My cousin passed away unexpectedly Sunday morning. There was no prolonged illness. There were no warning signs. When she had was admitted into the hospital early last week, doctors thought it was an infection. Then things worsened, and they LifeFlighted her to a larger hospital nearby. And those doctors found a tumor growing in and out of the valves of her heart. And within days, she was gone. She was just 54. And while I think we were all bracing for the worse with each new report…even when we’re prepared…we’re not.

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I don’t know how people who don’t have a faith in Jesus Christ deal with these kind of surprises. While I never gave up hope – because I know my God has the power to heal miraculously – I was always praying, “Father, You know Rhonda’s situation. You see what the doctors can’t. We know You can heal her here…but if You choose to take her home and relieve her of all her other health struggles and these…then we trust Your will. Just please…don’t let her linger; take her quickly and spare her that. We know she loves you, Father, and we entrust her to You. Use her story to bring You glory.” So all those days – hours, really – that I was praying and waiting…a dam still broke in me when I got the news she was finally at peace. Memories flooded back. Tears ran freely. My heart ached…for my aunt and my cousins, and the rest of our family, and her friends who will miss her dearly. But as our congregation sang that morning…my heart was also filled with a bittersweet  joy, knowing Rhonda was walking with Jesus that very minute! And she was with her Dad again. And her joy was complete.

It seems the older I get, the easier it’s become to deal with loss. That’s natural, of course. I can appreciate how full a life a loved one has had. And as a believer, death doesn’t frighten me, because I have the assurance that upon leaving this life, I will see Jesus face-to-face, and be healed of whatever physical ailments plague me now, and relieved of the heartache and remorse I feel for some of the choices I’ve made, and how they have hurt me and those around me. There have even been times my first response was a spark of jealousy:  “She gets to be with Jesus now! Oh, what I’d give to be done with all this!”

But maturity also deepens the pain in some ways. My brain instantly reaches down into the recesses of my memories, and past joys and pains surface. Death sinks in deeper and faster now. My brain wonders how I would handle losing a child. Or what my life will be like when I lose my  parents. Or how would I deal with being a widow, after (7 years ago) finally finding real love and experiencing a marriage centered in God. One moment, I can’t imagine. The next, I’m washed over with such peace. I don’t have to worry about how I’d handle it…because, like everything else God has seen me through, He will see me through those things, too. We’re human, and we have to accept our mortal brains and hearts naturally have some level of fear about the unknown….but with Jesus, we can instantly turn our hearts to Him, and rejoice.

I knew the drive to a meeting I had Monday morning would be rough. But also good. I made some strong coffee for the hour drive to the coffee house *giggle*, pulled up a MercyMe album on my iPhone, and grabbed the box of tissues from the back seat…then headed off. “Jesus…keep me safe through my tears, and fill my hurting heart with Your Holy Spirit. Let me mourn and heal for the next hour.” And He did. My voice cracked as I sang His praises. My aching heart swelled with love and happy memories of growing up with Rhonda. I was even ashamed, and prayed that God would grow in me a bigger Jesus heart like she had; she was always smiling and laughing and loving. I’m not. Shame on me. How can I speak about God’s unfailing love and grace and the peace I have in Him one minute….then complain and whine and judge the next? Shame on me. I guess this is another thing my midlife heart appreciates at times like these: self-examination. And it’s not that I beat myself up…but I do feel the guilt and remorse at not doing things better; of not being a better example of what I preach. *sigh*

I guess I’m just thankful that Rhonda’s death – while heartwrenching – can also bring good. We can speak of her salvation to those who may not know Jesus like we do. We can give God glory for all the miraculous things He did throughout her life…because she did overcome some real health struggles, from an early age. And we can use this time of mourning to reexamine our own lives.

Oh, Father….that I can be just a little more expressive in loving those around me, like she was! Thank You for Rhonda. <3