It was August 31, 1990, the Friday night of Labor Day weekend. My Junior year of high school. The guys on the field were battling one of our rivals, and we were all in good spirits. A quarter or so into the game, I heard sirens on the road that ran behind our school, where the dragway was located. I turned to my friend Sarah and said I heard an ambulance.
"Probably an accident at the race." We could hear engines rev occasionally, but they were usually overpowered by the sounds of the game.
"Gosh, I hope nobody was hurt," I said as the siren wailed down Highway 401 and faded into the distance. I could tell it was moving quickly. I said a quick prayer in my head, then turned my focus back to the game.
I had no way of knowing how completely wrong our assumptions might be. No hint at the precious cargo that ambulance carried past me. No inkling what that siren would come to represent.
A few moments passed, and I spotted my neighbor and her husband at the end of the bleachers, beckoning me. Catherine was a Brit. A petite, sophisticated PhD with a pixie cut, she looked out of place at a late-summer high school football game. She was a great neighbor. I visited her regularly. Granddaddy and I had both shared the love of Jesus Christ with her several times. She was shocked at the concept of intelligent design. She'd never considered anything but evolution.
When my gaze fell on her that night, my heart skipped a beat.
Something was wrong. Badly wrong.
I moved to the end of the bleachers. "Catherine, what are you doing here?"
"Renee, something's happened. You need to come with us."
My heart thudded. Had one of my parents been in an accident? My uncle? Had the house burned down? Granny? My mind raced with possibilities. I asked what was wrong, but they wouldn't tell me. Not there, in a crowd of my peers. I followed them numbly away from the stands and down the hill from the football field to the lower fields that were filled with cars.
My stomach knotted. With the chatter of the crowd and shouts of the game now in the distance, I stopped. "Please tell me what's wrong. I've got to know."
Catherine and her husband glanced at each other. "It's your grandfather. He's had a heart attack."
Oh, God. No. He was my rock. My anchor and foundation. My shelter. The man who made everything okay when it all went wrong. He held the frayed fabric of our family together.
No. She was wrong. She had to be. But the look in her eyes told me the truth.
He was gone.
Just like that. With the siren. My world slid off its axis and into God's hands. My knees buckled with the blow.
I have no idea how they got me to their car and into the back seat. Heartbroken, in a state of shock, I don't remember what I said. It was my youth pastor who told me of my words the next day, and the impact they'd had on Catherine.
"Lord, I know You have a reason. Jesus, You must have a reason."
I do remember thinking it, telling myself more than Him. Trying to assure myself that though every shred of security had just been ripped from me, I would be okay. I had no idea I was saying it out loud.
Somehow, I walked from the driveway to the open front door of my grandparents' home. People were already there. I looked up the steps at our bedrooms. Last time I saw him was when he went to his room that afternoon for a nap. Had I told him I loved him? I couldn't remember. I still can't.
My youth pastor and his mom were there. Other friends showed up too. I was numb, half aware of their presence. Catherine saw me safely to the front door, then stayed outside with her husband.
A few days after the funeral, my pastor told me what I'd said in the car and what Catherine told him: "I don't know what kind of faith this family has, but I want it."
A week or so later, Catherine had to have a pacemaker installed. I went to see her when she got home. She was studying in a Bible in her sunroom when I arrived. She told me she'd accepted Christ a few days before.
And then I knew the reason. If only Granddaddy could have known that his death was part of God's master plan for the neighbor we'd prayed for daily.
Sometimes God lets us glimpse His plan in the midst of our suffering. I think He gives us those moments to strengthen our faith for the times when He knows we can't see it.
It's been twenty years, and I still cry when I remember that night. His death impacted every facet of my life. I know it was God's will for him to go home, but I will never stop missing him.
I love you, Granddaddy. Jesus, thank You for the time I had with him. Thank You for the plan You have for me and the path You have chosen for my life.