The days leading up to these last few were filled with hesitancy, to say the very least. After the conference, I was determined to quit doing campus ministry, and simply give up, despite the encouragement of my discipler that no ministry is perfect and to keep pursuing Jesus in it anyways, despite the imperfections. For this conference, I held low expectations, that it would simply be another time of loneliness, and yet an unexpected bright, true smile spread across my face and loads of giggles of laughter were what exuded from these past two days.
For some reason, I volunteered to drive. Having my own car and being in it is a source of comfort for me, and I am very grateful that I did. With two sweet friends who came along for the ride, it was a gift and a joyous time! It was beautiful to share and be met with the same fears for the weekend ahead, and to know I was not alone with these friends by my side.
The Barefoot Republic Center is absolutely marvelous in beauty! The warmth of the sun penetrates my pores in the most magnificent ways. It was really the little things that meant the most to me this retreat: the little, genuine conversations with new friends, the vulnerability and meaningful times of sharing in my small groups, and the ability to laugh and smile in my loud, quirky, unique way, and remain loved by others.
It was the people that made the difference, Richie, our campus minister opening his heart and family to us, connecting with my small group leader, having the time to rest, and to dance and leap in the fields of grassy meadows under the star, and feel loved.
Worship, hearing the speaker, Matt, share the stories of Jesus and how He draws near to me, and being with others and knowing them more deeply was a simply extraordinary time.
All was well, until Sunday morning came. I remember eating my bowl of cereal when Richie stood up to make an announcement. He said to pray for a student, who had taken her own life. I knew immediately it was her because my roommate had texted me her name earlier to ask if I had known her. The dots connected in my head, and I gasped. I have never known someone who passed away, and truly my brain froze. I walked away to be in the sunshine by the lake with the Lord. I had promised myself before time and time again that in the face of death, I would trust the Lord. Besides, I have been so very close to where she was before. I know what it is to be teetering on the edge of life and death, and yet the Lord has somehow chosen for me to continue on here each and every time the lies cross and scream in my mind.
The past few hours have been stained with tears and physical pain in my heart. Don’t go, I want to say to her, yet she is already gone and I don’t know how to trust, but I know that the Lord is good.
Her name was Catherine. She was in my favorite class last semester, and she sat right behind me. She was my friend. I remember seeing her last week. She was so smart. I remember most of all her hugs, and wishing I could just have one more of those. I remember the letter I wrote to her last semester:
Dear Catherine, First, I am so glad to have met you this year! It is such a joy to have class with you and to see you at Commons. I am amazed by your kindness and strength. i wanted to say that I am so sorry to hear about your mom. I cannot imagine what it must have felt like to endure that pain, and words cannot describe how sorry I am that she could not be here anymore. My grandfather passed away last semester, and it shook me up a lot. I cannot begin to relate to the feeling of losing someone so very close to you, but something that has brought me a lot of comfort is this verse from the Bible: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” – Psalm 34:18. I am not really sure what your experience has been with God, whether you believe in Him or not, but I believe that He loves and cares for you and offers strength and comfort for you to lean on at any time. You never have to believe it, but I wanted to tell you about this hope that has changed my life, and would be overjoyed to tell you more about it if you want. Well, dear friend, if there is anything I can do for you whether a hug or a Rand cookie or an encouraging word, don’t hesitate to let me know! Sincerely, Michelle (or Mimi) Cole
Sweet Catherine, I know you cannot read this and are not here with us anymore, no matter how I try to ignore that truth, but I want you to know you are so very dearly loved, and my prayer is that you are in the arms of our Father, that I will see you again one day, because that is the hope I will hold onto. Thank you for being strong and loving and caring beyond it all!! I love you, dear friend! ❤
And so this Sunday ends in tea for warmth and tears, and a broken heart, yet hopeful that Catherine is at rest with my King, and that her legacy, her impact here will continue to serve many, just as she did in her time here on earth.