We never know when things in our lives are about to radically change. In the shortest of seconds, everything we know can be turned completely upside down. These moments can come in a million different ways – the initial spark of a relationship, the first cry of a newborn baby, and the last breath of a life. I think that’s what keeps life interesting. We never know when something unexpected will occur, and that keeps us on our feet. What that also means though, is that we must be ready when the unexpected that occurs is not what we want, but instead learn how to use those moments to see beauty in the making.
I can tell you a million details of this date a year ago, and at the same time, can only remember a blur. It was the Monday after Easter. I skipped a class to interview for summer jobs in Houston. I wore a white blouse from Madewell with snakeskin slides. I left for Austin feeling defeated, as the impending reality of no summer job seemed like the biggest deal in the world. As I drove back, I got stuck in a great combo of 5 o’clock Houston traffic and rain. I forgot to exit the EZ Tag lane & drove the next mile down the HOV lane with the anxiety that I would be caught. When I was about thirty miles out of Austin, I decided to take the long way back, which brought me down a windy, one-lane country road that ended in the eclectic area of East Austin. Along that country road, I was struck by the most beautiful sunset. Rays of light shined through the clouds, reminding me of the hope that one day when I saw that same image, I would also get to see Jesus for the first time for eternity. The last time I was struck by the magnitude of the sun was three years earlier and similarly the morning of my first car wreck. I remember thinking both times how I felt such a sense of bliss – an overwhelming gratitude for the life I was living.
An hour after I arrived in Austin, I checked my phone to see an urgent text. It was from my sorority and we were all to attend a mandatory meeting starting in 30 minutes. None of us knew what was going on, but we knew it was serious. When we arrived at the house, I was immediately struck by the eeriness of the scene. We all sat in silence and waited as every last member piled in. The sound of the shrieking screams confirmed the reality no one wanted to admit – something very bad had happened. For a split second, I thought it was a joke, but the sobs that followed confirmed that it was not, in fact, a joke, but a horrible reality.
Nancy Jane David was twenty-one years old when she met Jesus. She radiated any room she walked in and had a presence that made you want to know her better. Although I didn’t get to know her well, the impact her life made on this world is clear through every person who knew and loved her.
It can be hard to follow Christ in our world. I was reading yesterday morning about Thomas and his unbelief. He wanted to touch the holes in Jesus’s hands – to see for himself that this was the resurrected son. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve asked Jesus to see Him in that same way. And then Nancy Jane changed that. NJ showed me what it means to live a life like Christ, not through what she posted on Instagram or did on Sundays, but through the love she showed others. This love is palpable through the way others love her.
The following day, we all gathered to watch the sunset. From where I was sitting, I saw an object in the shape of a cross. Although I later realized it was a telephone pole, in that moment it was much more than that. I grappled with why God had taken NJ, why it had to be such a tragic death, and why there was so much suffering left behind. In that second of questioning, God asked me a question – why did it have to be Jesus? In the hardest of times, He showed me what it truly meant for Jesus to come and die so that I can spend eternity with God. It makes no sense. It should have been someone else. It shouldn’t have been so tragic. But for Christ, it had to be. It was the only way. The spotless lamb was slain for the broken world. That is the good news.
While it’s been hard to see the repercussions of NJ’s death on those that loved her the most, it’s been even more striking to realize the true significance of sin and the cross. We don’t have NJ with us on this world anymore, but what joy for her as she gets to spend her days with the one who paid it all. And what joy that one day, we will too.