You ever think it will happen to you. Tragedy. But then, yet again, it appears to snatch the breath from your lungs. I have seen my fair share-some would say, more than my fair share-of pain and tragedy and loss. It still didn’t prepare me for this.
It started out as any other Friday morning. We were all up at 6am, got the boys on the bus for 6:30 and it was just us girls for a few hours. Emily played around the house and came for a few snuggles here and there as we watched her stand-by, nursery rhymes and learning songs. I sleeplessly sprawled on the sofa, hoping to catch a few winks in between the excited squeals and shout-singing. Sometime around 8:30, she was ready to put on her brother’s swim trunks and her swimsuit top and go play outside. She and Caleb had been playing in the bathing suits for a few days now-anxiously awaiting the day when it would be warm enough to go swim at Pawpaw’s. I smiled at her excitement to get outside, as I opened the door for her to play in our fenced back yard. Safety and security are illusions we lean on so hard they crack in an instant. God will take us home to Him the moment He has intended, no matter the “securities” we have put in place. Rarely does He provide an explanation, He just says, “Trust me, my child.”
After about twenty minutes of mindless facebook scrolling, I decided we should probably go grab some breakfast. Knowing she would be excited to go for a ride, I smiled as I looked out the window, expecting to see her on the swing, as usual. She wasn’t there. I scanned the yard, growing more and more anxious, as my phone began to ring. Mark was calling. I noticed the gate was unlatched when I opened the door and simultaneously answered the phone. I slipped my shoes on quickly as I explained that Emily had gotten out of the yard, yet again, and I was headed next door to see if she had made her way to the pool-as she had taken to doing. We had always beaten her to the water. Every time she had gotten over to the fenced-in pool, we had gotten to her before she had gotten into the pool. As I crossed the yard, the phone call lost reception, so Mark didn’t hear me say, “Oh my God, no.” as I reached the sightline of the pool. Almost in one motion, I set the phone down and jumped the securely-locked gate around the pool, dropping into the fridgid water and scooping her face-down body out of the water. Her lifeless eyes told me she was gone, but hoping against hope I began CPR. Kathy came out of the house and trembling and crying I yelled for her to call 911. The minutes passed like days on end and in milliseconds all at the same time as the first, first responder arrived and took over CPR. As the fire department, more first responders and the ambulance arrived, they asked questions I couldn’t answer. And as I answered those I could, I felt more and more unsure of myself. I sat down in the grass, unable to bring myself to see how things were going in the ambulance. I called my mom; I would need her to get the boys-but she and dad met us at the hospital first. As I cried, struggling to get the words out, I could hear the panic and shock overcome her. “We’re coming!” she said. I had texted some of my mom friends to ask them to pray. Responses began pouring in and I just sat there, soaked and alone, waiting for them to tell us where they were going to take her.
Then the people came. Our neighbors down the road, Todd and Tammy, arrived first. They came and hugged and prayed over me, as Mark arrived. They drove us to the hospital and there, our pastors were waiting with my parents and a few others from our church. As the minutes passed, more and more people showed up to pray and wait with us. The doctor came to us twice to give an update, each time the news was more grim. It was over an hour after I had first begun CPR on her, that he came for a third time and asked us to come see her. Mark and I looked at each other and, hand in hand, walked back to the ER where half a dozen people surrounded her little body, working to bring her back to us. But she was gone. We both knew it. Mark sobbed as we walked out with one of the nurses. We looked at each other again and told her that they needed to stop. She was gone and it was ok. For the moment we just held each other and wept. My parents came to join us by the doors and we hugged and cried together. My mom thanked us for giving her life, and sharing her with them for the short time we had. As we waited for the staff to prepare her to be seen, I heard one of my sweet sisters sob. Emily had touched so many with her brilliance in her short four years.
Seeing her so still was hard. She was never still, even when sleeping. We spent time just talking to her and saying goodbye for now. Then we went to see the crowd of brothers and sisters that had come to be with us in the waiting room. Each pair of eyes were red with sorrow. Each hug came with a whisper of love and grief and an offer of “anything I can do.” Then, before we all left, Josh, our pastor, gathered everyone around us and prayed over us all.
God, our Father, always has a plan. I have been through enough in my short 34 years to know that this is undoubtedly true. I do not need to know His plan, I just need to trust His sovereignty. It doesn’t mean that things are easy and pleasurable and carefree. Quite the opposite. He, in fact, promised us it would be difficult. We were not made to be broken; He did not create this world to be broken. But it is, and we must walk through it, broken and scarred from the beginning. His grace is sufficient to carry us through.
Emily was the most joyful person I had ever known, and I know she is even more joyful in the presence of her Jesus. I know she is the freest she’s ever been and rejoicing with the angels. He has given me peace and comfort beyond human ability and through all of the love and care of my family, friends and our amazing faith family.
Each of us has a purpose in this life. If we still have breath in our lungs, we have a purpose for today. Emily’s was to touch deeply and strongly each person she met in her four amazing years on this earth. I pray that you seek out your purpose for each day, big or small, and walk in it wholeheartedly.