My life was in my hands until it wasn’t.
For a long time I thought sad things happened to other people and that I was safe from sorrow. For a while this was true. Grief was foreign and I trusted that I would never have to fluently speak her language. Small bits of grief’s language were introduced growing up, as we all experience, through the loss of grandmothers and the family members of school friends. The commonality and distance of it made trusting God easy.
Life was this way until my sophomore year of college. Learning the way of boys and booze in my freshman year was fascinating. Each weekend was a new version of last weekend and it seemed to be the peak of my life. College and God were treating me fairly. Then came September of my sophomore year and it brought harrowing news that would radically shift my perception of happiness, grief, and who God really is.
For two years my brother’s best friend, an honorary member of my family, had been battling a cancer that began in his knee and travelled to his lungs. I remember staying up nights asking God to spare his life. I never thought God would say no. It was seven am on a Thursday when my dad called and instantly I knew.
But nothing, not even the number of times I heard “he might not make it”, could take away the hope-shattering shock of hearing the words “away” and “gone” in reference to someone who had always been here.
Being at school after that was lonely without family to confide in and I turned away from God. I was mad at Him to the point of disbelief. During this time of disbelief was a feeling of worthlessness - not that I thought I was worthless but that life itself had no point. We live to die and so it goes had fermented in my brain like the numbing sensation of alcohol.
Sophomore year is like one long black out. I remember feeling empty but nothing is vivid. Looking back now, God was courting me by showing me his love through community even though I was in a bitter stage of disbelief. He sent people to love me by listening to me cry and extending hands in prayer. He was sending love notes to me through the people He placed in my life while waiting for me to face Him.
And the day I turned around to face Him was something so gorgeous that it cannot be summed up into one word. The summer before my junior year of college was when God became real again by giving me a book to read about someone else’s story of Jesus (Todd Burpo’s Heaven is for Real). The following September was when I devoted my life to God.
It was a little past midnight and I was home where my friend, Kara, was still awake. I mentioned my desire to know more about Jesus. Then everything – all of my insecurities, hopes, and fears – poured out from me but I didn’t feel empty. In fact, I had never felt so full. Not even when life seemed to be in my hands. In this moment, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Redeemer and Savior because I had never felt more loved.
It was like the day I broke my mother’s mirror and she forgave me; or the days I was a brat to my father at the dinner table and he said he loved me anyway; or the day I had the stomach flu when I was little, and my brother was so sad for me that he said he’d never be mean to me again; or like the day my sister surprised me with cupcakes at school when no one knew it was my birthday.
It felt like all of these times concentrated into one, and then more – much more.
This moment became the dividing line between how I lived my life before and how I live now. Now it’s all about love.
“We love because he first loved us,” 1 John 4:19 says. Does love beam from me every day? No, I’m not perfect like Jesus is. But living for His glory is so satisfying. My life has meaning now and so do the lives of everyone around me. God created all of these worlds and He doesn’t pick favorites.
To know such great love pushes you to live for something bigger than yourself – something tremendously bigger. I invite you, whoever you are, to know this love. God will welcome you home.