“Now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” -C.S. Lewis
Today would have been your 29th birthday on earth—less than three weeks from your very first day when you entered heaven, radiating in the unspeakably full beauty, holiness, righteousness, light, and glory of Jesus.
As I and many others on earth remember and miss you and the beautifully bright light that you were to us, dear friend, your life has not stopped. You and I have talked about this mystery. In fact, we talked about this years ago on our very first friend date ever. You are living the mysterious truth of which you and I spoke over a sushi dinner at a cozy Japanese restaurant along a canal in Georgetown. As one who loved Jesus on earth as her Savior, your life has also continued, dear friend. You are now more fully alive than you had ever been on earth.
And One Day, our lives will intersect as we shall meet, again, in heaven. Oh, the joyous conversations and laughter that we shall share with one another, again, Tessa, when we meet on heaven’s shores to share of our momentary time apart from one another and of how loving, good, kind, faithful, merciful, and gracious God has been to us both, praising the One who has always been so very, very good to us, upholding us with His love and grace, even in the darkest of times when His light and grace were still faithfully guiding us to our True Home.
You are fully alive in heaven where there is finally no pain, suffering, tear, mourning, crying, fear, sorrow, evil, and death and where you are in the infinite presence of Jesus—the One you most loved and who also most loved you. You are experiencing true, pure, unspeakable, unending, and unbridled joy with our Savior. You are finally face to Face with the One whom we have yearned and waited for our entire lives. Your faith has turned to sight. I cannot imagine how much brighter you may be shining with and for Jesus as you bask in and reflect His full glory.
You loved to run. I can only imagine that you are now running with your heart set truly free on heaven’s streets of gold with Jesus—the One whom we were “running” towards on earth and who was our Greatest Prize—by your side as the two of you share the most intimate, deep, fun, lighthearted, joy-overflowing, hope-abounding, wise, and everything-in-between conversations.
You loved justice and mercy and longed for true shalom, righteousness, and peace to reign. What is it like, Tessa, to finally be running along an “ever-flowing stream of righteousness” as “justice [rolls] down like waters” (Amos 5:24) as you experience true shalom?
You loved Brussel sprouts, sushi, frozen chocolate yogurt (that you would eat in a big mug, which you insisted is the best way to enjoy frozen yogurt at home—after I ate frozen yogurt out of a mug with you as we watched, side by side, in your living room a documentary of one of one of your favorite musical artists, Taylor Swift, I, too, understand the everyday delight of savoring frozen yogurt out of a big mug), and gummy bears. You once shared about how much you loved to wake up on Valentine’s Day to a trail of your favorite candy—gummy bears—leading you out from your bedroom, that your parents lovingly prepared as you slept. I do not know if earthly birthdays are remembered in heaven, but I hope that our Heavenly Father has prepared a trail of gummy bears for you to follow that leads you to the greatest banquet table of a delightful spread of the finest sushi, Brussel sprouts, and frozen chocolate yogurt (in mugs, of course) as Jesus Himself—the Greatest Host—lovingly serves you who loved to gather people for celebrations.
You loved people, deeply, with a big heart. You loved to share stories with me about all of the people in your life whom God had you meet to love with the love of God. I felt as if I knew the people you love through hearing stories about them without even meeting them. You and I partnered in prayers to pray for the people you deeply loved. You loved to share stories with me about how you would physically partner with blind people to guide them on runs and about how you would build friendship with them as you ran side by side with your blind friends, serving as their seeing guide. You have had friends whom you cherished and loved, such as Hunter whom I joined you in praying for as he also fought for his life at too young of an age and who entered heaven ahead of you. I imagine the two of you sharing laughter as you go on the grandest adventures of the best kind that are actually worth going on: to befriend and love God, one another, and all those around you with a finally-perfected agape love. You were so loving in loving incredibly flawed human beings on earth. I cannot imagine how much more loving you must be in heaven as you love and are loved by God and His people—brothers and sisters—who are all finally holy, blameless, and perfect in every way. Oh, how incredibly rich and beautiful are the relationships that you are and will experience for eternity as true reconciliation, restoration, and love reign?
You once shared with me that there are a few things that you pray for each and every night before you go to bed. You told me that you pray every night for God to grant each of your siblings and me cute kids. I was honored you pray this for me, but I asked you if you could add to your prayers for God to grant me godly and kindhearted kids, which made you laugh as you agreed to pray this for me and your siblings. I imagine you continuing to pray and intercede for your family and friends on earth—persevering in fighting for each and every one of us to know more and more how much we are loved by Jesus, which leads to the truest life—as you talk with Jesus about us and look forward to being reunited One Day.
Tessa, these past few weeks, knowing that you are no longer on earth, have been hard. Even before I received the news over a phone call that you had passed onto heaven just a few hours prior, I grievously wailed and mourned as I prayed for you. It was as if my spirit already knew that you had passed onto heaven.
There has been deep sorrow on earth as you, your friendship, and your presence are missed. But because of the true and lasting hope that we have in Jesus, sorrow has been intermingled with hope. It seems that a lot of life on earth is that way—sorrow and hope, together—until we get to heaven when that for which we hoped turns to sight and pain, sorrow, evil, and suffering are finally no more, once and for all.
Do you remember our very first one-on-one friend date? At the end of our date, we laughed a lot. Because during our first friend date ever, we spoke of break-up and death. And we both cried tears as we sat across from one another, eating our sushi. We laughed about how we talked about such heavy and sorrowful things that made us both cry. But as we cried and felt sorrowful, we also both recognized there is a lot of hope.
A young man who would later redeem himself had just broken your heart. I told you that I could tell this young man was unwise to let you go when God has blessed him with your love and attention and that one day, he would realize that God had indeed blessed him with a treasure of immeasurable worth in you when He blessed him with your love. I mentioned that I hoped that he would not realize this truth too late. You smiled, but you were sorrowful. Because you loved him. You told me that night with hope that you have thought and still think—even after the break-up—that he might be the one that God has prepared for you to love and for him to love you. I told you that, while I still think this young man seems a bit confused and unwise, I would pray with you that God would give him His wisdom to see and love you rightly as God sees and loves you. If this young man truly is the man whom God has prepared for you and it is His good and perfect will for the two of you to be together again one day as you hoped that evening years ago, God would be the one to bring you two together again. In the meantime, I would pray that God would help you to focus on all of the wonderful things that He is calling you to and has prepared for you to not waste and to make the most of your singleness with and for God and that He would satisfy you with more of Himself in the waiting. I told you that I would pray that, if this man is actually not a part of God’s good and perfect will for you, He would also help you to move on as He would bring the godly man whom He has actually prepared for you into your life. You told me that you understood, but you wanted to ask God to specifically bring the two of you together again, if His will. You shared that you should probably move on, but a part of you still wanted to ask God to bring you two together. I told you that we do not know God’s will, yet, but He would make it clear. And that God already knows your heart’s desires even before you share them with him, so I encouraged you to keep talking to God about your desires and thoughts. He will continue to grow them or perhaps He will surprise you to guide you to other and better plans of His. But knowing the state of your heart and its current desires, I prayed for you about this specific man as we sat across from one another at the dinner table in the restaurant.
You then asked me if I would be willing to share about my dad’s passing with you. No one had asked me to share about that time. I asked if you really wanted to know. You nodded. You seemed to not be scared of death as you also had to grapple and wrestle with God about it. So I shared. I shared with you about my dad, including his final weeks on earth.
On our first friend date, I shared with you of how physical sickness, ailment, and disease, while extremely terrible, can help us to realize to not take our time on earth and to not take a day, a minute, or a second that we get with those we love for granted. People who are healthy often think that they have all of the time in the world and fail to number their days rightly. But those who learn of a life-threatening diagnosis for themselves or loved ones realize the sanctity and preciousness of life and time. You learn to more rightly love and cherish one another. You understood from your own personal experience.
We spoke about how God gave us both a precious gift to know to number our days aright in light of eternity as we make each and every ordinary, everyday, and mundane moment on earth that is actually hardly ordinary, everyday, and mundane when lived with and for God matter and count for Jesus and the eternal kingdom to come. For however brief or long of a time God rightly determines for each of us to live, we are given a blessing to help one another along to hopefully find, know, and love the One who created us for Himself and to hopefully help each other along to become more of who He intended us to be—full of eternal splendors and glory.
On our very first friend date, I also shared with you about how, for a Christian, death is not the worst thing that could ever happen to us. For those who know Jesus as their Savior, the very worst thing that could happen to any of us—eternal separation from God because of our sins—has already been taken care of for us. We need not fear. And death also does not have a stronghold on us, too. God has crushed death and granted us—beloved children of God—who place our hope in Jesus the promise of eternal life in our risen Savior. Though our earthly bodies will one day fail us, we who believe in Jesus as our Savior shall rise from the dead and be more alive than ever.
I shared with you of how my dad’s face lit up as he passed onto heaven and of how he looked as if he was joyfully beaming and smiling. I shared with you that my dad showed me that I need not fear earthly death. My dad’s face lit up during his final moment on earth. Because I believe that my father saw Jesus and, while his earthly life ended, his life in heaven was beginning. You and I spoke on our first friend date about being more alive in heaven than we ever were on earth, about how our lives continue when we know Jesus, and about how we shall be reunited again. We bonded as kindred spirits over the shared truth that our lives will continue for eternity because of what Jesus did for us and that, the earthly death that each and every one of us will one day face, will not be the end for those who know Jesus. For the beloved children of God, the “end” to our earthly lives shall only be our “beginning” to the Greatest Story Ever that will continue for eternity with each chapter getting better than the one before as we—His redeemed children, His spotless church, and His holy bride—live with our Savior.
We both shed a few tears that night, Tessa. It was our very first time of hanging out one-on-one and how sorrowful and heavy were our dinner conversations. But how full of true hope and life we also genuinely felt in the midst of deep sorrow because of the One who is our unchanging, true, and lasting hope when all that this world has to offer fades away and the One who is worth our everything and our heart’s entire devotions is standing before us, face to Face?
The very last text that I received from you was after you had received a care package in your hospital room that I had mailed to you an hour before I got on an airplane to fly overseas. Inside the care package was a hand-written card from me to you in which I wrote to you about my love for you as not just a friend, but a sister who is bonded with you for eternity in Christ. You texted me, asking me to call you when I returned from my missions trip. I called you when I returned, but you were in the middle of an unexpected surgery. We never connected over a call or text, but I began fasting and praying one day a week for you, Tessa, from that moment onwards.
Though I never got to speak with you, I talked about you a lot to Jesus as I prayed for and pleaded to Him. I did the best thing that I know to do, praying to the One who most loves us all in our time of need.
The first week that I began fasting and praying for you, I cried a lot as I sensed His Spirit letting me know of how He may be guiding you.
The second week that I fasted and prayed for you, I knew that you are a fighter, which is one of the traits that I admire about you, and I remembered all of the hopes and dreams for your earthly life that you had recently shared with me. So I began praying that God would prepare you personally for whatever is His will to come and that He would convict you directly and personally of His will, whatever it may be, so that it would not surprise you. I prayed for God to prepare you for whatever is His will and for Jesus to be your Truly Greatest Aim in this life and in the life to come whom you would yearn for beyond anything that this world has to offer. I prayed for God to cast out all fear with His perfect love and to uphold you with His peace that transcends all understanding. I would later learn that that week was the week when you shared with your family that you and they had all fought so well, but that you are now ready for heaven.
The third week that I fasted and prayed for you was a very hard prayer for me to pray for you, Tessa. I had heard that you were in a lot of physical pain. So I began praying that God would graciously be loving to you and that He would not keep you in physical pain too long, He would lovingly spare you of physically suffering long, and He would grant you true and eternal healing that all of us could only experience in heaven. But I also prayed that God whose timing is perfect would grant you and your loved ones the time that you need with one another. I later learned that the day before you passed away, you had intentionally called each of your loved ones to spend one-on-one time with them. After doing this act of love, you passed in peace the very next day as God guided you to our One True Home.
We never spoke during your final weeks on earth, Tessa, but as I prayed for you and told God all of the things that I wanted to tell you, I feel like we were spiritually connected through Him. This is why I think my heart felt viscerally ripped and torn the evening you passed before I even received the phone call.
The very last phone conversation that I had with you, Tessa, was before my missions trip when you called me to share with me that you were on your way to meet up with the young man we spoke of from our first friend date. We spoke of other things as well. But the man whom we prayed would wisen up to see and love you as Jesus sees and loves you had realized he made a mistake in letting you go. He had actually been persistently and consistently pursuing you and waiting for you for awhile. You shared with me that you see how much he genuinely loves you in a way where he wants to selflessly walk with you through sufferings to serve you. God had answered our prayers from years ago to mature this man into someone who would more rightly love you as you love him. You called me a few months ago to share that your heart was opening up again towards him and you felt at peace about giving him and the two of you a chance. As you are aware, God’s ways are mysterious, Tessa, but we just need to keep seeking God and trusting our hearts to Him who guards and guides us as He knows best. Whatever is His best, He will give. And if He withholds, He does so also for our good. But we can trust Him and, in your specific case, He answered your prayers from both of our sushi dates years ago to finally say, “Yes,” after a momentary pause of waiting and discerning.
Because your and my birthdays are close to one another’s, we celebrated our birthdays together in between our birthdays. We have many joyous one-on-one (you know how I get more reserved in group settings and how I come more alive to share my heart one-on-one, so you were always so good at reaching out, again and again, to draw me out and to pursue me into deeper friendship) moments that God granted us with one another (like when we read Martin Luther King, Jr, writings over a communal dinner that your two brothers prepared for us, when we walked miles through the residential streets of Georgetown to talk endlessly with one-on-one about God and faith—and our loved ones, when we would pray one-on-one together, when we would get frozen homemade ice cream and yogurt and/or Levain cookies to sit on random steps and talk, when we met up at restaurants for one-on-one dinners to talk about and process life and relationships, when we read our written thoughts on various matters aloud to one another, when we gathered with your Jewish and non-Korean friend to watch K-drama with him after we learned that he loves it and then we spontaneously crossed paths with one of our friends from CG as he bicycled by us and he stopped to chat with us, when we met up on the National Mall for walks and talks, and so on), but our first one-on-one birthday celebration—again in Georgetown, but this time with a sushi picnic on the waterfront—was one of my favorites.
Everything about that evening was perfect as God painted us a beautiful sunset to remind us of how much He loves us. There was even a live band and to our joyous surprise, the live band that actually sounded good was playing and singing worship songs. You and I laughed that God had orchestrated our birthday celebration ever so perfectly to even serenade us with worship and praise songs to remind us of how much He loves us both so dearly and of how He sings over us.
That evening as the sun set and we sat on a picnic blanket, overlooking the waters, you and I journaled together. We wrote out our specific kingdom prayers, hopes, dreams, and goals that we wanted to bring before God and that we wanted to ask of Him as we look forward to the upcoming birthday year of our lives.
We both wrote the names of the two men whom you and I felt like God might have specifically prepared for us and specifically prepared us for them—even though it seemed like an unimaginable miracle from God, if He should ever bring us together with these two men whom we both felt whenever we prayed that God had placed on our hearts for reasons only known to Him.
We both wrote specific prayers for our families and friends, particularly those who do not know Jesus as their Savior, yet. We wrote many prayers as we made our heart’s deepest hopes, goals, and dreams known to God who already knows all. We agreed that no matter where life takes us in the future and, even if we should be physically apart from one another, when our birthdays near, we would return to our birthday prayers from the previous years to see how the Lord was so loving, kind, good, and gracious to answer our prayers however He chose to whether He grants or withholds in His infinite wisdom, love, and grace.
This birthday year, we would have rejoiced of how God has answered some of our specific prayers for you. Tessa, I am still patiently waiting with hope on many of my specific prayers from years ago, so you may continue praying for me with Jesus every day and night from heaven. Please continue to pray from heaven for me—just as you did on earth each and every night—for God to grant me children who are “godly, kindhearted, sweet, and cute.”
But as we wrote our specific prayers down that first joint, one-on-one birthday celebration, we recognized and conversed that you and I have already been given our Greatest Dream Ever.
Beyond all of these hopes that we made known to God in prayers, God had already given Jesus to us—never once withholding Him from us. Our Greatest and Ultimate Dream to be fully known and loved by Him has already been given to us. And One Day we would also fully know and love Jesus back—just as He knows and loves us, fully.
"Love never ends …… For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” -1 Corinthians 13:8-13
I am still seeing through a dim mirror, Tessa, but you now see Jesus—the One who we both have yearned and hoped for—so clearly. Your faith has been rewarded as your faith has turned to sight. You not only see Jesus, but you are fully knowing and loving the One who created you and who fully knew and love you before time even began. You are fully alive with Him in His infinite presence.
Thank you for loving me so well, my friend, to help me experience more of Christ’s unfailing love through our friendship and sisterhood that will continue into eternity. I am grateful to God that He graciously allowed us the honor, privilege, and blessing to guide one another by His grace on our journeys towards the One who most loves us and whom we most love, too.
Continue to live fully and well, loving deeply and joyously as you do so very well, with and for Jesus. I will, too, by the grace of God live fully and well, loving deeply and joyously, with and for Jesus until the One whom we both most loved has us meet again.
"Now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” -C.S. Lewis