Me & Celena after her graduation, June 1995.
Today I learned of the passing of my dear friend. Celena and I went to high school together and shared a ton of crazy memories. We had lots of fun, got into lots of trouble and had lots of great talks. In the midst of all our adventures, there was always a lot of laughter.
Celena was full of smiles and laughter. It was contagious...
I will never forget something Celena said years ago. We were about sixteen years old and in the midst of us drunk and acting crazy, I remember her turning to me and saying very seriously, “All I want is to be happy.” For some reason, that statement always stuck with me. Always.
After high school, our lives took very different paths, but she was someone who always remained special in my heart. And every couple of years, we would somehow catch up or run into each other. Last April (2010), before I even had a clue that I’d be moving home, I “randomly” bumped into Celena and her boyfriend, Jordan, while I was visiting New York. Little did I know that an impromptu cannoli run would be such a blessing in the long run. Walking into Fortunato’s that night and seeing Celena made my heart so glad. We immediately reconnected, texting away, as if no time had passed.
For that, I will be forever grateful.
In one of our catching up conversations, we filled each other in on what had gone on in the years since we’d last spoken. She knew about my divorce and several other difficult seasons and told me how sad she was that I’d gone through such heartache over the years. I was able to share with her that it was only the grace and peace of God that got me through such rough times.
Even then, her statement from years prior about wanting to be happy remained in the back of my mind.
I had no idea then that I’d be moving to New York or that I’d be going to church in the same neighborhood as Celena. That made my reconnection with her even more special. Once I was back, we would try to get together every so often for pizza or coffee. The times we met up were always filled with great chats and lots of laughs. Anyone who knew Celena, knew that hysterical laugh of hers.
Last December, Celena came along with me to my church's Christmas presentation. She had the opportunity to hear the Gospel and experience worship in a way she’d never heard it before and she responded to it. One of the things that she kept saying to me at the end of the night was how she had never been in a room with complete strangers and felt so loved and accepted. She was overwhelmed by the kindness she was shown. I told her it was not because any of us were special in the least, it was only because we’d all experienced the love of Christ in our lives and were forever changed by it.
It was then that the transformation in my life that she’d seen made sense to her and she understood how I was able to change from being an angry, depressed and drunken mess to someone whose life was turned around, given to the Lord and filled with peace. On that night and on several other nights, I got to pray with Celena. We had a number of profound conversations – in person and through text – about the love of Jesus and how it truly does transform lives.
Getting the call this afternoon (yesterday) about Celena’s passing was absolutely heartbreaking. I am still in shock. She and I had just texted a few days ago. She was going to try and come to this year's Christmas presentation at my church. We were going to make plans to get together after the holidays.
I wish I would have seen her.
I wish we would’ve shared one more moment together.
I wish I could’ve hugged her one last time.
I love her and I miss her but I am trusting that the peace she experienced last December is the peace she is resting in now
– the peace of God.
Years ago, Celena said all she wanted was to be happy. Deep down, that’s what all of us want. We go on a journey throughout life searching for that happiness, trying to fill a void that never seems to be filled, no matter how great things may be on the surface. It’s a God-sized void that can only be filled by Him. And when we allow Him to dwell in our hearts, we are more than happy.
We are at peace and we are free.
To Jordan, Mr. & Mrs. B, and Thomas … Know that you and all of Celena’s extended family, friends and loved ones are in my thoughts and prayers. I’m so glad I was able to see you all today, even just for a moment. She loved you so much. Celena will never be forgotten. Her smile and her love remains in our hearts. I pray that the peace of God also dwell in your hearts during this difficult season and always.
Celena & I in Chicago. August 2010. Sharing lots of laughs as always...
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." – Romans 15:13