The world lost a girl today who was too young to die. At a mere 27 years, she was still a newlywed, and the new mother of a beautiful little 8 month old girl. Her heart was radiant, her spirit was tangible sunlight. Being in the same room with her meant feeling happy. She touched more lives than anyone could count, but today her loved ones are counting anyway – counting for comfort: counting the memories, the stories, the extraordinary moments, the things she said and did, the times she laughed and the moments she touched a heart. Counting the unspeakable ways she inspired us. We wrap these times around ourselves like a blanket with big holes – they’re not enough to take away the icy chill of despair, and yet, somehow, they still can make us feel warm inside. And so we keep counting – “Remember the time…?” “I can still picture her…” “I’ll never forget when…” The memories warm us even as despair creeps in through the cracks.
I met Katelyn in my kitchen late one Saturday night, just a few weeks after “the deer incident.” Some of her friends had been my Auburn students. With great gusto they were telling the tale – the car that hit a deer in night’s darkness, which destroyed the entire front of the vehicle, totaling it completely. The damage was shocking. The fact that the people walked away unharmed was even more shocking. “Katelyn is the reason we are still alive,” Tyler gestured in her direction, as the story came to a close, “she insisted we pray that night before we left. She always insisted on that. And we prayed for safety. I know it was her prayer that saved us.” She smiled then, and ducked her head humbly, and immediately I recognized in her honest eyes a servant of Jesus. There’s not one way to describe people who have that look. But that look on someone’s face is unmistakable: I walk with Jesus, I know Him – this could have been tattooed on her forehead, for as obvious as it was in her eyes.
This clear, obvious identity of Katelyn’s – that she was a servant of Jesus – only became more and more evident as her battle for life intensified. She spoke of loving Jesus, trusting Jesus, clinging to Jesus when she could have just as easily turned her back on Him and let go. But that’s not who she was; she held tighter. What do we do when our hearts are broken and we are living in a hell we never deserved? Cling to Jesus, she wrote, cling to Jesus. So many days I cherished her written words. So many days I still thought of Katelyn and whispered prayers as I stepped into my own vehicle to drive. But these weren’t yet her most powerful moments, for me.
I opened her very last blog entry from a bench in a dark hospital room – my daughter’s hospital room. And as I watched my fragile 2 year old angel hooked up to wires and needles and beeping monitors, I read Katelyn’s words: “What do you do when you can’t seem to rise above the sadness of your situation and live vivaciously despite your suffering? Does it take a hardier personality than I have?” She talked about how much mental energy it takes to remain positive, how bitter the battle for faith and hope raged in her mind every day, every hour. Yet she still fought the darkness to choose trust. And then she said this: “This was very brutally honest, maybe too honest…I just feel that I don’t need to mislead anyone…I don’t want to be put on a pedestal; I don’t want to be thought of as strong or brave. I am a child of God and in His arms I reserve the right to recognize my complete weakness, confusion and brokenness.”(flightofasmallsparrow.wordpress.com)
And I was crying – I was sobbing, before the sentence had even come to an end, because she spoke directly into my own pain. She gave me the permission to fall into the arms of Jesus exactly as I was: broken. Not faithful, not happy and peppy and strong. But utterly shattered. Here was a woman, battling with the deepest sadness and loss a human can experience, and what did she do? Fall into the arms of Jesus.
Oh, Katelyn, today every single person who loved you is asking the same question: how do we cope? How do we go on? How can life continue in the absence of your light? But you’ve answered the question, you’ve already answered it and even from beyond the grave you are still answering it: throw ourselves into the arms of Jesus. It’s what you did when there was nothing left to do. It’s the only thing we can do, when the pain of your death feels like it very well may eat some of us alive. Some can’t choose faith yet. Some can’t choose hope yet. Some can’t choose positivity and most certainly can NOT choose thankfulness – but we can do one thing. The most important thing. The thing you taught us yourself: throw ourselves into the arms of Jesus.
The brokenness and confusion is in full swing today, as person after person writes about the loss of your life. How could this happen? Why did this happen, to someone as vibrant and as inspiring as you? It’s so senseless. So searing. So unfair. The gut wrenching sadness is tangible – we can’t control it, we can’t hold it in, it is spilling out everywhere and in every facebook post, my newsfeed is a growing tidal wave of sorrow for the loss of you.
But do you know what I noticed, Katelyn? Do you know how they all end, every single one of those devastated posts written by such shattered people? They all end the same. Exactly the same. They end with a certainty that we will see you again, in heaven one day, at the feet of Jesus. Nobody is questioning this. Nobody wonders, nobody tries to guess – did she know the Lord? It is too obvious. You knew Him intimately. You walked with him every step of the way. We know exactly how your story will end – and it’s not here.
There’s one more thing they say, though. Something everyone says, at the end, after the assurance of your salvation. They say, “I’ll see you again, Katelyn, I’ll meet you there.”
Here’s what you don’t know, what you can’t know anymore, what you won’t know until that blessed day, Katelyn: you are SIILL leading us to Jesus. Yes. Even after your death! Even after you are silenced, you are still speaking! How? Because every single heart that knew you, is longing for heaven today.
Life is busy and distracted and the pleasures of this world are so terribly nice sometimes, that we don’t often find ourselves longing for heaven. We are comfortable, we are happy here, we don’t want this to end – not yet. We go on with our lives and that longing for heaven grows dull in us – oh, we know we are to long for Jesus, but on so many days we just don’t feel the ache. We are content. We are distracted. We are stressed, we are busy, we are maxed out. Heaven? Oh yes, that sounds like a very nice place – we just don’t have time to think about that right now.
But you have taught us something different today. Because of how deeply you are loved, because of how deeply your loss is felt in the lives of those that treasured you, there will now, from here on out, NEVER be a day that we do not long for heaven. Because we long for you. We long for heaven to the degree that we miss our loved ones. To the degree that we long for Jesus – because He is one of our loved ones, and oh, how we wish we could just sit with him awhile, ask Him for answers, beg Him to explain.
Katelyn’s life pointed so many people to Jesus while she was alive. But in her death, she is pointing hearts to Jesus just as strong as she ever did – maybe even stronger – because today, she is teaching us to long for heaven. And that is a lesson that will be repeated over, and over, and over, in every moment that she’s missed and with each memory that brings the mind back to her. The stories, the faces, the places – we will think of Katelyn – and then we will long for heaven. How many times will that pattern be repeated? Hundreds. Thousands. Maybe millions. Remember her – miss her – long for heaven.
I do believe, on that bright and glorious day, that there will be people who run up to you, Katelyn, and wrap their arms around you in victory, and whisper, “I am here because you showed me the way. I am here because YOU, your absence, is what finally taught my heart to long for heaven.”
Keep teaching us, Katelyn. You are gone but you will never go, because you are still showing our hearts the way. Keep showing us. Keep leading us. Keep our hearts longing for heaven.
See you there, sweet girl. See you there.