I have gone through what I would say here a hundred times before even typing out a word. And yet, I am still at a loss. I have wondered what memories I should share, and I have wondered which ones to keep for myself. I have thought back to late-night conversations, and early morning voice messages. Times sitting on the blue-house porch, laying in the rocking bed that I built there outside my house. Learning to cook together. Long drives.Countless hours trying to help that girl have an imagination and dream about the future, then countless hours seeing it grow and sharing dreams together.
I can remember the first conversation that I had with Hannah. I can remember the seat in Prevail I was sitting in. And for the next 2 or three months, we kept accidentally sitting next to each other each time we were in the coffee shop. I even started making sure I kept a deck of cards in my bag so we could play 9’s on the countertop.
I can remember the joy in her voice the time she called in those first months of talking after she had what I call a gospel awakening. Not a salvation experience, she accepted Christ at an early age due to being raised in a home that taught her the importance of Scripture and the truth of Salvation in Christ alone. But she was awakened by the radical, overreaching, all-consuming, ferocious, love of God. Not a hypothetical love for people in general, but a transforming love for her personally. This came a little after the 2019 Alabama State fair. I went with her and her sibling and I was smitten when I got there. She often reminded me that she wasn’t when she arrived, but on the way home our feelings were mutual. As we sat next to each other and swung around in circles on the swing she began to tell me of her faults and failures. She began to lay out why she was not worthy of love, and I couldn’t help but laugh. For sometimes it’s grace covered scars that bring out a beauty that was stuck just under the surface.
Other than 30 days of no communication to pray and see what to do, I don’t think there was a day after that we did not speak. We shared everything with each other. The good and the bad, the Christlike actions and our sin, and we learned to speak gospel to each-other often. For we both needed it often.
We would often sit and listen to music. I got her into records in the past year and she died with a collection of almost 100, though most of those I picked up for her at thrift stores. She shared with me a love of old classical music, and I shared with her the little known fact that music has, indeed, been produced in the past 100 years.
She was so happy that I loved plants. She let me know that she loved them as well but just could never keep them alive. I told her I could take care of that for her. But to her credit, and to her joy she was so, so happy that she had kept one alive for almost a year. This flower you see up here. I gave it to her on valentine's day last year. Once before that, I had given her flowers...she was thankful. But quickly let me know that I had just given her dead things that she would have to watch slowly die.
In so many ways we were so different. Something we talked about long and often. But the more life we did together we both knew that our differences were the perfect complement for the other.
And it was this compliment to my own soul that I planned the rest of my life around. Exactly a week ago we were walking around what would have been our wedding venue. We were filled with love and joy for what we thought was to come. For all of me loved all of her, and I know as much as I know anything that she loved me the same.
This past December Hannah spent Christmas with me and my family. On the drive home, she told me it was “a perfect Christmas”. She always woke up before me, and I loved that since I was crashing on the couch in the cabin she got to wake me up each morning when she came downstairs. While we were there we talked about wedding plans and showed pictures of the honeymoon I had already paid for to make sure we got the spot she wanted.
At one point my pops made the joke, I can’t remember to whom, that even as much as we loved Jesus our excitement for the future meant that we weren’t praying “Come Lord Jesus” as much as we used to.
But Hannah had a response for that. As she often had a perfect gospel-saturated, Spirit-empowered, Jesus-centered, Abba-loving response. She made sure it was known that she loved me with everything in her. That I was the man that she prayed for. That I helped point her to Jesus and helped lead her into the arms of the Spirit to heal from the deep wounds she had. There was nothing in the world that she would let keep her from stealing my name this coming May Day...But if she had the choice between that dream and seeing Jesus first…
Hannah loved fiercely. She told me often that she loved me most. But she loved Jesus even more.
Samuel Langhorn Clemens once wrote that, “The fear of death follows from a fear of life. A (person) who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” And Hannah was prepared to die.
Hannah and I shared a Bible reading plan. The night before she died I read her Psalm 16 and we spoke long about the last verse. “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence, there is fullness of Joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
We talked about how wonderful it is that we get a glimpse of that now. Like seeing the shadow of one we love or smelling a cooking meal we long to eat. But what would it be like to know in full? And in less than 24 hours I was left wondering and she knew. She knows.
Had life taken another turn Hannah and I would have started fundraising in the coming weeks to plant a church in Brooklyn next year. Ragamuffin Church. The name was taken from Brennan Manning’s book The Ragamuffin Gospel. For that book was one of the first places I tasted pure unadulterated grace, 1000 proof strong, straight from the bottle. The kind of grace that burns a little going down the first time, just like good moonshine.
That book was one that impacted Hannah’s life as well. Within its pages Manning wrote: “One thing we do know -- we don’t comprehend the love of Jesus Christ. Oh, we see a movie and resonate with what a young man and woman will endure for romantic love. We know that when the chips are down, if we love wildly enough we’ll fling life and caution to the winds for the one we love. But when it comes to God’s love in the broken, blood-drenched body of Jesus Christ, we get antsy and start to talk about theology, divine justice, God’s wrath, and the heresy of universalism. The saved sinner is prostrate in adoration, lost in wonder and praise. He knows repentance is not what we do in order to earn forgiveness; it is what we do because we have been forgiven. It serves as an expression of gratitude rather than an effort to earn forgiveness. Thus the sequence of forgiveness and then repentance, rather than repentance and then forgiveness, is crucial to understand the gospel of grace. But many of us don’t know our God and don’t understand His gospel of grace. For many, God sits up there like a Buddah, impassive, unmoving, hard as flint. Calvary cries out more clearly than any theology textbook. We do not know our God. We have not grasped the truth in the first letter of John: "In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” The cross reveals the depth of the Father’s love for us. The disciple living by grace rather than law has undergone a decisive conversion -- a turning from mistrust to trust. The foremost characteristic of living by grace is trust in the redeeming work of Jesus.
To believe deeply, as Jesus did, that God is present and at work in human life is to understand that I am a beloved child of this Father, and hence, free to trust.
The gospel declares that no matter how dutiful or prayerful we are, we can’t save ourselves. What Jesus did was sufficient. To the extent that we are self-made saints like the Pharisees or neutral like Pilate (never making the leap to trust), we let the prostitutes and sinners go first into the Kingdom...The hookers and swindlers enter before us because They know that they cannot save themselves. They cannot make themselves presentable or loveable. They risk everything on Jesus, and knowing they didn’t have it all together, were not too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace.” Hannah knew that this handout of amazing grace was her only hope.
I know that some of y’all listening to me are even now angry at God. If you were honest you would say that in this moment you hate him. You hate a god who tells you that you’re accepted in his family if you look right, speak right, and act right. You are angry at a god who looks down on you ready to drop the hammer the moment you step out of line. You hate a god who stands far off and commands that you complete your penance on your way to him. You are angry at a god who demonically twists scripture to say that you aren’t worthy of His love. Hannah hated that god as well. But the God that Hannah loves calls out that you are welcome, not into His sight but into His own family, no matter how you look, speak, or act. The God that Hannah loved looks down not to drop a hammer when you step out of line but to carry you when that wrong step leaves you broken. The God that Hannah loved is the One who took your penance upon Himself and runs to you, and me, even now. The God Hannah loved, Christ Jesus who right now Hannah stands before in worship, speaks that He loves and invites us to allow ourselves to be loved. Each of us in this place has uttered that we shall see Hannah again. And for many that is true. But if she were here, she would tell you, that it is only those who have experienced the loving adoption from Abba God, the radical saving grace and love of King Jesus, and have the seal and comfort of God the Spirit that will. She would want to beg you to be as she was so that you may one day be as she now is. Not out of some fear of hell...but due to a love which words cannot express. A love found only and always in the arms of Jesus.
If you feel broken, please come for prayer. If you feel lost, please come for prayer. If you don’t even know how to feel, please come for prayer. But most important. If you feel like you have never known the love that Hannah knew please come for prayer. And in prayer run to Jesus and let Him wrap you in His grace and comfort you in His love.