I would give anything if I could have lunch with Tracy today. Having lunch with Tracy is always a treat. She'll come to the church's office, step inside and tell me about everyone she has encountered along the way, and we'll then walk to one of her favorite places, a Mexican fast-food restaurant a few blocks from the church.
I saw Tracy a lot weekend before last. She was at the church for a movie on Saturday night, participating in a discussion on Hotel Rwanda. She came again on Sunday morning for worship. I remember her sunburn as she had been at the pool all day. I remember hugging her when she walked out of worship. But I wish I could linger with her over a cup of coffee. I would give anything to hug her again today.
I sent Tracy an email yesterday morning. The subject line was, "I am praying for you." The message was rather simple, "Tracy, you have been weighing heavy on my heart all weekend. Please know that you are in my thoughts and prayers. I look forward to seeing you soon." I sent the message a little after 8:00 yesterday morning...before I received a call about Tracy.
Tracy took her life sometime over the weekend. At some point over the weekend, she discerned that it was too hard to keep going - that the darkness was more appealing than the light. At some point over the weekend, the depression got the best of Tracy, and she decided to put an end to it once and for all.
I have a friend whose father committed suicide after college. I have read several accounts or heard stories of people who have taken their own lives. However, I have never lost a friend this way. I have never received a phone call telling me to pull over on the side of the road because of such bad news.
I met Tracy last October at my friend, Jenni's wedding. In this picture, Jenni is the bride in pink. Tracy is the supportive friend - the one who seemed to enjoy the weekend festivities tremendously. She started coming to worship at Mount Vernon Place not long after the wedding. She would sneak in and sneak out on some Sundays. On other Sundays, she would stay and linger over coffee. She's led discussions at our church before. She's been a regular participant in our young adult activities. Craig and I spent a good part of the 4th of July with her, watching her take delight in using the grill, flirting with a group of guys nearby, and enjoying an afternoon at the pool. I have been Tracy's pastor, and she has been a friend.
And while the pastor is supposed to be strong, my heart is aching. While the pastor is supposed to tell everyone to stop asking themselves what more they could have done to prevent her death, I am sitting here this morning wondering why I did not call her more often. I am wondering why we allowed her to sit by herself in worship on many Sunday mornings. I am pondering what we could or should have done. Is there anything we could have done that would have prevented this action from taking place?
I learned a long time ago that our minds are powerful things. I know well the pain of depression having experienced it second hand through many close friends. I know that there is stress associated with trying to make ends meet financially in a city where the cost of living is so high. I understand what it is like to be in a job where we may not fit in with our coworkers or feel that our gifts are not being utilized. But again, I would give anything to tell Tracy today that while the darkness is there, this darkness has never overcome the light - the light of Christ who promises to always be with us.
The God I know and love allows us to make our own decisions - to seize life or to end life. God does not prevent us from making decisions that will hurt us or even kill us. And while this part of God is hard to understand, this ability to make choices is a precious gift from God.
I believe God was with Tracy throughout her life - at every hour of her life. God has been with Tracy in the depression. God has been with Tracy in the challenges. And, I believe God was with her over the weekend - at the very moment she decided to end it all. While we would give anything for God to have stopped her from taking the pills, this is not how God works. We are not puppets on a string. Rather, we are individuals with choice, and Tracy chose to end her life.
There is a passage in Romans that I keep reading over and over again. It will likely become the scripture for this Sunday's sermon. Romans 8:35 - 39 reads:
"Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
As it is written: 'For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are surrounded as sheep to be slaughtered.'
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Tracy, your pain is over. The pain of this life has ended. May you now rest in the tender arms of mercy of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.