Twenty years ago today my world changed. I believe my future self was altered that day, as well as countless others.
Two days before my 11th birthday I danced around our 1100 square foot condo, giddy with excitement over my first real boy/girl birthday party. I say “real” because prior to this, parties seemed to be pretty segregated. You know, because boys were weird. And smelled bad.
But in 5th grade, well things started changing. Those boys suddenly didn’t smell so funny anymore and they didn’t look so strange either… dare I say, cute even. My mom rented out our clubhouse and everyone in all the 5th grade classes were invited. There was going to be food, pop music, and most of all…slow dancing. 😉
I was ecstatic.
But as I danced in our living room, rehearsing the moves I would flaunt in just a few short days….I was interrupted.
My mom asked my sister and I to walk to her room. She needed to talk with us.
It was in her bright yellow bedroom sitting on the edge of her king sized bed, that she told us that our 17 year old brother had died of a drug overdose the night before.
I wish I could say I was in touch with what I was feeling in that moment, but, in true Mary fashion, I was lost in a trance. I stared out the window. Confused and partly numb.
I quickly recalled months earlier when I screamed my first swear word at this same big brother who was laying on a bathroom floor with a bottle in his hand..
“Damn it Josh. Get up! Would you just stop this?!”
Partly, in my 10 year old brain, it made sense….him dying. Everything in our life at this point felt like utter chaos. The only thing that felt safe was my mom and the world I imagined for myself. So him dying seemed to go well with the narrative I was beginning to believe.
Life had little hope to offer.
In the hours to follow, I allowed the tears to fall in the privacy of my room. I felt cheated. I recounted the camping trip my brother and I had taken just 6 months prior to this day. It was the most fun I have ever had. “Why do all good things have to end?”I remember thinking.
I honestly don’t remember much about the next 24 hours. I’m sure my mom was doing her best to hold it together as the flowers and meals started pouring in.
But this I do remember. The next evening, My sister and I were screaming choice words at each other, as sisters sometimes do, and we heard a knock on our door.
It was my dad.
So for the record, my dad didn’t knock. When he heard us kids screaming at each other, he either ignored us altogether or came in guns blazing. And I mean blazing.
But he most definitely did not knock. So we were already caught off guard.
He opened the door slightly and then peeked his head over the threshold. “Girls, can I come in?” He then proceeded to walk in and spoke tenderly to us.
I can’t remember what he said in the room that night but I remember vividly asking my mom if he was possessed by an angel.
Yes, I did say possessed. 😉
To be fair, I really did have some great memories with my dad when I was little, looking back, I suppose he was always relatively distant..more like an uncle really..but he wasn’t ever mean…
But then the drinking started.
And it seemed like the last few years leading up to my brother’s death felt more like a movie that you want to turn away from. You know, the cringy kind. The kind that you know nothing good is going to come from it. You almost want to just turn it off because you already know the ending…and it doesn’t end well.
From the outside our family looked like a lost cause. The family you pray for from afar but won’t let your kids hang out with. The family that you use as an example for why your kids need to listen. “You don’t want to end up like those Ames boys.” And, “What will become of those unruly daughters they have?” We had become the victim of every onlookers pity and ridicule.
But God had another story in mind.
The night my brother died, The Lord encountered my dad. I say encounter because I don’t know what other word to use. When you encounter the presence of Jesus, you are changed in a moment. And that’s what happened.
My dad wasn’t the same person after that. It was like he died. But someone else was born into his place. He was filled with joy. Not happiness…but real, tangible joy. And our home was at peace. Maybe for the first time.
In the coming weeks and months after my brother’s death, our world shifted. We were a ship headed for impending destruction, and then, in a moment, the Lord turned the rudder and we missed the rocks that should have torn our ship to pieces.
In what seemed to be the darkest time of our family’s life, God brought life out of death.
It’s been 20 years since that day. And it’s no coincidence that the anniversary of Josh’s death and my dad’s new life in Christ falls on Easter weekend.
Death is painful. There’s no way to get around that. Death permeates the world we live in and desires to steal the very life within us.
But death is not the end of the story.
And God’s redemption of death is not only beautiful, it’s absolutely mind blowing.
Spring reminds us that the dead of winter doesn’t last forever, and that the beauty waiting on the other side is glorious.
Jesus died so that we may live. We die daily so that Christ can fill the empty vessel within our souls with new life.
On this Easter weekend, let me not just remember all that you have done for me and for my family but also to be filled with hope as I look to the future.
You make all things beautiful.
You alone, are the author of life.