A year ago today, the Lord called my precious friend and sister, Christen Ringle, home to glory. It's hard to believe that a year has gone by. In many ways, it seems like just yesterday. Yet there are many times when it's still so surreal. I looked through so many pictures these past couple of days and was brought back to so many wonderful memories. Christen's friendship was beyond a gift and I am constantly grateful for the way God blessed me with such a marvelous relationship. The times of powerful prayer, the deep, meaningful conversations, the intense laughter, the sharpening fellowship, the meals shared, the walks to and from each other's homes, just blocks away.
She truly was my sister...
Anyone who knows me well or has visited this blog for any length of time knows about Christen. I loved her so and I've written about her often. In the midst of my grieving, I found comfort in communicating the amazing woman she was, knowing that in my feeble words, God would be glorified, her memory would be honored, and others would be encouraged. And in that, I was encouraged, because a glimpse into Christen's life is a glimpse of Christ.
He reigned on the throne on her heart and she lived confidently as His daughter.
When a significant day rolls around, be it a birthday or special occasion or day of remembrance, I often look back over the course of that year and reflect on what has taken place. That has certainly been the case in the moments leading up to this day. In fact, days have been spent collecting my thoughts. There are so many words that could be chosen to describe this woman of God. Christen Ringle was like no other and her story captivated the hearts of strangers and loved ones alike. Those who knew her and loved her undoubtedly miss her dearly. And though the tears are inevitable, I must say that there is joy that wells up inside just the same. In the mystery of God's Sovereignty, He has brought tremendous glory to His Name as a result of taking her home and left behind unexpected gifts for us to see that He is still good and still in control.
There are so many things I wish I could tell her. So many wonderful things. Like how God continues to use her story to touch and transform lives. How the words and memories that she left behind have radically impacted countless people. Though she wouldn't want the attention to be on her, I'd still want to tell her. :)
I would tell her that I got to know some of the wonderful friends I'd heard her speak about over the years. That her college roommate Erica and I got to meet when she and her mom visited New York this spring. And that we had such blessed conversation and an immediate connection.
I would tell her that I became Facebook friends with some of her high school and hometown friends, including Randee, who is a precious sister. She even joined my online Bible study this past fall. It was lovely to connect with another person who knew Christen and then learn that, not only do we have Christen in common, but we have so much more.
I would tell her that it was divinely orchestrated for me to know her sister-in-law, Steph, and that, in a short time, I’ve grown to love her as if I knew her for years. That in those immediate days following her death, hugs with Steph spoke louder than words and as a result, something special was transferred and communicated.
I would tell her how doors flew open wide for her story to be shared, including an opportunity I had to write about her life as a mother during As Our Own’s “Thanks, Mom!” initiative and that people gave donations in her memory to help rescue children out of slavery and exploitation in India to be cared as their own daughters and experience true freedom in Christ.
I would tell her that I went back to Chicago this summer and got to see Audrey and Hudson and that they couldn’t be more beautiful. That I got to give them lots of super squeezie hugs and we told lots of fun stories and played. I know she would be so proud of them.
I would tell her that Joe hosted the old crew at the apartment with her same spirit of hospitality and we had a wonderful afternoon of fellowship with his parents, brother and sister-in-law, the Cancels, and even the Walkers, who came all the way from Michigan. We spent our day laughing, sharing memories, and having a ton of fun with all the kids. It was comforting for us all to be together again. I think she would have liked that.
I would tell her that I finally made it to Aledo and that I got to spend quality time with her precious mom, Jeanne. How I got to stay in her house, tour her old stomping grounds, and that her mom spoiled me with yummy meals and a trip for ice cream at Tastee-Freez. I’d also tell her that I went a little crazy taking pictures of Main Street and the cornfields.
(What can I say, small town America stole this New Yorker’s heart!)
I'd tell her that her mom's rock-solid faith in Christ is an amazing testimony of God's faithfulness and that it has been a joy to grow closer to her.
I would tell her that I got to visit Steph and Josh on the way back from Aledo and we had a great time together. That we chatted away and shared many special memories. That our time was so blessed and God is doing amazing things in their lives. (And, also, that they got to experience going to Dairy Queen with me!)
I would tell her that I got to spend even more time with Audrey and Hudson at Grandma and Grandpa (Jodi & Rick) Ringle’s house and that we played really hard, told stories and had a total blast. And that I cried as I drove off because I love them so much it hurts.
I would tell her about the times I went back to her blog and was encouraged by the words she wrote and wished I could ask her what exactly was going on in her heart in those moments because her words were saturated with revelation. Whatever the Lord was doing, it must have been incredible and mind-blowing.
I would tell her that when I began to struggle with my health this year, I’d remember how God gave her strength to persevere when she wasn’t well and believed for that same strength.
I would tell her about the times when I found it hard to press through and worship but I’d envision her singing and dancing and smiling in glory before the King and suddenly, my song was no longer a sacrifice but a joy and a privilege.
I would tell her how incredible it is to read Joe's blog and to see the grace of God upon him and the kids. That he's had many amazing opportunities to preach the Word. That he is following hard after Jesus and is doing such a great job raising Audrey and Hudson.
I would tell her about all the times when I grabbed my phone to call her with exciting news or text her with a prayer request only to be quickly reminded that it would be just a little while longer before I could get to her. I would tell her about the time I found some of her letters to me and the love and encouragement that oozed from her words spoke louder to me in that moment than they did the first time.
I would tell her that I miss her and not a day has gone by this past year without me thinking of her. That when I get sad, I never stay sad long because I think of the explosion of joy going on in heaven and begin to rejoice on earth.
I would tell her that I love her, am so grateful for the amazing memories we shared, and that her impact on my life will last forever.
If you knew Christen, you would know that she would not want us to be spending a day like today sad. Can't you imagine her saying, with that bright, gorgeous smile, “I’m with JESUS! It’s awesome! HE is awesome!” She'd want us to worship the Lord, to herald the Gospel, to get busy in the Kingdom, to bring glory to Jesus in all we do.
A thought very similar came to mind on the night of her funeral service; it was as if she was looking down saying, “Worship now, cry later.” And we sure did worship that night. Despite the flood of tears, there were shouts of joy. She wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
May today be just the same. A day to glorify God for a life well-lived; a life of joy and strength and grace in Christ. Her radiant glow on this earth was heavenly, I can’t even imagine how beautifully she must be shining now.
Celebrating your life today, my sister... Forever grateful.
I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:50-58