Hayden Palm met Jesus on November 7, 2017, at 11:05 in the morning. This bittersweet news caused two narratives to start running simultaneously in my mind.
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The eternal and more spectacular narrative is that she is healed, with Jesus, eternally secure, and is doing better than any of us. That other narrative is for those who knew and loved her, near and far. (I would be far.)
While I would never try to minimize the eternal story, it’s the other one–the earthly one–that is the most challenging, and the heaviest and hardest at this moment.
The “hardness” of this kind of storyline is always in proportion to the love you have for someone. In this situation, it’s Hayden Palm. For many individuals, especially her family and close friends, it’s unbearably hard. I only knew her virtually, but it still hurts. As her “brother” in Christ, I, like many others, had the privilege of entering into her journey.
Together, In the Body
Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. – Hebrews 13:3
I “entered in” for the same reason you did; her story spoke to all of us. We’re all “imprisoned” in what Paul called “this body of death.” (Romans 7:24) We’re all walking her path. We all have an appointment with our Maker (Hebrews 9:27), though her “date with God” seems so premature.
She was 24-years-old.
Our family did not observe her as disinterested spectators because we are “in the body” with her, as the Hebrew writer put so eloquently, and Paul affirmed when he said,
If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. – 1 Corinthians 12:26
When she suffered, we suffered, albeit vicariously. When she experienced her victories, we rejoiced with her. And when she died, a part of us died too. That is how the body of Christ works.
Now she’s in heaven, but we are not. Through the “eyes of faith,” we know what’s happening with her today. And while our Christian faith brings hope to our mortal selves, it does not overpower the weight of the grief that we feel; and it shouldn’t because our job today is to weep.
Jesus wept. – John 11:35
Loving people grieve when part of the body dies. Grief is an appropriate (and healthy) part of the Christian experience. To not care is not to love, and to not love is not to grieve.
When the News Came
One of my team members alerted me to Hayden’s passing. We all have been tagging along for months, hoping, praying, rejoicing, and hurting with her. When we found out about her passing, our ministry stopped because what we do on a daily basis was not important any longer. The more significant thing was the opportunity to enter into grief.
Thus we did.
I shifted from work to reading the comments on Alisha’s Facebook page (Hayden’s mom). I cried. It’s interesting how our perceived “important things” fade into the background when what’s really important takes hold of the mind.
We were about two hours from our family meal, and I dreaded telling them about Hayden. I didn’t want to do it because I didn’t want to break down in front of them. Pride can distort your thinking like that.
So we sat for our meal, held hands–as we do–and it was time for me to pray. I couldn’t. I had cupped my hands over my face. Lucia perceived something was amiss first. She began asking questions, which took only about two to say, “Is it Hayden?”
And the tears flowed.
My children gathered around me, and I quietly nodded “yes” to their questions. We were sad. We grieved. And then we prayed.
Grieving Our Fallen Image Bearer
I do rejoice that she is in heaven, but that “soundtrack” runs in the background today. Yes, that message is there in my mind, no doubt. It’s real, for sure. But it’s not the main narrative for me today because I live in the sublunary world of sense, feel, and natural human experience.
The primary storyline for me, in a word, is grief. And that is how it’s supposed to be because that is how hurting image-bearers demonstrate a visceral aspect of God when a friend falls.
God is love, and He made us in His image, and when one of His image-bearers takes a mighty hit, we all become “people of sorrow, acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3) Please don’t misunderstand me: I do rejoice, but the pain of loss is more significant today because that is how death works in the here and now.
If you are grieving, you are normal. You are an image-bearer doing what you’re supposed to do when death takes a fellow image-bearer from us. You never dismiss the “eternal narrative” because that is how you keep going.
Heaven is our victory because we will be with the eternal Son, and Christ is how we overcome ultimately, but you don’t want to hold back on your sorrow today because it speaks to your tremendous love for this girl, her husband, and their families.
As Heaven awaits, we grieve today.
Also published on Medium.