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Posts Tagged ‘death’

night driving synchroblog graphic

It was my junior year of college when everything started to go dark.

I had just returned from a semester abroad in Oxford, a spectacular experience punctuated by weekend trips to Rome, Austria, Barcelona, Paris. I dove headfirst into English culture, picking up new slang words and acquiring a taste for Yorkshire tea. The world opened up for me during those months. I had never felt more alive.

I lived with 35 other American students in a pair of tall Victorian houses in North Oxford. We shared our deepest secrets on late-night train rides and over simple meals in our communal kitchens, and we explored every nook and cranny of our new city. We scattered to our respective homes back in the States for the summer, and we couldn’t wait to reunite in our West Texas college town for our junior year.

And then Cheryl died.

I had seen her just a day or two before, as our group started to gather in Abilene. She was heading back to San Antonio to pick up another carload of stuff for her new apartment. Her boyfriend, Chris, went with her to share the driving. And on the highway outside a tiny town in the Texas Hill Country, she lost control of the car and hit a tree.

That loss was the first sharp, sudden grief I’d ever experienced – the first time death came out of nowhere and tore a jagged hole in my life. I’d lost my beloved Papaw a few years before, but he had cancer and he had suffered deeply, and we knew it was coming for months beforehand. Cheryl’s death kicked me in the chest, and for months afterward, I couldn’t breathe.

I grew up in a church culture that placed a lot of faith in apologetics, in pulling up the right Bible verse, the right doctrine, to find an answer for everything. But Cheryl’s death knocked that framework sideways. I couldn’t believe it had happened for a reason; I didn’t believe God had anything to do with it at all. And I railed against people – even people I loved – who tried to tell me everything would be okay.

I couldn’t tell you how, exactly, I stumbled through those next months. I know there were a lot of tears, a lot of angry prayers thrown at the sky, a lot of hours grieving quietly with my friends, sitting together in our raw bewilderment. That spring, I was thrown backward again by another car accident: this one on a rural Missouri road, the cause of my six-year-old cousin Randen’s death. I didn’t – still don’t – believe God had anything to do with that, either.

More than a decade after those two deaths, I have weathered other storms: more loss, more grief, more disappointment. The challenges of a cross-country move and, recently, the constant, tearing uncertainty of the job hunt. If there’s one thing I know about faith, it’s this: there are no easy answers.

I am not always sure, on any given day, why I still believe in God, why the faith of my childhood (though it looks different these days) still tugs at me. I can’t explain why the story of Jesus strikes a chord within me, somewhere deep in my bones. I only know that I do believe, even with all kinds of doubts.

My friend Addie Zierman’s second book released yesterday. It’s called Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark, and it explores what happens when we reach the ends of our simple answers about how God works. I haven’t read it yet, but I loved Addie’s first book, When We Were on Fire, and I have no doubt this one will be powerful, too.

Addie has invited all of us to share our stories of faith in the dark, and this is mine, or the beginning of mine. Cheryl’s death changed the way I think about God, because it was the first all-consuming darkness I’d ever experienced. It has informed the way I think about loss and grief, and it forced me to make room for doubt and shadows in my journey. I wouldn’t have chosen it, but I can’t go back – even if I sometimes have to walk forward in the dark.

Please feel free to head over to Addie’s blog to share your story of faith in the dark, or to read others’ stories. These experiences can be tender and difficult to share, but they are so important, and I believe that sharing them can help us feel less alone.

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Kerri Lane

I guess I’m a little late, but I wanted to add my voice to the hundreds of voices that are missing Kerri Lane. I’ve been reading blog posts about her situation for months, and about her death since it happened (two weeks ago tomorrow). Several of my readers are Highland people who knew Kerri, and the rest of you have probably heard about her. I have no answers following her death, but I just want to say – I miss her.

Kerri was a part of the Lifeteam I joined this summer, which meets at the Donagheys’ house every week. She and Carlee and Jolee, her two precious little girls, would light up the room every time they came in, literally. Kerri was on a fruit-and-veggies diet for half the summer, but it never seemed to bother her; she would smile and hug us (even when she grew painfully thin) and sit in the rocking chair by the couch, where she always sat. Carlee and Jolee would move from lap to lap as we talked about the Bible and shared prayer requests; sometimes they’d sit together on the couch, or curl up in the bean bag chair with Stacie, or snuggle up in Calvin’s lap, or rub Brad’s head when he had just shaved it. Jolee passed out the Dixie cups for communion, and was always more than willing to eat the leftover bread. They were just so fresh and real – and I loved getting to know them.

We met at the Fuquas’ last week and the Watsons’ this week (the Donagheys have been in and out of town), and both times we’ve spent a while talking about Kerri and grieving for her. We talked about hurt, anger, sadness; how we’re going to treat Kerri’s estranged husband, Tony; how we feel for the girls; lots of the little painful things that go with grief. But I think the most poignant summation of our grief came from Beth Butcher, age 12.

Beth had misheard her mother, Marlene, telling Sarah, Beth’s sister, about Kerri’s death. Later she said, “Mom, you can tell me. I won’t be sad,” thinking a neighbor’s dog (named Keiko) had died. Marlene looked at Beth and said, “No, Kerri died.” Beth looked at her mom for a moment, confused. When she was telling this story to our Lifeteam, she paused, looked at all of us, and said, “I thought, ‘No way. That didn’t happen. Kerri wasn’t s’posed to die. She was s’posed to live.'”

I think Beth is right. Kerri was supposed to live. To raise her girls until they became young women and left to fly out on their own. To worship and love on people at Highland, where she was always so happy. To keep on shining love to everyone she met. (Who else do you know that would talk to a Verizon telemarketer about Jesus, and later send him a Bible – while fighting melanoma and trying to mother two little girls?)

Kerri was supposed to live. And we miss her, and the grief goes far deeper for some than it does for me. There will be a hole in our Lifeteam for a long time (though we are hoping to see the girls, and maybe Tony, now and then). But we have to believe that it’s okay that she’s not here now. We have to believe that she’s up in heaven, with Jesus, radiating the same genuine joy and freshness she always did. And we have to believe that God’s going to take care of the rest of us, who are still here looking up at the sky, wondering why.

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