Read Part One of Getting to Know Me!
October 2014 was a month of change.
It was the month that I received a new student in my classroom that would challenge everything in my life. I had allowed my identity as a teacher to be completely rooted in my students and the perceptions of those around me and when this student began to struggle behaviorally, I took it so personally. As a new teacher, I didn’t know how to handle what was happening in my classroom and it very much broke a piece of me at the time. I felt weak and inadequate. Within a few days of having this student in my classroom, I began to feel the nudging and hear the whispers from God that were calling me home.
I don’t think I would have been able to hear Him had I felt that I still had it all together. No, I was broken by my perceived inadequacies in the workplace – all while things were changing at home. October was also the month that my father began to get sick.
For weeks, we would watch as his body would become riddled with chills and exhaustion caused him to spend nearly every minute that he was not working asleep in his recliner. Doctors appointments and lab results weren’t providing any clear answers and I found myself worried that it was cancer. After all, it runs in his family. Pancreatic cancer took his father at the age of 71, just two years before I was born. And more recently, cancer had taken both his brother and sister – nine days apart – on December 25, 2013 and January 3, 2014.
I was surrounded by uncertainty and it was making my eyes open to the fact I truly couldn’t do this life on my own. I had done some cool things with blogging and I had shown that I could sort of juggle working two jobs, but it had cost me my foundation. What I hadn’t realized until life began to change was that I lacked a firm spiritual foundation and I was far from being rooted in God or His word.
My father was ultimately diagnosed with Vasculitis, a rare autoimmune disease that attacks the small blood vessels and in his case, it was attacking his kidneys. Though his kidney function is still poor and may require a kidney transplant in the next couple of years, he is doing well and is actually considered to be healthy in nearly every aspect except his kidneys.
Hindsight where this time of my life is concerned would show me that God was every where in those early days of my faith. He was in the uncertainty, the worry, the anxiety, and the fear as I realized that He was calling me not just closer to Him, but to a new church home.
Though I had attended church regularly since I was a toddler, once I got to my teenage years, I grew very complacent and withdrawn from things at my home church. In high school, I had chosen not to attend the high school youth group that was there and truth be told, that was what sparked my sort of downward spiral. My mind was anywhere but on the word of God on Sunday mornings. I was basically another body in the pew and never gave much thought to this God I said that I believed in and what He meant for my life.
But in this month when I truly think that God had enough of me trying to do life on my own, I found myself reflecting on the state of my faith more and more. I certainly had never really stopped to do that before. Then, I noticed myself paying more attention to these road signs that were stuck in the grass at a particular intersection that I drove through everyday to get to and from work. The signs were “advertising” a church that had a campus not far from where I live. After a few days of looking at these signs as I sat at this intersection waiting for a green light, I decided to check out their website once I got home.
The church was a nondenominational church that was very contemporary in comparison to the traditional liturgical experience I was used to. It was night and day from what I knew. I worried for weeks about what my parents might say or think, though they were ultimately very supportive once I did talk with them. I just knew that I still lived at home and I worried that it would be awkward to go to a different church from them on Sunday mornings. (It was for awhile, but it’s better now!)
For the next ten months, I immersed myself in this new church home and committed myself to learn more about God and establishing a relationship with Him. I joined a small group and began to befriend some of the young adults there.
I am truly so grateful for that ten month period. Although I had grown up in the church, I was very much a “new believer” in a lot of aspects and that season allowed me the opportunity to discover my faith and begin to cultivate a relationship with God that was deeper than anything I had experienced so far.
What I didn’t realize at the time, was that God wasn’t finished changing my life. Sure, He had gotten me out of my shell and gotten me to be more aware of how far I was from Him. Looking back, I can see where those first ten months at this new church had gotten me out of my comfort zone and rooted in His word but it was all a little superficial. Yes, I had experienced the grief of losing my aunt and uncle so close together in 2013/2014 and the stress of my father’s illness and had even faced the anxiety of my job as a teacher but I hadn’t experienced anything that forced me to lean solely on God.
Until September 2015.
In the span of a week in September 2015, everything I knew about my life came to a screeching halt.
It was late on Friday night, September 11th, and my Mom got a call from one of her sisters, my Aunt Kay, that they had taken my Grandmother, who I grew up calling Grandmommy, to the hospital with pneumonia. This had happened once before, almost exactly three years prior, but something about this phone call felt off. None of us wanted to really dwell on that feeling, but it seemed to hang in the air all around us. Three years ago, they had almost lost her.
For the first day or so of her hospitalization, things seemed to be holding steady – not really declining or improving – but there was a lot of hope. My grandmother was still talking and aware, but after about two days things started to decline. My mom had stayed with her siblings up at the hospital (which was two hours from our house) but when things began to change, my dad and I drove up to be with her.
On Thursday, September 17th, my sweet grandmother went to be with the Lord – surrounded by six of her ten children as well as my sister and I.
It was the first time that I had lost a close family member, but in a strange way, I really felt okay about it. We all missed her terribly, of course, but my primary thoughts were of how I had no doubt as to where she was. I knew she was in Heaven with Jesus. My grandmother was a devout Christian and had lived her life in such a way that I knew that was exactly where she was. That was truly a blessing and it for me, it helped with the grief. We were sad, but there was still joy.
Less than 48 hours later, at 1:15am on Saturday morning, we received a phone call that would change our lives. It was eight hours before my grandmother’s funeral and we got a call telling us that my Aunt Shelia, my mom’s youngest sister, wasn’t breathing. We raced over to my grandmother’s house where she had been staying with her husband and Aunt Kay and arrived to see the road lit up with ambulances, fire trucks, and cop cars. When we stepped into the front yard, my Uncle Randy met us and said, “They couldn’t save her.”
Aunt Shelia was gone.
We had just been with her a few hours prior.
I’ve never experienced pain like that before. Aunt Shelia was like a bonus mom to my sister and I growing up and there aren’t many childhood memories that don’t also include her presence. But as painful as those moments were in my grandmother’s front yard it was, and still is, the moment where I felt God’s peace and power the most profoundly and deeply. I remember like it was yesterday, the way it felt as though Jesus was actually physically there next to me, arms wrapped tight around me and whispering to me that He would use this pain for something bigger. Something more than I could even imagine in that moment.
He replayed for me the past two years – almost like one of those “life flashing before your eyes” moments. He showed me the losses of my aunt and uncle, my dad’s illness, my stress from work, and even the anxiety that came from being called to a new church home and it was in that moment that I could see how all of it was connected. It was as though God was allowing me a special glimpse into his purpose and his reasoning, which still takes my breath away. It was only in that hindsight that I could see the way that all of those experiences were preparing me for this very moment.
Losing these two women so close together, especially when I was so close to them both, was one of the hardest things that I have ever had to endure. We carried on with my grandmother’s funeral later that day as scheduled, but I just felt so raw that day. The pain was indescribable and I wished so badly that I could make the people we’d pass out and about see just how much my family and I were hurting. We decided to drive back home that evening and I spent the entire drive listening to the local Christian radio station, singing the lyrics as if they were prayers and crying for most of the two hours.
To this day, I often turn to music to when I don’t have the words to pray on my own.
In the days and weeks that followed, I did my best to press in to God and give my pain to Him. The experience of feeling His presence so deeply that night was the thing that breathed life into me and I truly think it allowed me to feel the joy that I did. Joy that my grandmother and aunt were together in Heaven, but truly just an inexplicable joy in the Lord and the love and grace that He bestows on us, His dear children.
Check back tomorrow for Part Three!