It was around midnight almost six years ago when Karla Yaconelli called to tell us that Mike had been in a horrible car accident. A few hours later she called again with the numbing news that Mike was dead. We were in shock to say the least. This could not be true! I had worked with Yac for over 26 years and he was one of my closest friends. Terrie and I lay in bed holding each other, talking, crying (you know, the kind of chest heaving, snot running down your face, hot tears on your cheeks kind of crying)…..our grief instantaneous and searing.
Then the strangest thing happened, we started to laugh. We would think of some goofy thing Yac had done in the past and we would start giggling right in the midst of our tears. This went on for a couple of hours, periods of deep sobbing interrupted by surprising outbreaks of healing laughter which after a while moved us to gratitude. We were face to face with the reality of how grateful we were for the years we did have with Yac. Gratitude for how much richer our lives were because we knew Mike. Gratitude for how the love of Jesus had a greater grasp on us because of this wild-man. Gratitude for just how much darn fun we had together.
There was grief to be sure; in fact it was easily the most pain I had ever experienced in my life but gratitude just kept showing up and it changed us. It was powerful, it changed our perspective, it saved the day. It was like this unexpected and uninvited guest who would not allow grief to stand alone, not allow grief to be the only emotion in our life, not allow grief to drag us into despair. It did not replace or remove grief but would accompany it. It was a gift of the Spirit. And it stayed with us day after day after day. It seemed so strange to me that those two emotions could be so closely aligned. Even now when I think back on those days I am so aware of the presence of this odd couple, the unexpected companions who walked beside us through those dark days. The grief eventually went away but the gratitude never has and in fact it has grown stronger over time. As I think about Yac today I am so very thankful for what we shared together.
Now as I am leaving YS I find them both back in my life again and I’m so glad they are. Yes I’m grieving leaving YS in a big way, it’s been my life’s work but just like in Yacs death, gratitude has shown up again unexpectedly (I know I’m a slow learner) and powerfully. I am so grateful for what an amazing run it has been at YS. I am overwhelmed that God has allowed me to serve, train and encourage youth workers for 32 years, way more than I could have ever hope for and certainly more than I deserve. I have been so blessed!
So here is the deal. The grief means it has been great. The grief means it mattered. We don’t grieve things we don’t care about. Would I really want it any other way? I’m glad I am grieving. I’m grieving because it has been so freaking awesome! It would so suck to leave YS after all this time and not have it hurt, to not care. But once again the gratitude has allowed me to not be overwhelmed by the pain and disappointment. In fact, in a mysterious way it allows me to embrace my pain and work through it instead of trying to deny it. In a way, it gives grief its proper place now so it will leave later. So once again I have these two uninvited guests taking up residence in my life, guests for which I am thankful. In time, only one will remain and for that I’m grateful.