“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.”
2 Corinthians 2:14-15
“Amy, check out this Mary Kay perfume. I’ve decided it’s going to be my new signature scent.”
Nancy smiled broadly at me as she spritzed a small amount of the perfume into the air so I could take a whiff.
“Mm,” I inhaled, “it smells just like you were meant to.”
I didn’t say that lightly. The perfume smelled light, airy, and flowery, which suited Nancy perfectly.
“I think I’m going to wear it for the first time tonight,” Nancy declared, donning a sparkling lavender dress, and checking her reflection in the mirror as she pulled on a sweater.
“You definitely should,” I confirmed. “It’s the perfect night to introduce your new ‘signature scent.'”
And so it was. It was December 1, 2011, Nancy and Jeriah’s one year anniversary and quite literally the first day of the rest of Nancy’s life. Little did we know we had less then ten days with Nancy on this side of heaven.
At the time, the conversation did not seem at all significant. Just two sisters, chatting easily as one prepares to go out. I was sitting on Nancy’s bed, offering occasional opinions and pointers, helping her with her hair, hyping her up with compliments. These interactions with Nancy came as naturally to me as breathing does. It was an integral part of my life, as familiar to me as my own hand.
Nancy misted the perfume over her outfit and turned to me. “Thoughts?” she inquired.
“You look perfect; Jeriah will love it,” I responded with a smile.
“Thanks,” Nancy grinned eagerly, grabbed her coat and purse, and swept out her bedroom door. I followed her down the stairs, wanting to catch Jeriah’s reaction when he saw her. I was not disappointed. His eyes lit up upon seeing her, and a smile creased the corners of his mouth and dimpled his cheeks. I sighed inwardly. This was what dreams are made of. I couldn’t even imagine the joy of looking at someone with that measure of pure love, and seeing it reflected back at me in their eyes. Mom snapped a few pictures of them before they left, and then together they floated happily out the door.
Ten days later, on December 11, I looked into those same eyes that had stared so blissfully at my sister on December 1st languish under the crushing weight of grief. As Jeriah and I sat next to each other overwhelmed by tears and attempting to process what had just happened, we each had the same thought: what next? Neither of us knew what our futures would look like without Nancy in it. Without Nancy, it seemed the sun could go on rising and setting but the world would still be dark. The future suddenly seemed to be a dark and cold abyss, robbed of the sun.
I selected that same lavender dress that Nancy had wore on her final date with Jeriah to have her laid out in her casket in. Interestingly, without her soul filling her body and movement filling her limbs, the sparkles seemed muted, even dull by contrast to when she wore it on her date. At my request, in a vain attempt to mask chemical smell, her coffin was drenched with the same Mary Kay perfume she had worn that night; the perfume she had declared her new ‘signature scent:’ Journey. The Mary Kay website describes this perfume as a “light, sheer floral that attracts the woman who has a zest for living life’s adventures, everyday.”
It smells just like Nancy was meant to.
Psalm 139:16 states: “All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.” Nancy’s death, though seemingly on the cusp of the next chapter in her journey and untimely, was not a surprise to God. Even Jesus couldn’t be crucified without God’s allowance. When Pilate asked Jesus if He realized that he had the authority to release Him and the authority to crucify Him, Jesus blithely answered that Pilate would have no authority if it had not been granted to him from God above (John 19:9-11.) Thus, nothing, not even death, can occur apart from God’s allowance.
“If you are going to be used by God, He will take you through a multitude of experiences that are not meant for you at all. They are meant to make you useful in His hands.”
– Oswald Chambers
The longer I am in Christ, the more it is impressed upon me that “my” story is not “mine” at all. Nor was it ever meant to be. My story is reminiscent of Who my God is, and should be treated as such. It is idolatry to treat it otherwise.
Jesus’ experience on earth wasn’t for Him at all. He didn’t need saving. His life on earth was an outpouring of gratitude towards God and all that He is. It wasn’t self-indulgent, and it certainly wasn’t glamorous. It was tainted with grief and hardship, because “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and even a perfect Person is affected by the consequences of imperfection in this fallen world. Jesus’ life illustrated to us what it is to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1).
Jesus’ journey was marked by such a fragrant life of obedience that the fragrance is still lingering today on the gospel, some two thousand odd years later.
Nancy’s life wasn’t “for” her. Rather, it was for all the people she touched through her genuine kindness and thoughtfulness. Her fragrant journey still lingers on them.
Her fragrant journey still lingers on me. And because of that, a new fragrance is being developed through my story, one with hints of floral and sunshine, as beautiful as Nancy was, as unique as I am, as creative as my Savior is. But my fragrance is not a stagnant one, it is getting interwoven with the fragrance of others as it intersects with their lives and their stories. Through the intersection of all of these fragrances, God is pulling out the fragrance of redemption. My life is only a microscopic example of this. God is not only doing work apart from me, but in spite of me.
A.W. Tozer once said, “Outside the will of God, there’s nothing I want. Inside the will of God, there’s nothing I fear.” That is the freedom that I have in Christ.