Would you know what to write if you had to write your own eulogy?

The answer to that question faced me a few days ago as I sat in a self-care workshop reflecting on living my best life. Truthfully, the thought of writing my own eulogy could never have been more profound since this was also the one-year anniversary of the brutal murder of my beautiful friend and surrogate daughter. A senseless act that devastated the lives of her young children and all of those who loved her, and a eulogy created for her that never should have had to be written at such a young age.

The world according to Amber

Once in a while, if you are truly blessed, someone enters your life that profoundly changes it in a beautiful way. In 2009 our family moved across the state to this town and began a new chapter of friendships and business relationships. It wasn’t long before a healthier lifestyle called to me in the form of Zumba. Ahh…Zumba. Dancing my way through the week, cocktails after with the group (because every good workout makes you thirsty, right?), and regular Zumba meetups on weekends with the peeps at each other’s homes. Enter Amber. Tall, blonde, outspoken (OMG), HILARIOUS, 25 years old, and an instant “I feel like I’ve known you forever” friend. It wasn’t long before she met my son (they were a month apart in age and, suddenly, Taylor had a sister) and my husband, and she became a fixture in our family and then our business. Our world was forever changed.

Hometown celebrities come in many forms. There are athletes, media celebs, business leaders and more. Then there are those who gain popularity simply because they lift up those around them. That was Amber. She was sort of a phenomenon that way with many personas that fit whichever group she was active in at any given moment. A church leader, an Isagenix rockstar, a Zumba fitness trainer, a driven businesswoman (she was marked for huge success) and devoted friend. But Amber’s celebrity came with a price.

It was not an uncommon day that she had 80+ voice messages and texts. Wine dates would be scheduled in obscure locations to avoid running into someone she knew, only to have some deeply needed private time. Alas… it rarely worked and the sighs grew deeper.

She is clothed with strength and dignity

The words worn by so many women on their shirts when Amber’s beautiful friend Annette was diagnosed with a ravenous cancer as the mommy of two young children. Together, they were the famous “Ethel and Pearl”.  God long ago had a plan in place for these two young women. Annette often complained of excruciating back pain in Zumba class and it was diagnosed as a pinched spinal nerve. The sad reality was cancer eating her hip bones. From the moment we learned of the cancer, Amber took charge over Annette’s well-being.  Treatment visits, babysitting, fundraising and more… Amber was Annette’s rock. I still remember the day that Amber looked deep in my eyes and said “You know Rena-girl, I would do all of this for you too!”. It made me weep.

Behind every successful woman lies a tribe

Amazing things happen when women lift up other women. During Annette’s illness, I witnessed incredible acts of kindness and love spearheaded by Amber’s efforts and willingness to be the point person. Remember the 80+ calls/texts I mentioned earlier? They doubled. I saw hundreds of women join the spiritual war to support Annette and her family. Meal trains, drivers, cleaning services, school lunch program, cards, letters, fundraisers and more. The power of love was never on greater display. I was in awe as Amber was the rock and foundation behind it all. But, there was an emotional price to be paid. 

The hidden truth of anxiety

As women we are built to be nurturers and too often forget the critical importance of self-care. I love this quote that says “An empty lantern provides no light. Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly.”

Amber was forgetting to fill her own cup and she began to run on empty. Oh how she loved the beach and Florida was calling her. With a heavy heart her family packed their belongings and moved to the sunny climate that promised hope. So many of us felt a huge loss beginning to form and our heartache ran deep. With promises to visit often, Florida brought much disappointment. Black mold in the home, long work hours straining the fragile marriage, and loneliness… a very new experience. The anxiety grew to new heights and the marriage unraveled. Paradise had lost its luster.

A loss of self

The search for happiness can be clouded with blindfolds. Compromises and broken promises litter the path once destined for joy and success. Amber had “all the right stuff”. I often told her that she was destined for greatness and she was. She was smart, beautiful, loving, and driven to succeed…destined to become the next social media diva. We learned that she had a new boyfriend and was creating a new persona/channel. When we saw it, we knew she had a hit on her hands.

Little did we know that this new boyfriend was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. Little did we know that there was a roller coaster of domestic violence taking place behind the scenes and that she was so concerned about what people would think of her that she hid it from the people who loved her the most. Little did we know that on a sunny Saturday morning, one hour after she posted a idyllic picture of her and the kids and the boyfriend fishing, that she would be dead… shot in the head by the boyfriend in front of her 9 year old son.

I wish God gave us one do-over in life. One opportunity to rewind the clock. We would get Amber and her children out of Florida. Make her claim the love that waited for her here at home. Smother her with reasons to embrace that love. But, it is clear that God had other plans. She was his angel sent here to open our hearts and teach us the lesson of giving freely and loving completely. For that gift, our family will always be eternally grateful. For her children, her powerful love for them is the light that will forever radiate in their hearts. When God called Amber home, this image is exactly how I imagine the reunion.

For all the Amber’s out there

Every thought and action taken effects someone you encounter, like a ripple in a pond radiating from our being. Our fears, our hopes, and our dreams are the secrets we hold close that sometimes consume us…holding on to anxiety so tightly in fear that someone might recognize it in us. The anxiety that can be so paralyzing it prevents us from reaching our true potential and understanding our real worth. Always remember that you are magnificent… fearfully and wonderfully made! The power of BuildU Girl Gang is for all of us to encourage each other (and the young women who will follow us) to be strong and empowered female warriors ready to inspire each other to do more and be more.

My parting prayer is that each and every one of us will focus on self-care. For when we fill our own cups to overflowing, only then will we have the bandwidth to impart light on those we encounter who need grace.

Rena McGill
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