Life is a Gift
My name is Matthew and I would love to share my story with you. I’ll start from what I consider to be the beginning.
Even as a boy, I was really moved by the gospel. I was really moved by the story of Jesus and this idea that I could have a Savior. And so, one day I asked my dad, on his bed, I was like, “How do I ask Jesus into my heart? How do I do that?” And he led me in a prayer and we did that together. From that point, my life hasn’t really been the same. I really knew that I belonged to God and I was His.
There was a, a way that I was living, just as a young man where, you know, I just didn’t have a lot of clarity in life and in my walk. But, I did find love. I did meet a girl, tail-end of freshman year in high school. Her name was Kimberly and she was a really sweet girl. I only have positive memories about her and her patience, and her quiet nature, and just how tender and loving she was toward me, even at that early age. So we met and we hit it off at Six Flags, actually. A group of us went to Six Flags, I was on the drumline and she played a woodwind instrument, bass clarinet. We played music together growing up and we listened to music together and we grew closer. At one point in time, my family moved to a house that was actually in her neighborhood and we were very nearly neighbors. Her mother always said, “You guys are attached at the hip, you know, there’s no way to separate you.” And I loved it. I absolutely loved that time that we got to spend together.
So fast forward a little bit. We were in college, and I was going to Tarrant County Northeast, which is on the North Richland Hills, Fort Worth side of Texas. She was going to Tarleton State in Stephenville, past Granberry. It was about a two and a half hour drive to go visit her on the weekends and I would do that. We had tons of fun together. We would, you know, stay up late and talk and explore the campus, go out driving, and do little dinky things like hanging out at the HEB. And just, you know, the time that you spent with your loved ones, it was, it was very precious. I was asked to go visit, she had just gotten a new kitten named Berlioz – She loved the Aristocats. – and she was going to meet with a sorority sister Courtney Smalley. They were going to hang out at Courtney’s place. She invited me over and I was working at Subway at the time. I wanted to save up some money. Now beforehand, I had proposed to her and I asked if she would marry me and she said, “Yes.” So really I was making sandwiches to pay for a ring. So that weekend I stayed in town, and I didn’t go see her.
Well, she was driving back from Courtney’s place on Washington Road. It’s about a 117 mile stretch one way for each lane of traffic and Courtney Smalley had a pink Volkswagen Beetle. Anyway, the front left tire blew out and they veered into oncoming traffic. There was an SUV driving in the opposite direction, it was Matthew Keith and his wife, Tsanti Keith, and the two vehicles collided and there was pretty extreme damage. You can look up the police reports and see the pictures. The Beetle didn’t look much like a Beetle, and it actually flipped and landed on the nose and was upright. The other car didn’t fare well either. Everyone was care-flighted and unfortunately, nobody made it.
Madison, one of Kimberly and I’s mutual friends, and Brittany, they were calling me; they were blowing up my phone for about an hour before I decided to actually answer. They called me over. I knew something was wrong as soon as I heard Brittany’s voice. It was very shaky, very sad, worried, anxious, unsure. So I threw my shoes on; I ran out the door. The most difficult day of my life was visiting with her dad that evening. And the thing that you have to know about Kim is that she was just so well loved. She was just so well loved. There were more than, I feel like there were more than 25, it felt like there were 40 people just packed in that house. So I walk through Jeremy’s front door, and I walk over to him. And when he shares that news with me… You know, I wasn’t a very physical person to begin with, and I don’t know that he was either, but when he hugged me, and we were holding on to each other and all I could say was, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” I couldn’t say anything else. I went out to his backyard and man, I just sat and cried for like an hour. I had many people come up to me and you know, touch me on the shoulder, sit down next to me and speak to me, but I was just lost. What, what happened to all the plans? What happened to my best friend? What happened to life, and a future, and children? What happened?
I went to her open casket. I was considered part of the family and so JP and Debbie asked me if I would like to see Kimberly. And it was very tough for me. I decided, Yes, I did. And on that day, I learned the full meaning of what the Bible says when it talks about the Potter and the clay. And I know that we’re, you know, largely water and minerals and blood, and we come from the earth. I believe that the only thing in us that gives us life, that animates our bodies, that puts smiles on our faces, that makes us cry tears of joy is God’s Spirit. Every good thing that dwells in us is a gift and it’s from Him. I learned that when I saw Kimberly, because what I saw in that casket was clay. It wasn’t animated; it was like a lump and my friend wasn’t there. I went to hold her hand like I used to and it was cold and there was, there’s no life in it. That moment changed me and I realized that we are no different from Kim. We really aren’t. There’s something special living inside of us – that is God’s Spirit. It’s His life. He sustains us. He is in our every cell. He gives us breath on each new day, so long as we call it today. When He says, “I’m with you,” He is with us.
Well, there was something that happened after that open casket ceremony and it happened in a way that I never would have expected. And this is the part of my story that I hope is going to be such, such a blessing to you because it’s true. I lived it and I’ve been telling it to people ever since because it’s kept me going – the hope of something greater. In order to cope with the loss and the severity of the situation…If you know my history, you know that I grew up with martial arts, American Kenpo Karate. I did that with my family, my brother, my sister, my mom and dad. And so I was just working out all the time. I went to a gym called Fitness 2000 and I was working out there so much that an associate there named Mike reached out to me. He said, “You’re always in here. You’re always talking to our members. You seem to eat, breathe, sleep, here. Like, what, what’s going on? Do you want to work for us?” And I said, “No, I just, I don’t really, it’s not my style. I’m not too interested in that.” And he kept pushing me on it and I finally said, “Okay, fine, I’ll apply.”
I got the job as a sales associate and I did some personal training. It was my responsibility to open the club on the weekends. And there was a Sunday morning, where I’m opening the club and I step in, you know, turn the key, shut the blinds because it’s very bright and the front door faced the east so the sun was coming in. I said, I don’t want any of that. So I shut the blinds, made it as dark as possible, wiped off some of the machines, and I expected a couple people to come in because we had some regulars. One of our regulars was this grizzled, you know, I think he was maybe ex Marine or Navy, I couldn’t quite tell. But he came in and he would run his miles. He would run, run, run for, you know, about an hour and without saying anything would go on his way. The second person who would come in on the weekends, on Sunday particularly, was Haley.
Haley was a girl that I’d gotten to know a little bit beforehand for maybe about a month. She worked out at the gym in the mornings and in the evenings. She was a high school girl, I believe she played volleyball. She would come in and do her routine on the stair stepper and then go to the club fitness room where she would do some band exercises, barbell exercises, some stretches and I got to know her a little bit. Her mother would come in and work out occasionally. I talked with her mother as well. Well, Haley was there that Sunday morning. And I didn’t see the military veteran. I’m talking with Haley and you know, obviously she goes straight to the stair climber and I go over and talk with her. She’s looking down at me and I’m looking up at her and we’re discussing just stuff, school stuff. I don’t even remember what the topic of conversation was, but I walk away to go open that club room.
There’s a hallway and I’m walking down that hallway, and line of sight from the stair climbers to that hallway, you can see it very clearly. So Haley was keeping me in line of sight. All of a sudden, my feet quit moving. I stopped working. I don’t know how to describe it other than I was locked in place. It was like I had glue on the soles of my shoes. The strength didn’t go out of my legs, I was still standing upright. I just couldn’t, couldn’t move forward and while I was held in place, I got an overwhelming sensation of loss and pain and regret, sorrow, and these things were washing over me. I don’t know how to describe this to you in any other term than it felt like a rod was going through the top of my head, down through my body, to my feet holding me in place. And somebody was tying a rope around that rod, the center of it, and I imagined that rope going way, way, way, way off into the distance, to a place where I couldn’t see. And somebody, on the far end, was tugging on that rope and every time they did, I could feel it in the center of that rod, in my being, in my, my soul. I could feel it in my soul, for lack of a better term, and it felt like somebody was saying hello. I put my head down to my chest, as I was standing there, locked in place. And I said to myself, You’re not gonna cry. You cannot cry. You work at a gym. You’ve got to talk with people, you’ve got to sell memberships. This is not the time, not the place to be doing this. And some time went by, maybe 20 seconds, and my feet, I could move them all of a sudden, and I made a beeline to the bathroom because I was about to lose it.
So I’m giving myself a pep talk in the bathroom. I remember looking in the mirror, and I’m like, You can do this. This is, you know…I’m not gonna fixate on this bizarre situation. Go out there and be the man that you need to be. And so I give myself a pep talk in the bathroom and I make my way out. I’m walking toward the front desk and who’s standing there, Haley and the color has just gone out of her face. And she says, “I need to tell you something.” I said, “Okay, go ahead and tell me.” Well she all of a sudden backs up and is like, “Wait, I can’t. Maybe a different day. I can’t do this.” I say, “Okay, um that’s fine.” I’m pretty confused by this point. She says, “No, no, no, wait. Okay. I, I will tell you. Do you have any um, do you have any pictures? And I was thinking, yeah, I have some pictures on me and I pulled my wallet out. And she said, “Can I see your wallet?” Well, the way that my mind was going in this situation, I was thinking this girl’s trying to steal my wallet. It is a very, a very funny way, looking back on it, just how clueless I was to everything going on. I think we’re in that state more often than not, just clueless unless we’re really, really directly spoken to or interacted with.
I opened my wallet for her and I put the pictures that I had in my wallet on the countertop. I’m not normally a guy who carries photos in his wallet. But at that time, Kimberly’s mother had given me four wallet size photos of her daughter to carry with me and some of them were my favorite photos of Kim. In these photos, Kimberly had very long hair. She would wear it all the way down to her lower back and her butt. That’s just, it was her style. She liked it. She would always ask me, “Should I cut it off? Should I cut it off?” I was like, “No. Why would you? It’s beautiful.” Well, a week before she passed, she had decided to donate all of her hair to the Locks of Love foundation, for the cancer kids, so that they could make some wigs out of it. There was a photo where Kimberly had very short hair, you know, they had sheared it off. It was less than a little pixie cut. And Haley’s looking at the photos that I’ve put on that gym countertop, near the front desk. She says, “No. No. No. Yes! That’s the girl. That’s the girl that I saw.
“When we were talking, I was on a stair climber and you were standing next to me. You walked away and you walked down that walkway, that hall. I went to look in the mirror, to do my workout and my vision got so blurry, I got afraid. I turned to you to call out for help and you had stopped in the middle of that walkway. And this girl came up behind you, put her arms around you, and was giving you a hug and was standing behind you, just holding you. And you put your head down like you knew that she was there. And I heard her say. ‘I miss you Matty.’ And when that girl left, you put your head up and you walked straight to the bathroom. That’s what I saw. And I feel compelled to tell you that this girl is your guardian angel. She will never leave you. She will always be with you.”
I went straight home, from the gym, and I went straight to my room and I fell to my knees. I just started crying because I knew that the things that I had been told were true. Because I felt it. There was perfect unity and agreeance in the things that she was telling me, compared to what I had felt that was unexplainable. And perhaps that sums up a lot of our walk here. Perhaps that speaks a lot toward the things that we feel and experience in faith. What I want to encourage you of, whoever’s listening, whoever you might be, whatever your walk of life, whatever your passions and dreams, whatever painful losses you’ve experienced…You know, when, when Jesus says, “I will wipe away every tear.” the implication of that statement is there will be sorrow up until the time when things are restored. And just because you have sorrow now does not mean you have to walk without hope. I believe it’s Paul, who says, “We grieve, but not as those without hope.” I believe that seeing Kimberly, well, experiencing Kimberly was a gift at the time that has been paying dividends ever since. I continue to grow in my understanding of what lies in wait for us. You know, what is promised to us, what we can expect and hope for. That hope that isn’t seen. We don’t hope for the things that we already have. Right?
Nobody has ever called me Matty, except Kim, but I have since taken that. It’s such a pleasant memory for me and such a pleasant story that sometimes I feel like a Matthew, and sometimes I feel like a Matt, and mostly I feel like a Matty. I don’t understand it, but that so speaks to my heart and just makes me feel loved and valued.