On Thursday I got a phone call.
My heart dropped and I began to sob—not light tears, but the kind of visceral sobs that wait deep in your soul for a day when you really need them.
I cried and Carl came over immediately—sitting on the couch next to me, squeezing my hand hard. Somehow he knew that I didn’t need tender love in that moment, I needed gripping, fierce love that could guard me, even just the littlest bit from the blow I was in the process of receiving.
My cousin died.
He was perfectly fine, and then he wasn’t—heatstroke killing him almost instantly on a hike with our family.
He was always bigger than me—tossing my cousins and I into the lake when we were younger, gently but with a terrifying yell. We’d climb back onto the raft, slippery in our one-pieces, trying to evade him while secretly hoping that he’d send us flying just one more time.
It didn’t feel real. How could someone who had always been there all of a sudden be gone?
The sadness of it left me feeling hallow—as if something core and central to me was carved out and left cold.
The suddenness of it terrified me—leaving me with white knuckles as I gripped for anything that felt solid. I came up empty handed.
I cried off and on all day, feeling like the slightest wind could make me crumble. I was flooded with fears and questions—suddenly face-to-face with the cruel fragility of life.
That night I lay in bed, trying to sleep, knowing all that was waiting for me the next day. I had to teach at a Training Camp in the morning and sleeplessness wasn’t my favorite pre-game ritual. But it was no use. I tossed and turned all night, fitfully imagining the scene I wasn’t there for, my heart aching for those who were.
I took the stage at the very moment my family arrived at the impromptu memorial service. I smiled and did my best, all while trying not to let slip the sadness that was welling up inside me.
When the day was over, I collapsed. My head aching, my heart searing, my soul exhausted—Carl took me on a date—somehow knowing that what I didn’t need was silence.
We pulled into a tiny little town in North Georgia, and arrived at a restaurant we’d never seen before. It was a treasure, a perfectly timed gift.
We poured over the menu like kids in candy shop, pointing at items and oohing with delight. We started with fried green tomatoes with pimento and goat cheese. Then we shared the honey-sriracha fried chicken, with a summer salad and their homemade grits on the side—topping it all off with peach and rhubarb cobbler.
We ate and laughed and talked about nothing. As I took bites of the tomato, tasting the spice of the pimento mixed in with the thick, rich flavor of the goat cheese, it felt like a piece of my missing heart came and snuggled back in.
The table felt glowy and the food was delicious—the best meal, we agreed, that we’d had in a long, long time.
After dinner we wandered down a hill prompted by what sounded like a movie and found the community sitting in a large park, picnic-style, watching Madagascar 2 on a big screen.
We stayed for a while, breathing in the smell from the popcorn stand and listening to families laugh, and then walked back to our car, hand-in-hand in the warm, Georgia evening.
My eyes filled with tears as we walked, realizing that over the course of the meal and the movie and the walk, my heart had begun to heal.
The loss of my cousin is something that we will grieve for a long, long time. The world is a dimmer place for having lost his warm heart and twinkling eyes, and our family will never be the same.
In the wake of that phone call, the world seemed dark and cruelly unpredictable. I began to feel deeply afraid for my life and for the people I love—knowing that the phone calls are going to keep coming, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
This world is intensely scary, and our lives are fragile and unpredictable.
But there is still beauty.
But in the meantime—squished between my sobs and those terrifying thoughts—little miracles twinkled up at me, like lightening bugs on a warm, Georgia evening. Big miracles like the amazing future-missionaries I got to speak to that day, and small ones like fried green tomatoes.
And with each one, my heart feels a little bit more normal again, a little bit more full of hope—the flickers of light hinting that darkness can’t overcome us after all.
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
What reminds you of life when the world is scary?