In times of joy and in times of grief, We are Brook Hill.
It had been a hard day. I don’t even really remember why but really, I do. Days when I don’t spend any time with Jesus are always hard—days I just take instead of give—those are the days that always end with my heart feeling unsatisfied. Night had already shown itself when I got the text—there had been a serious car accident.
Collins and I had just driven over to Brook Hill two weeks earlier to visit with our favorite community. We always feel so loved there, and the love is well reciprocated. Babies must give off a giddy, silent alarm of some sort to make their presence known because the moment we are inside, the people come. If you ever want people to initiate countless conversations with you, here is your answer: have a baby. (I’m only slightly being sarcastic.)
One of the women who ran over was Dana Regester. She always showed so much excitement for me when I was pregnant– you could tell being a mom was her joy. She and Collins would be fast friends. Dana talked about seeing Collins grow up on Facebook because her daughter, Amie (who I LOVED teaching in my 6th grade class), would show her every single picture I posted– & I was posting quite a few until this Lent season arrived. Dana hoped we would stick around so Amie could see Collins (& me, probably…but mostly Collins…let’s be real.) As soon as class was over, Dana went to find Amie and brought her over to us, & we got to have a fun chat for a few minutes. When I say I loved teaching Amie, I mean it. I taught Humanities, and if you ever want to really get inside the minds of students, this is your subject. They write papers for you, and if you let them write creatively, they will blow your mind. Amie wrote with an exceptional wit for a 6th grader, and I remember laughing with Dana over the hilarious things she would come up with for assignments. Amie was, and still is, the sweetest. She was one of the ones I wanted to put in my pocket and take home at the end of the year.
After receiving the text, I frantically looked for information online and then contacted others to fill in the missing gaps only to confirm that the Regesters had been in a car accident. Dana had not survived. Amie, her sister, her brother, and their friend, Pasha, had also been in the car. Pasha did not survive, either.
I immediately wanted to be there, not because I would be any help in the slightest but because when tragedy strikes and you don’t believe what’s happening, all you know and want is to be close.
Pasha Zapolsky was a senior. He came to Brook Hill as a junior from the Urkaine. This was the summer I filled in as the Interim Director of Admissions so I had the privilege of meeting him. My friend and coworker at the time nicknamed him “Mike Wazowski” (Monsters, Inc.) because it kind of went with his name, only easier & a little more comical to say. He was smart and had hopes of becoming a cardiologist. He was a leader on the soccer team along with Kyle, Dana’s son.
A man driving the same road that night tried to prevent it all. He called the police saying they needed to pull the truck in front of him over—he was going to hurt someone. They were two miles from where he would meet the Regesters. One of the kids borrowed a phone, calling their dad to hurry. Jim spoke words of love and life into his wife’s ear only to find she was already gone. All the sudden, it was us. I was Dana, and Blake was Jim, and I just lost it. We’ve driven that road what feels like thousands of times, and I just cannot imagine. I thought of Collins and couldn’t bear the thought of losing her or being taken from her. It all seemed utterly helpless and hopeless. It is so completely unfair.
I felt the need to take my mind somewhere distant and picked up my charming, current read, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. It takes place post-World War II, and while it had been fairly light up to this point, when I started reading on this particular night, it went into rather vivid details of life for one of the characters in a concentration camp.
You guys, I’m about to be really transparent here. I’ve never found the “f-word” to slip from my lips, but I’ve never found a moment until now when I truly wanted to shout it*. THIS WORLD IS SO HORRIBLY MESSED UP. Concentration camps are such evident proof of that. A family losing their wife and mother due to one man’s inexcusable choice to drink too much and drive is proof of that**. A young man with the world at his fingertips who traveled across the world to pursue his dreams only to be taken from this world, due to someone else’s selfish choice, is proof of that.
Two days after the accident, I went to a mom’s event I signed up for a month ago on worry and anxiety. We each received an index card and were told to write down all the worries and fears we had for ourselves, our families, and the world around us on one of the sides. Later, we were told to turn the card over and write down everything we knew to be true about God. After finishing, one of the women speaking held up the card and said if you truly believe what you wrote about God’s character, it is not possible to be consumed by the side listing your fears and worries. It’s one or the other: trust or worry. On a good day, this is an awesome exercise. On a hard day or a season full of doubt, this can be harder to swallow. Life is hard, and life is broken. I wrote down, “God is my protector.” I believe that—I really do—but after something like this happens, that thought can be really hard to grasp. Want to know why? We aren’t God…& we don’t have the capacity to fully understand Him.
We are a broken people. Really crappy stuff happens to us because we are a people of free will who do not choose wisely at times. But please hear this—He is our protector. Not because He always prevents harmful things from coming our way but because He remains right beside us through it all. He makes provisions for us always because as He is right there with us in both the high points and the deepest trenches, He also goes before us. He knows our stories far better than we do. He brings community close when harm strikes– to the point where there is a line of people in the rain for nearly three hours ready to love and encourage at a visitation. He unites the hearts of people as a source of comfort during these times because as we grieve together, He grieves with us.
I was so frustrated while I was reading my book earlier to get my mind off of things. My heart needed relief, and it was not being provided. It’s ironic, isn’t it? During tragedy, when we feel the need to seek God most, we still find ourselves seeking comfort and compassion from other avenues. While it’s a great book, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with reaping joy from a story, it’s not our answer. At least not our long-term answer. It isn’t extra sleep. It isn’t a vacation or round of golf. It isn’t a Netflix binge marathon. It’s Jesus. Until we see that and understand that, there will always be a longing in our hearts we don’t quite understand. When times are great, He is our answer. When times are excruciatingly painful, He is our answer. Because He loves us. He really, really loves us.
When I lost my grandma, who I was extremely close to, nearly five years ago, I clung to this passage:
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him.’ ” -Lamentations 3:22-24
It wasn’t until a few days ago that I backed up and read the author’s truest feelings during this point in his life. He sees nothing but evil in the world and feels completely separated from God. He is honest with God and tells Him exactly how he feels, (which I think we all probably need to do more often.) After getting it all out in the open, he comes back and says,
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope….” -Lamentations 3:21.
In the midst of all of his pain, and in the midst of every rotten thing he saw unfolding in the world, he found hope because he remembered who God is.
We have to remember who God is before we are able to even think about moving past the pain we feel. Nothing can replace a wife—a mom—a son—a friend. Nothing. They will be missed always. I am beyond thankful they are both rejoicing in heaven at this very moment, but I still hurt for those who have grown to love and depend on these people daily. I am thankful for His comfort during this time, and I am thankful He gives us each other so we can truly live out His word together:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction.” -2 Corinthians 1:3-4
*This is not meant to be a legalistic punch against using curse words. My only reason for bringing up wanting to use the “f-word” in this instance but refraining is because I think it would have felt a bit like losing….like giving evil the upper hand in the situation. The best thing we can do, in all circumstances but especially in times of grieving, is to speak life. Cursing never achieves this.
**I do not know anything about the man who initiated this horrific event. What I do know is Dana loved Jesus (& is worshipping Him face to face right now), & she would want us to forgive him….because that is what Jesus wants for us. To hold anger against him only hurts us. The horizontal consequences he receives on this earth are not for us to decide, and the vertical consequences between he and God are between them. He has a long road ahead of him to deal with the pain he has caused. Focus instead on the people you can love and support.