I cannot believe its been 15 years.
It was 15 years ago today that the world lost an incredibly beautiful soul, my friend, Tara. She died in a life flight helicopter after a car wreck in the early morning fog on her way to college classes. It was through this tragic loss that Christ brought me back to Him.
Just prior to Tara’s death, I found myself escaping the emotional pain of my sexual abuse by drinking, getting high, and fantasizing about ending my life. I had attempted to tell my mother about the abuse, but she did not believe me, so I recanted and found other ways to forget that it happened. However, I despised myself and the person I had become. I knew I was sinning, but I had found a group of friends that encouraged my substance use and I was enjoying fitting in for once in my lifetime. Every day I continued these behaviors while telling myself I would change tomorrow.
One day tomorrow almost didn’t come. While driving to a friend’s house, I was in a terrible car accident. I was told I only lived because I wore my seat belt. My car was totaled but I suffered minor injuries and physically recovered quickly. Emotionally, though, I was a wreck. When you’re an adolescent, the finality of death is hard to grasp until you experience it. For the first time, I began to realize I was not immortal.
Just two weeks later, Tara died. She was young, smart, and talented. Suddenly mortality was staring me in the face. I have to be honest and clarify that Tara was not a close friend of mine before her death. I mean, we hung in the same circles and had many of the same friends. We did high school theatre together and I shared a music folder with her in Varsity Choir. I knew her, but I did not know her well. Yet somehow, her death deeply impacted me. Unraveled me even. In fact, this tragedy changed the course of my life forever.
Those methods of drug and alcohol abuse were already a crumbling facade and Tara’s death unmasked me. Looking back, I can see how God used Tara’s death as a tool to reach me during an otherwise unreachable time. He succeeded. After her death, I knew that I had to get my life right with God. I began to understand that I would not be on this earth forever and I longed to be a better person. I knew I had to stop drinking and using drugs and trust that God could save me from the tragedy of my past. I slowly disentangled myself from my former friends and I broke my bad habits easily. I had new strength in Christ. I am so grateful to God for His redemption. He never stopped calling me to Him, but in the wake of a tragic loss, I was finally listening.
I will carry Tara with me forever. She holds a piece of my heart and will never be forgotten. I’ve always wanted to thank her family. Here is a letter I wrote to Tara’s family but have never been able to send:
Dear Tara’s Family,
I’ve started this letter a dozen times. Each time I do, I delete it before its finished. Every year at this time, I think about your family. And I think about Tara. This year, I hear God telling me that its time. So I will complete this letter and send it to you and know that God is giving me the courage to tell you my thoughts at the exact time that you need to hear them.
I didn’t know Tara well. We had common friends and were at the same gatherings, but we rarely had conversations just between the two of us. We were both in choir. One year, we shared a music folder, which means we sat right next to each other during countless practices. She had the voice of an angel. I can still hear it sometimes.
It was the beginning of my senior year and I was at my lowest low. I had been sexually molested by a church youth group leader for over two years. When I told my mother, she didn’t believe me. I was alone, vulnerable, and without a single trustworthy person in my life. I was drinking and doing drugs to numb my pain. I hated my life and I wanted to die.
Then Tara died. Though we weren’t close friends, her death affected me profoundly. I halted my sinful behavior, detached myself from negative influences, and clung to the Savior of my soul. My relationship with Jesus grew deeper and deeper. Tara’s death was a turning point in my life. If it had never occurred, my life would be drastically different than it is today.
Over the last years, I have heard countless sermons, studied numerous passages, and had many discussions about how God can bring good from a bad situation – beauty from ashes. In each of these situations, I always think about Tara’s death. I’ve seen so many people struggle with this concept, yet I never have.
Tara’s death was for me. My fear, and what has kept me from sharing this with you for years, is that I might sound pretentious. However, my intentions in saying that is to give you hope. I’m sure her death was not only for me, as others were surely also affected, but it was a tool God used in my life. I can’t begin to understand what it is like to be in your shoes, but from talking with others who have experienced great loss, I think maybe you struggle with why God lets bad things happen. Maybe you often wonder – Why did she have to die? Or what beauty has come from these ashes? For a Christian, those are tough issues to deal with. And perhaps you think you’ll never understand any of it this side of heaven. I hope to give you a speck of God’s purpose while you are still on earth. What I want you to know is that Tara’s death was not in vain. At least not to me. You see, my life is part of the beauty that came from her ashes. I pray that brings you comfort.
I often visit Tara’s grave – usually in September and December and a few other scattered times when I’m in the area. Sometimes when I’m there I weep and sometimes I smile. But most of all, I am filled with immense gratitude. Because her life was taken, my eternal soul was saved. I will live a lifetime in awe of God’s wondrous ways. And Tara’s memory will be alive in me always.
God Bless You!
- And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God… Romans 8:28
- We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. 2 Corinthians 5:8
- For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. 2 Corinthians 7:10