Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:12 (NIV and NLT)
Nearly 500 days ago, I first published this post and with the 2016-2017 school year off to a start and the school busses rolling again, I wanted to repost it. While we don’t want to “live in the past”, as Al Stewart sings boldly in his famous 1978 hit, Time Passages. The following green text is from my original post in early May, 2015. I hope this post will rekindle some special memories in your heart today.
This time last year, we were smack-dab in the middle of our two children’s weddings and our son’s commencement from Wheaton College. My, what a difference one year can make.
Now, it is May 2015, and here in our community and beyond, I know many, many families who are celebrating weddings and graduations themselves. More and more dear friends are becoming grandparents, welcoming little ones into their world. I wish you all well as you witness the union of your children, watch your young adult walking across that stage after accomplishing their goals or meet your grandbaby for the very first time.
Well I'm not the kind to live in the past. The years run too short and the days too fast. The things you lean on are the things that don't last. Well it's just now and then my line gets cast into these time passages.
Al Stewart Time Passages 1978, US Top Ten
This time forty years ago, our family lived at 655 Webster Drive and the six kids had a separate phone number for our friends to call in on, ’cause Daddy was an Ob-Gyn in a solo-practice, and needed to have a clear line at all times. Our phone looked just like this and sat upon an old heater in our basement. The number was 636-9339. Yep, there was no area code needed. When we were out for the evening, my parents let the phone ring off the wall because they knew there was a friend of ours on the other line wondering where we might be.
This time twenty-seven years ago, I was halfway through my pregnancy with our first child. A child we had longed for, prayed for, after more than 3 years of infertility. Our daughter, Leah Suzanne weighed in at 7 lbs. 4 oz, measuring 19 1/2 inches and has been a bright light in our days since then.
This time nine years ago, our first born graduated from Kennesaw Mountain High School, while our son finished up his ninth grade year at Mount Paran.
And in all these years, along with our friends and our family, I have been a part of lots of joyous celebrations and tragedies that are too many to count. Thankfully, I have found it to be true that friends divide sorrow and multiply joy. Dozens of people whom I have loved have passed on, several of them passing at a much younger age than one might expect. My parents have both taken their leave. Still, I am here, living out my days, one by one.
You are doing the same in your world…living, loving, laughing, caring and sharing LIFE.
As I consider again, where I was this time last year, I am feeling peaceful,
though a bit nostalgic and reminiscent, as well.
What memories do you want to take a few minutes to reflect on?
Memories from 40, 34, 27, or 9 years ago?
Day by day, our life is a gift.
Yesterday is History. Tomorrow is a Mystery. Today is a Gift and that is why we call it The Present.
Many of you already know the story of how my mother was adopted from an orphanage at age three, on a Sunday afternoon, by a Pastor, his wife and three older brothers. Mama’s life was forever changed for the better on that day. In case you missed it, you can read more about her story in an earlier post entitled: Adoption: The Answer To So Many Questions.
This past Sunday afternoon when Donny and I were searching for our Christmas tree at Calvary Children’s Home annual lot, I was moved by the account of another 3-year-old little girl who lived her entire childhood at Calvary and I wanted to share the story with you.
The Christmas tree is a symbol of love, not money. There's a kind of glory to them when they're all lit up that exceeds anything all the money in the world could buy.”
Andy Rooney (1919-2011)
But first, if you live near Powder Springs, Georgia, and you have not yet picked out your special tree, consider stopping in at this lot where 100% of the money goes to fund the following activities for the Calvary kids:
Youth group expenses
A winter ski trip
A summer youth conference in Gatlinburg
The hosting of an every other week event where the Calvary kids invite their friends to participate. These events really help alleviate any stigma associated with living in a children’s home that the Calvary kids may feel
Last year, the tree lot was so successful that Calvary was even able to fund the final semester of one of their kid’s college tuition!
And that is an ideal lead into the moving story I learned about while choosing our tree last Sunday. That Calvary “kid’s” name is Jennifer McMurray and she came to live at Calvary Children’s Home when she was three years old and spent her entire childhood as part of the Calvary Family. Jennifer graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Counseling in Mary 2015, and was married to her sweetheart on August 8, 2015. From the words of Calvary Campus Director, M. Brian Busby,
“I had the honor of walking this precious girl down that aisle, and she is now Jennifer Lane. As a young woman, Jenny represents all the young children who need someone to care enough to step into their life to love and guide them. As she stood there with her new husband, I felt great joy because she was…Godly, graduated, grateful, and now grown! Jenny is currently working for the Trinity Rescue Mission in Jacksonville, Florida, a shelter that cares for women who are homeless. This Christmas tree lot has opened doors for our ministry that would be closed otherwise. Our customers are the very heart of those opportunities being made possible. For all of the young people who are blessed by your friendship, I sincerely thank you.”
Here’s a word from Jennifer included in a letter distributed at the tree lot:
Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall.
Larry Wilde (1928- )
“Please let me take a minute to tell you my story. When I was a child, I was not wanted by my parents. However, God wanted me and He gave me a new home. When you are feeling alone and rejected, God will always want you. You just have to be willing to let Him into your life. As a child, my parents did not protect me, but God always watched over me. My parents did not show the love for their children, but God loved me and showed me that His love for me is unconditional.” You can read the rest of Jenny’s letter when you pick out your tree at the 10th Annual Calvary Kids Christmas Tree Sale!
With the 2015 football season in full swing, an earlier post Winning A Life Is More Important Than Winning A Game really got me thinking about how hard a coach works. For the coaches who genuinely care about each player who is under their wing, the job is even more demanding. Following the tragic passing of former UGa player, Paul Oliver, at the age of 29, Coach Mark Richt has proven that his responsibilities for his players goes far beyond the four years they play for this great S.E.C. team. [pullquote]I don’t want this to happen to another one of my boys.” Coach Mark Richt, tearing up and pounding the table during the initial meeting of The P. O. Network[/pullquote]Oliver, a graduate of Harrison High School in our community, went on to play for the Bulldogs and then on to the NFL playing for the San Diego Chargers. Sadly, Paul Oliver took his own life two years ago today, on September 24, 2013. Upon hearing of this tragedy, Coach Richt helped to create The Paul Oliver Network ( The P.O. Network): A core group of Atlanta businessmen—who prefer to remain anonymous—act as mentors to former players.
The end of my football dream was, as it is for almost every prospect, a harsh and slow reality.” Brandon Burrows, the “guinea pig” of The P.O. Network who benefitted greatly from this network of businessmen
The Oliver Tree Foundation on Friday, June 12th, 2015 held their first foundation football camp in honor of Paul J. Oliver at Harrison High School, Kennesaw, GA.
Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17 NASB
The main focus of their football camp is to teach life skills that our youth can take with them throughout their lives to overcome adversity and keep a positive outlook on life.
It is clear to most parents, spouses, players, and even fans that coaches of all sports, many times, play the role of not only coach, but also father (or mom, for the many female coaches!) and mentor. And, my goodness, the time invested in preparing for games and practices is difficult to comprehend.
Let’s remember how hard coaches work. You’re not only a coach, but you’re a father figure. You’re a mentor. Sometimes you have to be a psychologist. You’ve got to be there 24/7 for these young men—who they’re dating, their parents, their cellphone, because you’re their first line of communication.” Greg McGarity, UGa Athletics Director
While it’s a known fact that most players need to be coached well, on Saturday, September 12, 2015 during a contest with East Carolina, Coach Jim McElwain, Head Coach of University of Florida Gators clearly took it too far when player, Kelvin Taylor made a mistake by exaggerating his cut-throat gesture following a touchdown. Telling his player to be a f—-ing man, in my opinion, his hateful gestures spoke much louder than his words.
Actions speak louder than words.” Mark Twain
Coach McElwain went too far with his berating. Read here and see what you think. Just watch this coach’s mannerisms in this quick Youtube Video. Kelvin’s teammates’ expressions speak volumes, as well…
ALL players need Mentors and Coaches.
This past Father’s Day, UGa player Isaiah McKenzie gave Coach Mark Richt a nice Dad’s Day shout—out by thanking him for being a father figure in his life and in the lives of many others. Another UGa player, a friend of my friend, Ryan B., Arthur Lynch openly talks about Coach Richt being a father figure for him, as well.
[pullquote]In the past, all this was sugarcane field. My great-great-great grandfather, Alec Walker used to plant cane right there. My father as a little boy stayed with him, and his oxcart would carry a whopping load of cut cane from here in Hog Hammock all the way up to Chocolate. The another whopping load. This is a big island, so you only had time to do two loads a day. That’s right.” Cornelia Walker Bailey, (1947~ )[/pullquote] A week ago, just 23 days after the passing of Dr. William Edson Brillhart, three girlfriends I’ve known since first grade, Cindy, Jan, Mary, and I went on an adventure to Sapelo Island. Mary & Beth, daughters of Dr. Brillhart, have been going to Sapelo, our state’s fourth largest island with their parents since they were small girls. (Click on his name to learn more about Dr. Brillhart’s life) We boarded an early morning ferry for a twenty minute ride to Sapelo Island, one of the Golden Isles on the coast of Georgia. Our adventure was planned for many reasons. First stop before we even stepped on the ferry would be to pop into the Sapelo Island Visitors Center, in Darien, Georgia, to reconnect with our friend, Bill Merriman, who we also knew in grade school, as well as Druid Hills High School. Bill is an amazing artist, and he has also been the Manager of this Visitor Center for over 20 years. It was such a joy to catch up with this long-time friend! Soon we boarded the ferry for our 20 minute journey to Sapelo! Yvonne, our awesome tour guide told us this was what they called “The Sapelo Island Rush Hour”…nothing like I-75 North during metro Atlanta’s rush hour, I can assure you! As I stood on the side of the ferry, the sea air blowing by, I was filled with peace that passes all human understanding. There is something about being near the majestic ocean. One of my favorite books, Gift From The Sea, By, Anne Morrow Lindbergh was in my backpack as it has been for the past nineteen years, since 1996, anytime I knew I’d be near the surf. My copy is tattered and marked up with journaling and notations made whenever I have my feet in the sand on a beach, and it is one of my greatest treasures. Penned in 1955, you really should consider picking yourself up a copy this summer.
Once on the island, we boarded an old school bus with Yvonne at the helm. She has lived on the island with her husband for the past 35 years. I was glad I had taken a few minutes to read a recent Garden&Gun article my friend, Kathy had referred me to, so I knew a little about author, Cornelia Walker Bailey and the Gullah Geechee Culture. The island is full of learning and history! We visited the classroom where Dr. Brillhart took his Emory Coastal Biology students again and again. Dr. Brillhart had an amazing passion for preserving the Golden Isles and his legacy lives on in the more than 30,000 students he taught in his 38 years as an Emory professor. In addition to being an expert in Marine Life, William Edson Brillhart has also left a Military legacy as a WWII Veteran, serving as a Medic and earning both a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his service in Europe. Dr. Brillhart was 95 years old when he passed away on May 20, 2015, just 18 months after his best friend and beloved wife, Connie died in October 2013 after 68 years of marriage. There’s another legacy, Bill and Connie Brillhart left together, the legacy of a lengthy, loving marriage. As we journeyed on through our day, we pondered what it would’ve been like to be one of his students. Soon, as we visited the Sapelo Post Office, we had a chance to meet and visit with a former student of Dr. Brillhart’s, Fred Hay, Island Manager, Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Mary had always heard his name mentioned by her Dad, but had never met Fred. He shared some good classroom stories with Mary and they made plans to connect soon so that she could pass some of her Dad’s extensive Marine Life book collection. Both Beth and Mary have a goal to share their Dad’s collections with as many people as possible, and Fred Hay, along with Bill Merriman are going to help make this happen.
[pullquote]The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” Jacques-Yves Cousteau (1910-1997)[/pullquote]
[pullquote]There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.” Victor Hugo (1802-1885)[/pullquote]
We also enjoyed visiting the General Store for a cold beverage and a chance so sit under the shade of an old oak tree. Yvonne shared with us that many of the oaks covered with tons of hanging Spanish moss are between 200 and 300 years old. This little boy, the General Store Keeper’s son, stole our hearts with his “Heart Throb In Training” t-shirt.
This was quite and adventure for the four of us! We learned more about Mary’s Dad than we had ever known before, we met one of Dr. Brillhart’s former students, we gained more knowledge about the generations of the Gullah Geechee culture, and we got to catch up with our great friend, Bill. We all agreed that this was certainly an adventure that will be remembered forever!
Bill Brillhart is more than a professor. He has a deep respect and compassion for life which transcends textbook biology, and he gives his students an understanding of principals, thoughts, and facts that have helped me with academics as well as becoming a better human being.”
one of Dr. Brillhart’s former graduate students
What kind of adventure do you have planned for this summer?
No matter how chaotic it is wildflowers will still spring up in the middle of nowhere.”
My favorite bulletin board idea was one I used when I taught fifth grade.
I think it was the kids’ favorite, too.
The colorful board had a huge hamburger across the board and my students got to place pictures and words, “the “fixings”- on the big burger with all the things they wanted to do during the coming summer. The heading read:
I’LL TAKE ONE SUMMER-HOLD THE HOMEWORK
Now that it is May first, everyone is really ready to close the books on this school year. In fact, most colleges have either had their commencements or they are scheduled for the very near future.The lower schools are counting the days, going by slow as molasses for the students and a little faster for the teachers as they work hard to accomplish all the skills on their lists. And the parents? They are making summer plans, camp, day-care and hopefully a trip to the beach if they’re lucky.
Spring sports are in full session, along with Spring plays and musical performances, while small groups of Moms meet over coffee to plan the end-of-year parties. Parents attend awards programs and scout groups wrap things up for the year. Coach Mark Richt was famous for telling his University of Georgia Bulldog players: “Let’s finish the drill!!!”
While all this is happening in the busy month of May, flowers and animals in our midst are quietly displaying the handiwork of Spring. Just following Easter, May is a time where all things really do seem new and our Creator, through NATURE, does an incredible job of showing us the newness of life which unfolds in May. It’s a time to finish things up and start the next new thing.
Homes become safe havens for baby birds and other babies who are new in the Spring. Nests are built in wreaths, flowerpots, nearby trees and bushes. May is a time for yard and garage sales and For Sale signs going up in front of some homes where families are ready for something different or a job change has prompted a move to a new location.
May is a good time to take notice on how quick your little ones are growing right out of the clothes you have for them and how their little toes are cramming into their shoes. To read about the six babies born into our family in 2014, including these two cuties, click here: Carve Your Name On Hearts.
What is on your list for MAY that will help you successfully “finish the drill?”
LIFE calls for BRAVERY. Just listen to NPR on your way home from work, or take in a bit of nightly news. It doesn’t take long to hear ISIS horror stories and other current event stories which call for boldness and valor.
Even better, listen out with great awareness to what is going on in your own world, looking for those who are showing bravery in your own sphere of influence: The men and women who volunteer with fortitude in our military so that we can enjoy freedom in our days. The families of these veterans who sacrifice and show bravery as they live out their days with their loved one away. A young adult college student who struggles with her eating disorder every single day. A mother to six and “GoodMama” to more than one dozen grandchildren is diagnosed with esophageal cancer and passes within four short months. A son, early 20s, dies tragically on his motorcycle at an intersection near his college stadium on Homecoming Day.
A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.
A Surgeon father of 3 dies at age 40 leaving behind a loving wife and three children, fourth grade and younger. A Mama, a dear girlfriend of mine, drowns right outside the family lake house—the two kids about to start 6th and 8th grades. A Dad is jogging and is struck and killed by an early morning commuter. Our nephew, Brad, age 24 takes a fall on a Wednesday in June, suffering a TBI, and lives ten months without knowing anyone, before passing just after his 25th birthday. A young man whom we’ve known and loved since his birth, age 23, has a psychotic spiral downward, and no matter how diligent his parents are to get him help, he ends up taking his life. A Daddy to two young adult sons, an Oncologist himself, loses his cancer battle, leaving his precious wife and boys behind to be brave.
I am sure you can think of many personal stories which you have been a part of, as I have been a part of each one I have shared here.
ALL of my stories and the many that have come to your mind have something in common: They all call for us as humans to be brave.
The older I get, the more I realize that life as we know it can change on a dime. When that unexpected, often shocking change shows up, we are called for bravery beyond what we might believe we can offer to the circumstances before us.
I have learned that it is a process—being brave—it may not just happen, but that doesn’t mean that bravery won’t evolve as the days go by.
Many of you may remember the story of Aimee Copeland, the athletic graduate student who was injured on a homemade zip line back in May of 2012. I suspect that Tuesday, May 1, 2012 was a day much like yesterday in Georgia. Full sun. Birds singing. High between 75-80 degrees. Aimee and some of her classmates were ready for a reward, some fun in the sun. Aimee had just completed her last final for her last class of the semester, studying at West Georgia as a graduate student. What began as a beautiful time in nature with friends turned tragic when Aimee encountered an equipment malfunction on her second pass on the line. Her fall set the stage for the development of necrotizing fasciitis which led to amputations and the failure of her five major organs. Instead of saying, “Why me?”, Aimee recognized that it could have been any one of her group of friends, but she was the injured one. Aimee also stated, “You can’t live your life being paranoid, or in a bubble. The truth is, things like this happen when you least expect it.” I assure you that the remainder of this post won’t be a downer. Instead I would like to share with you the many ways Aimee’s life journey has exhibited bravery and stick-to-itiveness, again and again.
LIFE calls for BRAVERY. It truly does.
Joy is a deeply felt contentment that transcends difficult circumstances and derives maximum enjoyment from every good experience.
Charles R. Swindoll
I recently picked up a copy of the Spring 2015 issue of EMORY Medicine and read an article by Mary Loftus (page 26) about this courageous young woman. This update illustrates how one woman is responding with tremendous bravery, grit, and determination to her life circumstances. I believe there is a great deal we can learn about courage from Aimee Copeland.
First, Aimee’s Timeline in brief:
5/1/12 Tuesday, zip line accident******Tuesday-Thursday, multiple visits to hospital and doctors.
5/4/12 Friday, necrotizing fascists takes over leg, leg is amputated, Aimee goes into cardiac arrest, transfers hospitals on life support, in and out of consciousness, blood vessels in hands and remaining foot die, more amputations are necessary with hope that the palms of her hands will survive.
5/11/12 Friday, regains enough consciousness to mouth the question “Where am I?”
5/17/12 Thursday, with more amputations needed, Aimee’s father told her this was necessary in order to save her life, and when he had her look at damaged hands, she nodded, and then bravely said, “Let’s do this.”
5/20/12 Aimee is removed from life support, breathing on her own.
In nearly three short years, Aimee Copeland has come such a long, long way. Aimee lives in an apartment adjoining her parents’ home, drives her retrofitted van, and uses her iPad to help her keep up with her friends, continue her grad school research, and get to her regularly scheduled rehab appointments. Being outdoors and adventurous has always been of utmost importance to Aimee and she finds ways to continue on that path. Being Brave has taken Aimee quite far since that unforgettable day when she first gashed her leg on May 1, 2012. Since then, she has been using her voice for many worthy causes including Human Sex Trafficking, teaching young girls they are more than just their body/appearance, speaking often to student groups as a motivational speaker. Copeland is studying eco-psychology and wilderness therapy, with the intent of bridging the gap between nature and accessibility. After graduating in 2016, her plans are to become a licensed clinical social worker and start her own private practice. And Aimee has an even greater vision, too! Aimee dreams of one day obtaining an enormous piece of natural land and building a sustainable, off-the-grid community open to people of all ages and abilities, including wide trails, adaptive yoga, outdoor sports, raised campsites, and a big staff of nurses, therapists, instructors who could help meet the needs of all who need assistance. Her dream is to live there, too. Aimee’s life has taught me so much about stepping up and choosing to be brave. It is my hope that you, too, have gained some inspiration from this update on her life journey.
Right now that word joy may choke you...For anyone, newly grieving, to take even this first step is as difficult as learning to walk for the first time. You are, in fact, back at the beginning of learning to live again, to function, to participate in life. You are learning to live the second part of your life, so be patient with yourself.
Eugenia Price, Getting Through The Night
As the family filed out of North Metro Church this past Thursday at Dr. Rick Gray’s Celebration of Life Service, the instrumental music played loudly “Crown Him With Many Crowns”. My girlfriend Sandy and I, and the rest of the congregation stood reverently by. Especially during unpredictable and devastating circumstances, many ask, “Where is God?” There is no doubt that Rick Gray and his family, along with our dear friends, The Reads, in Virginia, who have faced unimaginable tragedy in their son’s passing, believe in their gut that God is on His Throne. As painful as loss is, we believe in a God who is not only aware of what has happened, but he is worthy of our honor and praise regardless of our circumstances. We recognize that it is not something we can see with our eyes, but it is a truth we have intentionally chosen to believe.
With Holy Week upon us, my Father-in-law is still in the hospital. We are hopeful he will make a full recovery, but we obviously do not know what the future holds in this precarious situation. Donny’s Dad is a man of faith, believing in things he cannot see. This very personal faith gives him hope for his future, regardless of what his future might hold.
We do not stand alone in this belief. We belong to an enormous family of faith. My ADPi Sisters, a group of nine of us have been getting together for a weekend every single year since 1979. We all have Cookeville’s Tennessee Tech University in common. We do life together. We laugh, we cry, we call, we email, we text, we celebrate, we mourn together, but most importantly, we share a common and rigorous faith in God.
We stand shoulder-to-shoulder in our faith journeys, sharing prayer requests with each other year in and year out. For something different in 2015, we decided to read the same devotional week after week together: The Joshua Code.
Together, we start a new chapter each Sunday. Ironically, the reading following Taylor Read’s recent passing reminded us: of the promise in Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” This week’s reading is called, The Proof is in the Pudding. According to this devo, the evidence in our personal faith in a God is three-fold: inward, upward and outward. Inward evidence (see Ephesians 5:19) is seen when we choose to have a “song in our heart” regardless of our situation. Upward evidence (see Ephesians 5:20) is seen when we continually choose to have an attitude of gratitude to our God. Outward evidence (see Ephesians 5:21) is seen in our service to those in our path.
Through the generations, many have asked the question”Where is God?” Two of these who have lived during my lifetime are C.S. Lewis and Lee Strobel.
Christians can have doubts and they can have questions, and the unhealthy way to deal with that is to keep them inside where they fester and grow and can undermine our faith. The healthy way to deal with it is to talk about it and be honest about it.
I do know plenty of atheists, agnostics and skeptics who have become Christians through the years. In fact, several of my friends were once strong atheists but are now committed followers of Jesus.
C. S. Lewis, (1898-1963), author of Mere Christianity, among many other books, and best friends with J.R.R. Tolkien., fell away from faith in his youth, but returned at age 32 for the remainder of his days.
After his wife’s conversion, Lee Strobel, (1952- ) one of the most well known atheist-turned-Christians and author of The Case For Christ, became a believer at the age of 29 after he did extensive research on the evidence for Jesus.
IN MY 56 YEARS HERE ON THIS EARTH, I HAVE CERTAINLY KNOWN SORROW, WITH BOTH OF MY PARENTS HAVING GONE ON AHEAD OF ME, ALONG WITH MANY MUCH-LOVED FRIENDS AND RELATIVES, INCLUDING A PRECIOUS NEPHEW, BRAD. I FIRST LEARNED OF MY FAVORITE BOOK ON GRIEF THROUGH THE PASSING OF A GIRLFRIEND, JIL CAIN ON AUGUST 5, 2005, A GRACE DISGUISED: HOW THE SOUL GROWS THROUGH LOSS, BY, GERALD L. SITTSER. I KNOW WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO HAVE THAT PHYSICAL ACHING, ANGUISH IN MY HEART AFTER HEARING OF THE PASSING OF SOMEONE I DEARLY LOVE, AND I BET YOU HAVE FELT THAT, TOO. I THINK GRIEF FEELS A LOT LIKE THE FRIDAY AND SATURDAY BEFORE THE FIRST EASTER SUNDAY. AS JESUS WAS BEING HUNG ON THE CROSS, SURELY HIS MOTHER, MARY, ALONG WITH HIS DISCIPLES, AND COUNTLESS OTHER FOLLOWERS HAD ACHING HEARTS AND WANTED TO LOSE ALL HOPE IN THEIR FUTURE. BUT THEN SUNDAY CAME! I AM LEARNING THAT THERE IS A BIG DIFFERENCE IN THOSE WHO GRIEVE WITH HOPE AND THOSE WHO GRIEVE WITHOUT IT. THE READ FAMILY CHOSE THE POWERFUL ANTHEM, LIFT UP THE CROSS, TO WALK OUT OF THEIR CHURCH TO. THIS SONG ILLUSTRATES HOW THEY WERE GRIEVING THE LOSS OF THEIR BELOVED SON, BROTHER, NEPHEW, AND GRANDSON THIS IS RELATED TO A PERSONAL FAITH JOURNEY.
It is both ultimately and intimately between each created human and God.
Where are you and I in our journey today?
How is there inward, outward and
upward evidence of faith in our lives?
Despite the fact that I had been a Christian for many years before the accident, since then, God has become a living reality to me as never before. My confidence in God is somehow quieter but stronger. I feel little pressure to impress God or prove myself to him; yet I want to serve him with all my heart and strength. My life is full of bounty, even as I continue to feel the pain of loss.Grace is transforming me, and it is wonderful. I have slowly learned where God belongs and have allowed him to assume that place—at the center of life rather than at the periphery.”
Gerald L. Sittser, author of A Grace Disguised
In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.” Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer, and Christian philosopher, Pascal had poor health especially after his 18th year and his death came just two months after his 39th birthday.
I have been pondering a great and devastating mystery this morning. The mystery of the unanticipated passing of a loved one. One thing I know for certain is that the abrupt and unexpected death of someone we love is earth-shattering. The event will make you numb and send you reeling into shock when it happens.
I also know that there is a difference as wide as The Grand Canyon, between those who grieve with faith and hope and those who do not. We saw this illustrated within the walls of a Virginia home this past week. On Wednesday, my husband and I traveled over 600 miles round trip to the quaint, historical town of Abingdon to sit with best friends we have been close to for 38 years. Their son passed away on Saturday, March 7, 2015. Our hearts are aching and we are trusting that we can somehow be an encouragement in the days, weeks, and months ahead as we walk this unfamiliar path with them. When I planned my last post entitled, Choose Not To Be Blue, and now this Part Two post, the sudden death of this much-loved young man, Taylor Heston Read, had not yet happened. This post is not about our best friends’ son leaving us so suddenly—that subject is far too raw and heartbreaking just now. Our constant prayers for comfort lie with the bereaved, Paul, Kelly, Megan, five grandparents, and the countless others who knew and loved this kind and gentle soul. Thank you for joining us in this prayer. Rest In Peace, Taylor, and we will see you again.
Rather, I will share a story that is dear to my heart which in my view, demonstrates so well the important life lesson my Mama stressed to us as we were growing up: When you are feeling down and out, help someone.
The date was August 5, 2005, when my dear friend Jil drowned in an Alabama lake while her family was with her. They were delighting in the final hazy, lazy days of summer when she slipped away. Jil was 40 years old. Jil Cain was one of those humans who inspired others to laugh and love. Jil is still remembered and missed by multitudes of people, even nearly 10 years following her passing. Jil left a memorable legacy behind for her family and friends. A life-changing book was shared with me just after Jil’s passing: A Grace Disguised.
My memory bank holds many, many sweet images of Jil, one of which was our participation, along with my girlfriend Kathy, in an Avon 3-Day 60 mile Breast Cancer Walk together in 2000. With the help of my friend, Jules Furr, I was able to raise over $6,000.00 and I walked in memory of my teaching friend, Debbie Ledford who had died in late 1999 of cancer. Leah and Walker even held a dog-wash to raise funds. : ) Throughout this weekend in 2000, Jil, Kathy and I were surrounded by survivors at every turn. The 60 mile journey was an incredibly inspiring experience. A stirring of the soul.
An experience that changed our lives forever.
Later in the month, soon after Jil had died, I was driving aimlessly down the road. Our children were at Wednesday night youth group, my husband was working, and I was falling into the depths of despondency as I grieved the loss of my 40-year-old girlfriend.
Suddenly, I remembered this important lesson that my mother had always told me. Mama had often modeled this lesson as well. Tragically, Hurricane Katrina and the broken levies had just flooded New Orléans. In the nearby Boots Ward Recreational Center, there was a Red Cross shelter, a safe haven for some of the Katrina evacuees. I drove straight to this center and found out that there was a volunteer position available for the following Monday, 6-10 a.m. I signed up and felt the sadness start to ease.
The following morning, I arrived at my appointed time, unaware that someone was about to be placed in my path who would change my life. I soon met Sarah L. Johnson, a Katrina evacuee who had resided in New Orléans her entire life. Sarah was 85 years old, had never married, and had no children. Funny, she said she had always wanted to visit Atlanta, but didn’t realize she would come like this. The story of how she got here is a story in and of itself. After the initial evacuation, though there was a power outage, Sarah and her fellow residents were returned to their apartments. When she heard banging on her door, she glanced out the window only to see water rushing into the streets and rising rapidly. We now know that the levies had broken down, but at that time, the residents had no idea what the rushing water was from. They were hurried to the roof of the building where they stayed overnight until a helicopter could pluck each one of them off the roof. When boarding the helicopter, in all the confusion, this 85-year-old woman lost her walker, her glasses, her shoes, and worst of all Sarah was separated from a friend who was holding all of her IDs for her.
Sometimes our greatest disappointments are God’s appointments to be a blessing in someone else’s life. A friendship soon developed with Sarah which would change my life for evermore.
When I first met Sarah, she was just waking up in the Red Cross Shelter. I helped Sarah with her laundry, got her breakfast. She talked with me about her strong faith in God and how surely God had a plan for her even in this crazy situation. Feeling more encouraged, at the end of my shift, I gave her a hug, thinking I’d never see her again this side of heaven.
A few days later, I received a phone call from my friend, Vicki, who had worked at the same shelter, telling me that Sarah needed to see a cardiologist and could I help her to get in to see someone. I had the privilege of taking her to a doctor the very next day. Her heart was just fine and this was the beginning of a sweet friendship, one that I will forever cherish. After four weeks at the shelter, Sarah moved to a wonderful nearby assisted living facility where even though she was the only African American woman there, she was embraced by the other residents. She worshipped with us at our church and even gathered at my sister’s home for a huge family lunch! She shared her heart with me and told me why PSALM 27 was her mainstay scripture. Mama and I took her to the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta and she told Mama and me all about her personal and vivid memories of the Civil Rights Movement.
Later, Sarah was happily returned to New Orléans to her same first floor apartment. I believe that our God gave me this opportunity to serve and help Sarah during a time when my heart was broken over the loss of my precious friend Jil.
So if you are feeling down and going through a great disappointment today, look up and all around. Watch for the appointment that may be waiting around the corner for you to be an uplifting messenger to someone today.
“Some women pray for their daughters to marry good husbands. I pray that my girls will find girlfriends half as loyal and true as the Ya-Yas.”
― Rebecca Wells, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
It all began in the mid-late 1970’s when 9 girls, Becky, Kay, Susan, Delores, Leslie, JoAnn, Debby, Kelly and Joan moved themselves and their belongings to Cookeville, Tennessee to attend Tennessee Tech University. Each girl was far from home and began a search for friends who could make the years spent at Tech more fun, rewarding and meaningful. All 9 girls chose to join Alpha Delta Pi Sorority and that was the beginning of what would become life-long friendships. They certainly did not realize at the time that their common beliefs and love for one another would continue to bring them together in celebration of their friendships for decades to come.
“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13 (Life Application Bible)
On January 4, 2014, we 9 were together for our annual weekend sleepover when our friend, Kelly received a call from her husband telling her that their home in Abingdon, Virginia was burning to the ground. It was too late to make the 3 hour drive to Virginia, so we hunkered down with our dear friend and held onto each other. This scene, 9 of us in PJs, was symbolic of what our friendships had come to mean to each of us in the past 36 years. Much of our time spent together would be doing the usual things that girls do: share recipes, talk about everything under the sun, eat and then eat some more, showing family/travel pictures. But that night, it became more apparent to me than ever before how unique this group of girlfriends is. Everyone in this circle relies on their faith daily and we have come to depend on each other’s prayer support, too, as we have listed out specific requests year after year. We’ve been through marriages, births, and deaths side-by-side, and we’ve always had each other’s back.
The next day, we drove Kelly to her hometown to join her husband and to survey the damage. From what we saw, we assumed all was lost, and mostly everything was lost. However, with the help of many friends, family members, and neighbors, a few things were recovered.
Though their sweet dog, Belle perished in the house fire, all other LIFE was spared. There was much to be thankful for, even amidst such tragic circumstances. In the past year, Kelly and Paul have been a picture of grit and tenacity as they have moved forward and renovated an Abingdon, Virginia home that was built in the 1930’s. This past weekend, their home was the spot for our 37th reunion and as usual, we had a wondrous time together! The location of their new home has allowed them to enjoy this beautiful and historical community more than ever before. They are just a few steps from The Barter Theatre and a couple of blocks from The Virginia Creeper Trail, Whitetop Yoga, and the weekly Farmer’s Market!
“Be present in all things and thankful for all things.” ― Maya Angelou
These strong friendships have seen us through countless life experiences: job losses, deaths of parents, births/marriages of our children, and currently, the births of grandchildren. We often agree as we sing our ADPi prayer:
“Hear us sing in one accord,
Praises for thy gifts, O Lord, For thy gifts of daily bread,
For thy paths in which we’re led, From thy throne of Love on High,
List to Alpha Delta Pi, AMEN”,
the unity that the 9 of us share has made our lives so very rich!