David Jeremiah wrote, "journalizing, memorializes the blessings of God" in his book, "When Your World Falls Apart, Seeing Past the Pain of the Present." My dear family and myself have recently experienced a terrible tragedy, resulting in the death of my precious daughter, Samantha. This is an unwanted journey, one of the most difficult walks that any parent can experience. It is riddled with extreme grief, profound disorientation, and beautiful graces from God. He holds me close. He has not forsaken me. Even though, my heart is shredded with sadness, I shed buckets of tears, I question my purpose now and I wander astray at times, I know I love God. He is real and present. I know what I know!!! And, I feel privileged to have the opportunity to share with you. I have learned that I am at my best when I walk with God, not against Him.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Samantha's Seeds of Faith

I remember leaving Shell Beach, needing to return to Mandeville; wanting to comfort Brooke,  console Paul and attend a service at Samantha's school, Our Lady of the Lake.  Thinking it would be good for Samantha's school friends, to see me, to see us, me and my family in one piece, after such a utterly traumatic and devastating loss. I knew their young world was rocked.  After three days of gut wrenching searching, our prayers were answered, allowing us to peacefully depart.  Yes, peacefully, I remember feeling this way.  I even texted this sensation to my "back porch" friend.

At this point, this person was a complete stranger to me in the earthly way (I know that sounds granola but, really, I never knew her before this time) however, she was the very first person I texted upon finding Samantha's body. A complete stranger but, not really. After, our divine encounter on the back porch, we were sisters in Christ; strangers no more.  The message she brought to me, cloaked me in peace. This stranger was the messenger, I had yet to meet the person who heard the message.  This person, placed in my life, she understood and reassured me of the peaceful presence that enveloped me.  She had prayed for supernatural healing and supernatural peace on that back porch. This peace was bestowed upon me. I was feeling it!!! David and I got in his truck, he inserted, at this time,  his one and only homemade Christian cd and "I Can Only Imagine" echoed across the speakers.  We listened and we heard:

Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel 
Will I dance for You Jesus or in awe of you be still 
Will I stand in Your presence or to my knees will I 
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all

Upon leaving Shell Beach, LA, I knew Samantha had entered Heaven.  God had revealed Himself and made it known to me, she was in her Father's House. But, how did she do it? How did she act? David and I, in the truck, on the way home, after three agonizing days of searching, actually had a calm but, emotional conversation about how we thought Sam had entered Heaven.  Dave's thoughts were that she might not have done any of the above, not her style; no standing, no singing and definitely not still.  Anyone knowing Sam and her style, I think would agree. We concurred more than likely, she entered Heaven, arms held high and wide, running with reckless abandon,  expecting to be greeted, waiting to be welcomed and embracing it all with eager enthusiasm. An image immediately popped into my mind and I said, "I bet, I know how she entered Heaven, I can see it! Exactly like she ran through the doors of "The Highway" for a summer youth group session. " This is one of the very faint things I can see in my head, and only from the backside. The Tuesday evening, before her accident, Samantha chose to attend a "Girl Talk" get-together (mind you, she chose to skip the paid tennis lesson!!) Excitedly, she hopped out of the car, ran towards the door, flung it opened, raised her arms in the air, extended them wide, wide enough to receive many embraces, expecting fully to receive them and never, never looking back.  What an entrance! Samantha's style!!

Today, I am packing up a project. One that chronicled Samantha's life at St.  Timothy's.  We entitled the project "Samantha's Seeds of Faith"; it was created in conjuction with a playground, God willing,  we hope to help build for the children of our church and community.  (How fitting, St. Timothy's was a very special place to Samantha and to think there might be a playground built there in remembrance of her; a place of love, happiness, faith and play, settles within in me well. ) Before I put the pieces away, it is important to me, to record in words the "seeds of faith',  that were planted in Sam's soul, St. Timothy's being the fertile soil. The itty, bitty seed, planted at a very young age was Samantha's baptism, then, being a child of believers. But, the beginning of deep roots developing. Often, we would flip through family photo albums, the snapshots of this ceremony instilled in Samantha, an early commitment to a Christian way of life.  As a infant she was cared for and nurtured by Ms. Nita and others in the nursery. Pre-school and early childhood years were spent with Sunday School teachers. She learned how to paint, draw, cut and glue and sing of Jesus's love. She used paper, glue, sequins and yarn to recreate the sweet, simple bible stories she was being taught.  She would often ask me, " Can we read the one, when the man goes through the roof!"As I see it, seeds are still being planted, soon they begin to sprout as Samantha was able to actively participate by, doing what she was learning.  Opportunities such as, playing the part of an angel or a lamb in the The Living Nativity, or carrying palm leaves on Palm Sunday, singing with Ms. Vanda and the Children's Choir, or Acolyting at the earlier service allowed her "seeds of faith" to mature.  Independence allowing personal growth.  Samantha's summers were spent growing in God's love, as well.  One week in particular brought her such joy; the week of Vacation Bible School.  She attended every summer, starting in the nursery while I volunteered, all the way until, she was able to serve as a youth helper.  She commented to me last summer, at the
pre-teen age of 12, "I think they should have Vacation Bible School, every week of the summer! It's the best." I chuckled to myself, knowing the huge undertaking VBS is and how, just this summer this ministry served 650 children of this community.  I wondered how Ms. Susan and Ms. Stephanie would react to such a plan. As well, she always looked forward to SummerStars with the Klipsch's and Ms. Kenya, who shared a kindred spirit with Samantha.  This was an occasion to "act" and be on stage.  Playing the part of  Little Alice, in Alice In Wonderful, proved to be a poignant part for Sam. Ms. Kenya certainly knew how to bring out the best in Sam!! As her faith and knowledge grew she was supported by Ms. Anita, her small group leader for several years. At one time her group was reading, "The Women of the Bible." Sam once asked Ms. Anita, "Why do we learn about these women who keep messing up?" Ms Anita's chuckling response was, "Because, we all need to know that even when we mess up, God still loves us!" Ms. Anita, always guiding, always teaching, always bringing laughter and happiness.  Sam loved and laughed with this lady. During this time, also journaling her own thoughts and questions, documenting her growing knowledge and her quest for answers.  Samantha's school played a special part in her journey as well, allowing her  and encouraging her to pray during the day and the privilege to participate in the Religion Fair. I remember one particular project, so very well.  We chose "The Plagues" as a topic and then I asked Samantha, "Do you want to "just" do this project, or DO YOU WANT TO "DO" THIS PROJECT?" She was all in and the results won her a school award. Brooke and her friend, Rachel dressed her as an Egyptian, posed her and snapped the pictures. With the help of a great friend, we embedded her image into a scene that depicted each plague.  (We had so much fun doing this together. ) This was one of the few projects, Uncle Paul and Mr. Mark weren't involved with.

In recent summers, Samantha relished her week at Camp Istrouma, first attending with a school friend, Emma. The next year, racing to return, enticing a dear friend, Lydia to join her, along with other children from church. For her, this was such a faith filled week, with freedom and fun.  Then some things changed and bumped up a notch, Sam had reached a new stage, one of personal commitment. Her Confirmation. The opportunity to affirm, herself, her own belief in Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior.  She had completed the required classes with her peers and teachers, and made the special trip, on the big bus, to visit with the Bishop.  What fun memories were made on this day, with Jennifer and Jeff.  Samantha asked for a new dress for this special Sunday. My answer to the dress was, "Yes, but remember this is not about the new dress, this is about what is going on in your heart." She replied, with a sweet sarcasm, "I kkknnnoooowwww Mom, I know!" Choosing her "other mom" as her sponsor, Ms. Sue!  This was a unique friendship, these two.  What love and joy and happiness they had with each other.  Ms. Sue was so special to Samantha, giving her a beautiful Bible as a confirmation gift.  This is the Bible I use now, always reminding me of the blossoming of Sam's faith. With confirmation complete, she was on to "The Highway", the youth worship center, a sometimes intimidating step, being that this is the youngest age group in attendance.  For Samantha it was just the opposite, she didn't skip a beat, skip a meeting, skip a service, skip a meal, skip an activity, she didn't skip anything that she could do!  She would ask, " What is going on next, Mom? When is the next time I can go?" The worst was when I had to reply, "You have to wait until Tuesday!"  Instantly, she was connected to these people and personalities. At a time in her life when she needed to be loved, she was. I am so grateful for all, who along the way, reached out and welcomed her.  She even made me cancel a somewhat expensive summer camp, we had scheduled, to plan to participate in, "Weekend of the Cross." She was so excited to "serve." This wasn't a possibility but, I know she is in full-service now. (It has been difficult for me to let go of how I thought this summer would be, for her and me.  Last summer, she and I discussed  all that she would do, her first mission trip, the long awaited Big Stuff trip and another fulfilling "Weekend of the Cross", along with Youth group and early am Frisbee. She would have done it all and, I would have volunteered some!  The mother in me struggles at times, thinking she missed out.  But, in Truth, I know she is not!)  My good friend, commented to me, shortly after Samantha's death, "It was like God was drawing her near, pulling her closer, she just couldn't get enough of Him." What a way to spend your final days; running to His arms.  Then, she was there! We celebrated Samantha's life and resurrection in the same sanctuary, where we celebrated her christening and confirmation. His presence was felt at the time of her birth, as David and I witnessed the miracle of life and overwhelmingly, at the time of her death. Samantha's seeds of faith had brought her full circle.  Words spoken to me, breathed into me by Hauck, a man of faith and a police officer with the St. Bernard Sheriff's office, who stood with us day and night, strengthening our spirits and praying for peace, while committed citizens searched for Samantha, resound within me, "Elizabeth, remember,  He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last". And, so it was for Samantha, the Lord she was learning to love was with her in the beginning, and He walked with her until the end! Just as He says in Revelation 22:13! He was her Alpha and her Omega.
  Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
Proverbs 22:6

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