I’ve been talking about my deceased friend quite a bit these last few days. I hope you don’t mind. Every year on November 27, I post a thankful reminder of where I came from. This year was no different. It’s hard to believe it’s been 31 years. As I spend time writing out my thoughts to share with you, a thought occurred to me I hadn’t thought of before, thanks to another friend of mine – What happened then prepared me for now.
At 22, you think you have lived. You know everything there is to know, and it’s all about fun, friends, cute guys, and late nights. You never imagine that tragedy and heartache would come so early. When it does, it knocks you back hard.
One of the hardest things I faced after my best friend’s death was her funeral service – lack of one. Her parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses. They were nice people, but they blamed me for her death because I was part of the “world.” Had their daughter never met my bar friends or me, she wouldn’t have been out drinking and carousing all hours of the night with a guy she barely knew, and she’d still be alive. It was devastating to lose a best friend and to be blamed for her death.
So because I was part of the “world” and she was too, they did not have a public funeral. To this day, I do not know if they had a private funeral for their daughter. I still do not know where her final resting place is. They never told me.
What do you do when a bar full of people want to grieve together? What about friends and co-workers who want to get together? We had to memorialize her somehow. I couldn’t let my best friend’s life not be remembered. Everyone needed closure.
I did the only thing that made sense – I put together a public funeral service. I posted the details at the pub and advertised it in the local paper. We found a spot by her favorite lake and gathered together to celebrate her life. Almost 200 people came. Someone brought a white dove to release. My parents came along with some co-workers, a couple of her old boyfriends, long time friends, and the bar crowd.
As we stood there celebrating her life, her father showed up. I was nervous. After all, he and his wife blamed me for their daughter’s death. Was he going to make a scene? Shout? Tell everyone to leave? I couldn’t believe he came. We carried on as if we didn’t notice and hoped for the best. I knew my dad would set him straight if he did say anything. My parents loved her like a daughter.
While he didn’t speak to me, he did stand there quietly, looking around at all the people who came to celebrate his daughter’s life. What was going through his mind as he surveyed the huge crowd of grieving people?
I didn’t know that planning a funeral for someone 31 years ago would equip me for leading funerals today. What happened then prepared me for now. Since 2009, when I did my first official funeral from beginning to end for my baby brother, I have had the distinct honor of leading five others.
You just never know what life experiences will lend to your future growth.
I didn’t know what the Lord had planned for me at the moment 31 years ago. But when I look back, I can see it now. He was preparing me for what lied ahead.
The day my best friend died was the day I quit drinking for many years. I told myself I would never cross the line again when it came to drinking—no more nights of not knowing how I got home because I was too drunk to remember.
Her death was my wake-up call, and I honestly believe I was put on notice. It was now up to me whether I heeded the warning. I felt that if I ignored what happened – me staying home that one dreadful night, then there was a real possibility I could hurt myself or someone else while behind the wheel. I couldn’t risk it and the days of thinking nothing bad could happen were over.
It would be years before I picked up another drink. I remember the first time, and I couldn’t help but remember November 27, 1989. After a few years of casual social drinking, I gave it up altogether. That was over ten years ago, and I have no intentions of picking it up again. Let me tell you why.
In 1999, I was invited to church by a friend of mine in the Central Florida area. I hadn’t been to church in a long time. It was there that I finally realized who was missing in my life – Jesus. For the next several years, I studied and was discipled to reach others with the gospel of Christ.
I don’t know where I would be today or what life would look like if the accident hadn’t happened. One thing is pretty evident; I would have kept going down the same destructive path, leading me further away from the Lord.
Though those few years were very hard, losing my best friend in 1989, my dad in 1990, and my grandmother in 1994, I still praise the Lord today for what he did in my life. Like clay in a potter’s hands, you never know what you will become. If someone had told me I would be blogging about this, I would have laughed. But here I am.
I am reminded of a story from the Bible. Jesus sent the disciples out two by two to heal the sick and preach the good news. They didn’t know where this would lead them. But they went in obedience, and when they returned, they shared the exciting details of their adventure. Jesus sent them out with nothing, and they returned filled with encouragement and gratification.
What the disciples didn’t realize is Jesus was preparing them for what lied ahead once he left them. They were participating in on-the-job training, if you will. Jesus would later instruct them in Matthew 28 on what to do once he was gone. Let’s take a look.
Matthew 28:18-20, “Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The Lord has been teaching me for years and has been preparing me for the days ahead. He has been leading me to live out Matthew 28 by sharing the good news of the gospel in any way I can. It has become my passion. It’s what I live for and love to do. My life has a purpose; it has meaning. I’ve come a long way since those late nights at Honky Tonks.
He gave me another chance, and I want to honor him in any way I can and thank him for this life. I want to hear one day, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
I will always cherish the memories of my dear friend, and I will never forget what happened.
Blessings and thanks for sticking around!
The Lord Is Always Watching You: Come Home
Bridge to Grace – a nonfiction novel