Oddly enough, I've been planning the title of this blog and the content of this blog long before it was Billy Joel week on American Idol...guess God's just good like that.
Those of you that know me really well, know that for a 26 year old, I have known quite a few people who have left this Earth far too early...at least what their friends and family felt like was far too early...and is part of the reason why I fight these stupid diseases that ravage my body every day. When people on days like today, where you can look at me and tell there is no way I should be baking apple crisp in foods lab (I should at least be in bed and probably at the doctor or in the hospital), ask me over and over again why are you at school? Why don't you take a break? Why do you push yourself? It's because of my friends, my acquaintances, the people I've heard of that don't have the chance to fight, that don't have the chance to prove the doctors wrong, that don't have the chance any longer to show people what strength and beauty really looks like. It's because, for at least right now, any day that I wake up, is a day that God gifted me and gave purpose to me fulfill. I came across this quote on Pinterest that sums it up perfectly to me: "Having a rough morning? Place your hand over your heart. Feel that? That's called purpose, you're alive for a reason." So I get out of bed every day because I can, it may hurt, but it makes me a better person to realize that there are people much worse off than me, and that I have friends that didn't get to live to be 26, and it just doesn't seem fair to them, in my opinion.
So let me tell you about some of my friends...and I may have left some out...because I am having a pretty crumby health week(s) and part of that is not remembering everything I have to say/want to say...plus I'm sure this will be pretty emotional to right so I might get sidetracked or whatever...but anyways...I wanted to let you, my readers, know about the awesome people that I have had the pleasure of meeting, that have inspired me in my life, and that were too good so they had to die young.
The first young person that I knew that died was Todd Carter, he was 16, he died the week of my 16th birthday in a car wreck. He was the star football player for our gigantic high school football team, dating a head cheerleader, went to youth group. He wasn't wearing his seatbelt. I didn't really know Todd that well besides the fact that he was so popular and I wanted to be his friend so bad and he was always nice and he was in my youth group. But his death still hit me super hard, because we were/were soon to be 16, we were invincible. I was supposed to be getting my license that week...I didn't by the way, I waited a while. I still remember at his funeral they played "Time of your life" by Green Day.
After that there were a slew of other kids I knew that either committed suicide or died in car wrecks. The next one that really hit me kind of hard though was Joe Shuford. He was the first young person, 18, that I knew that passed away from cancer. He went to my church in South Carolina. I was away at college when he passed away. I came home for that funeral too...but that wasn't really a funeral, that was a worship service. There was praising of God that I could not even imagine at that service. His little brother got up and talked about how he was so happy that his brother was in heaven with Jesus and could run and play football again with Todd (my other friend that had died previously), talk about crazy emotional. Joe knew he was going to die and decided that he was going to make it his mission to become a fisher or men. He had bumper stickers made up that said Joe, Fight, Win! that were seen all over town and still are seen all over town. He said that he knew God gave him the cancer so people would listen to him and God called us to be fishers of men and made it his goal to bring one person to Christ every day until he passed, and I'm sure he did that...if not more.
Later that same year; my first friend that I had in Charleston, the longest friend I had ever had, and the friend that I had put on the back burner and shunned because she wasn't popular in high school passed away in a car wreck, her name was Amanda Bates. We still were close in college and talked a lot, once I got away from the entrappings of the high school popularity contest. I, however, did find out she passed away on facebook. Which, let me tell you, is not the way to find out your best friend of 10+ years passed away. She passed in a car wreck as well, she was on the interstate with her 2 year old niece in the back seat and she turned around to hand her something and drove off the side of the road into a tree head on. She died instantly we were told. Her niece was just fine, thank God. Amanada is one of the most important people that has influenced me in my life. She taught me to always be prepared (she would have anything you needed on her at any time), she taught me to always be herself and not compromise who you are for the popular crowd (which I learned after high school, but from her), and she made me want to teach again. We always knew we were going to be teachers, but then I didn't want to teach when I first started college. After Amanda passed, I drifted back to teaching eventually. Her funeral, I really don't remember much of. I remember standing in the row with our group of friends from elementary school on (there were 4 of us in that row), and all of us virtually collapsing in each others arms as they carried her casket past us up to the front of the church. I had never been to a family member's funeral (besides my grandmothers when I was very young) but this was pretty dang close. I also remember that everyone there wore pink, because it was her favorite color.
I think the next person that I knew that passed away was my dad. Who wasn't that young (in comparison to the rest of this blog), and I didn't really love him or consider him good at the time or anything. But he was 49...and had a ton of health problems (surprise, surprise given my history, right?) And he had to have been good in some respect because at one point he loved my mom enough to have 2 kids with her. And, who isn't going to be upset when their dad passes away...at least a little bit, no matter how absent they were. I remember when mom called and told me, I laughed because I thought she was joking. Then I realized she wasn't. It had always been a joke that he was dead because we thought he was for a while, then he came back, then he was gone, then he was dying in 2 weeks, in 2 months, etc, etc. So when mom calls me at like 11 o clock on a school night (I was teaching at this point) and tells me that my dad just died in heart surgery, of course I thought it was a family joke continuation. Then, of course, I realize it's 11 o clock on a school night and she's telling me I need to call the hospital and talk to them because I have to figure out what to do with his body and stuff because I'm the next of kin...and I don't even know him. I don't remember anything from that night but being very tired, driving around Salisbury in circles, numb. I don't think I cried for like a month or two. I don't think I thought it was real for that long. I honestly don't think I cried until the next death, which the anniversary of is today.
The reason I am writing this oh so joyful blog post today is because one year ago today another great friend passed away in a car wreck. Julie, 28, was the most beautiful, talented, fun to work with, joyful, passionate person I think I've ever met. She was always herself and she was so freaking beautiful being herself. She had fiery red hair and a personality to match. I worked with Julie at Escape the Daily Grind (a coffee shop) and got to be pretty decent friends with her. We would talk about such worldly things, Godly things, photography things. I would see her around town and no matter what she was doing she would sit there and have a 20 or 30 minute conversation with me, even if she was running a little late (which was often). She wanted to be a professional photographer and went to school for it so we didn't get to do things together alot because she was really only around in the summers andn I was usually gone then because I worked at camps. But she was amazing, inspiring, and so genuinely kind. She is another person that taught me never to compromise who I was for fitting in. We had such a great time whenever we worked together and loved listening to 95.7 the Ride and dancing in the back together while we washed dishes. We were two silly people together :) Julie was an inspiration to me, and her mom has been an inspiration to me since her passing. A very strong one, that keeps me focused and determined.
The next person that I knew that passed away too soon, was Vanessa Allred, 36, who passed away a couple of weeks ago. She had cancer, and she was a fighter. I didn't know V, pre cancer. But let me tell you, if someone has faith in God to do the impossible it is her. She would post the most breath taking, inspiring facebook status updates through all of her pain and through all the doctors telling her she can't do anything, etc, etc. She knew where her allegience's were to lay and she didn't go down without a fight. Her and her husband (who is the knight in shining armor every girl desires) were witnesses throughout her daily battle, right up until she passed away. Where she thanked her facebook friends for praying for her, wrote on her kids wall that she loved them, and wrote on her husbands wall that he was her hero, to which he immediately replied no, you are mine. Vanessa, was the type of person that would often message me, despite everything she was going through, and let me know that she was praying for me and hoped my pain would go away soon...right up until 3 days before she died. Vanessa, was one of the most selfless people I knew and am sorry I didn't get to know her before the cancer, because I'm sure she was awesome then too.
So there are just 6 examples in the life of one 26 year old of good, inspirational, amazing people dying way too young. So on days when I'm swollen, when I have intense pain, when I can barely move, when I am flushed, when I am nauseous, when I am so dizzy I pass out a couple of times, when I can't type or write, etc I remember when I'm in all this pain that I'm alive...and not everyone is that lucky. And I remember that I'm alive because God has a purpose for me, and I know that if I don't fulfill that purpose then I'm not doing what God wants me too and that isn't good. My purpose for that day may be to be in pain, or have symptoms so that I keep my passion for figuring out what is wrong with me and how to fix it in others. But if that's my purpose, that's my purpose, and who am I to deny God's will in my life. So please, if you are reading this, when I look like crap, and I keep fighting, don't tell me to go to bed and give up for the day, please just realize why I'm not. It says it right in the Bible in Romans 8:14-15, "God's spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go! This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike "What's next, Papa?"