The day that Bethany died, October 4, is not one that I will ever forget. While I will choose to remember the lively things about her: her smile, her tenacity, her jokes and questions, her practicing riding her motorcycle up and down the steep, rocky road in the middle of the campus, the look of accomplishment on her face when I passed her in town - on her motorcycle, etc, I will also remember how my experience of her death compelled me to stare some of my fears in the face, and how the Lord is speaking to me about those fears.
My life is not one that has been marked by great loss. I have lost my grandparents to old age and I know that they are all with Jesus. It feels weird for me to say that it is not necessarily the loss that scares me (in the case of losing a believer) but the actual death, the evidence of a life lived left behind. I think it might be somewhat natural to be uncomfortable with the reality of death, though I know people (like one of my sisters) who is intrigued with it and curious about it, but not the slightest bit afraid of it. And there are those who work in a profession that deal with death frequently. However, I. Am. Afraid. Of. It.
My husband told me once after my PaPa passed away and I stood in the hallway of the church paralyzed by a fear that would not let me enter the sanctuary, "Rachel, you know that that body is just like a peanut shell. Your PaPa isn't in it anymore, it's just his shell." This helped me take the necessary steps to get into the church, sit in the very back only glancing briefly and sporadically from afar at my PaPa's peanut shell.
But on that day when I entered the house, then entered her room, I was alone (though not by myself) with my fear and with Bethany, who had left to be with Jesus sometime earlier that morning, and with my friend Courtney. On that day, I was up close and very personal with death in ways that I never would have imagined. I gave Bethany CPR on the way to the hospital. My heart was set on doing all that I could do for her despite my fear, but it was too late.
In the days following her entrance to heaven, I had a difficult time dealing with my contact with her peanut shell. It was traumatic for me, but not necessarily the part of the story I think needs to be highlighted. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." ~Romans 8:28
A few days after her death, I had what I thought was a panic attack in the middle of the night, but I have sense learned that it was a night terror (and that it was very good that I had it so close to the event because it is an important part of the healing process, that flood of emotion released from it's inner chamber).
"I was walking on the path up the house, that's it." I told her.
"I could see the jagged rocks with the grass creeping over them and I knew where I was going. With each step I was closer to that which I did not want to relive. I kept telling myself, "STOP WALKING! You know where this is leading!" I woke up with my heart racing, my pillow wet, my face drenched with tears and snot, my body both sweaty and clammy."
My sister asked, "Did you see your feet while you were walking?"
Weird question, I thought, but answered, "No, I just saw the path in front of me and I knew where I was going."
With a thoughtful pause, she asked a question that took several days to sink in,
"Have you considered that what you saw in your dream was God's view of you as He walked the path with you?"
On that day, God knew that I was going to reach out and touch my fear. He knew that I was going to shutter and shake on the inside. He knew that He would begin to apply salve to a wounded area that I didn't want Him to touch. He also knew how and what the others involved would feel, where their minds would go, how they would struggle, and He walks the path with them too. And I am just as certain that He walked the path of heaven with Bethany, and walks the path with her family then and now.
I trust that it was not an accident that I went into her room on that day. I trust that the Lord was with me when I was confronted with a lifelong fear.
I recently walked the path again. I went back into the house. I went back into her room. A dear woman of God (thank you, Ruth) walked with me and helped me through it. I stood where I stood on that day and looked at the empty space where Bethany's peanut shell had been camped almost two weeks earlier. I remembered her expression. It was one of peace, as if she had drifted off into a sweet dream. Now, I look at those moments with Bethany's peanut shell as a blessing for me. I. Am. Not. Afraid. Of. It. Thank you, Bethany. Thank you, Jesus.
What I found when I went back to that place was encouragement all around me. Post it notes scattered here and there, notes on the wall, a big sign on the wall entitled "Encouragement" where notes were left from one to another to spur each other on. And so today, I sit here encouraged. Yes, indeed, He walks the path with us.
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." ~Romans 15:13
"Be strong in the Lord and in His MIGHTY POWER." ~Ephesians 5:10
(These were two of the verses that I found in the house on post it notes.)