I’m not quite sure of how to begin this post as I know my words will be sorely insufficient. It’s been an upsetting week, to say the least. For the purposes of this blog, I’m framing recent events in terms of a reminder. A reminder of what really matters in life. A reminder to let go of the junk that doesn’t matter at all.
My hometown was rocked with a huge loss one week ago. A classmate of mine passed away suddenly, the victim of an auto accident. Just an ordinary day, going about the routine, and a sixteen-year-old’s failure to stop at a stop sign changed everything. Thankfully, none of her family members were with her in the car, but my friend Emily died at the scene.
Just like that. One moment, she was thinking of any of a thousand tasks she needed to do, as a busy wife and mother of six. The next moment, she was gone and her sweet family, plus countless other loved ones, were left grieving. What an unspeakable loss.
It’s the kind of thing that happens all too often, yet when it happens to you or someone you know, it feels completely surreal. Impossible. Not her. I first heard the news from my mom, who of course follows all of my school friends on Facebook and had seen comments that hinted at the tragedy. She called me late that night to see if I knew anything, and within a few minutes I had learned that it was indeed our Emily, and the shocking truth that she was gone.
“You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” Psalms 139:16
I know my words will fall far short today, but I still want to share a little bit about this woman because she was so amazing. I hadn’t seen her or spoken to her in real life since college, but thanks to social media, we’d kept up on each other’s milestones. Just a few days before her accident, I had been pondering and for some reason realized that Emily was the only person I’d gone to school with my entire life. Kindergarten through undergrad. I thought, hey, that’s kind of neat and probably pretty rare. I can’t think of too many memories of growing up that didn’t include Emily in some way.
Growing up in a very small town means everybody knows everybody. Our class was filled with kids who had known each other forever. We all went to school together, played together, celebrated birthdays together, did Scouts together…you get the point. In our eighth grade year, we consolidated schools with the next town over (not a huge deal, since we would have done so for high school the following year anyway). Still a small school, same vibe.
Emily and I didn’t hang in the same core group of friends, but we did marching band and Lifesavers (peer counselor group) and cross-country together. She became a Christian early in high school, and that soon became her ultimate focus and passion. She was one of those rare people who made Christianity cool. Everyone knew where she stood, and even if they didn’t agree with her, they respected her for her convictions. She and I led team prayers before each girls’ cross-country race our senior year, and not all on the team were believers. But no one minded, and they appreciated the ritual. I’m fairly certain that was thanks to Emily’s kind way of sharing her faith.
We ended up attending the same private Christian college (Wheaton) and crossed paths occasionally, in the dorm or at track meets. She always had a smile on her face.
In the years since college, Emily married her college sweetheart, he completed medical school, and they began growing their family. Three biological children were followed by adopted twins, followed by another biological child. By all firsthand accounts, she rocked at mothering such a large brood. She also managed to keep it real on social media, often admitting her failures and shortcomings as a mom. She didn’t sugarcoat the challenges of adoption or of raising a large family. Always tying everything to the anchor of her faith in Jesus, she constantly maintained that everything she did was only by the grace of God. On many occasions, I found myself convicted by her posts to seek God more fervently.
Now here we are. This friend won’t get to finish raising her beautiful children or continue loving others around her as she did so well. I didn’t attend her memorial service; a 14-hour drive each way was just too far. My heart was torn on Monday as I longed to be physically present with Emily’s family and friends to grieve. I’m thankful for the woman who live-streamed the service for those unable to attend, so we could mourn her loss and celebrate her life from afar.
It’s so unfair. It really is. I am angry and so unbelievably brokenhearted for her closest family. I am not God, and I definitely wouldn’t have chosen this way to write this story. The knowledge of Emily’s deep faith brings comfort, and I trust that she’s rejoicing in heaven right now. But at the same time, the thought of the crushing grief her husband, kids, and all of her family are experiencing, is hard to accept. What God is doing in all of this pain, I don’t know.
“You will show me the way of life, granting me tell joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.” Psalm 16:11
No matter what, this is a reminder to me, to all of us who cared for Emily, to embrace the life we’re given. Sometimes I think we forget how, in the end, we really have no control over our fate. I don’t fully appreciate the gifts of my life or the sweet moments as they happen. Emily’s death is reminding me, all the time, to take what God gives and do my best with it. Whether my life ends in fifty years or tomorrow, am I making the most of the gift? Am I being obedient to God? Am I telling people how much I love them? Am I truly living out that love?
I’m reminded of song lyrics by Nichole Nordeman:
I want to leave a legacy.
How will they remember me?
Did I choose to love?
Did I point to You enough to make a mark on things? I want to leave an offering.
Child of mercy and grace who blessed Your name unapologetically…to leave that kind of legacy.
Surely Emily has left an incredible legacy of love and faith, and that’s what I hope to do whenever my time comes.
“Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” Psalm 90:12
What kind of legacy do you hope to leave in the world? How do you want to be remembered?