What I’m learning about death…

If you had asked me a few years ago what my biggest fear was, I probably would have said, “My parents dying.” Which, if you think about it, is a dreadful “biggest fear” to have considering it will inevitably happen. My biggest fear will come true. My parents WILL die.

While it’s clearly still nothing I look forward to, my views on my parents dying, or anyone close to me for that matter, have drastically changed.

I would guess that I’ve been to about the average number of funerals in my 35 years of life so far. I’ve buried three grandparents and been to the funerals of plenty of family friends.

72057898_130951453673I’ve experienced two funerals that came from tragic deaths. One was that of a 16-year-old I knew who was shot, simply for defending his sister in an argument. The other was for my 23-year-old cousin Rebekah, whose wedding we had all attended a mere nine months earlier. The same family and friends who celebrated her nuptials gathered in the exact same church to say our unexpected final goodbyes.

There’s no question that death brings pain. We’ll miss the person.  We want more time with them. The list goes on and on. Death sucks. It’s difficult for those of us left behind.

And the number one thing “they” say you aren’t supposed to say to someone after a death is, “He/She is in a better place.” Although true if the person was a Christ follower, it doesn’t seem to soften the blow of the death of a loved one. It’s like trying to put a positive spin on someone’s death.

About a month ago I started a new job as the marketing director for a local nonprofit that serves the homeless by providing them food, shelter, and long-term programming. I had been a volunteer there for almost two years prior to that, and there were a number of residents I grew to love. One of them was Cortez.

Cortez was a total sweetheart. He often sat at the front desk and greeted me when I came in to serve breakfast each week. He would tell me about his latest job, and he always asked how I was doing, and always, always greeted me by name.

After an outstanding first day at my new job, late that night I received an email that Cortez had died. I didn’t know how to react. The next day at work people were visibly shaken and upset. I felt the same, but didn’t want to show it too much considering these people knew him on such a deeper level and saw him every single day for years. But on the inside, I was hurting so much.

That same day we had an all-staff meeting with a previously scheduled speaker who was a local pastor. He said many wonderful things to us as we mourned Cortez’s death. He told us that it’s OK to miss him, it’s OK to cry. And he never said, “Cortez is in in a better place,” but he did say this:

“If you for one second think that you are in a better place right now than Cortez, you’ve got it all wrong. He is the one who should feel sorry for us. Things couldn’t be better for Cortez right now.”

I felt like I’d been smacked, but in a good way. Talk about a wake-up call. It didn’t take all the hurt away, but it certainly gave me something to think about. And it certainly gave me perspective. In short, it’s changed everything for me when I think about death.

For most of my life I have feared death. At times it was because I wasn’t sure if I loved God enough to make it to heaven. Other times it was because I feared the process of death and how much it would physically hurt. Other times I feared it for those I love most.

It will sting, it will hurt, it will make me miss them like crazy, but when my parents die, they will be so much better off than I will be. They’ll be in a place without ANY pain and suffering. It’s impossible for us to imagine, but if you’re a Christ follower, you know it’s true.

10366073_1108747122478765_2903832708728791301_nThis weekend we celebrate Easter, the resurrection of Christ after He died on the cross for our sins. This is exactly why we don’t have to fear death. We don’t have to question what happens after our time on earth is over. As Christians, we know that this life is nothing compared to what it will be like in heaven with Jesus.

Please keep it in the back of your mind that when a fellow believer passes on, do not be sad for that person. Don’t for one second think that you’ve got it better than they do.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son,
that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
John 3:16


I’m not afraid of gorillas and war…

“Aren’t you scared?” is the number one question people have asked me when they find out I’m moving to Uganda for at least two years. I’m not sure if they think I should fear being eaten by a lion, bit by a spider, contracting malaria or being captured by rebels.

“Not really,” I say. But I’m starting to realize that that’s a lie. I AM scared, but not for the reasons everyone probably thinks.

I don’t fear for my physical safety. I 100% percent believe that God has that taken care of, and I’ve given up those fears to Him. I am completely at peace about my physical safety in Uganda. I’ll be sleeping each night with an armed guard outside my door. What do you have protecting you?

Although I’m not afraid of wild animals (there really won’t be any in Kampala), or of war (always a strong possibility in Africa), there are plenty of things I am nervous about. These are the things I need to turn over to God, and I ask that as you pray for me, you pray that I find peace in these fears:

1043957_10151475508866573_1969601688_n1. People won’t like me. I’ve yet to interact with anyone in Uganda who has been even remotely unkind. As a matter of fact, everyone has been super helpful and constantly letting me know that they are excited about my arrival. Still, my fear is that they will meet me and not like me. This is part of my ever-present flaw of being a people pleaser. I don’t worry about Ugandans liking me, but my fellow teachers at Heritage International School. There’s really no reason they shouldn’t like me, but it’s a big fear I have.

2. The work load is too much. I’ve never taught more than three classes in one semester, and usually it’s only been two (with the same class taught a few times a day). At Heritage, I’ll be teaching Freshman English, Junior English, Senior English, SAT Prep and the school’s first Journalism class. That’s five classes, two of which I’ve never even taught before. I know God qualifies the called, but I’m pretty nervous about taking on so much.

3. I’ll inadvertently offend someone. Cultural norms in other countries are so different from what we know in America. I’m already learning a lot about what to do and what not to do, I just fear I’ll do something terrible and not know it until I have a bunch of angry Ugandans getting upset with me.

4. I won’t be able to “connect” with my students. In IMG_1096America, this is what made me a good teacher. I connect with my students, they feel they can trust me, and I find great ways to relate material to pop culture in a way that they understand it. I’m about to teach an entire group of students who not only come from Uganda, but literally from all over the world. My fear is that I won’t be able to find that “connection” with them.

5. Someone important to me will die back in the U.S. As I say my goodbyes to people here, I am already thinking, “What if that’s the last time I’ll see them?” I have been especially dreading the goodbye with my parents. But I’ve also realized lately that ANYTIME you say goodbye to someone could be the last time you see them. Still, my fear is that someone important to me will die while I’m in Uganda, and that I won’t be able to be here to support my grieving family and/or friends.

I know God will help me overcome these fears, which is why it’s important that I am fearful about some things. Otherwise, why would I need to turn to Him?