My daughter got married yesterday to a wonderful young man whom I have come to love as a son. While I felt all the joy and tenderness of watching my daughter and my now-son-in-law exchanging vows and starting a new chapter in their lives as husband and wife, the reality of what has transpired yesterday, that she’s now married and no longer a part of my household, didn’t really hit me till this morning.
You see, yesterday, I simply did the same things I’ve always done before in her life. I was there to share her joy. I helped her and supported her whenever she needed me and called for me. I held her close and kissed her. I told her she was beautiful. These are all things I’ve always done for her as her mother.
But this morning, I did something I’ve never done before as her mother. . . I changed her last name on my cell phone directory. That’s when it hit me that she’s no longer Rebekah Constance Doell. She’s now Rebekah Constance Barker. There’s just something so final about that, and it caught me off guard.
I kept telling myself that she’s still the same person, that she’s still my daughter, that only her last name has changed. But somehow it hit me hard. The last name Doell is yet one more thing we used to share that is now gone in the process of watching her grow up and letting her go.
It will take me a while to get used to her new last name.
Look at this leaf. It’s a leaf in transition, from the green of Summer to the red and orange of Fall. It’s beautiful! We humans tend to fear change. We are more comfortable with things staying the same. We like things to be predictable. But life is full of change. And growth cannot happen without change. Do not resit change, for to resist change is to resist growth and the necessary transition from season to season, from immaturity to maturity, from naive to wise, from inexperienced to experienced, from wounded to healed. Embrace the change. It’s a beautiful process!
I recently accompanied my husband on his business trip to Chattanooga, Tennessee. We had one day to visit The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, about a two-hour drive from Chattanooga, where I hoped to photograph the sunset. On the way there, as we got closer to the mountains, white clouds turned into black rain clouds, but having lived in the Midwest for 10 years now, we pressed on knowing that the storm could be short and sunshine could return. We were correct, and were blessed with sunshine while we drove around Cades Cove and hiked on the trails. But when the time came to drive up toward Clingmans Dome, where I planned to photograph the sunset, it started raining again. The sky turned dark, and I was really losing hope of being able to see a sunset. But we had come all this way, so we drove onward toward Clingmans Dome anyway. We got caught behind some very slow cars and would not make it to Clingmans Done before the sunset, so we stopped at an overlook along the road instead. There were some other photographers there, so I figured it was a good spot. This photograph below was taken there. As beautiful as this photograph is, it fails to capture everything that I’d seen with my eyes. As I stood there watching the sunset, I realized that this scene before me was the aftermath of the rain storm just moments before. If not for the storm clouds, there wouldn’t be all the different hues of orange and yellow in the sky.
Life is like that too. Sometimes there need to be a storm for us to see the beauty of life, the joy of living. There are things that have happened to me in my life, mistakes I’ve made that had led to much grief, that I wish had not happened. There have been hard times, sorrowful times, for me and my loved ones that I wish we didn’t have to go through. But as I have experienced cycles of these hard times, I’ve come to realize that, for one thing, I would not be the person that I am today, if I had not learned the lessons I’d learned through forgiving others for what they’d done to me, and forgiving myself for my mistakes; and the hard times in life had made me and my loved ones stronger, better, wiser than we were before. The beautiful things of life often follow brokenness, sorrow, and hardship, like a beautiful sunset that comes after a storm.
As I was driving around today, I was caught by surprise when a couple of yellow leaves drifted across my windshield. Yellow leaves? I had to do a double-take to make sure I really saw what I thought I saw. Yes, yellow leaves. I then looked at the trees lining both sides of the street, and sure enough, some of the leaves on the trees were turning yellow. That’s a sure sign that Summer will soon come to an end. But, as I mourned the passing of relaxing Summer days, I also felt the anticipation of the soon-coming beautiful Fall colors.
Seasons seem to go by faster and faster to me as I get older. Days quickly turn into months, then months into seasons, then seasons into years. Life also has its seasons. You come through one hardship, into time of ease, only to find yourself in another hard time before long. The joy, the grief, the making of new friends and the parting of loved ones, time of need and time of plenty, all go round and round in cycles like the seasons.
I have learned that the secret to peace is the ability to anticipate with hope the next season as the current season passes by. In season of grief, to remember there will later come a season of joy; in hard time, to remember that time of ease will surely come; in the midst of a good friendship, to cherish every moment for there will come a time when you will have to part as your lives diverge in different directions. Moments, days, weeks, months, seasons, years. . . they all keep passing by, and weaving through them all is the love that you give and receive.
When I reminisce back in time, it’s not the circumstance, the event, time of plenty, or time of hardship themselves that matter, but the love I share with those whose lives intertwined with mine in the fabric of time. And it’s a beautiful tapestry indeed. I think wisdom is to keep the beauty of this eternal fabric of time in mind as I interact with people from moment to moment, season to season.
Back in the days before the Internet, and especially before people started blogging, my world was limited. My contact with people was limited. I usually would need to meet someone in person and have many face-to-face conversations with them before I am privy to their deepest joy and sorrow. And when tragedies came upon a stranger, I would either hear it told to me in third-person perspective by a friend, or read about it in the newspapers. I don’t recall ever in those days, experiencing a tragedy along with a stranger, hearing it told in first-person perspective as it was happening to him.
This past weekend, the news of the tragic car accident that flipped Chad Cole’s world upside down came the usual way–through a friend of mine who knows him. Chad and his wife Sara, who was 8 months pregnant with their first child, was on their way to visit a relative along with her parents, when their van was struck from behind by a tractor-trailer. Sara was killed in the accident, and they delivered Baby Amanda about an hour later, without a heartbeat or brain activity. The doctor did all they could and were giving Amanda 72 hours to show signs of brain activity. My friend asked me to pray for Chad and Baby Amanda. In her Facebook post, my friend also included the URL to Chad’s blog, and I clicked on the link to read it.
That was when I entered into Chad’s world and experienced his pain and sorrow as if they were mine. I read about his and Sarah’s joy when they first found out Sara was pregnant (after they’d tried for over a year to conceive), his anticipation of fatherhood for the past 8 months, and his reaction to the horrific event that happened this past Saturday along a highway in Michigan. I found myself grieving this stranger’s loss of his wife and best friend of 15 years; hanging by the thread of hope with him for the past 3 days as he waited for a sign of life in his little daughter whom they’d tried for over a year to conceive; and finally grieving the loss of that precious daughter along with him last night. I grieved the loss of his dream. I have never cried so much along with a stranger hundreds of miles away before. And it wasn’t just me. There were 25,000 people on Facebook who also grieved with Chad and his family. And I’m sure there were many more who didn’t have a Facebook account.
I was wondering why I would weep so much for a stranger when I remembered the passage in the Bible where we’re told to bear one another’s burden. I believe this was God’s answer to Chad’s prayer, and the prayers of thousands who had been touched by this tragedy in various ways. Chad’s burden of pain and grief was being distributed among many, because he could not bear it alone. I may never meet Chad, and he may never know of me other than the comment I left on his blog, but I am glad to have been one of many to bear Chad’s sorrow, to lift him up in prayers for the healing of his emotions, and the strength he’ll need to face life without Sara and Amanda. I believe this is what the Kingdom of God here on earth is like.
To read news articles about the accident and updates, click here.
To read Chad’s blog, click here.
Today, my heart is heavy. Of course, I am mourning with the people in Haiti who have suddenly lost loved ones, and are dealing with the aftermath of the recent earthquake there. The photos and videos are heart wrenching! Yet, there is another tragedy that my heart is mourning over. I feel pity for Christians who see God as an angry and unforgiving God, who’s only nice toward them if they are “good.” These Christians have never experienced God’s unconditional love (or, if they have, they have forgotten it) and truly fear His judgment for themselves. They believe that God has a big bucket full of wrath that He’s ready to pour on them if they ever fail to “live a righteous life.” They are insecure Christians, and out of this insecurity, they have a need to judge others in order to make themselves righteous and feel better about themselves. They are the ones saying that the disaster in Haiti is a curse that God has brought upon the people of Haiti for practicing Voo-Doo, or having “made a pact with the Devil” generations ago. These Christians believe that the reason Haiti has suffered thus is because God has finally unleashed His wrath upon them.
Some are saying, but look, these Christians are also rallying help for the Haitian people, so they do have compassion for them. Let me ask you this: When you are down on your luck, through things not in your control (like unemployment, or flood, or earthquake), does it make you feel good to receive help from people who have made it clear to you that you’ve “brought this upon yourself”? Well then, how do you think the Haitians would feel receiving help from these Christians who have first condemned them?
My heart breaks for the Haitian people who heard these proclamations. These words cannot be farther from the truth! My spirit is grieving at the pain caused by these reckless words from people who claim to know God. By their words, these Christians are showing me (and the world) that they don’t know the heart of God for people at all. Instead of being the bearers of Good News, they bring condemnation.
Oh, if these Christians would just understand that through Jesus, God has already made the whole world righteous before Him, that ALL humanity has been restored to our Creator, and we (ALL humanity) can approach God as confidently as His children, and even climb onto His lap if we want to. He is always welcoming us, ALL of us, whether we believe or not, with open arms. Jesus has finished the job of making us right with God once and for all, for ALL mankind, for ALL eternity. THIS is the true Gospel that brings joy and peace! THIS is the real Good News!
If I can have the audience of these insecure Christians, I’d like to tell them:
You can be set free from this insecurity, to never have to feel the rollercoaster of feeling high or low depending on your performance again, if you’d only embrace the truth of God’s unconditional love for you, and accept all that Jesus has already done for you. Repentance is nothing more than a change of mind to accept Jesus as who He said He is (the Son of God who came to earth in the flesh), and thereby accepting this Father-child relationship with God that’s been given to you before you were even born. And all that’s required for righteous living is to acknowledge that God is real and loves you deeply, and then just relax and let Him change you through His unconditional love from the inside out. He is gentle and kind, and all the while never keeping score of your performance. The Christian To Do List that you feel you need to do in order to be “good Christians” (which changes depending on which group you’re with) is a religion that people came up with (by twisting God’s truth) to control other people.
Come to really know God for yourself, instead of through someone else. Listen to the Holy Spirit in your heart, and stop following those man-made rules of the Pharisees. Let God reveal His unconditional love to you, and stop keeping scores (of either your own or others’ performance). Rest from your own strife to be righteous, and you will have no more need to put down or condemn other people.
How do I know this? I know this because I have lived the insecure life of a Pharisee and nearly died in the process. I am thankful for my second chance at life, and am living each day in the freedom and joy of His unconditional love. God loves you very much. Don’t waste anymore time living like a Pharisee. Come and experience His love for you, then you will really have Good News to share with the world!
I have been blessed with many heroes in my life, people who, at one point or another in time, had loved me and helped me along the way to become who I am today. They inspired me, showed me the beauty that God has created inside me, and encouraged me to become all that I can possibly be. They were there for me when I needed help, and taught me that God is bigger than any problem I may face in life and that He will always send help in the form of these heroes. These wonderful people were used by God to heal me from past hurts and teach me about real love and friendship.
Over the years, especially the last 2 years, I’ve had to say good-bye to many of these heroes as they left this physical world for the spiritual one. I have missed them terribly. I get sad whenever I am struck with the realization that I can’t just pick up the phone to call them and hear their voices anymore, or be able to visit them, or ask them for advice, or. . .
This morning, as I’m grieving the recent loss of two of my heroes, Betty Malone and Uncle Ben, I am aware of something new. Well, it’s not really new because I’ve heard it said before, and even said it myself, that our loved ones live on inside us, but this time I see a pictorial representation of it that I never saw before. Betty, Uncle Ben, Karl Moore, Becky Silbaugh, my grandmother, Doc, and all the heroes that had gone before them, aren’t really gone at all. And the reason is: When these heroes loved me and gave of themselves to me, their gifts had been used by God as seeds in the garden of my heart. These seeds have become plants and trees that have produced flowers and fruits. This garden is still thriving, as God tends to it, doing whatever is needed to keep the seeds of love growing.
Love can’t be destroyed by death. Love keeps on growing inside the hearts of those who have been touched by it. Sometimes the seeds of love are watered by tears of grief, as those who are still living yearn for the departed loved ones to be here physically. But after the rain, there always is sunshine. As I look inside the garden of my heart, I see here in a sunny patch, a yellow sunflower that grew from the seed of Betty’s love, still blooming brightly, cheering me on to keep writing and share my heart with the world. And over there, in the shade, a violet that grew from Uncle Ben’s words of encouragement the last time I saw him is motivating me to keep singing. And in the pond, the lilies that grew from Carl Lazzereschi’s generosity and Karl Moore’s affection are there to remind me that God is always with me even through hard times. The whole garden is splashed with flowers of many different colors, and in the air I can feel the love that they all represent. Yes, they are all here, my heroes, still living on in my heart. And when I visit this garden, I am comforted.
Thank you, my heroes, for letting God use you to make my garden so beautiful!