How long does it take to live life with impact? To make one's life count? Some people live almost a century and at the end are still hanging on with duct tape and shoe strings because they're so uncertain their time on this planet mattered, or that it mattered enough in the grand scheme of things. And in one sense, of course, all of us are only wisps of the wind, and our lives here--even if we hit triple digits--are only the snap of two fingers in light of eternity.
On the other hand, sometimes, one runs smack dab into a person whose light shines so brightly from the first moment, you might swear they were throwing out their arms and saying, "Ta Da!" the moment they left the womb. "Here, I am, world, ready or not!" My youngest daughter was a little like that. It was amazing, almost daunting to watch her, even as a tiny baby, fill up a room with her presence. I can't explain how one small human being could do that, I simply saw it happen, over and over and over.
So, too, the little girl named Sam who had only four years to pack into a lifetime of living. And, from every eye-witness, she packed in that century's worth. Grabbed her family by their hair and took them whipping along for the ride. "Watch out, folks, I only have so much time. Are you with me or not?" She not only hugged every person she ever met, she actually chastised them if they didn't hug back strongly enough. Gave lessons in how to love, Sam did. She taught folks about loving from every which way, from the the sounds of it. Calling things what they were, with a bit of salty language she'd picked up from who knows where. "Don't tell my mom," she begged her teacher, staring into a bucket of mixed up play-doe, when she'd just used a "What the hell is that?" in an empty Sunday school classroom. She never walked when bouncing would do, never talked when laughing was possible, was strong-willed, and certain she knew best. I think she just didn't have time to lose.
In any case, she made her mark. Her family, her church, her school, the small sphere in which she lived and had decided influence held on for the roller-coaster while she was among them. Now they're left with the very large space her her enormous personality filled to the brim. Or perhaps I should say that personality that filled and tipped over into all of their lives. Changing them for good. And for good, in the other sense of the word.
But here's the other thing. The person most changed by Sam's life--and death--is her mother. Her mother who fought harder than most of us ever have to fight to prove we are worthy to be moms. Imagine having to stand before a judge and prove you're worthy to parent your own child. With no less than your own flaws as the evidence that you shouldn't. Imagine fighting that you can actually parent despite your personal weaknesses. This is essentially what Sam's mom had to do. Could you do that? How would a judge rule if he or she looked straight into all the personal evidence of your life? Sam's mom won that battle. She's a very, very strong young woman, that one. But then she lost the one she fought so hard for, fought tooth and nail and every pound from her body, and muscle from her bones for. Imagine that.
Then imagine how you'd feel if you had to wake up the next day. Stand up, get up, continue to live. A mom without a child, Sam's mom without Sam. Well, this mom responded exactly how we all might respond at first. Certainly how I would. I'd crawl into the fetal position, pull up the covers and NEVER, EVER want to get up again. But then some amazing things began to happen. For one, the body of Christ did what it does best in crisis. Her church surrounded her so tightly she didn't have to try to walk alone. They will help carry her, help carry her memories, help shore her up when she feels alone, but is scared, sad, just plain missing Sam. And, they even answered a desire she hadn't articulated--for a piece of jewelry to remember her beloved, bubbly, beautiful child. They gave her a ring to wear and remember, an amethyst for Sam's birthstone with diamonds for her 4 years, these diamonds also the symbols of the trinity and the mommy who all loved Sam the most. What a beautiful, thoughtful, lovely gift.
I love it when God answers prayers like this.
But the thing I keep hearing is something my friend, Sam's grandmother, told her daughter, that first desolate morning when it was so hard to be a mommy without a daughter: "You're my Sam." My friend, definitely grieving the loss of her granddaughter, was also praising God that miraculously her daughter had been spared. "You're my Sam." 'There's purpose in your life, sweetie. God still intends something important for you. He spared you. And I love you every bit as much as you love Sam.'
How often do we say such words to our children? It took a death for such words to flow between my friend and her daughter. This, too, is part of the gift of Sam's life. And I pray that the gift of her life will extend to those who read these words today. If you have someone you need to say such words to, you could do worse than start with: "You're my Sam." Of course, you'll have to explain what these words mean, but I think my friend, her daughter and that little four-year-old now teaching people to hug in heaven--including, I'm guessing, her great-grandfather!--will be glad share.