My friend Jamie introduced me FaithVillage and to Kelley Mathews, her editor there. Jamie said I would LOVE Kelley: and she was right. She is one of those people whose warmth and wisdom makes the internet a better place. I sent her an email when I first thought of this series saying: “Kelley, I know you love to read and you are an editor, but do you like to write?” She was so gracious in her reply, and did not even think to rub my nose in the fact that she was already the co-author of no less than FIVE (count ’em!) books – a fact which I only learned later. All this to say: I’m thrilled to have her over for the Words That Changed My World series. Leave her a comment to say hi, won’t you? (And if you’d like to write a post for this series – read more about it here!)
Last week my family was touched by three significant events, all involving death of some kind. First, our elderly dog passed away in his sleep. (Do not discount the copious tears that I, more than any other in the family, shed. I had no idea I would be so heartbroken. See here for that story.)
A few days later, in his role as a chaplain for the Texas State Guard, my husband performed the funeral for the son of one of his guardsmen. The 13-year-old had accidentally overdosed himself.
The next evening, my Facebook feed blew up with the news that Christy, one of my childhood friends, had passed away in her sleep the night before. Our age. Unexplained. Even more surreal — just one week prior, Christy had visited Dallas with her family and we had been able to meet for dinner. Other than Facebook chitchat for a few years, that was the first time in 25 years that we had hugged and talked face-to-face. A week later she was gone. I’m still somewhat in shock.
30 years ago
That makes me sound ancient, but really, I was just a tween before the term had been invented. Sixth grade, at a parochial school, where not only was talking about God alright (like almost any public school back then, too), but we actually had a “Religion class.” I didn’t particularly like that class.
1984 proved a stellar year athletically (state champs!), academically (straight As and awards), and spiritually. Though raised in church, I didn’t really “get” Jesus. He kind of scared me, and throughout 5th grade and into 6th, I remember pointedly ignoring any in-depth conversations or thoughts about Him. He just plain bothered me.
Enter Mrs. Carter, a young teacher who had battled lymphoma successfully and returned to teaching just in time for our class to enjoy her. She unabashedly proclaimed Jesus as her healer—in Social Studies class, no less—and gladly shared her story with her fascinated students. And she had quite a story. But it was her courage in speaking out about her faith that really got my attention.
One day, to help fill our downtime after completing a test, she handed out a poem titled “Who is Jesus to me?” and asked us to write our reflections on it.
I freaked. A simple poem broke me.
I remember reading through it, blinking back tears, frantically trying to decide how honest I should be. I can say what she expects to hear. Or I can tell her the truth.
Somehow I wrote the truth:
This poem bothers me. Every time something comes up about Jesus and what he means to me, I get confused. This poem is one of them. It gets me confused about my own feelings. [white out] I’ve never liked to really open up about my feelings, not to my parents, friends, teachers or even to myself.
This poem asks all sorts of questions. I know I should answer them but I don’t know how to. I’ll try to answer them soon.
“Kelley — you need to answer them now! It may be too late if you wait… [a page and a half later] … I once was where you are and Jesus answered all my questions. He’ll do it for you too if you just let Him.”
That note kickstarted my search for the unconditional love and acceptance of my Savior. The Holy Spirit, who had been working on me for months, flung open wide the door to my heart. I felt free, in a way I could not explain. Within weeks, I had put my trust in Jesus completely, making personal what had previously been generic and intellectual. I requested and received a Bible (2, actually) for Christmas. My classmates wondered why I kissed my new Bible every morning (I was just enjoying the new leather smell, but it made me laugh).
Since then my faith has shaped the course of my studies, my friendships, my marriage, my career. I’ll never be nominated for sainthood (the Mother Teresa variety) so don’t think I’m “all that.” It has taken me decades to flush the people-pleasing tendencies, to rest in God’s delight in me. Still working on it, in fact. But Jesus remains true North, keeping me centered in His unfailing love.
Would I have begun that process without Mrs. Carter’s urgent plea to take action? “It may be too late if you wait.”
Not to be morbid, but let’s be real — nobody is promised tomorrow. “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever” (1 Peter 1:24-25a).
Christy didn’t plan not to wake up last week. The boy didn’t know his experimentation would turn tragic. I didn’t get that one last doggie snuggle. Time is not guaranteed.
The Bible tells us to be diligent with our time: “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16).
1. Relationships — “Hug your kids a little tighter tonight” —posted by a friend who attended the boy’s funeral.
Do you need to forgive someone? Find them today.
Do you need to say something important? Go. Do it.
Do you have a promise to keep? Get started.
2. Pivotal moments— Often we have significant decisions to make.
Have you been paralyzed by fear? “Be strong and courageous” (see Joshua 1).
Can you make one step toward a dream you’ve held dear? Why not now?
3. Faith — To quote a young cancer patient: It may be too late if you wait!
If you haven’t accepted the forgiveness and new life that Christ offers you, give yourself a fair shot by exploring his offer—now! “I am the Resurrection & the Life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”(John 11:25-26). Start by reading the Bible (the Gospel of Mark is a great place to start). Talk with someone you respect. But don’t wait.
Been a believer for a while now? Maybe it’s time to start talking about it, or challenging someone you know and love to start their own Jesus journey. There is much more at stake than your comfort.
I’m honored that Mrs. Carter took time out of her days to invest in my spiritual journey. She understood the fleeting nature of life. The cancer came back a year later and she met her Jesus at age 26.
If I had known that my dinner date with Christy would be the last contact I had with her, I would have asked different, eternally significant, questions. If the boy’s father had known that day that he would never see his son again, he would have hugged him tighter and said I love you. If I had known my beloved pet would die peacefully in his sleep that night, I would have snuck in a few more treats and ear rubs and hugs the day before.
We don’t get do-overs, but we have today. Let’s make the most of it.
Kelley is the Christian Living Editor for FaithVillage and lives in Anna, Texas, where she enjoys sunrises with her kids as they drive to school, and sunsets from her backyard. Wife to John and mother of four children ages 13 to 4, Kelley holds a Master of Theology from Dallas Seminary. She has freelanced as a writer, editor, and book reviewer for a dozen years, co-authoring numerous articles and five books focused primarily on women’s ministry. After God, her family, and fiction, Kelley gets most animated about LSU football and dark roast coffee. Connect with Kelley @KelleyMMathews, and while you’re there – say hi to her at her Faith Village account: @FVStrive.