With love and in memory of:
Natalie Cowen Gonzales
June 29, 1973 – April 15, 2017
When I woke up this morning, the first thing I wanted to do was call Natalie and hear the voice of my dear friend, colleague, and mentor as she smiled through the phone. She believed we are each given the life we’re strong enough to live, and generously shared her strength each day with all who knew her. When her illness rapidly accelerated, she remained still and grounded in Jesus. Her calm demeanor showed us Jesus can stop panic and fear in its tracks. As I thought about her this morning, I smiled and was comforted when I realized even in these past few weeks, Natalie was coaching us.
Natalie lived out her faith by never allowing her emotions to accelerate out of control. Without Jesus, pain, grief, and fear can rip through our lives like a freight train, convincing us we have no choice but to get on board. The consequences of doing so can be devastating. The stark contrast between Natalie’s steady grip on life and one that spirals reminded me of a podcast I recently heard.
In the podcast, Malcom Gladwell described a harrowing experience called automobile sudden acceleration. Drivers lost control of their cars when they inexplicably climbed to dangerous speeds. Gripped by panic and fear, they were unable to slow down or stop. Similar to airplanes, cars have a “black box”, and although several theories were offered to explain the stuck accelerators, one tragic fact remained. In each instance, the black boxes revealed that in the midst of panic and confusion, the drivers never applied the brakes. If they had, even with a floored gas pedal and speeds of over 100mph, the car would have stopped. Brakes are stronger than acceleration.
The good news is we have a brake - Jesus. We must apply Jesus to our emotions, even when we can’t stop our circumstances, reach for the truth that brings peace and calm when life doesn’t make sense, and hold on tight in the midst of panic and chaos. We can ask the Holy Spirit to pray from our heart when we can’t form the words, and claim the courage and grace God promises is right there, if we would only ask. I wonder if God is screaming “apply the brake!” when we’re in crisis and don’t reach for Him.
My beautiful sweet friend Natalie knew how to apply the brakes. Her cancer careened out of control, but she never did. Jesus beats acceleration every time. During these last weeks she slowed to give and receive love, comfort, strength, and peace, even as her disease raged. She held on tight, refused to get on that runaway train of panic and fear, and gracefully walked with Jesus into Heaven.
Life doesn’t always slow down, but if we live like Natalie we can slow ourselves down. She wanted us to overcome feeling overwhelmed, use our talents in a career we enjoy, and crave the kingdom of God instead of this world. She encouraged us to be tourists in this life and find beauty and purpose in everything we do, while we make our way toward our final destination. I’m forever grateful for the blessing of every moment I spent with her, and for her legacy that lives on.