Six years ago, I wandered into a youth group service and took a seat in the last row of chairs in a crowded high school gym. The transformation that happened in my life that night– the night I became a Christian– was more powerful than I could ever put into words. But something else changed in my life that night too.
As I sat back and scanned the gym full of rowdy teenagers, some of whom I had gone to school and grown up with, my eyes settled on the bright red hair of the girl sitting in the row in front of me. “Hey!” I said, as I kicked the back of her chair, causing her to turn around and look at me. “I like your hair. It’s pretty crazy, but it’s cool.” The girl’s face lit up and she smiled as she shyly said, “Thanks” and went back to the conversation that she had been having with the girl next to her.
Later that night, as I sat crying on the floor of the gym during worship, pouring my heart out to God for the first time, I felt someone put their arm around me. When I opened my eyes, I saw that the strange red-haired girl was sitting by my side, hugging me and crying out to God too.
At the time I didn’t know it, but that strange, wordless interaction on the floor of the Aurora Christian Academy gym was the beginning of one of the most beautiful friendships I have ever known.
I found out later that night that the red-haired girl had a name– Danielle. Dani for short.
I found out in the days and weeks after that night that Dani and I were incredibly similar, and it wasn’t long until we were nearly inseparable.
Over the next several years, we celebrated the small victories in our new walks with Jesus together… and we cried together when we failed. We held each other accountable in late night conversations and we became more like sisters than friends.
But unfortunately, neither of us were perfect and over time, we began to drift away from God, and each other, and in new directions; none of which were particularly healthy.
Around this time, I began college and subsequently “more exciting” things began to attract my attention. As I pulled away, Dani stopped trying to hold me accountable for my stupidity and it was only a matter of time until she had fallen back into her old habits as well.
As time passed, we became a duo of a different kind– the Pharisaical kind. We were insistent on tearing the other one down by pointing out all of the sin in the others’ life– all in a concerted effort to make ourselves feel better about the amount of sin and pain in our own lives.
This tit-for-tat pattern wore our friendship raw for months on end. It seemed like I had lost my best friend over night, but we both knew that that wasn’t the truth. We both made poor choices and it took nearly a year of us digging at the others’ soul to come to a place of truce. But even in this treaty, neither of us were ready to give up the horrible messes of lives that we had reconstructed for ourselves. So instead of asking each other the hard questions when we talked at night, we would talk about school and boys, friends and what was on tv.
It was during this period of truce that both of our lives completely dissolved around us and because we were living on a superficial level instead of the sisterly bond that we both knew existed, neither of us were willing to cry “Uncle!” and let the other know how desperately we needed to talk about the tough stuff; how desperately we needed God.
And it was during this period that I got the phone call; my first phone call of 2011; the phone call telling me that Dani had committed suicide.
I could easily write a blog entry today, on her birthday, about the depravity and injustice of suicide, how angry I was at myself for being so petty, and the how much I desperately miss her… and all of those things would be true. But I’m not going to.
Instead, I wanted to write today to let everyone who reads this know that Dani was the most beautiful, loving, gracious soul I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.
I want you to know that Dani could put a smile on anyone’s face and had no qualms about being incredibly goofy if it meant that she would make you giggle.
I want you to know that Dani had such a tender heart that she shaved her head when she heard that one of our friends had cancer and was losing her hair from radiation treatments.
I want you to know that Dani was fearless and sang in a regional worship competition, even though she knew that people were going to make fun of her behind her back.
I want you to know that Dani radiated the love of Christ in the midst of persecution and humiliation throughout high school, and after.
And I want you to know that while Dani struggled, hard and long with the scars of abuse and addiction, that she loved God and believed whole heartedly in the redemptive power of Jesus Christ.
Today, Dani wouldn’t want us to weep; Instead, she would want us to go out and be a light to the broken of the world, just like she was to me the night that we met on the rubber gym floor of ACA.
So if you’re reading this and struggling, please know that you’re not alone. Reach out to someone; reach out to God.
Humans are fallible– my friendship with Dani proved this– But God will not fail you, not even when you’re broken and at your worst. Not even when everyone else has.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
[On your birthday, I honor you Babydoll. Not a day has gone by that you haven’t been on my mind or my heart since you moved away to Heaven. I love you & can’t wait for the day when we get to worship, side-by-side once again. Love, Kace]