A mother stood in the front of the church between two caskets. On her right side lay her 49-year-old husband. On her left side lay her 18-year-old-daughter.
Friends and family embraced the widow one-by-one with hugs and whispers in her ear, expressing condolences and sharing memories. The line backed far outside the sanctuary doors for over three hours as loved ones fought back tears and tried to come up with the "right" words to say to the mother and her three remaining children.
The daughter, Ari, was a freshman college student, passionate about Africa and was looking forward to serving at a South African orphanage in a few months. Her father, Randy, was a youth pastor who loved comic books and superheroes and was notorious for making sure students, with all backgrounds and interests, felt welcome inside the church.
I never knew them personally, never even met them. As I waited in line at the visitation, I still felt sorrow for the family's loss. You see, when news of a car accident of a family I had never heard of came a few days before, I learned that one of the victims impacted me far greater than he or I ever knew.
About 8 years ago, Randy played a big role in helping a wandering teenager, named Matt, straighten up his life and understand what it meant to be a man of God. Randy's words and Christ-loving actions tugged hard on the teen's heart. Matt began to truly seek out God's plan for his life and later felt the call to ministry, went to college and stole my heart his senior year. In a few short months, I get the honor of calling him my husband, and we will get to serve in ministry together.
God placed Randy in my future husband's path as an example of what a Christ-centered life should look like, just like He's placed many men and women in my own life whom I know helped mold me into who I am today.
At Randy and Ari's visitation in Mississippi, every soul in the room wished the semi-truck had stopped sooner to prevent the collision or, at the very least, wished for one last moment with the pair before the accident.
But not a single person would deny both Randy's and Ari's lives were well lived. From the testimonies I heard, the father and daughter clearly showed how to love better, how to laugh louder and how to joyfully live out God's divine plan every single day.
We like to think we are invincible, that our bodies are a long way from failing us, that we are too young to die. There is so much more to accomplish in life, so it cannot be our time to go. Truth is, we live in a world where accidents happen and mistakes are made. Our last breath is not dependent solely on health and age, but on a number of factors including situations out of our control, which come from living in a fallen world.
After hearing numerous stories about how Randy led students to believe in Christ and how Ari's smile alone made people want to know more about her joy, I could not help but wonder what people would say about my own life.
Would they talk about how I loved things or how I loved people? Would they talk about how confident I was in myself or how confident I was in Christ in me? Would they talk about my self-proclaimed talents or my God-glorified gifts?
The sorrow Jennifer, the wife and mother, is going through is unfathomable, but I hope she can rest peacefully knowing her husband and daughter's lives impacted so many people and the Kingdom of God.
I hope to live my life in such a way that when I die, God comes up in the conversations people have about me. And just maybe a stranger I never even realized I impacted will be at my visitation.
Bodies decay, money fades and memories are lost, but impacting a life for the sake of Jesus Christ lasts an eternity.
"I consider everything a great loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things." Philippians 3:8a