Looking back on life, there are moments in time that leave an indelible imprint. Some of us will forever remember where we were when news of the Challenger explosion took place, or when we first learned or September 11. For me, one of those moments came early the morning of February 21.
It was a Sunday morning and I woke early to take CJ and a friend to Chicago for the day. I looked at my phone and saw a text followed shortly thereafter by a call from Laurie Smith. My heart already began to sink and there was a pause as I heard her ask if I knew what had happened.
I didn’t see the news Saturday night. Connor and his buddy were in the living room and I was in my room. I remember kneeling next to my bed reading scripture. I don’t say that to sound righteous … honestly, it wasn’t what I would have normally been doing on a Saturday night. But that moment, on my knees, I will never forget. I was reading the book of John and specifically, this verse:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. -John 14:27
At the time, I appreciated the words for what they were but after the conversation with Laurie Sunday morning, that Truth became so much more.
The days (and now years) following would leave many of us changed forever. The world lost six beautiful people on February 20, 2016. Laurie, my friend and employee, lost her beloved husband and cherished son. Lynn, her twin, lost her brother-in-law and nephew – who was like a son to her. Alexis, sweet Alexis, hid in a vehicle nearby as her boyfriend’s life was taken. And she lost her innocence. Five other families lost their loved ones and still others were left with injuries and trauma that will remain forever.
As ugly as that night became, there was absolute beauty in some of what transpired following. Most notably, a community gathered together to mourn with and support the victims’ families. I was grateful to attend the lantern lighting at Mattawan High School, where Tyler attended, with many others struggling to believe and reconcile what had happened. But that moment the lanterns lifted into the sky was incredible. For me, there is something so precious about the gathering. We recognized we needed each other, even though most of us didn’t know the other, if nothing more than to hold us up. I know, especially for Laurie, she couldn’t stand alone.
The day we celebrated Rich and Tyler’s lives, Pastor Fazio spoke to a crowded sanctuary and concluded with the words, “Don’t let it define the hope that is alive. Don’t let the darkness win.”
It would have been so easy to let the darkness win, especially for Laurie. And I’m sure that she would say it did occasionally, still likely does. But I’m here to tell you, Laurie, that you are like light to me. I’ve watched you rise up and fight for the memory of your beloved men in so many ways. You’ve lived the adopted #foreverstrong day in and day out … with grace, grit and most importantly, with palpable faith in the hope that we have in Jesus.
And although my role in this was simply friend, I was forever changed, too. I ached for you and your family. It hurt so much at times that I almost felt selfish for feeling so much, but that feeling was a reminder of the pain Christ had to have felt as well. But He says, ‘peace.’ He is the only way we can find hope in something so ugly. Because we know that isn’t from Him. What we do know, though, is that He is here. He is asking us to allow Him in to show us how our suffering can be used for good. Even when it is truly more than we can handle.
And I can be thankful for the other moments that will now never leave me as well. Those moments I was able to see your family together; for the obvious love and connection you all shared. Thank you for allowing me in to be a part of that. Let those moments remain imprinted forever, for those are the moments that define these precious lives. I am blessed for the opportunity to know you and your beautiful family. You are truly #foreverstrong.