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.
That was beautiful Erin. Thank you.
Thank you, Allison.
What a beautiful post. I have friends who I think about every year at this time because they lost there dear daughter to cancer at the tender age of 17. We ask why, and wonder, but in the end, your friends brother is right, “He gives and takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” But, oh it is so hard, anytime there is an empty table where they used to a friend, a grandfather, a mother, father, son or daughter. Prayers to you and your friends family this holiday season.
Thank you, Misty, and thank you for sharing about your friend!
Theres no words that i can said how holly spirit inspired this is. One thung that i learn thru my sisters death is thectrue meaning of the gospel. At the moment when i walk by her gasket at church incredible grief came over me! I regreted so much loving her limits. She had deeply wounded me when i was a litle girl, n constatntly humiliated me as we grew up . I learn that is not alwats good to have boundaries but to love as God leads you. I regreted so much nit loving n servung her more,but it was too late for now she was dead. I was afraid to love her b geting hurt worst, now i dont have boundaries in loving persins unless the spirit leads me t boundaries.
Thank you for sharing your heart, Brenda. I pray you can find closure with the situation with your sister–forgiving her even after her death and forgiving yourself. God wants you to have peace and joy.
I read your post and cried with sadness for the loss and with joy for the reunion. My nephew died by his own hand 2-1/2 years ago and it changed me and I questioned my faith. My dear friend lost her husband to cancer 10 years ago and her reason for going on is to do God’s will and return to Joe’s arms when God says her work is done. This has helped me with my walk with Christ and my understanding of our father. Thank you for sharing your heart.
Thank you for sharing your stories, Genia.
Beautiful! I would say I lost my husband 9 years ago on 12/27 but I did not loose him. I know exactly where he is. However, he is not here. Diagnosed with a brain tumor in August, he died Dec 27. This time of year is so difficult because I relive the entire thing. My children were 5 and 7 – too young to loose their Daddy. How do people make it without the promise of Heaven?
“How do people make it without the promise of Heaven.” <---That is so true. It definitely helps push those of us who know Him to share Him with others. I pray you will have peace and joy in the midst of your sadness this season, Mel--and I pray you will think back to the fond memories with your husband!!
Wow this brought out some grief in me I didn’t know I was still carrying. It’s really painful but I must need to deal with it. Beautifully written, inspired post. Thank you.
Thank you for sharing, Amy. I hope you find peace and joy in the healing.
Wow, this was really weird…my sister was Melissa May Bible and she died a few weeks before Courtney (she was a year older) in a car accident and their graves are either right next to each other at the cemetery. I got quite a shock reading this, when I realized I knew who you were talking about. Do you still live in town?
Hi Laura! I wish I had known your sister. I do remember her dying around the same time as Courtney–it being in the news. I am so sorry for your loss, but I hope you have found healing. I moved away for 10 years but moved back to Mooresville 5 1/2 years ago!
I came to this blog to read the article about Stocking stuffers for men but then the title of this post caught my eye. As I began to read, I realized that I knew who you were talking about too. Just like the previous comment, this is really weird. It just so happens that Courtney’s mom and Kelvin’s wife is my first cousin. I am totally amazed at her unwavering faith in the midst of not one but two devastating losses.
Wow, Kathy–I can’t believe you found the post through the stocking stuffer post! I love Gigi so much! We really bonded when I was a teenager, and she chaperoned mission trips, camps, etc. She truly exemplifies someone who knows the Lord. Thank you for commenting! What a small world!
Lisa @ This Pilgrim Life
This is beautiful Erin. Thank you for sharing. It is so encouraging to read how the Lord carried you through and gave you and your friends steadfast hope.
Thank you, Lisa!
What I love about your writing Erin is that it is from your heart. You are transparent and real. In life and in print.
Thank you, Megan. <3 How I hope we will get to be together in person again one day!!
Erin, That was such a beautiful, heartfelt post. It is something everyone can find comfort in. Thank you.
Thank you, Joy!
What a beautiful post, thank you so much for sharing. My father just recently passed away from cancer, we found out in March and he passed in May. It was so fast and so horrible and the only thing that gets me through the day is my faith in Jesus and knowing that I will see him again. And I look forward to that day that I get to dance with my daddy in heaven.
Very moving and perfectly timed for us. This is our first Christmas without my MoM, who just passed away in September. I’ve never known anything like the pain of losing her, one of my best friends, as well as my Mom. I find myself thinking often ‘what is Mom doing right now, at his minute?’. And I find myself imagining what her reunion with her own Momma and Daddy were like and with that of her grandbaby Jolene (my youngest sister’s baby girl) who only lived about an hour on this earth. Christmas is very different for them all this year. Sad and full of grief for us but joyous for them, together again. We hold on to that hope of seeing them all again too one day. Thank you for this post!
That post has me in tears. I’m sorry for your loss, but your words are absolutely beautiful. Courtney’s mom especially touched my heart. I always admire people who never seem to have their faith shaken. I question a lot, and I don’t see that as a bad thing, but I do wish I had unwavering faith in God’s plans. Thank you for sharing. It is my fervent prayer that this post will reach someone who needs these exact words.
I cried as I read your post. I too lost a great friend in high school .. I remember her often and when I heard that her mother had passed my first thought was tears of joy for Alice and her mom.
Thank you for sharing our Hope in Christ so others can learn that our journey does not end here.
Have a blessed Christmas.
oh so sweet… the reunion… my youngest daughter, Falesha, went to live in her heavenly home 5/5/13, when she was 30 (her sister’s 32nd birthday)… it was so sudden… a blood clot to the lung that came from a sprained ankle she got 3/10/13… Dr saw her on 5/1 & said she should come the next week for an MRI. She left me 2 beautiful granddaughters that are so full of her… we laugh & cry together when they visit. Her sister’s heart is so broken because she’d put off calling her back, but Falesha understood how hard it was to care for a newborn baby… I told her husband & my oldest that God was not to blame… He knew her tomorrow & if the blood clot had caused her to have a stroke & paralysis, it would’ve been so much harder. I yelled at the enemy on my way home from the hospital… “You do not win… she gave her life to the Lord when she was 8 & she knew what her eternal future held”!! My family & friends were so amazed at my peace, but I kept reminding myself that I would see her again… and instead of asking God “why?”… my question was “why not?” Life is so short, and tomorrow is not guaranteed, so we need to spend the few hours we have loving, forgiving, laughing & preparing for our eternal future. God bless you ♥
I need to go give my neighbor a hug. It was about this time last year that her husband and our great neighbor died. I thought he was stubborn enough to hold on until his birthday, which is Christmas Day, but he was buried on December 20th. She needs a hug today!
The longer we live, the more people we miss at holiday times.
Thank you for sharing!