I hang up the phone in disbelief. We’ve just received some tough to hear news. News about some friends whose lives will be changed forever.
“I didn’t see this coming,” I say to my husband.
As I process through this news, I think of another phone call…almost six months ago to the day. Another phone call with news I “didn’t see coming.”
Monday morning, January 18. Martin Luther King Day. The kids were home from school, so I had scheduled a playdate with another family. The plan was to go to their house. The night before, though, Kiersten asked me if we could please have the playdate at our house. So I called my friend and we changed the playdate location to my house. I’m so glad we did. If we hadn’t, I would not have been home to receive the phone call. The phone call to my home phone. The phone call with the news “I didn’t see coming.”
The call was from Lis’s mom, Bonnie. Bonnie and my mom have been friends since childhood. So have Lis’s dad and my dad. All four of them went to elementary school, junior high, high school, college, and seminary together. Though life took them separate places after seminary, they continued to keep in touch and visit. So I’ve basically known Lis my whole life. Ten years ago, we became even closer as we moved to their town for my husband to join her husband in his counseling ministry. We loved living life together with them ~ we were at each other’s homes often, Lis and I went through a pregnancy together (giving birth exactly four weeks apart), our husbands worked together, and we did numerous special things together. Circumstances took us away a little over a year later…but only forty-five minutes away. Though we don’t have weekly get-togethers like Lis and I promised each other we would when we moved (our mothers warned us we were unrealistic in our expectations!), we still live life with them as much as we can forty-five minutes apart (lakehouse getaways, Christmas celebrations, county fairs, dinners at each other’s houses ending with “unplanned” sleepovers). Kurt and Lis and their two boys are like family.
“Kurt has had a heart attack,” I hear Bonnie say on the other end of the line. Amidst the other words of information, I remember Bonnie saying, “It’s serious.”
Thirty minutes later ~ after calling my husband and my parents and dropping the kids off at the other family’s house (my friend immediately offered to take them so I could go to the hospital) ~ I was walking in to the emergency room. I was guided back to a room where I saw Lis leaning over Kurt, still on a stretcher, holding his hand and stroking his head. Kurt, I was soon to find out, was dead.
I didn’t see it coming. Even after the phone call from Bonnie, I didn’t really think he would die. He was young. He was seemingly healthy. Even when she said “It’s serious,” I didn’t think he would die. I thought that just meant he might be in the hospital longer or have a tough recovery. Even when I walked in the hospital room and saw her by his bedside, I still didn’t think he had died. Even when I walked up next to her and put my arm around her and she said, “This just doesn’t seem real, Kim,” I didn’t think he had died. I just thought it didn’t seem real that he had a heart attack. And when I finally realized (after a few minutes of standing there with Lis) that there were no doctors working on him and I asked why and her pastor’s wife told me “He died,” I still couldn’t grasp it.
The grief, the sadness, the ache, the shock, the questions…all of those are areas to be explored in and of themselves. Amidst all of that, a phrase that sometimes comes to mind is, “I didn’t see it coming.” I had gone through the “What if my husband died” scenarios (when he’s home later than I expected him, when he’s traveling, when he’s doing something potentially dangerous…). I had never gone through the “what-if-the-husband-of-one-my-best-friends-who-is-also-one-of-my-husband’s-best-friends” died scenario. I guess death, especially sudden death, always takes you by surprise.
What became clear to me as I questioned, dealt with the shock, and grieved is that while I didn’t see it coming, God did. Not that it makes the pain or sadness any less, but it gives some comfort in the midst of the grief. God saw it coming. It was no accident that I was home that morning. In my own grieving process, God was gracious to give me those special moments with Lis in the hospital. He was gracious to put me in a position to have someone readily available to take my children. I am convinced that those things were in place, even before I saw it coming, because God knew it was coming. For some reason, this is comforting to me. I think God knew that being there in the hospital with Lis was huge for me. It was comforting to think that, even though I am not a “major player” in Kurt’s death (i.e. not an immediate family member), God still was tuned into details related to me. And, maybe, just maybe, He wanted to use me as an instrument of comfort in Lis’s life, in the face of the unthinkable.
As we faced the sudden death of Kiersten’s second grade teacher two months later, again, “I didn’t see it coming.” Wasn’t Kurt’s death enough? Again…God saw it coming. I had the tools in place to help my own daughter grieve.
And now, as I hang up the phone with my friend, I’m making the all-too-familiar statement, “I didn’t see it coming.”
The shock is raw, the circumstances are different (it wasn’t a death ~ at least not in the physical sense), but the feeling of disbelief and sadness is the same.
As life continues to hit us with those things we never saw coming ~ and it will~ I pray that I remember that God knew. God sent His son, because He saw it coming…ALL of it! He knew the sorrows, the pain, the losses, the grieving, the struggles that all of His children would someday face. He didn’t want that to be the end of the story. Through Christ there is hope…hope for no pain, no sorrow, no death. Someday. In the meantime, I must rest in the comfort that He is here. That He knows and that He already knew. And because of that and in that, he is providing ways to comfort us in the midst of struggles and sorrows. And to remind us of His presence.
“When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…you are precious and honored in my sight…do not be afraid, for I am with you” Isaiah 43: 2-3a, 4a, 5a