A little over a week ago I learned of the death of a former student. I never expected to lose a student before losing a client. These types of things aren’t supposed to happen. Megan was only 24 and had her whole life ahead of her. Which means she wasn’t supposed to die and especially not in a tragic and unexpected way. Not to someone so full of life and possibility. It’s not supposed to happen to someone so intelligent and driven and talented. Not to someone who so clearly loved Jesus and loved others so intentionally. She was so kind, so humble, so joyful, and so compassionate. Tragedy was supposed to leave her alone. This wasn’t supposed to happen to her. Yet these things do happen, every day. But to someone else right…until it happens to you.
And when it happens, it simply takes your breath away. And you can’t think clearly. Or sleep soundly. And you find yourself weeping uncontrollably at your desk or in the arms of a friend. And the “why” questions begin to flood your mind…Why her? Why did God allow this to happen? Why…?
But great pain brings opportunity for great growth so the appropriate questions are not “why” questions but “what” and “how” questions…what can we learn and how shall we live in light of Megan’s life and death?
You see, answers to the “why” questions always seem to leave us unsatisfied. While the “what” and “how” questions can comfort and help us find a new normal. So what have I learned? I’ve learned how important true friendship is in the wake of tragedy. Friends showed up and sat with me every night last week. Those who lived far away texted and called and emailed. My neighbor brought my trash cans in from the curb. Friends hugged, and asked, and genuinely cared to listen. They didn’t try to fix. They simply showed up. They didn’t leave it up to me to tell them what I needed. They simply did what they felt called to do. I hope you have people around you like this and if you do not, my prayer is that you will begin to reach out and foster these kinds of relationship. And if you know someone who is grieving, reach out, show up, and just do.
What does tragedy teach us? That though it is awfully easy to blame God or accuse Him of evil (which He is no stranger to – see Job, the prophets, and even Christ on the cross), that in the midst of the pain, He is ultimately our greatest source of comfort. God does not abandon us in the darkest of moments. In fact, that is when God shows up most tangibly. The power of death is destroyed by the immense love of the cross and the greater power of the empty tomb.
How then should we live? At the risk of sounding cliche, like Megan did. We should send birthday texts and hand written notes. We should grab coffee and enjoy slow, deep conversation. We should take genuine interest in the other and treat all with great kindness and respect. We should choose joy, unexplainable joy. We should ask questions, passionately seek answers, and be inquisitive lifelong learners. We should have fun. We should laugh.
How shall we live? Unashamed of our faith but humble and full of grace. One of my favorite comments about Megan came from a graduate school classmate of hers who identified as an atheist. She wrote, “Megan was truly one of the most beautiful and gentle people I have ever been lucky enough to know…Megan lived so gracefully in her strong faith. She was never in your face about it, but was influenced by it in all she said. She was so smart and would bring up very compelling points in classes that challenged my own belief system without ever making me feel shamed or condemned. I told her once that her faith was a beautiful example of what a Christian should be, that her actions made me want to be a better person. She responded with something along the lines of ‘thank you, its always nice to be able to discuss difference of opinion without anger’. She not only believed in her faith, but she lived it, and that is something I will never forget.” I’m afraid this can rarely be said of me, but this is what I aspire to and hope one day it will be true of me as well.
I will never forget Megan. I’ll always remember her challenging questions, fired from the back row after consulting with her buddy Blair. I’ll remember how embarrassed and fake angry she was with me for playing “God Save the Queen” as she walked into class after being crowned Central’s homecoming queen.
I’ll remember watching her counseling skills develop right before my eyes. She was a natural, but she also worked so hard to improve. And of course, I’ll never forget the way she and her group members decorated the observation room to look more like an actual counselor’s office. I’ll never forget conversations about her future goals and dreams and what she felt was God’s calling on her life. We all took Megan for granted when she was alive. She is not taken for granted in her death and may her death remind us not to take our own lives or others for granted either.
“3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 4 He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 5 For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. 6 Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. 7 We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.” 1 Corinthians 1:3-7 NLT