Finding Happily Ever After

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gabe

A person can be defined by many aspects; a job, a family, a hobby, even physical appearance. All of these attributes can generally be found on the cover of our individual life books. If not, they are easily redeemable within our foreword or introduction. Many readers choose a novel by its appearance, introduction, or recommendations of others. These descriptions help us decide whether that book is desirable and we allow these attributes to captivate, entertain, and inspire.

Within the core of every good story is something deeper than that surface level description. We come to loathe the antagonist and praise the protagonist. Suspense grows within our own gut only to find a beautiful conflict resolution at the conclusion. We find striking satisfaction in happily ever after.

Like many readers, it is crucial for me to read a book from cover to cover. Each page should be read left to right, and oscillating sections or omitting stanzas is not permissible. Often times we encourage ourselves to do the same with people. We look at the cover and grab all of the commendable pieces in our initial introduction. Sadly, as soon as that person expresses their emotions, experiences, or grief before we have been well endowed with a decent plot, we quickly shut the book in fear. Suddenly, we cannot visualize this story with the happily ever after conclusion.

As a child my story was unique yet charming. I was the middle child of five, and the only girl. My older brothers were sixteen and nineteen years older than me, and my little brothers were three years younger. Our father was a pastor of a small country church, and our mother was best known for her wonderful home-cooked meals. Our family was slightly poor, yet humble, and I never felt as though I needed anything more. Through my childhood there were many times that my parents grieved but they never pressed the burden on me. It wasn’t until I was much older that I was able to get a true sense of some of their pains. They had an unwavering ability to keep moving forward to the next plot twist.

When my younger brother Levi was born, the doctor explained to my parents that he would never live a normal life due to his Down syndrome diagnosis. I was too young to remember my parents’ pain in the loss of opportunity for Levi. But after his birth they moved forward and adopted another boy with the same disability, Eric. Eric was a bit of a handful. In addition to Down syndrome, he was additionally filled with ADHD, RAD, and a sad history. My parents tried to make lemonade out of the disability diagnoses, but they had little knowledge on the amount of zing that Eric packed.

Other grief moments made the glue to our family frame. My dad lost his job as a pastor and my grandfather passed away shortly after. At age seven I still had little understanding these losses, but my dad always lived by the motto of keep on keeping on. His persistent hope always allowed me to trust that everything was going to be ok.

As I grew older my family continued to play an important role in my life. I loved spending time with my younger brothers, teaching them and teasing them. But my older brother Gabe was who I adored. With the sixteen years between us, he was just diving into the prime parts of life. He started dating, he went to college, and he got married. Through all of these life decisions, he included me, his annoying baby sister. He gave the same advice any parent would give, but it always sounded better coming from him.

On October 21st, 2006, Gabe was killed in a car accident. The dual emotions of disbelief and anger fueled my body. I looked at my dad. My dad was the problem solver, the fear snatcher. This time, my dad’s ability to keep on keeping on was gone. My brother lost his life, my dad lost his hope, and I lost my faith.

While reading a textbook for one of my MSW classes, I found an important passage, “Perhaps we must speak of death in order to understand fully what it means to be in the presence of grief. And to speak of death is to enter the realm of the supreme mystery, that of the unanswerable questions.” (Hooyman and Kramer, 2008, pg. 5) But humanity strives to comprehend every answer to whatever extent possible, and to seek understanding is equally substantial in our grieving process. I dove deep into my brother’s past longing to find for a reason why divine intervention, fate, or karma might have ended my brother’s story as it did. Through family stories, pictures, and memories I could only discover that Gabe was either genuinely good, or he had an extreme ability to mask that he was not.

As the daughter of a pastor, my life was surrounded by the notion that there was a God, and he was loving and just. As I continued to search for a reason for my brother’s death the idea of a God was plausible to me but not in a way that I wanted. When searching for a rational reason for the demise of a good person, it’s easy to place a seemingly irrational variable in the picture to solve the question. The idea of a God, though not proven nor disproven, suddenly places a divine control over everything. But why would I want to believe in something that not only did not intervene in the death of my brother, but actually could have caused his death purposely? That picture is not loving nor just, but rather shows an analogy of a victim constantly running back to her controlling abuser.

For the years following my brother’s death, I ran from the idea of a God. The grief of Gabe’s death followed me but I was able to mask that pain in self-harm, counseling, and prescription drugs. Over time, I began to see more clearly, and I even welcomed the idea of a God back into my life. Though angry, I started to open my mind and read Gabe’s story more intently. I thought back to Gabe’s funeral. It was in the chapel at Cedarville University where he was a computer science technician. That chapel was filled with more people that day than my dad’s little country church would see in a month. Gabe had made an impact on so many people in thirty years. He died a good man, and he left with no conflict of his own to solve. He was young, but he discovered happily ever after. I realized then that it was never Gabe’s story that upset me; it was the end of his book that simply opened a new chapter in mine.

There are no facts or statistics that I can sho
w that prove the existence of a God. Whether God is real or not, the idea of Him gave me hope. It is a simple way for me to cling to an idea that I will see Gabe again. I may be the author of my own story, but God is my publisher, my agent, and my mentor.

Just as Gabe’s death began a new chapter in the middle of my book, many individuals come to us within the core of their story. Conflict roars and their agony overcomes us. I also think about Gabe and his unwavering ability to guide me through life. Even in his death I would try to do everything to help others as he did; because Gabe strived to help others as Jesus did. But it is important to think back to our own story so we can be inspired by the hope we once found. We cannot predict the future and we do not know what anyone’s book truly holds within the next chapters. We cannot write the novel of each person we meet, but we can work as a helpful traveler along their road. We can inspire each author to keep going, constantly building the hopeful road to happily ever after.

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In The Orphan’s Eyes

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If you read a few of my other blogs you will get to know Eric (Try the Chronicles of Eric or When Life Gives You Lemons…). He is my nineteen year old brother with a spunky personality, a few freckles, and an adorable smile. Everyday Eric surprises me with a new twist in our journey.

A couple days ago I picked Eric up from his drum lessons and we went to Buffalo Wild Wings to hang out with a few of my friends. (He is so much fun to hang out with! He always adds a little comedy to our mix.) But on our way home we had a little heart to heart. He started talking about how he has bad dreams. Eric says that a lot. Finally I had the courage to ask him, “Do you dream about your family before you were adopted?” He said yeah. Eric started off naming a bunch of names of his old family members. And he said I have two moms and two dads! I honestly had never asked him before. I mean he was adopted when he was four, how much could he really remember?! He quickly changed the subject to talk about his day and his drum lessons.

Then today. We went to a worship night where our high school church band played an amazing hour and a half of crying out to the Lord. (Now hold up! I know you might be thinking, “Great. Another Jesus Freak blog.” Just bare with me here!) After my talk with Eric the other night, the worship service added an entire new dimension. You see, Eric has always loved music. He played drums in his high school band and he loves to sing. But today it really hit me. His cries to Jesus during worship weren’t an act to get attention. It was raw emotion.

In front of the entire gathering of about a hundred people, Eric laid hands and knees in front of the band, crying out to God. He didn’t care what anyone in front or behind him thought. It was his moment with God. We were just singing the words, “I believe You are my healer. I believe You are all I need.” Eric sunk in every word.

Going through struggles, I empathize with Eric. You get in situations where you think, “What are you doing God?” or “Just let me do what I want. Don’t give me the challenges. Just let me have fun. I don’t need you.” I’ve been there, trust me. But there was Eric. Laying down before God, with more baggage in nineteen years than some people experience in a lifetime. But he gets it! He sees God is his healer.

After that night I talked with Eric, I thought, “How many times have I said, God just let me do my own thing. I want to be like everyone else around me! I want to go to college parties or date different people. I don’t want your dumb life lessons. I want to live my life!” My mind went back to Eric. He was taken from his family, passed from foster home to foster home before he was four. Now he was in our family. We had love…tough love. I am so selfish: I go through every different experience in life thinking, “my way is the best way”. But I realize now, I am blessed to have wonderful parents. Sometimes we have disagreements, but they always know what’s best. Sometimes they give me challenges, but they make me stronger.

It is difficult to understand the concept that God is our father. But my brother gave me a bigger picture. Our world and all of the exciting adventures are so inviting. It is so easy to drop everything and say, “I want that, not what God wants.” I realized, it might be difficult to listen to that nagging voice that says don’t do that. But in the end I would much rather go through life listening to the encouraging words of my dad. Eric knows. He knows what it is like to walk through the world as an orphan. He knows what it is like to experience life without someone to say they are disappointed. He knows that behind disappointment is love. The orphan that was trapped inside my little brother sees that you can do all of those inviting little temptations, but none of them are as rewarding as the security of love from a father. 

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke,  because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. –Proverbs 3:11-12