High school can be brutal. We all likely have memories of the constant weight of peer pressure, the desire to conform so you don’t stick out from the crowd and get mocked, the fear in your belly as you try to engage socially without looking like a fool.
And most of us probably remember those who, for whatever reason, did not quite fit in, and how they suffered for that. One of those in my high school was a girl named Marni.
Marni was one of the first kids to show me kindness when I moved from Idaho to Oregon as an awkward and terrified seventh-grader. We were neighbors and rode the same bus. In high school my evolving friendships took me into different social circles than Marni, and I regret to this day that we did not develop a stronger friendship back then.
There really was no good reason Marni should have suffered as an outcast in school, for she was adorable and had a sweet temperament. But she was extremely shy, and that was enough for the harsh conformist system of high school to discard her. She had almost no friends in our school, no sense of being valued for who she was, certainly no sense of belonging. Sadly, I was among those who let her slip under the radar.
Now more than thirty years have passed. I finally joined the Facebook world this summer and learned of my high school class reunion event in August, and on the reunion page I saw the profile for Marni. Memories of my childhood neighbor flooded my mind and I felt an unexplainable sense of her suffering, both back then in school as well as in her adulthood since. I felt compelled to connect with her at the reunion, like a brother who cares for a sister, and before the gathering I began praying over our time together, and praying for all of my other classmates as well.
The high school reunion was indeed an incredible time, I think for everyone who attended. It felt like almost no years had passed as classmates hugged and fellowshipped and related to one another as caring adults, without the immature social class structure of our youth. And among those many wonderful connections there that I am so grateful for was a unique bonding with Marni.
We were able to be vulnerable and share our respective stories of brokenness. I felt deep compassion as she talked with me about how brutal high school was for her, and as she also told me of much more pain she experienced later on in life. And she patiently entered my world also and allowed me to be transparent about my failings over the years.
I had the pleasure of meeting her husband Michael and enjoying conversation with him, and I was so happy she found a quality man to love and value her. I was already looking forward to next summer when my wife could join me for an informal classmate picnic so she could get to know Marni and Michael as well.
In the past several weeks since the high school reunion I have kept in touch with Marni. I wanted to be a brotherly encourager to her, and she ended up being a strong encourager to me. She regularly read my blog and told how it blessed her, and one day she sketched a beautiful graphic to illustrate the phrase ‘all creation sings’ as a logo idea for my website.
I kept her in frequent prayer and thanked God for the blessing of this reconnection.
Then suddenly without warning, this friendship came to a halt when I learned this Saturday that Marni had passed away in her sleep.
This is where I have no adequate words as a writer.
I am still raw. The pain of tragic and unexpected loss is haunting me. I cannot wrap my mind around it. Marni was too young at only 48. Her departure was too abrupt.
And if my grief as a recent friend hurts this much, I cannot imagine what her husband and all of her daughters must be going through. My heart goes out to each of them. I feel broken for them. I cry out to our Heavenly Father on their behalf.
Today, two things about Marni’s life are beginning to bring some hopefulness to my heart: first, that her gentle spirit of acceptance and love touched so many lives (as evidenced by the outpouring on Facebook). I do not think she realized just how much of a light she was, blessing so many people. Second, Marni confessed faith and trust in Christ as Savior, so I know that today she is with Him for all eternity, enjoying His amazing glory and pure love in a way that we only get mere glimpses of now in our fallen world.
I pray the Father would continue pouring out abundant mercy and comfort on all who are grieving the loss of gentle Marni. And I pray that somehow through the pain, there will be people who follow Marni’s example of turning to Jesus as their hope for this life and eternity to come. May God be glorified in our suffering.
I close with words of Jesus that my heart needs to hear and experience over and over again:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV)