I remember where I was sitting.
I remember sitting in the Louisiana room of our old house, I was Face Timing my friend, Ashlyn, who was serving as a missionary in Haiti.
I remember my friend, Kaitlyn, calling me and declining the call to call her back after talking to Ashlyn.
I remember Kaitlyn calling through a second time and I knew something wasn’t right.
I remember telling Ashlyn I would call her back and I called Kaitlyn only to hear sobs on the other end of the phone and then her fiancé, John’s voice saying, “Scotti Beth, I just found out, Blake Hunter passed away.”
I remember asking him to repeat himself. He did.
I remember hanging up the phone.
I remember walking out of the Louisiana room, into the living room, and dropping to the floor telling my parents and grandparents, “Blake passed away.”
I remember breaking out into uncontrollable sobs and my daddy literally picking me up off of the floor, holding me as I lost it and tried to make sense of the sentence that I just heard.
I remember not a week and a half prior, Blake and I were planning a trip to Dallas to stay with our friends Justin and Nikka; the trip would have been after Spring Sing at Harding and it would have been a splendid best friend reunion.
I remember texting, every 2 to 3 weeks, to make sure we kept up with each other after graduation.
I remember getting Snap Chat videos, on the regular, of silly song renditions, random thoughts, hilarious impersonations, anything and everything that made me laugh until I cried.
I remember trips to Sonic filled with endless conversation and route 44 Dr. Peppers with cranberry, easy ice.
I remember his pep talk before I auditioned for Harding’s Pied Pipers.
I remember him “jerseying” me in Sears’ laundromat when I got into Pipers.
I remember endless hours spent choreographing Zeta Rho and TNT’s Spring Sing Show with our friend, Laura.
I remember Chili’s dates and skillet queso and his order of Dr. Pepper and my Shirley Temple.
I remember meeting him at auditions for Harding’s Homecoming Musical “Scrooge” freshman year.
I remember his incredible love for his family.
I remember heart-to-heart conversations digging deep into what God had planned for each of us and longing to serve Him, with our lives, the best we could.
I remember his love for God.
I remember his joy.
I remember my best friend, Blake.
Today marks three years.
Three years of remembering.
Three years of replaying old memories and looking back through old photos to see his smile and to remember his laugh.
Three years of knowing that he is enjoying the best in eternity with Jesus.
Three years of choosing joy in the midst of sadness.
The phrase “Choose Joy” has been around for quite some time. It is a reminder that your circumstances do not have to dictate your emotions; it’s a choice; and, by choosing joy, you are reaching for a deeper and richer mindset and perspective that causes happiness to pale in comparison.
As we all know, happiness is fleeting. It is an emotion that comes and goes, but joy, it is not fleeting. Nehemiah 8:10 says “the joy of The Lord is your strength”.
Joy is grounding.
It is the emotion that allows you to withstand the circumstances that life throws your way and the flaming arrows that the enemy tries to penetrate your armor; joy is being so firm and so lost in the love of God that, you don’t not feel the emotion, but your heart is grounded in such a way that no circumstance can completely overtake you because your feet are planted on The Rock and that foundation is sure and steadfast.
When I sit and think about the past three years – three years without Blake, without new Blake memories – I often times find myself asking what Blake would be doing and the answer is simple; he would be spending his time making sure those in his life were being reminded of God’s love through experiencing joy.
Blake was a man of joy; he was full of it. I most clearly saw his joy when he was acting, singing, dancing, or helping a little kid discover their imagination. His joy filled each line in his face and each curve in his smile. The joy that came out of him when he laughed was unbelievably contagious and the joy that filled his friendships was absolutely unforgettable.
When Blake passed away, his mom, Dedra, took hold of this phrase, “Choose Joy”, and it became her mark on this new season; this new normal that was full of grief and questioning. She led the way with raw authenticity and sincere transparency, and we followed without hesitation. Dedra, along with Blake’s dad and siblings following suit, brought new meaning and opened my eyes to what true joy, that is founded in the promises of God, looks like.
It looks like feeling every single emotion.
It looks like not shying away from the healing process.
It looks like taking time to work through and come to terms with the new normal.
It looks like talking to God about every single thing you are feeling; good, bad, and ugly.
It looks like diving deeper into your relationship with God to gain a better understanding of what it means to be His child and the purpose He has called us to as His son or daughter.
It looks like gaining a new perspective and understanding of heaven.
It looks like lots of tears, lots of journaling, lots of Holy Spirit moments reminding you that you are not alone and that God is ever so near.
It looks like not running away from God, but running harder into Him.
It looks like learning how to choose to trust His plan even when it feels like the worse thing ever.
It looks like letting God be God.
Many people think that grief and joy can’t or shouldn’t go hand in hand. Believe me, I am not an expert or claim to think I know the ins and outs of grief; I do know, however, that it is different for everyone and for Blake’s family and friends, it has been a balancing act.
It has been a balancing act of intense grief mixed with intense joy; a weird combination, but a fitting one when Blake is in the mix. Our hearts were and still feel the gaping hole that his passing left, but our hearts still feel the incredible amount of joy he forever left imprinted on our lives – ergo, the balance.
A balancing act that has made me long for heaven more than I ever did.
A balancing act that has helped me understand, a little bit more, the beauty of the promise of eternity.
A balancing act that has allowed me to become okay with going to God’s throne and asking question after question.
A balancing act that has taught me that loving big is a risk because when you lose someone the pain is excruciating, but, the risk is worth it for the depth of friendship that comes with it.
A balancing act that has opened my eyes to the heart of God.
A balancing act that has helped me understand what it means to cling to Jesus in the midst of a storm.
A balancing act that has helped me grow in understanding what it means to find my joy in The Lord and then see the strength that comes with that surrender.
A balancing act that has brought me to a sincere understanding of the phrase, “when it’s not, He is still good.”
A balancing act that has taught me that putting my trust in The Lord is always the best option.
A balancing act of finding God in the pit of sadness called grief and Him gently and lovingly lifting me out back into the grace and warmth of His joy.
Ecclesiastes 3 tells us that there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven – this time, we remember Blake and this season, we forever CHOOSE JOY.
Love you, Blake!