Brandy and I loved youth group, especially weekend socials. There was no Christian bake sale or fundraiser in high school without us. It just seemed that Nora was more into it.
When we organized a raffle to benefit the victims of 9/11, it was Nora who was moved to tears at the footage. When Brandy and I experienced “revival” at one Bible camp or another, getting a spurt of enthusiasm about Bible reading and handing out tracts, Nora’s behavior never changed. It never needed to.
That last summer was much the same in scope, late night movies and road adventures. Bright days went by fast, a last glimpse of adolescence before the leaves began their betrayal of color.
We had one last hurrah before Nora left for a long missions trip to China. Brandy would be heading for the state college two weeks later, myself to a Methodist university upstate. After many tears and much more laughter, Nora turned to Brandy and I with a fierceness I’d never witnessed before.
“I love you both,” she said, and hurried on before we could respond. “I always will. But I want you two to fall in love with Christ, to press into his heart before all else. Will you pray with me?”
It was incredibly uncomfortable. She was so serious, and prayed earnestly for us. The night became awkward after that, and we soon fell asleep.
There were more tears seeing Nora off at the airport in the morning. I truly missed her, but in the week that followed I got caught up in the excitement and flurry of moving.
I was repacking my bags yet again when the phone rang, and I heard my mother pick it up. I was still unsure about bringing my Dickens books, and I was staring at them when my mom came in. I stared at them the whole time she told me, and I continued to stare at those well-worn friends while she hugged me and cried. Yet I didn’t see them at all.
Nora was dead. Killed in China after a scuffle had broken out about hidden Bibles.
I didn’t cry in the following months. Brandy was in hysterics when she found out, and we lost touch very quickly. She didn’t want to think about it. I tried getting involved in the advocacy effort, but they weren’t just projects or sources of pride anymore. They had life in them, and death. I departed for school still numb.
I was sitting on my bed in my dorm room one evening, just having hung up with my mother. She wanted me to take the next semester off, and I was inclined to agree. My grades were terrible, and I was going to have to audit my classes. Instead of paying attention, I drifted to China, replaying scenes of death in my head. I hadn’t made any efforts towards making friends. I didn’t care.
I thought about the last time I saw Nora, at the airport, and that bittersweet night before. I thought first of our tears, and then remembered that she had wanted to pray with us. What had she said?
“… fall in love with Christ… press into his heart before all else…”
After thinking about Nora’s death for so long, for the first time I thought about her life. I remembered our time together, so long ago it seemed. I remembered Nora spending hours praying, Nora being moved to tears, and then to action, by so much sadness around her. Nora saw the sadness in the world more than Brandy and I, and yet she always had such a glow of joy around her. What was this secret of hers?
Sometime there, lost in thought about Nora’s short and beautiful life, the stirring became a tugging. I thought of praying, as I had not done in months, and yet my usual prayer seemed inadequate.
“Please Lord,” I said inside of myself, “I don’t know what to do. But I need you.”
There, in that secret place, the pain began. All of the sorrow and grief of the last months began with one gasping shock. Here, in the joy of Nora’s life, I found the tears. They moved up and began drowning my breath. With the last breath before the sobs began, I cried out to my God, to the One who held me, and loved me through it all. I cried out to the One who, despite all my blindness, promised never to leave.
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