Today marks almost one year ago that Bre Payton, our roommate Kat, and I stood in a soggy security tent on a rainy December Saturday waiting to take a White House Christmas tour. It was the year of Melania Trump’s infamous “red trees” that sent a triggered mob spiraling down Handmaid’s Tale conspiracies, to which Bre responded in a scathing rebuttal “Melania’s Red Christmas Trees Are My Favorite Thing.”
Just days prior, Bre had publicly critiqued some media members as “a bunch of sexist bigots” for their coverage of Melania Trump’s new haircut and they were giving her heat for it. As we waited for Secret Service to move us through, the three of us were having a good laugh about it all, ever admiring Bre for her bold hot takes on the first lady and pretty much everything else. What a difference a year makes.
When I analyze the seasons of my own life, I always look for the patterns. I try to connect events to fit adjacent to each other like puzzle pieces. I want the good, the bad, and the ugly to all having some celestial connection to each other, to be wrapped together with a bow and filed away as — never perfect — but complete, understood packages.
Bre left this world for heaven at 26 one year ago today. She was healthy, beautiful, in the prime of her life, and having more impact as a 26-year-old journalist than most people get the chance to in an average lifespan. As far as patterns and puzzle pieces go, Bre’s death seems to be a gaping black hole.
As we approach the year marking her death, those dark days feel like just yesterday. When Kat and I first returned to the apartment the three of us used to share, Cindy, Bre’s incredibly strong mother, asked if we could find any usernames and passwords to Bre’s accounts — the logistical part of having someone ripped from your life without warning.
As we searched for them, we stumbled across one of her journals. Not surprisingly for a writer, she had pages and pages of them. We flipped through to find what we were looking for, but discovered that most of the pages were filled with Bre’s prayers.
As we sat on the bedroom floor of our dear friend we wouldn’t see again in this life, we read a few of her entries that reflected the heavenly source of her strength and courage that we admired so much. This one moved me the most:
I’ve never thought more of the volatility of life than I did in 2019. As an antidote to dealing with that reality, I reflect on Bre’s prayer. For the short amount of time I was lucky enough to be her friend, it was clear she lived her life to the utmost full — not simply in the carpe diem sense.
Bre lived in light of eternity. She was always looking up. The reality is that eternity is the most inevitable future for all of us. It’s the last puzzle piece to factor into the best-laid plans of the mist that is our brief journey on planet Earth.
I still struggle with that concept, but if I’ve learned anything in the last year it’s that life is so much more powerful than death. Bre showed us that. As this year comes to a close, the gaping black hole that seemed to surround her untimely passing has become a little less dark.
Kat and I still talk about how remarkable her life was, and with every conversation comes a little more clarity. “There were three of us, and now there are two,” Kat says. “Bre fought the good fight, she ran the race, she kept the faith, and on her way to eternity, she brought so many others to the light.”
We’re rounding the corner of another year and another decade. I’m sure it will look different than I’m imagining now, just like last year did. But I’m entering 2020 looking up and with this prayer:
“I pray that you would keep me safe here on earth to do your will. Give me clarity, discipline and discernment. Enable me to do what you put me here to do & do not let me become afraid or distracted. Put good people in my life who will drive me to you & do what you want me to do. Help me to be a blessing to those around me. <3 Amen .”
Brianna Herlihy is the National Media Manager for Alliance Defending Freedom. She is a graduate of Liberty University and lives in Washington, DC.
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