"In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different."
-- Coco Chanel
My friend Kristen used this quote as her senior quote in our yearbook. I've been thinking about this quote in the past few weeks, and how well these words played out in Kristen's life.
Kristen died at the beginning of this summer.
Kristen was one of my oldest friends. Her family moved to town when we were in high school. We became fast friends, both of us being involved in many of the same activities at school. My family lived in the country, so there were many times after school I needed a place to "hang out" until I could catch a ride home, or until an evening activity would begin. Kristen's house became that place. Her parents, Alan and Marti, were so welcoming, and her two sisters, Amy and Carrie, were generous to share their space as well.
Kristen and her family were genuine and passionate about living their lives for Christ, and sharing Him with everyone they encountered. I have so many wonderful memories of time spent with them: going to aerobics classes with Marti and Kristen, early morning Bible study and devotionals, sharing fresh, homemade whole grain bread (what we affectionately referred to as "Marti bread") with delicious meals prepared with love, getting ready for prom and other dances --- all those things that go along with being teenagers.
After we graduated from high school, Kristen and I continued our friendship, although our lives started to take different turns. Kristen and Steve were married that first year after graduation and began working in different jobs and ministry positions, always finding ways to share their love and lives in Christ with others, in several states, including Hawaii. (I know -- Hawaii!) Meanwhile, I college-hopped and graduated with my teaching degree, and continued my education to get my administrative certification. Throughout all this time, Kristen and I kept in touch, originally through old-fashioned letters, then we grew into the then-new-fangled thing known as e-mail, and then of course through Facebook and texting. We didn't get to see each other too often, generally when she and Steve would be in Nebraska for family gatherings with the McHargue family, we'd try to squeeze in a quick lunch or couple hours on the couch to visit and get caught up. But we found that although our time was limited to visit in real life, our friendship, planted and grown in the Lord, continued to grow and flourish.
My friend was an amazingly strong woman, fighting health issues for many years. Health issues that often baffled her doctors and care team, and issues that had claimed the lives of other patients much earlier than how long Kristen was battling them. We were shocked when her beloved husband Steve was called to his heavenly home unexpectedly a few years ago. I marveled at the peace and grace with which Kristen and their kids handled that time. When I talked to her following Steve's death, she explained how the peace of Christ had just surrounded her, blanketed her from the moment of his passing.
When Corin and Marti each posted in May that Kristen was in the hospital, I think most of us thought it would be a few weeks, and she'd be out, as had been the case so many times. But I soon started to realize and feel this time was different. Marti posted on June 7 that Kristen had been reunited with Steve in Heaven. As much sadness as filled my heart, there was an equal amount of joy and peace knowing that Kristen's earthly struggle was done, that she was now celebrating in the presence of the Lord, where she will be for eternity.
There's peace in knowing that.
But in the last six weeks or so, there have been so many things I've thought of about Kristen. What I've learned from her, what I miss about her, what I remember about her. Here's my partial list:
*Live wildly, boldly for God. All out. All the time.
*Love others, where they are, pray for them, and share Christ with them.
*Live creatively. Kristen designed spectacular dance costumes, sewed wonderful gifts, found ways to bring color and flair (and bling) to her world in beautiful ways. Even her handwriting was creative and beautiful.
*Be generous. Our birthdays were just four days apart, so when her family invited me out for birthday dinner one year, I wanted to share the "spotlight" with her - but she insisted on unselfishly, lavishly, generously celebrating ME. How many teenagers do that?!
*Be inviting. Kristen and I became friends even with differences in our religious traditions and practices. In a community that sometimes seemed to separate friendships based on where and how you worshiped God, we became friends anyway due in large part to Kristen and her family being open and inviting to share in their lives.
I see Steve and Kristen in Corin and Izzy in every picture they post on Facebook or Instagram. In their smile, in their eyes, in the comments or story they tell of their adventures. In how they are continuing the work for Christ that was begun generations ago in both families. I love these things about these two "kids" - that even though they may not recognize me if we were to meet in person, that they keep me connected with their family. A family I deeply love.
I purchased a James Avery ring with a cross design a few days after Kristen's death. She was the one who originally introduced me to his jewelry. I wear this ring as a reminder to live boldly for God, and to keep the memory of my friend with me.
Because, now, six weeks later, I still miss my friend.