my heart is so heavy and sad right now, I hardly even have words to write. but I can't just go on with my life here without Katie and not allow her to impact as many people as possible, even in her death. God is certainly being glorified in her death, just as he was in her life.
Here's the thing about Katie. Every single person who knew her is grieving so intensely because Katie loved so much, and so well. It's been said a million times in the last week, but it's true, that she really made every single person feel like they were the most important person in the world when they were with her. so selfless, so good at listening, so good at asking questions, so happy to see you, no matter what.
She was 8 when I first moved to Omaha. We started attending our church and there were a RIDICULOUS number of tall, long-blond-haired girls from a variety of different families, and it probably took me at least a year to place each one with the correct family. the gronewolds, the pfeiffers, the nissens, the graszes. probably more. there were so many girls in the same age range, with such similar looks. it was crazy, or so I thought then, because now I can tell them all apart quite easily. :)
but the first one I learned was Katie. She was one of the youngest, and was so STINKING CUTE that everybody noticed her. and she was the first blondie that I placed with the correct parents, and from there I could figure out who else belonged with them. And names were a completely different challenge. at least the gronewolds were in alphabetical order. that was helpful. but the other families took me a while. except for Katie. Katie the Cutie. so easy to remember.
Lots of people told me lots of stuff about being a mom when I was pregnant. but no one EVER described the new kind of love that would develop specifically for people who love your kids really well. it started with Tabi. Tabi and Katie were best friends, but Tabi and I had worked out a sweet deal where I would tutor her in her college level spanish classes and she would babysit for trade. so Tabi very quickly became the favorite babysitter in the Hydeen house. But whenever Tabi was unavailable, Katie was always the requested replacement, and came in at a very close second place to Tabi, which of course she didn't mind. :) and oh my heavens, if there was ever a Hydeen-kid babysitter utopia, it would be the Tabi-Katie-combo, which was a dream come true for all three. like, seriously, jumping and screaming and practically shedding tears they were so happy to hear the announcement. what I wouldn't give for a video of that now.
So my love for Tabi and Katie has grown over the years in a way that probably not every mom has experienced. But to know that my kids have been influenced by these sweet girls with a crazy love for Jesus has changed my heart forever. and my kids' hearts too.
But something changed in my relationship with Katie while we were in Belize. She was so excited that we were coming. Every time we had a meeting or a fundraiser or anything, she'd walk up to me and say "I'm seriously SO GLAD you guys are coming!!!" in a soft, high pitched but not annoying voice. (everyone who knows her can just hear it now, I'm sure.) :) and she'd put her super long arms around me in a hug, but more like a side hug, but with both arms, right above my belly button. it was like the signature katie hug I think. just sweet and sincere. **ok, I just took a little break to look at her pictures on facebook to see if I could find a picture to explain the Kaite hug, and oh my. it's everywhere. not always with the front arm too, but you can see her little hand peeking out and around everybody's waist, because she didnt' ever just put her hand on your back, it was ALWAYS a hug. search Katie Nissen in facebook if you want to see what I"m talking about. love it!!!!**
so anyway, if you've ever been on a mission trip with anyone, you understand that bonds are created there that cannot be explained. She slept right next to me every single night, right in Steve's spot, and told me she didn't care if I accidentally snuggled up to her in the night. :) and I feel like I had more little "moments" with her on that trip than I did anyone else. it's the little things, like your first greeting in the morning and your last conversation at night. it's the big things like braiding girls' hair like maniacs every single day, and trying to figure out if they want the type of braids that Katie was braiding, or the type of braid that was in Katie's hair, and laughing as we work together in the "salon." on the day I was so sick, she rubbed my back like a little mama when I went to lay down, and I'm quite certain she even kissed my head. it didn't take very long for me to realize that I didn't just love Katie in a you-love-my-kids-and-my-kids-love-you way. I loved her in a I-need-more-of-you-in-my-life-for-ME way!
My forever-image of Katie the Cutie is from our day of snorkeling. I always knew she was good at swimming, like, one of the best in the state or something. but to see her in her element was breathtaking. ok, so it might have something to do with the fact that I was very much NOT in my element, but still. after our snorkeling "tour" we took a boat ride over to the shark area. and that's where we just go to hang out in the water and touch the sharks and stingrays and do our own thing. And there's me, choking on water in my snorkel and blowing salt water out my nose after screaming about the fish that almost crashed into me, and then there's Katie. She must have had her mask and snorkel on, but that's not part of my memory, because she looked so beautiful. she'd go down to the bottom, swimming like a mermaid, blond hair flowing behind her, and then she'd surface a little and blow the water out of her snorkel and head back down again. I think I spent most of that chunk of time just watching Katie. My favorite was when she swam down to the bottom, and started writing her name in the dust on the back of a gigantic sting ray. I think she only got the "Ka" written, but still, it was so beautiful. and forever etched in my mind. Katie in her prime: a week of serving Jesus and then a day off to swim in God's creation.
after she died I was having a really hard time sleeping. I'd just lay there for hours and cry for her family, and for my kids, and for me. and then I'd go to sleep and dream about her, and wake up again and start all over. I only remember one dream really clearly, but it stems from the memories of snorkeling with Katie I'm sure. In my dream, "we," whoever we all were, were rollerblading around the streets of Orange City. We all knew that Katie was going to die, we just didn't know when. And Katie and I were in different groups of people taking different paths around the town. But every time I skated past her I would just yell "KATIEEEEE!!!" and she'd turn and look at me, and blow me a kiss! I'd wave at her and show the "i love you" sign, and she'd say, "it's okay! really! it's okay!!! I love you!" and blow more kisses as she spun around on her rollerblades while her blond hair spun above her, in a way that doesn't happen in real life, unless you're in the water. and it just happened over and over, where she'd blow me kisses and tell me she loves me but that everything was okay.
At her celebration service we found out that her favorite verse was Psalm 34:5. "those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed."
if there was ever a word to describe our sweet Katie it would be radiant. she was a walking beam of sunshine, with Jesus shining through always. which is why it makes no sense that the rest of us are weeping, still. I know it's a part of the grief, but it's so not Katie. On her last night with us in this life, we had a prayer service at one of the local churches (bigger than ours!). a storm rolled in, quite fitting for our moods, and the thunder joined us as we sang and worshiped our God, and the heavens wept with us as we mourned the coming loss of our friend.
and again on her celebration service day, we drove to the church in torrential rains, as if God was saying to us, "I get it. I know. I'm mourning your loss with you." but then I saw, way in the distance, blue skies with white clouds. and I thought, wow. blue skies a-coming, even though it looks so far away. and my heart just felt like it was overflowing with emotion about it all, and about my mom's death, and how sometimes I still wonder where the blue skies are, and how much we just need Jesus to come back and rescue us from this world of sin and pain and brokenness. but blue skies are coming here in this life, eventually, and then streets of gold, and forever and ever and ever (which will make this life seem so short) with the ones we love. so when we walked out of that church to a beautiful day, I was not surprised. it was much more of a "katie" type of day.
the kids have all handled it very differently from each other, but very true to their personalities. Josiah found out first and just exploded in tears, which sent Lillian running. and she, too, allowed herself to just weep over her loss. Brielle asked what happened, then turned around and continued on with whatever she was doing. And after a while had passed, Lillian got a look on her face that she was going to do SOMETHING, and she took off to her room. Josiah eventually began asking questions like "mama, why are you STILL crying??? Katie's in HEAVEN!!!" and I thought, "oh God, please give me more of that. help me to grieve, but then give me THAT." And Brielle eventually vocalized a little, but only enough to say, "I just don't want to talk about it." When Lillian came back from her room, she had an envelope with her money in it, and a note saying "I know this isn't much, but I just wanted to help however I could." My sweet girl. She's a giver, that's for sure. Always buying things for others, with her own money. so after a nice little talk about the fact that they didn't need our money, they needed our prayers, she was still set on giving them her money. so I let her, because I sure don't want to be the one to squash her giving nature. And Katie's mom let Lillian decide which memorial she wanted the money to go toward, and she chose the Crisis Pregnancy Center to receive a $6 donation in memory of Katie Nissen. :)
I'm still struggling. way more than I expected. I think this loss has been the most significant in my life since my mom's. I've had other dear loved ones pass away, but not in a "robbed of life" sort of way. So it's just all bringing up so much emotion. such a hard loss. When we were in Belize and I spent a significant amount of time with Pam (Katie's mom) and Theresa (another awesome mom of high school/college age kids), I was really feeling the loss of my mom. Not that anyone could ever replace her in my life, but being with those ladies who had such similar qualities to my mom and my aunt, just made me really want those relationships to grow. I was telling my friend Rachel, on Sunday, that my master plan had been to make a deal with Pam that if she would be my life mentor, I'd be that to Katie, and what a dream come true that would be to me. of course it never happened, but then I found out from her sister at the visitation, that on the Saturday before she died, Averi (the sister, who also plays on my sand volleyball team) asked Katie who she would choose if she could pick anyone she wanted from church to be her mentor. and Katie picked me. (so many tears....) I don't know if she listed 4 people and I was one of them, or if she only said me or what, and I don't care. Because that one little comment made me realize that the I-need-more-of-you-in-my-life feeling was mutual, even though that sort of just makes it sting even worse.
so now here we are, with the pain of loss burning our eyes every single day. burning in our hearts. (is there some medical reason that I really truly feel it in my HEART???) left with so many questions for God.
but also with the knowledge of truth.
Katie is with our Savior, because she believed in Him as her only way to salvation.
This loss is not from God. The whole idea of God's "plan" has always been hard for me, but especially now. I don't believe for a second that God wanted this to happen. Death and sadness are not FROM God. yes, he knew it would happen, and he had Katie's days numbered before she was even born, but this death is a result of the fall of man, of this sin-infested world, and not how he created us to be in His TRUE plan.
Faith is a gift. Sometimes, especially times like this when there's so much I don't understand, I feel like I sound totally crazy for believing in God. for believing that He's GOOD. There are times when the miracles of God and the other stories in the Bible just sound ridiculous, and I wonder what I would think if other religions said the same about THEIR god. but I believe. I really do. Because God has given me that gift of faith. and I'm so very grateful for that. so that even when things don't make sense, I still believe.
Katie's life will live on. There were probably over 1500 people at her service on Tuesday, and our awesome pastor did not shy away from the truth of the gospel. and hopefully hearts were stirred that day and many will come to Christ because of the life of Katie.
I will never be the same. I will still live my life as Katie's mentor, doing my best to point out Christ at work in her life to my kids, and striving to be more Christ-like in all that I do. I am forever reminded that this is not our home, and things of this life are fleeting. and my job here on earth is to point others to Him and allow Him to work in me and through me, all for His glory, not mine. and I have had the perfect example set for me.
so Katie, sweet Katie. you are gone from our lives but never from our hearts. thank you for being a 17 year old role model for every single person in your life, no matter their age. Thank you for loving my children in such a special way. thank you for serving me, and with me, in Belize, and for our special bond. and I can't WAIT til the day when we all "sacatecas" out of this world and spend eternity forever, doing what you do best my dear, praising Jesus.
love you. always.