Victim 52…

Hopefully, I have piqued your interest tonight with the title of my post. That’s because each April my mind gets pulled back to April, 1997 when a young woman I knew decided that life wasn’t worth living and she made arrangements to seek Dr. Kevorkian’s help to end her own life. Yes, she was officially victim 52, unless you prefer to look at her as a terminally ill patient.

Normally, I don’t think about Heidi that often, and I certainly don’t speak very often publicly on my association with her  – but I had lunch with an acquaintance of mine on Friday and  he asked how I originally got started in ministry. That got me started down memory lane more than 19 years ago. Believe it or not, Heidi’s death, by her own hand, was a primary catalyst for my decision, with Janet, to attend seminary.

You see, Heidi worked at a major national company that I had as a client, with offices very close to our location at Keystone at the Crossing on the north side of Indianapolis. Each Thursday I would head over and make the rounds of all the departments where we did business and on this particular Thursday, Heidi was nowhere to be found. I dropped a custom baked cookie off at her desk and wondered aloud when she would return. Another person in Heidi’s department let me know that Heidi no longer worked at the company. Of course, I found that quite strange. Heidi was well liked and was a model employee. I pushed a little harder and was told that I should read the paper.

I then found out that two days earlier, on Tuesday evening, April 8, 1997, Heidi was found dead in a hotel room in Michigan after the police received a lead that Heidi, a 27 year old suffering from AIDS was in one of the rooms of the Relax Inn near the Detroit airport. Heidi, to the best of my knowledge, was a well adjusted, bright, funny, helpful employee. But the truth was a little different. She had contracted AIDS, back in the day when we didn’t know too much about it, and was quickly shunned by people she considered friends.

She loved the theatre and was going to play the lead in a production when the male lead backed out upon learning of her diagnosis. She eventually moved out of Michigan, coming to Indianapolis to start over. She fell in love, got engaged, revealed her deep secret to her fiancee, and although he said he was fine with her diagnosis, he later recanted and called off the wedding. Heidi spun deeper into depression and her physical health suffered. Finally, realizing that she probably wouldn’t see age 30, Heidi contacted Kevorkian and the rest, as they say, is history.

The night of her death, Heidi had dinner with her mother and had memorial rings made for all the women who would have been her bridesmaids before her wedding was cancelled. In a chance twist of fate, Heidi’s family had her buried in her wedding dress, after living a life of pain, loneliness and despair. I’m not so sure that she didn’t partially die of a broken heart – surmising that nobody would ever marry her or love her the way that she so desperately yearned for.

The key to this story, as far as my journey is concerned, is that I thought I knew Heidi rather well, and I was sadly mistaken. There was a whole part of her that I had no knowledge of and for whatever reason, she didn’t feel safe sharing those concerns with me, or maybe anyone else in her work life. It occurred to me even if she had reached out to me, I had no concept on how to handle that kind of a situation. Did she know God? Did she even care? Did she know that God loved her, even if she thought she was alone and nobody would ever care for her.

I had no idea as to how to even help her, or anyone else, for that matter. And so, I thought that it was important to attend seminary and learn how to be a better counselor to those who were in need. There were other reasons to go back to school as well, but Janet and I have never regretted that important decision. They were the best educational years of my life and there is no question that the things I learned during my seminary days have helped me to serve others well in the years since Heidi took her own life.

Whether it is career transition assistance or working with the CEO of a major corporation, my years in school have helped me do a better job listening to people and coaching them to greater chances of success in whatever area I have been called to assist. And this is in addition to the sharing of the Good News and all the wonderful theological discussions I have been blessed to have throughout the years. And to think that I figured I would wind up with a church rather than back in the corporate world. But I guess that wasn’t the plan – and I am more fulfilled than I have ever been in all my years of work. God is good!

The verse for tonight highlights the plight of many of the hurting people that I come in contact with. And it gives me great joy to share their journey with them! The psalmist says it best in Psalm 25:16-18, “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish. Look upon my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins.” What a sacred trust it is to be God’s emissary in these encounters.

My encouragement this evening is that God wants each of us to walk beside those in need – we are to be the hands and feet of Jesus. My prayer is that we will all do a better job noticing the opportunities to help people all around us and in this way fulfill our roles as sons and daughters of the Most High God. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…

 
 
 
 

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