First things first… I want you all to know that at its core Everyday Faith + Fitness is a place to be encouraged both spiritually and physically, but it’s also just a little bit about life – and in today’s case… death too. (Are you still reading? I debated whether including that little honest confession too early would make me lose you.)
This is where the “everyday” part comes in. I like sharing both Biblical and fitness truths, but honestly, you can find that type of information anywhere with a quick search of the Internet. By sharing a little bit more about me and my life, I hope that it connects us and opens doors for more meaningful relationships – that in the end, come back to strengthening both the faith and fitness realms of your lives as well. Make sense?
With that being said… my head is swirling with thoughts, so bear with me as I attempt to pour them onto paper in a cohesive message here.
Eleven years ago this weekend, I received a call that I will never forget, and forever changed my life. (In psychological terms, it’s called a “flashbulb memory”). And, let me say, this event affected me profoundly, but obviously there are many other people (both those involved in this story and others with much greater pain of their own) who have much deeper wounds than mine. Please know I respectfully understand that to the fullest extent and am striving for utmost sensitivity as I write.
The flashing light on the answering machine – (Ha! Do you remember those?) – replayed a message from our school principal. Our school’s music teacher had had her baby, but there had been some complications. Bilateral cerebral hemorrhage. Eclampsia-related. Age 27. Life support.
Around the teachers’ lounge table at lunch, she and I had often talked of date nights in marriage, scrapbooking tools, healthy eating recipes and her upcoming life change as a new mom. I’m pretty sure we were the only two teachers under 35 on staff there, so she seemed like a bit of a peer mentor to me.
Finding the words to explain to an entire school of elementary students that their most-beloved music teacher had passed away just a few days later was impossible. I remember it was suggested to be specifically cautious about mentioning her baby boy or that it related to the pregnancy at all, out of concern that it might frighten the children, especially those whose mothers were also expecting. Not to mention those who were also in their child-bearing years (ahem, me!)
Enter (above-normal-) feelings of anxiety when even considering the possibility of ever becoming pregnant…
Then, not even three months later, I get the news that my cousin’s wife died giving birth to their baby due to amniotic fluid getting into her bloodstream. I’m a 23-year-old newlywed who doesn’t know much about pregnancy (other than what I’d learned farrowing pigs on a farm!), but it’s becoming painfully clear to me that it can easily result in death.
Thankfully, with my husband in medical school (who, of course, tried to reassure me with statistics beyond compare) and then residency… and then fellowship… we had a “good excuse” to not have children for some time. He always pointed out that people die every day in automobile accidents, yet I still drive a car. But still…
I had always known I’d wanted to be a mom. I know God’s first command in Genesis was to be fruitful and multiply, and that children are a gift from the Lord (Psalm 127:3). But, I wasn’t sure I would ever really be willing to risk it. I mean, I could die! (Obviously, I survived labor and delivery – twice! – and am, of course, so thankful for our two amazing boys!)
But, my friend’s funeral was the first one I had attended that was intended to be a celebration of life. She had loved Jesus and made no apologies for it. It was evident in everything she did and the way she interacted with every person she met. And, in that moment, I knew I wanted to live a life more like that.
I had plenty of time to consider more deeply what that meant exactly, because interestingly enough, I had just started training for my first marathon shortly before this occurred. Everyone deals with grief differently of course, but can I just tell you how therapeutic it is to process these kinds of thoughts with God while pounding on the pavement for sometimes hours on end? Nothing better than an open road with just you and Jesus.
Clearly, I’ve still got more work to do though…Imagine what a basketcase I was just last year when one of my best friends here told me on the anniversary of that flashing phone message morning she had gone into labor, and then I didn’t hear from her again all. day. long. I finally texted her mom that night “to see if she was still alive.” I’m pretty sure I worded it differently, but that’s exactly what I was thinking! (And, she was! Happy birthday, Judah!)
Now, every year at this time, I return to apologizing that it took this kind of traumatic event for me to recognize how amazing a life with Him could be. If “everything happens for a reason”, I know the reason for that was to draw me closer to Jesus. But because of that, I’m overcome with guilt, unable to imagine the agonizing loss her family still feels.
Which brings me back to this very same weekend 2015… Another coworker’s “celebration of life”, after valiantly finishing her fight with cancer. The sadness. The tears. Another family missing their mother. But in my mind, the very personal knowledge and reassurance that there’s someone out there who is going to find Jesus a little closer than ever before.
One of the most profound things my mom ever said to me (albeit in (well-deserved!) extreme anger as I was making up some mostly twisted version of a shred of truth about being two hours late for curfew because some boy was telling me about his fatal heart condition) – was that “We all die someday.”
And as cold and heartless as that may sound (no judgment towards my mom here – did I mention she had every right to be livid at that moment?), it may be the four words I come back to most often when looking grief in the tear-stained eyes. Death is inescapable. Chris often jokes that no matter how hard he works, 100% of his patient panel is going to die. Hmm. True.
Knowing that we are promised eternal life in a heaven so unbelievably amazing that we can’t even wrap our minds around it is the only thing that gives me hope when I start thinking about the hurt and the pain and the suffering that comes from losses like these.
After my friend’s passing, her church worship team put together a CD as a fundraiser for her husband and son. On it, her opening thoughts are recorded from a concert where they had performed, “I Can Only Imagine” by Mercy Me. She says, “Sometimes I think we just get so caught up, that we don’t just sit and daydream and wonder how awesome it’s going to be…”
As if I should be surprised…That was also the very first song played on this weekend’s Celebration of Life video as well. And the waterfalls began…
If you’re suffering from loss tonight, sorting through feelings of grief, or even just figuring out how to deal with extreme anxiety about pregnancy, I hope that your best attempts at imagining heaven and knowing His love bring you a little peace.