Jen and I met early on our freshman year of college, each fanning the flame to the other’s craziness – time passed, and eventually, after she’d landed in Seattle, I too found myself moving northward, in need of a new home. She and Shannon and Amy took me in to their Green Lake home, where I lived in the hobit hole of a basement for two months – but I tell ya, that time sealed the deal for me on friendship with this woman. So sit yourself down in your comfy chair, and relax into this beautiful read...
I never really glommed onto the whole “WWJD” catch phrase that seemed all-too-consuming, and yet way superficial at one point during my existence. I guess I just live knowing that Jesus would LOVE, and beyond that, I probably couldn’t answer like him, so if the answer can’t be LOVE, then I will have to figure it out a harder way. I’m OK with that. And until recently, I didn’t even really think about it.
I also never thought it odd that death is normal to me. It isn’t scary. While it is sad, it is also so redeeming that the sad is only temporary, even when it lingers. In third grade, I lost my first close loved one – I am sure I didn’t even really know what a “loved-one” was at that point. He was 3. A pseudo-brother that I spent most of my waking moments with between one of three houses, as our three families essentially co-existed while our parents figured out life raising children.
Quickly after that came a string of loss in the neighborhood – given that we were the only young family, we lost one neighbor after another, all to regular old-age circumstances (again, which I really knew nothing about at the ripe ol’ age of 9). My great-grandparents, followed by my grandma and her sisters came next. College had its own handful of strange and unnerving deaths.
Then, in my early twenties, I lost a teaching partner… my mentee, a first-year, joy-filled, amazing young woman in her first year of teaching. Shortly thereafter, her sister passed in another unexpected, tragic circumstance, leaving their parents childless. Next, the husband of another co-worker. Another death here or there, and then 2013 came in like a lion… 8 deaths in 6 weeks, one being the most tragic I have ever experienced.
If you are still with me, you may think, “Are you KIDDING me?” No. I am not. And, I am not being dramatic about them, and I can only assume there is someone else who understands my existence. As I said previously, I didn’t even know this wasn’t normal. Earlier this year, someone asked me, “Why do you think you lose so many people?” I had never thought about it. And my first reaction was, “I guess it’s because I know a lot of people.” But my mind spun, and twirled, and twisted and stretched and ached after that question came. On many occasions, I have asked, “Why??” I have screamed it. I have sobbed it. I have wondered it. I have whispered it. I have talked to dear friends about it.
In my small group, the most gracious community I have been a part of in a long time, we segued into this conversation one night while we were studying the Beatitudes. We were discussing the traits we see in one other that lend themselves to our roles in God’s community. As I listened to my dearest, most loving friends explain how they see God working through the tragedies that I have experienced, their words were like flood-gates opening, and an answer to a prayer that I had never spoken. While I had exhausted the mantra, “WHY?” in hopes that I would understand why each person I knew died, I had never asked, “Why ME? Why, God, do you want ME to experience this sadness, this turmoil, this frustration, over and over and over again?”
“You are a strong individual, and I am quite sure you could get through anything.”
“You would do anything for anyone.”
“You just know what people need.”
“You feel other peoples’ feelings.”
“You put others first, even if it is too a fault sometimes.”
Wow. ME?! Are you SURE you are talking about ME?
And as I drove home that night, I realized, “Yes”. Yes, I was created to be strong, and determined, and with a heart that understands people, and with a strong emotional side, and a will to care for others. I had never felt like this was any kind of special gift, but more a learning; that as I lived and re-lived one death after another, I started responding in ways that people had for me. In times of sadness, I would think about “What Has Been Helpful For Me?” instead of “WWJD”, and I would try to provide that – a hug, a tear, a meal, an ear, a tissue – all based on what I may or may not have needed in my own near-and-dear experiences. And as I drove home that night, I realized that I wasn’t doing the best work I could be doing to share the way I was created, to create community; to exist in a community that would show LOVE to ALL.
You see, I was using these gifts to LOVE those I knew. To LOVE the heck out of family and friends who were sad or grieving. I was using these gifts within my existing community of friends, but not within my existing community of physicality. And I felt convicted. I have more to offer and I am saving it up, just in case someone I know needs it more, as if God will let me run out of LOVE. Seriously?!?! Highly unlikely, I suppose.
Quickly, everything fell into place with the next tragic event. A missing 24-year-old. A case somewhat familiar, with similarities to the most recent death I had personally experienced. Mandy Matula, presumed to have been killed by her boyfriend, missing. The searches were huge, immediately, and they were local; just a few miles from the first house I lived in when I moved to Minneapolis.
I kept hearing phrases like,
“That poor family!”
“I hope they find her!”
“I feel so bad for them!”
“They have to be nervous, scared, exhausted… after searching all day.”
And that weekend, I was determined to become part of “we” rather than talking about “they”. I got up bright and early on Saturday morning, praying for grace and mercy and LOVE. I dressed in layers, covered from head to toe to ward off ticks, snakes, mosquitoes, sun, wind, and rain. I drove to the local church where the search would begin. I hugged. I introduced. I laughed. I cried. I searched. I joined them. They became we.
I have experienced grace in more ways than I can count, list, share, or document. I heard a pastor say once that the mission of people who experience the grace of God should be to extend grace to others. I believe the same is true of LOVE. I have experienced both, and in the last 6 weeks, I have been reminded of extending grace and LOVE into the community beyond my normal every day, to turn they in we. The extensions have not been turned down. Rather, they have been met with grace and LOVE that were unnecessary and unexpected, but more genuine than I could have begged for.
And when my colleagues, friends and family thought I was nuts, and asked, “Why would you go and search? Weren’t you scared?”
I simply said, “Why wouldn’t I? And yes.” Scared doesn’t matter. Grace matters. LOVE matters. COMMUNITY matters.
How have you turned “They” into “We” this week? I dare ya to try it. Really, it is much less scary than we probably believe it to be.
Don’t you just love her? Do leave a comment for Jen below, and in the meantime, cheer on Cara’s writing today by becoming a fan of be, mama. be on Facebook, or by subscribing to receive emails in your inbox directly (click “follow” in the left-hand column).