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Follower of Jesus Christ. Lover of people. Lover of animals. High Point University graduate. Appalachian State graduate. High school English teacher. AXΩ.

The Darkest Days

I wrote this very vulnerable post three years ago today as a reflection on one of the darkest times in my life.

It took me four years to get the courage  and find the words to write it.

Please read and remember to cherish life and never put off something that the Lord has laid on your heart to do.


Friday, January 17, 2014 
Two days ago, I overcame one of my biggest fears.
I was driving to the bank, and I had to pass the cemetery to get to the bank.
The cemetery I've been afraid to visit for four years now.
The cemetery I had a nightmare about.
The nightmare that haunted me for months.
Caused by the silence, caused by relentless guilt, caused by my human nature and disconnect and self-absorption.
 
I could see the headstones through the trees, now that it's winter - full-blown winter - and the leaves are gone. I didn't really plan on stopping, because I've always been terrified. And the guilt would just be too much, even if nothing happened to me. The sky was weird but really pretty. Dark clouds covered the top, but underneath was pink-ish.
 
Right before the turn, I decided to stop. I turned right and drove through the iron gates, down the dirt road, consciously looking out my rearview mirror. It looked just like it did in my nightmare and I felt uneasy. I pulled up to the spot where I remembered standing, four years ago, in the rain, on one of the worst and hardest days of my life. I scanned the headstones until I found the one I was looking for. I got out of my car and walked over to it, always checking behind me. I knelt down in the grass and prayed. I prayed for the family and I prayed that I would be better - more aware, more open, braver and more impulsive.
 
As I walked back to my car, I felt lighter. The sky was somber and yes, I was in a cemetery, but there was an undertone of quiet peace. As I drove to the bank, I felt like a little bit of burden had been lifted. I felt stronger, knowing I had finally overcome my fear and nothing had happened.
 
 
................................
 
 
See, my brother and I are close in age, and we have a lot of the same friends. In the summer of 2009, I became pretty close with him and his friends, and hung out with them almost every night. There was one in particular, though, that I didn't know all that well, and for some reason felt a burden for him, but I didn't know why. His name was Matt. He always seemed so happy and joyful, and I wasn't sure why I felt like I needed to do something for him. He just seemed different. But the only thing I could think of was "maybe I should ask him if he knows Jesus."
 
Well, we all know how that goes. As humans, we will sometimes freely talk about anything but our faith. We will share our biggest secrets, regrets, etc. But when it comes to sharing our faith, we keep that to ourselves. Why?
 
Are we embarrassed?
Are we afraid others will think differently of us?
Do we not know how to bring it up?
Is it not "cool?"
Do we constantly wait for the 'right time' to say something?
Are we too caught up in our own lives and problems?
Are we afraid of offending someone?
Are we lazy?
Are we scared?
Do we not have a sense of urgency?
Are we apathetic?
Are we too busy?
 
I think for me, it was a little bit of a few of those. I was definitely caught up in my own life, with what I thought were HUGE issues. I was definitely busy. I was lazy. I thought I had all the time in the world. I had no sense of urgency. It was never the "right time" to say something. I didn't know how to bring it up...
 
Well, I learned my lesson in the hardest way possible. One cold night in January of 2010 - January 17th - I was leaving the movie theater and I got a text and then phone call. It was our friend Mackenzie. He told me Matt had passed away. I didn't believe him at first, but it was true. Matt had randomly passed away in his sleep. I will never, ever forget going home that night and watching my brother and sister cry on the stairs in our house. All of us taking turns holding Honeygirl while we cried.
Asking God why.
 
The next few weeks were a blur of status updates, pictures, the visitation, the funeral, tears, songs that made everyone cry...
 
I can't describe how it felt to see all of that. I won't go into any detail, but I will say I never had imagined feeling like that before. Feeling so hopeless and dark and thinking, "There is absolutely no way that anything good can come out of this situation."
I went to class, but all I could think about was Matt.
I went to work, but all I could think about was Matt.
I watched TV, and all I could think about was Matt.
I went to church, and all I could think about was Matt.
All the songs were about him.
The church looked like the funeral home.
I passed the cemetery every day.
 
I vividly remember riding in the car with my mom one day a few weeks later, and through sobs, saying, "That should've been me. I have so much, yet I'm so ungrateful and unhappy and discontent. I don't appreciate anything. Matt loved life and had so much joy. He should still be here, and I shouldn't."
 
Until then, I had never felt so low.
Until then, I had never wanted to die.
I had never felt like there was absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel.
 
Before I go any further, I want to say that I firmly believe that Matt is in Heaven right now, celebrating and much better off than any of the rest of us.
I believe this because we were later told that he was saved one night a few months beforehand.
 
At the time, though, I wasn't sure of that, and I felt the most immense amount of guilt, shame, regret... you name it.
I knew deep down in the depths of my heart that
if it was up to me - if I was the ONLY person in the world that knew Jesus, and it was up to me to tell Matt about Him, Matt would've never been saved at all.
I had failed miserably.
 
Personally, I believe that that is the worst feeling someone can ever have.
Within those few weeks, I had a nightmare that I had driven to the cemetery late at night, and someone pulled up behind me and started violently yanking on my door handle, trying to get me out of the car and do who knows what to me. From that night, I was terrified out of my mind to ever visit the grave. I was convinced that the nightmare was a warning that I shouldn't ever go.
{{And I didn't until two days ago.}}
 
I lived in fear for weeks and weeks.
Thoughts of my selfishness haunted me day and night. All I could think about was how ungrateful I was, how apathetic I was, and how I'd missed the call completely. The call to witness. The most important job in the world.
 
I thought about how, on the night of Matt's death, right before it happened, I had sat in the car, talking on the phone to Chanelle, and telling her how unhappy I was with my life. I complained for about an hour, about things that didn't really matter too much in the long run. I complained about school especially. The expensive, wonderful university I was blessed to attend. I complained about it. I complained about not getting the car I wanted at the car lot that day. I was a total brat. Little did I know, my world was about to get rocked forever.
 
I finally came out of my depression a couple months later.
I decided that from then on, I would be the best witness I could be. But I knew that nothing could atone for the lack of investing I had done in Matt's life. That is something I'll always regret, as long as I live.
 
So I guess what I've gotten out of this is that you just never know when will be your last chance to see someone. We are not guaranteed another day or even another breath. We don't always think that way, but we have to. I keep thinking,
"What if I'm the only trace of Jesus that this person will ever see? Am I doing my part in leading this person to Him or am I too caught up in my own issues to worry about that? Do I care enough about this person's eternity to invest in their life?"
 
Thinking that way will make things more real, and hopefully inspire us all to do our part in being better witnesses. Don't let days go by, thinking, "I'll talk to him tomorrow. Today I don't have time."
 
Like I said, I'm sure Matt is having the best time in Heaven right now. I doubt anyone can say they've seen much good come out of losing him here on Earth, but I will say this:
In my short time of knowing him, he taught me, more than he ever knew, about being happy and grateful and content.
When I think about his attitude towards life versus the attitude I sometimes have, I feel very ashamed.
 
We could all do well to be more like Matt.
 


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