a legacy so extremely powerful and influential to thousands. One that has slowly helped heal his family, and friends, from the sudden loss of such a phenomenal son, brother, and companion. The loss of someone so special to this world. An instantaneous tragedy; and a seemingly senseless one. One that no one ever saw coming.
With all of this thinking, I became deeply saddened. It hurt. The idea of loss itself hurt. The idea that life can be so short and minuscule hurt. The idea that in a second someone we love so much could be gone just, HURT. I honestly felt hopeless. It was physically painful for me to think about. But even as I drove home in silence, I still could never bring myself to ask God "why?" Because through all that I've learned so far in life, I've realized that we will never truly understand why. We just won't. We can't. It might not ever make sense. God has His reasons and that's just it. That's all we can know. That's all we can put our hope and trust in. That God is filled to the brim with overflowing love and compassion for those he purposely created and loves. For us. His purposeful and unfailing love for us. One that goes beyond boundaries. A love that wants the absolute best for our lives, regardless of circumstance. A love with a depth and purpose that isn't always understandable. A love with a plan exceedingly greater than the one we see and perceive. It's immeasurable. One that carries us and gives us faith. Because faith isn't simple. Faith is our anchor during the roughest of storms. Faith is our solid, sturdy ground. Faith is believing that even when we have no control, we still have shelter. We still have hope. We still are protected. And even though I am fully confident and aware of His gracious & comforting promises for us, I still couldn't help but feel extremely saddened by the idea of death in that moment. Its loss is so cruel and merciless. It's so frustrating and confusing. It's heartbreaking. And my mind seemed stuck.
But, as I felt the tears fall fast down my face, I heard God whisper to me so clearly in that moment: "But I beat it"
And immediately through the silence, I felt a wave of comfort wash over me. Because all of a sudden, I realized... that's just it. Jesus beat it. Jesus beat death. Forever. And once again, I was faithfully reminded of the eternal gift of true hope that we all received selflessly that day on the cross. Nails and thorns marked our freedom from death. His blood marked our forgiveness. His body took our place. Jesus overcame the ending that day. He took away our period, our end, and put an eternity of life behind it. He conquered the permanent and made it temporary. He overruled it. He made it possible for death to be life, and for the end to be the beginning. For it to be our new beginning. Spent forever with Him in a place of paradise. A life full of perfection and lacking pain.
So, just as I felt death as something scary and powerful, I was reminded that death was defeated. Death was made weak. Death was made powerless. Jesus beat it. He beat it for us. For us to be able to grieve for only a short period of time, and then no more. For us to be able to have hope. For us to be able to spend eternity loving Him. Because He loved us enough to share that reality with us. The reality that death is not our end, but our beginning. Because the idea of sharing His forever with the ones He so brutally died for, was enough to break the bonds that death had on us. It was enough to render it powerless.
So, that is why, in Jesus name, death is no more.
So that we can live.
And so that we will.
"I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us." — 1 John 5:13-14
"Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?'" — John 11:25-26