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, December 15, 2013

A Thanksgiving Testament

"For today, we are going to keep the garage door closed." This is what I told Kelly, my sister in law on Thanksgiving morning. We were on our way to serve community dinner at church together and would return to my home to celebrate the day.  Holidays are tender days, having lost my mother years ago, but this being our first Thanksgiving without my father and our third without Samantha. Since Sam's death, we had reconfigured some of our family traditions to avoid lapses of loose time. Serving others on Thanksgiving morning, served us as well.  While Kelly and I drove to church together, my mind fixated on what was, what had happened and the best solution I could come up with to cope with the day. Samantha's disassembled bed and bedroom furnishings were piled up against the wall, waiting to hurt anyone that walked through our garage door. I needed to reroute my 14 guests, not allowing any more pain to punctuate this particular day. After telling her all, Kelly, quickly replied, "Okay, we will use the front door today." 

Brooke, had already unexpectedly experienced the drastic change to Samantha's room, returning home from work while I was deeply involved in the repainting process. As Brooke walked down the hallway, she couldn't help but pass by. The tension was tangible; she poked her head in and asked, "Are you okay?" Her faced was frozen in fear. To her, my actions seemed erratic and unpredictable. She didn't know that I was going to redo her sister's room. Neither did I.  David left early in the morning for an LSU football game. Immediately after he walked out the door, I turned up the dial on my emotions and let them emit.  It was anger and hostility that fueled my ability. Defiantly, I marched in my own madness, straight to Samantha's room and finished the process of packing up her things. There was still lots to do. In the years past, I had removed just a little at a time, giving away items where and when needed. If I saw a use for something Samantha had, it felt good to let it go. I saw it as, blessing someone, with her belongings. Not this time. I was not letting go; I needed to get it out of my house, all of it! The pain was piling on thick; I felt like I needed to close one painful chapter of life so, I could persevere through another.  Anyway, it was just "stuff." With the recent passing of my father and the tedious task of deciding what to do with all that he owned, I realized how much we have that gets left behind. All of this making it easier for me to reduce what I had left of Samantha's stuff into one medium size cardboard box. It was cathartic to close it with tape and seal it shut. It hurt to think it belonged in the attic but, it did. I didn't save much to remember her by but, because of past experience, I knew it would be enough.  I could tell by Brooke's body language that she wanted to leave as soon as she got home. Escaping the dread, she descended upon a friend's house instead.  Leaving me alone, to wrap up the redo. 

I thought David understood the extent of what I was doing. LSU vs Texas A & M was his escape. He checked in during halftime with a phone call, wanting to know "how" and "what" I was doing. With restrained emotions, I told him I was cleaning out Samantha's room. Trying to illustrate the extent of my current torment , I gritted my teeth and told him, " Her room is almost empty!" I don't know if I mentioned repainting but, he knows me and I thought he would have realized that I was as determined as I sounded. My dialogue with him was curt and cross. He knew I was suffering, didn't think it was warranted and was helpless to do anything about it.  Our conversation ended and I continued with my pity project. David returned home, which required the revealing walk through the garage. With a crunched face that only the onset of tears can cause, he stepped inside and exclaimed, "I didn't expect to see that!" As my own tears trickled down my cheeks, I replied, "It had to be done." I started with the realistic reasons why; Samantha's room was beginning to smell musty because we constantly kept the door closed, the room, a white elephant in the house; not many feeling comfortable enough to use the space as an extra place to sleep. Then, came the acknowledgement of anger, a strong emotion that serve me well to complete a sorrowful task.  With the recent loss of David's job, the week before Thanksgiving, I was raw and vulnerable. The only way I could figure out how to survive the next "thing" that the world threw at me was to fight back.  I dealt with Samantha's death in a different way but, this latest trauma had taken its toll and I was drowning in dread. Financially, it wasn't anything to fret over. David needs to work but, we had a nest egg. It was the next loss, pain upon pain, the constant change required of me that left me empty and inconsolable.  Just when you think life has reach a peaceful plateau, everything can be pulled away from you. Trauma tiring me out.  I was so stung that I couldn't even find my faith to try to cling to. David's employers explanation was one that caused me great confusion! I couldn't connect the dots between his performance and their decision. The senselessness of the situation added to the assault being waged within my inner self. Anger had an advantage over me and I was acting out. I even quit my Disciple class because I couldn't sit in front of others and act like everything was OK!  I was exhausted and spent the next few days stewing over our situation while trying to start the holiday season. My immediate family was completely aware that I was experiencing an emotional meltdown. It was evident by the way I was acting and I knew it! I was so stuck that my ability to pray had all but ceased.  I remember sarcastically saying to myself, "Lord, if I have to do this, too and so does David could you just reveal yourself to make it worth it?" If all this was unavoidable I needed to know there was something in it for me. It was as if I was saying to my Savior, "If I have to go through the struggle could you please show us a silver lining." Trust me, it was quick and without a lot of thought, not rooted in reverence at all. I'm now embarrassed at my own flesh. I was fragile and faltering in my faith! (But being real brings sincerity to a story and highlights my humanness.) 

David's intent was to have Samantha's bed and room furnishings loaded into a truck and donated before Thanksgiving Day.  An employment opportunity brought him to Houston, TX the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. He returned home late on Wednesday making it impossible to borrow a truck and bring Samantha's things to Habitat House. So, there all her stuff sat, stuffed in the garage ready to reveal to all who walked through, that I had taken the next step to separate myself from Samantha. Without an explanation, just the sight of the situation would cause concern. I know my family is affected and susceptible to the consequences of my actions. Who I am through all of this trickles down to them. David and I thought it best to hide my hurt, not explain my actions, keep the door closed and deal with everything else another day.

We arrived at church and fulfilled duties like ladling gravy, slicing turkey and preparing pies. The atmosphere was hectic and hurried as we worked to ensure that everything was in place before we served the people of the community. Public servants on duty that day, folks without large families and people who just needed a place to go were our guests. I remember looking out through the serving window from the chaotic kitchen scene and noticing how peaceful the people were. Strangers sitting together, sharing a free feast and conversing over coffee. I pondered the beautiful gift being given to them and I was grateful to be a part of the process.

David and Paul departed from church to do dinner deliveries. Hannah and I headed to my
house to put the finishing touches on our Thanksgiving traditions. While at church, we invited three more guests to our own dinner and needed to add place settings to our table.  I was performing and playing my part with a sincere attitude of gratitude. There was so much to be thankful for on this day but, I wouldn't be honest if I didn't admit to the looming doom I knew I would feel when I walked into my own home. Truly, I couldn't shake what I thought were suppressing circumstances; Samantha's room was now empty, her bed disassembled and discarded in the garage, my husband unemployed because of a senseless decision, and two empty chairs at our Thanksgiving table.

Not having a car of his own and restricted from driving, Joey, one of our newest Thanksgiving guests rode home with us. During the drive, I checked in with David wanting to know how he was doing with deliveries and what time he expected to be home, wanting to have my dinner prepared at the correct time. Before I could even ask about the details I needed to know, David exclaimed to me, "Wait until I tell you this, you are never going to believe!". My ears went on alert, my eyes fixated on the the digital panel displaying David's phone number and I was ready to receive. He continued to tell me, " Elizabeth, the very first person I delivered to was a lady living in a trailer. I knocked on the door, she answered and we spoke for a second. I handed her the meals. I turned to leave and she spoke again, this time asking with an evident need expressed in her eyes, "Do you know anyone who has an extra bed?" David told me his heart ramped up and he immediately "knew."  David replied, "Yes, as a matter of fact I have an extra bed and I will have it to you today!" With renewed confidence that there are no coincidences with a life in Christ, David called Paul, explained the entire situation and made arrangements to have the bed and Samantha's other belongings brought to the trailer in none other than, Paul's truck. I know that is a poignant point because it was Paul I was trying to protect, by hiding my hurt. 

Earlier in the week, I had confided or maybe complained to Joey about how life was feeling like a lot of work lately. He was aware of my inner struggle and how the pressures of life were causing more pain. With that working knowledge and after hearing David's story, he just smiled and gently said, "God sure has a way of bringing good out of every situation."  

With ease, I acknowledged Romans 8:28 and knew my petty prayer had been answered. As requested, God had revealed himself as active and around at all times. We were given another gift that solidified our faith, increasing our eternal perspective and receiving our reward for being the hands and feet of Christ.

By the time we got home, we could walk through the garage. The bed and other belongings that once belonged to my little girl, Samantha, now on their way to a little boy who had been sleeping on the floor.  David and Paul unloaded the truck, while the woman wept. Before leaving, David turned to the lady and shared his story of the tragic death of our daughter, his current employment status and what my reaction had been, which is easily identified as a fit of rage that resulted in the complete stripping of Samantha's room. All of this, testifying to why we had an extra bed. Then, with tears in his own eye, he witnessed to the woman, when he quoted the old adage, "God works in mysterious way."  Giving God the glory for the divine encounter he had experienced while delivering Thanksgiving dinners. My thoughts sometimes wander to the woman who needed the bed. Of course, she was the receiver of something earthly (a bed).  I pray her gratitude is given to something much great than just a bed. Instead, to a Savior who says, ""Neither this man nor his parents sinnedbut this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him." John 9:3.

Before dinner, I bowed my head before the others, knowing I had been blessed beyond measure. Grateful for the gifts given to me, above and beyond what I had ever expected, pain turned into purpose, steps that led to spiritual growth and instead of two empty chairs, we had three unexpected guests at our Thanksgiving table. 

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