Today I’m humming “In Christ Alone,” and I’m thinking of Courtney.
I wonder how it’s different for her this year. It’s her 15th but only her Daddy’s first.
Fifteen years ago today Courtney left us suddenly. In a car accident on I-40, on her way to school–her senior year in high school–she went to be with Jesus.
I’ve never been the same.
Her cheerleading uniform in the back seat that day. Her toenails already painted red to usher in the Christmas season.
She who had been with us at Thanksgiving. The one whose neck I had hugged the Sunday after, for I was going back to college for a few more weeks, and we “would hang out at Christmas.” The one who had sat near my sister at the Experiencing God Wednesday night Bible study the night before.
A few hours later, she experienced Him face-to-face.
I rode home from college with a boy we had all grown up with, and as he passed cars on the interstate, I shuddered.
Why Jesus? Why had my sweet 17-year-old friend’s life ended–just like that?
And that night we gathered.
We sang and we worshipped, and, as we celebrated the Coming King, we celebrated the life of one of his saints’ Going Home.
Even as I worshipped, I questioned Him. And even as I questioned, He drew me to Himself.
I’ve had friends begin to grapple with their faith in their 30s. And that’s OK. I see no wrong with questioning and pondering and working out their salvation. It’s part of the sanctification process.
But, for me, it happened at 19.
In the tiny dorm room, the phone rang. I took the call, dressed in the yellow robe with the towel on my head and my knees collapsing to the floor and the weeping and the pulling of my hair and the pounding of my fists on the wood of the bunk bed.
My dorm mates still remember the screams.
It was as if…my heart and soul had been ripped out of my body.
And I wailed. I screamed louder than I had ever before. I cried for me and I cried for her Mama and her Daddy and her brother and all of us who loved her so.
For this was grief.
And I asked myself: Where is this Jesus? Where is He who is supposed to reside in my heart? Because He was there this morning, but I do not feel Him now.
Instead, I felt empty. My heart void. And I waved my hands inward, to my chest, and I asked Him to return. I uttered aloud: “Jesus, where are you?”
I thought: “Is He real? Is He truly real? And if he isn’t, then where is she?”
And not all at once, but slowly, tenderly, He drew me back to Himself.
Through the compassionate, patient prayers of my roommate.
Through Courtney’s Mama’s eyes that shone of Jesus and comforted her teenage friends even while buried in her own horrid grief.
In her Daddy’s hug, who said he knew we loved her.
In her teenage brother’s proclamation of: “He gives and takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
And most of all, in His Word, as I learned that “now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (I Peter)
And I said aloud that day: “This is it. This is when my faith is made real.”
My mama had had cancer, and it had been faith-building. But she had lived.
But death. Death is final.
Except it’s not. It doesn’t have to be.
When her Daddy fell ill with the brain tumor, and the doctors said his time was near, he looked forward to the sweet reunion he had been awaiting for 14 years.
He would see his baby girl again. And they would dance. And they would sing. And they would celebrate Jesus–together.
His diagnosis came near Thanksgiving. His Home Going in March.
And as I passed by his casket and reached out to his wife and sang “In Christ Alone,” tears streamed down my face. There was a heaviness in the packed sanctuary, but there was also a hope.
For even in her grief, Courtney’s mama and Kelvin’s wife smiled at those gathered as she walked down the aisle.
The same aisle I walked down as a bride, she walked down as a bereaved mother and widow. And she smiled for her hope was in Jesus.
She knew the secret to joy beyond the grave. She exuded the suffering that produces perseverance, the perseverance that produces character and the character that produces hope (Romans 5).
The hope of a blessed reunion between father and daughter. The hope of the trials of life that had brought sanctification finally bringing glorification. The hope of Jesus.
Where is your hope this Christmas?
All images–except for the headstone–came from pixabay.com.