6 years ago to the day, my beautiful sister Claire died.
It was a Tuesday, same as today. I'll never forget the phone call, I can remember every single word Mum spoke and my choking responses to something that, in an instant, had changed our lives forever... My world stopped, froze, the disbelief that I could lose someone so close, so soon, too suffocating for words.
Coming off the phone, I buried my face in my 3-month-old baby's neck and sobbed. I was completely overwhelmed by the feeling that I would never be able to get over this, that I 'couldn't do this', going through the agony of grieving for a sibling and close friend who was never supposed to die so young..."I'm not strong enough for this Lord!", I cried to Him.
Now, can I pause for a couple of minutes?
Before I go on, I would love to try and describe this most extraordinarily special human-being, who happened to be my sister.
Claire was a generous, vibrant, hilarious 24 year-old who lived life at 200mph. In the last 5 years of her life, she did more travelling than many people would do in a lifetime, studied at 4 different universities in 3 different countries, and had hundreds of friends and acquaintances from all around the world...
She was small but by no means petite, and had a 'larger-than-life' personality as well as an infectious love of life in all its fullness.
She was a deeply mature and spiritual woman, a truth-seeker, and a lover of God, on a journey to discover more of His ways and His goodness; she had an openness of mind that was quite often uncomfortable, and at the very least, rather challenging and humbling!
She had in fact just finished the first term of a degree at Durham university which would have led her into ministry in the Church of England; she had incidentally also met the love of her life and was, we think, secretly engaged to him...She was blissfully happy and fulfilled in her life, although not always contented, or satisfied with 'sitting still'!
And so in many ways, Claire's life was fuller, richer, more fascinating, more fun and more exciting than the lives of any other 24-yr-old I've ever known.
I hope this gives a little insight into my sister's personality and soul; there's SO much more I'd like to say, and that I could say, but won't because I don't have the energy or the courage to dig too much deeper, and also because I can't gauge how much of it would actually be of interest or benefit to anyone but me.
So. Where was I?
"I'm not strong enough...!" - or am I??
The thing is, God, in His wisdom, knew that it was time for Claire to come home. Her work on earth was 'done', and He wanted her back...Even from the very first minutes and hours of grief, we as a family knew God's love, peace and purpose for us and in a strange way knew that it was part of His plan that Claire should leave us when she did. That certainty has never left me; and to this day I am convinced that the turmoil and suffering that I, and my parents and my three brothers went through has contributed to the transformation of relationships and hearts, to immense (and accelerated) growth, and, for me at least, to closer intimacy with my Heavenly Father.
I really believe in God's timing in our lives. He has ultimate control of when life begins and when it ends. He IS, in fact, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega. The question is, am I prepared to surrender every waking hour to his control, to His plans for my life, and what am I doing in order to not waste any of the time that He has in His book for me??
I learnt a lot from Claire. For example, procrastination is really unhelpful and ungodly, and life is to be LIVED, now, to the full and to God's glory and to serve others...
I have also learnt that it's no use making too many plans, too early in advance. God has so much in store for me that I will not see until it's 'there'! His ways are not my ways and far be it from me to try and fathom His understanding.
Finally I think I have discovered my calling, as I travelled through suffering and loss and grief and encountered hope and joy and peace and love along the way; I think the Lord has this calling for many if not all of us who have suffered and suffer still...:
"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me
because the Lord has anointed me
to preach the good news to the poor
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to (...) comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion -
to bestow on them a crown of beauty, instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning
and a garment of praise instead of despair."
-And, YES, I am 'strong enough' - in Him.