For some people, the holidays are not characterized by the idyllic peace and joy of a Currier and Ives Christmas card or a Hallmark movie. For those who are struggling with grief, this time of year can be anything but jolly.
Sometimes life defies explanation.
How can a heart be filled with joy and sorrow at the same time?
How can twelve years seem like an eternity, but wasn’t it just yesterday?
How can a simple photograph bring tears to a smiling face?
How can unfathomable blessing give rise to unconquerable pain?
Tuesday, April 10, 1979. Euless, Texas. John’s Dad drops him off at school, then drives to a remote location … and shoots himself.
Recently I made the decision to publish my book, Living With a Broken Heart, directly to Kindle, instead of pursuing traditional publishing or self-publishing.
Webster defines “serendipity” as “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for”. I like to think of serendipity simply as “an unexpected blessing”.
I lost my daughter Ashley to cancer in 2001. She was fourteen years old. I have learned many things about loss and grief in the eleven years since her death. One of those unexpected lessons is that there is blessing in loss.
TRUST IN GOD
Ashley turned fourteen in April 2001. She had spent the previous four years of her life battling cancer and all the demons that come with it, including the cruel side effects of the very medicines and treatments that were designed to save her life. Even three years after her final chemotherapy treatment, there were still some very frustrating long-term side effects that she had to deal with every day.
Through it all, she seldom complained. She had developed a courage that would serve any warrior well; a determination that would see the fiercest athlete through the most difficult challenge; and an indomitable spirit that exemplified the motto, “Never give up”.
Because of these qualities, and because of the thousands of people who came to follow Ashley’s story through my Internet and e-mail updates, Ashley became an inspiration to people all over the world. People found the courage to face their own life struggles because of the inspiration they gained from Ashley’s story.
My oldest brother Mark is one of my favorite people with whom to share and compare music. There have been numerous times through the years when Mark has called me to share a song that he really likes, or I have called him for the same reason. Several times, these phone calls have turned into hour-long (or longer) conversations which include listening to songs together over the phone. These conversations with my big brother are some of the most cherished moments of my life!
During one of these phone calls, Mark asked me if I had ever heard of Fernando Ortega. I had not. He mentioned two or three of his favorite Fernando Ortega songs, one of which is entitled, “If You Were Mine”. I fired up Napster on my laptop and listened to the song.
About four months after Ashley died, Susan and Justin and I took a trip from our home in Texas to visit some friends in Tennessee and then spend a few days in the Great Smoky Mountains. Driving late at night, somewhere between Memphis and Nashville, the idea for a song began growing in my head. It was a tribute to the remarkable life of my Ashley, her profound impact on our lives as her family, and the deep emptiness left in our hearts by her death. But even amidst the palpable sadness of our grief, I found my thoughts, and the emerging song, focusing on the hope that is inherent in my faith — the promise that, one day, we will see her and hold her once again.
The more we drove, the more the song grew and began to organize itself into verses and a chorus. I asked Susan to find some paper and a pen and start writing down the words so that I wouldn’t forget them. I drove and Susan wrote, and by the time we reached Nashville, “Until Then” was a song.
It’s hard to believe it has been eight years: November 24, 2001. Sometimes it seems as though it was only yesterday that you left us, Ashley. Then there are moments when it seems that a lifetime has passed since that awful day.
I still miss you like crazy. We’re doing OK, though. You taught us to cherish every day. Most days we remember to do that. You taught us to live life to the fullest, to squeeze every drop of adventure out of every day that God gives us. You showed us that the real beauty of life is living with a complete trust in God. It’s funny how I’ve been a minister most of my adult life, but you figured that out so much better and lived it so much more completely than I ever have.
I had never prayed as hard in my life as I did the morning of March 16, 1997. It was a Sunday morning, about 6:30, and I was driving from Children’s Medical Center in Dallas back to our house about 35 minutes away. Four hours earlier, Susan and I had been told by a doctor at Children’s that our 9-year-old daughter Ashley had a brain tumor.