I went to school with Josh Harrison. He was a year ahead of me and I would never have been cool enough to hang out with him if it wasn’t for Jr. High Prime Time with Mrs. Johnson. You see, Josh was a beautiful human being. An incredible athlete since birth, charismatic, and an all-around wonderful guy. I was… not really any of those things, but somehow, in Jr. High we spent every day chatting in the back corner of Mrs. Johnson’s English room, along with a few others. I have very few specific memories, but one particular that I’ve remembered well. During Valentine’s Day week, students were able to purchase those big yummy suckers for a crush or friend and they’d be delivered on Valentine’s Day during Prime Time. Of course, Josh received like 38 suckers from girls that swooned over him. I got three. And I guarantee you that none of them were sent to me from romantic loves of any sort. After the deliveries were made, Mrs. Johnson made a comment to him about needing a box to take his glorious pile of suckers home. Instead, he began handing out suckers to the kids in the class that had the least– he told me to pick a handful. After that one year we had Prime Time together, I doubt we ever spoke again. He certainly wouldn’t have dismissed me if I greeted him in the hallway, but our paths never crossed.
Right before Thanksgiving of 2013, my family was struck with all kinds of illnesses and we were all bedridden for days. I logged into facebook and read that Josh had passed away. There was no other information other than he’d left the world, his wife, daughter and unborn son, to spend eternity in heaven. I’d never met his wife before. Honestly, I’d probably not thought about him in several years, but with his sudden death I became enormously grief-stricken for his family and friends.
Within the next few days, I read several posts from mutual friends about his passing. It would end up being revealed that he’d passed away due to natural causes; his heart had completely given out. I hadn’t remembered hearing that he was sick, so I did some further facebook investigation to find out that this was absolutely unseen, sudden and unexpected. A month or so passed and I felt so called to speak out to his wife, Katie. I messaged her just simply stating that I was incredibly sorry for her loss. I, of course, have no idea what it’s like to endure such an extraordinary loss, but if anything I’d hope I could shine some light in her life, even in the smallest amount. More than anything, I really wanted to convey to her that people she’d never met- complete strangers- were praying for her. She wrote back to me, politely thanking me and we’d soon become facebook friends. Over this past year, I’ve watched her life change with the birth of her son, her daughter turning another year older and many more milestones she’s chosen to share on social media. She often writes stories about Josh, with incredible detail, of their beautiful life together. Dare I say, perfect? Or.. as close to it as marriage may come.
The truth is, I’ve not gone a day without thinking about Josh, Katie and their family. Life is so ridiculously unfair. What could God be doing with Josh up there that could be ANY BETTER than being at home with his young, beautiful family?! I’ve had some words with God about it, trying to understand what a mess this turned into. He’s not revealed those answers to me and I don’t expect to hear it anytime soon. Even though we don’t have the answer, I find myself looking at life in a completely different way. I don’t believe I ever took life for granted, but since Josh’s passing, I’ve certainly found myself gaining a little more love for each moment. I’ve looked at my husband differently, I’ve kissed my kids differently, I’ve forgiven myself differently.
Life can be taken away so suddenly, without any warning or answers. If you think about it too hard, it’s actually terrifying. If life is such a gamble, why would I EVER want to leave my family? I often get asked by my church kids why God allows bad stuff to happen to good people. And quite honestly, I think that’s a great question. In the Lutheran tradition (I can’t speak for more than that), we believe that God is NOT our puppet master, forcing us into decisions. God simply allows us to have free-will. We’ve been saved, by grace through faith, and will spend eternity in heaven alongside Him, whenever that may be. And oddly enough- death is, in fact, a gift. Even though death is surrounded by pain by those left behind.
Katie so eloquently writes about her faith. How she’s sometimes angry with God and desperate for answers. And I can’t say that I would be any different. As a matter of fact, her strength and honesty have been so admirable to me. Her transparency has been such a gift. It sounds even terrible to type- but her loss and the words she’s written has given me such a change of heart. I only wish that if I were put in a similar circumstance, that God would give me the love and strength He’s given her, whether she realizes it or not.
So, someone whom I admire? Katie Harrison. I’ve never met her, I may not ever be blessed to have the opportunity, but I pray that in whatever form I can be like her, just a little bit. I pray that I could be courageous and loving and have a heart like she has. It’s no wonder Josh fell in love with her in the first place, why he chose her (out of the millions of girls I’m sure he could have had) to be the mother of his children. There’s no doubt that he’s beaming with pride in heaven, while she continues to love every second she was blessed to spend with him.