Over the past several days, I have really wrestled over how to put into words what Tyler meant (and means) to me. Like so many of you reading this, there’s no way I can take the memories that are racing through my head, the emotions that I feel in my heart, and the laughs and tears that I’ve shed and shared over the days since her leaving this earth – and fully and appropriately express the impact of our friendship on my life and the incredible legacy that she has left behind. One of the most tangible ways we hold on to those we have loved and lost is by telling stories of our lives together, looking through pictures, reading old letters, laughing at high school yearbook notes, scrolling through text conversations, replaying phone conversations over and over in our head, the list goes on. In sharing those stories with others we find that some of our stories connect. We learn things about Tyler that we never knew – things that encourage us or put a smile on our face. We hold on to each other as we hold on to Tyler. We encourage and lift each other up in ways that we may not have done before. Sharing Tyler stories creates a thankfulness in our own hearts for the privilege of knowing and loving her and inspires us to live our own lives marked by the same Joy that Tyler exemplified every day. Those who never even knew Tyler are impacted by hearing her stories – so let’s never stop telling them!
My story with Tyler starts in middle school. I’ll never forget that sweet welcoming smile on my first day at Parker Middle School in the 6th grade. Going from private to public school in Rocky Mount wasn’t the easiest transition but I’ll always remember Tyler making me feel comfortable and accepted. Over the years our friendship grew into sisterly love. Most middle school nights included hours on the phone together talking about our day, which boy(s) we had crushes on, which outfits I could borrow from Tyler’s closet, and what we thought we might be when we grew up. We managed to make it through our awkward middle school years and both went to Rocky Mount Academy for high school. Most high school weekends involved sleepovers at the Strandberg house where Tyler and I talked nonstop and laughed ourselves to sleep (wayyyy past our bedtime). Those are truly some of the absolute best memories of my life – I can still hear the sound of Tyler’s contagious laugh and can feel my abs hurting as a result. The Strandberg house was mine and so many others’ 2nd home. So many good – laugh til it hurts – memories were made there. So many lessons and teachable/growth moments took place in those years of our friendship – years that shaped so much of who I am today.
Mine and Tyler’s friendship was based on many similarities but our biggest difference was Tyler’s boldness & fearlessness. She always encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone, “live a little”, have fun! In those days that mostly meant waiting for Buckley to go to sleep so we could sneak out the living room window, driving the golf cart recklessly through Candlewood (to Afghanistan), or Nags Head nights sneaking across the street to Jockeys Ridge after hours. When Tyler moved to Jackson Hole, she was the same Tyler – fearless and brave – but it was there, out west, that she was in her element and was able to freely express herself in the way that she was always created to be. I will always admire her for taking that step of faith and living life to the fullest. I am so thankful for the way that our hearts have always been connected – even when we were geographically apart. While I missed not being able to share the same face to face memories that we did in middle and high school, I will always hold on to the sweet little moments throughout the past several years that we came to each other’s mind(s) on different occasions and would send each other a quick text to say hi, Happy Birthday, I miss you, or to share a memory that made us think of each other. Those little moments have taught me to never take for granted the way one “simple” text or note can make someone feel or what impact it may have on your or the recipient down the road. It has also taught me that many friendships change throughout the seasons of life, but there are only a few that have lasting impacts on our life and our character. My friendship with Tyler was one of the few.
But Tyler’s story doesn’t end there. The freedom, exhilaration, and pure bliss that Tyler experienced on the trails and mountains in Jackson don’t even compare to the Absolute Joy that she is now experiencing face to face with Jesus for eternity. I’m not only holding on to these precious earthly stories with Tyler, but I’m grasping even tighter to the promise that one day we will be reunited with Tyler in heaven. I’m eternally grateful for the countless ways Tyler impacted my life while she was still here and for the ways she has pointed me to Jesus and the hope of our future together. I hope and pray that so many of you, too, will be encouraged in the hope of a future with Tyler in Paradise!
**The following is a Bible verse that has recently made me think of Tyler and her perseverance through so much in this life and has encouraged me to live the same way: “Let us throw off everything that hinders – and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2