It’s Friday afternoon. We turn the car over to the valet and saunter into our first store. Just making a return. My two youngest plead with me to make it quick. It’s one of those home stores where I love to lose myself. Love to get ideas. It’s one of those stores they love to hate. I promise it will be quick and head for the sales associate at the register. In the middle of trying to figure out why I received a bed skirt I never ordered, the phone rings.
“Hey Jennifer, what’s up?”
“Did you hear about Katie?”
“Yes, Katie Walker.”
“No. I haven’t heard anything. What’s happened?”
“She was killed in a car accident this morning.”
“What? You’re kidding me! Are you serious? Oh, Jennifer, there’s no way! Oh, the family!”
And it happens. In an instant, the lives of two vibrant young women end and countless more will never be the same.
Shock. Unbelief. Heartbreak. Nausea. I try to imagine what her parents must be feeling. It hurts too much. What does that say about the reality of what they must be experiencing? If I can’t stand the pain of imagining, what must they be experiencing?
Calls keep coming. People wanting to know if we we’ve heard. What can we do? What do they need? What in the world happened? She spent the night with a friend. They went to Bible study and back to her friend’s house for the night. Her friend was bringing her home that morning. The streets were wet. They hydroplaned into oncoming traffic. The passenger side took the impact. She died instantly, the police say. Her friend passed away before the constable arrived. How do we make sense of something that seems so senseless?
I go to bed, heavy hearted. I wake up, heavy hearted.
Lord, the Walkers. Oh Father, what can I do? What can I pray? It’s unbelievable. How can a vibrant life be here one moment and gone the next? No warning. No wrong doing. No drugs, alcohol, rebellion. She wasn’t doing something wrong in a place she shouldn’t have been. It wasn’t the result of any form of foolish or criminal behavior. She just spent the night with a friend and was on her way home. And the young man in the truck. An innocent victim who now shoulders the sorrow of being the driver of the truck they hit. Lord, cover it all with your presence. Your power. Your comfort. Your love. Your mercy. Your balm. The pain doesn’t go away, but joy and comfort mix in. She is in Your presence now. We rejoice for her, Lord, and mourn for those left to figure their way through her absence. We celebrate Your saving grace for her, and our hearts break for her family. And Your grace is sufficient, even in the loss of a child. Your grace is sufficient in any loss. Any tragedy.
I think of the Steven Curtis Chapman family. I think of my own mom. The phone call.
It was eight years ago. Checking my voice mail after lunch with a friend, I unlock the car and help the girls get settled in the back. My sister left two messages about an emergency. Someone must have broken a bone or something. I call her back. “Hey, what’s up?” I ask. “Mom’s dead!”
She never showed up for work that morning. She never called to say she was running late. Very out of character for her. Her staff called 9-1-1 to check on her. They found her dead on her kitchen floor. We had no warning. No idea it was coming. No idea cancer had taken up residence in nearly every organ and system in her body. The life of a 62-year-old vibrant woman ends, and countless others will never be the same.
In an instant, life as I knew it changed. Shock. Unbelief. Debilitating grief. Disorientation. Denial.
You were there, Lord. You went deeper than the grief. When no one or nothing could make it better, You did. You are sufficient. You are able. You are faithful.
There’s a truth here. A lesson.
No one knew my mother would never call again. No one knew Katie would never come home. No one knew it would be the last time to hug, say I love you, give assurance, see her face, hear her voice. Only the Lord knows the number of our days. Tragedy is a painful reminder. Lord, let me be the one to extend the hand of grace, forgiveness, repentance, reconciliation. You’ve given every one of us who are Yours the ministry of reconciliation. Let us be faithful in it. Let no anger sit. No offense take hold. No bitterness take root. No unkind word leave our mouths, within our families and without. Let us learn truth through this. Let us train our children. Let me, Lord, love more vulnerable, extend more grace, assume more humility, let more go, encourage more generously, reconcile more quickly. Oh Lord, make it all better for this family according to Your perfect plan.
Even when we don’t understand the heartbreak in our lives, we will not stop loving You, trusting You, praising You, worshipping You, rejoicing in You. We are not promised understanding. As Your word says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Prov. 3:5-6). I don’t know why this happened, Lord, but I do know what Your word says about You. I know You will never leave or forsake Your children (Heb. 13:5). I know You will work all things, even catastrophic loss, for good to those who love You and are called according to Your purpose (Rom. 8:28). I know You are ever present, all powerful, all knowing. I know You love this family more than can be measured and will carry them through. I know Your angels have charge over them now to keep them in all their ways. In their hands they bear them up, lest they dash their foot against a stone (Ps. 91:11-12). I know You are their “very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1). I know “weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Ps. 30:5). I know You are Him who comforts us (Is. 51:12).
Talking to Katie’s mom, I think I know what Katie would say to us. We no longer hear her voice, but she speaks. Her love for Jesus speaks loud and clear. She wanted nothing more than for others to come to know her Jesus. People will hear. Her funeral will be a celebration of a young woman whose Savior was her passion. Perhaps she will reach more lives for Jesus in her death than she ever could in her life. She is with the love of her life. She is not mourning. She is in a place our minds cannot even fathom. Her family has that guarantee. They will miss her for the time they remain, but they will be with her forever. I will miss my mom to the day I die, but when that day comes, I will be with her forever. It is the source of hope in the face of despair.
There isn’t anything any one of us can do to take another’s pain away when death takes a loved one. But Jesus can. He is the answer for now. He is the answer for the afterlife. Our time here on earth is temporary. Guaranteed. Where we go when we leave is also guaranteed. Jesus came to earth in the form of man to die on the cross to pay the penalty of our sin. My sins deserve the death He endured, yet He paid that price for me. For you. So that we don’t have to. No one has the ability to not sin. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Nothing we can do will save ourselves or earn our way into heaven. Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). When God opens our eyes to our sin and moves on our hearts to respond to His call, and when He gives us faith to believe in Jesus, we are saved. Like Katie. Like my mom. Jesus guarantees: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47), and, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25). If God is calling you, respond. Believe. Don’t put it off. Another lesson tragedy teaches. A guarantee that is yours for the taking. Today. A guarantee that guarantees hope, even in the darkest hour.
God will be glorified. Through Katie’s life, and through her death. Through her family. Even in their grief, their heart is for the Lord, for the salvation of others.
Lord, give us an eternal perspective for this temporary existence. When pain overwhelms us and we can’t see how we’ll manage our next step, turn our hearts to You. I cannot begin to imagine the loss of a child, Lord. It hurts too much to put myself in their shoes. Go deep, Lord. Go intense. Go complete. Go wide. Go full. You are the answer to every question. Every fear. Every hurt. Every tragedy. Answer the cries of our hearts.
May the Lord give us His perspective and His peace in all things as we become wholly His.