“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” Ecclesiastes 1:2b NKJV
This post, as well as the next several, may seem like unnecessary diversions from my story. Truly, they are not. What they do is give you insight to my life; the years and the state of my soul that helped shape my reaction to my daughter’s death – and reveal why my life was changed so dramatically because of that event.
Maybe some of you will relate.
Enough. When is it ever enough for any of us? When do we consider our storehouses full? When will we be truly satisfied?
We are driven to “succeed,” over and over and over again. Once isn’t enough. We devise mental checklists: get married by a certain age, have 2.1 kids – a boy and a girl – buy our dream home, maybe several of them as we seek to move ever upward and onward. We search for the best job, the highest pay, the right retirement fund, the perfect age to retire. We want our kids to go to the best schools, achieve outstanding grades that will put them in the best companies, with the best pay. We drive them, and ourselves, to do and possess more, more, more. Or, if we’re living vicariously through our children, we drive them to achieve because it strokes our egos. We try to live our lives, and rectify our own past mistakes, through them. Sometimes, even without realizing or admitting it, we regard our children as our “second chance” at life.
We want it all, and we want it our way. We’re taught from an early age that we can have it, should pour our energy into seeking and achieving it. We feel like failures if plans go awry. Our fragile egos are devastated. “Why did this happen to me?” we cry.
We’re always looking over our shoulder, comparing ourselves to others. We ache to be happy and content. We ache for our children to be happy and content, even if we’re not. But just how do we achieve happiness? How do we live a life of contentment in all circumstances?
Even though Chris and I were Christians and faithfully attended church, we both had one foot planted firmly in the world. So, instead of sitting back, taking a breath, examining our hearts and fervently seeking God’s wisdom and guidance, Chris and I easily plunged back into our old habits. This little inconvenient “sickness” episode was just a blip on the screen of our lives.
But as He is prone to do, God puts people in our lives to nudge us, get our attention, to convict us. To move us beyond ourselves to look at life’s bigger picture and meaning. To draw us closer to Him or return us to the right path. To force us to make the most important decision we will ever make.
The decision of life and death.
If we remain obstinate or resistant to His beckoning, He often uses the most tragic events to shock us into attention.
Unfortunately, that’s what had to happen for Chris and me.
I’ll move forward briefly in my story then backwards in my life – to set the stage for the event that would take one life, and save another – in more ways than one.
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When I recovered enough to return to work, I made an important addition to my schedule. I started visiting Tammy* on Thursday afternoons for conversation and “play.” Parker had grown accustomed to going to her home after pre-school and now regarded himself as a member of their family. Parker and Tammy’s youngest daughter played while she and I developed our friendship.
Tammy possesses a deep love for the Lord – love illuminating itself in her relationship with family and friends. She was a wonderful role model for the children in our church – as Director of Children’s Ministries – and for me. I’d listen to her talk about her faith and watch her Christianity in action, wondering just how I could possess a sliver of that unification of commitment, unwavering faith and joyful hope.
I labored at what seemed so natural for Tammy. Her faith was so strong and ran so deep. I listened with feelings of envy and deep personal regret when she’d describe her high school Christian youth groups and their gatherings, recounted times in her life when she needed to rely heavily on her faith. I went to God when the problem seemed bigger than what I could handle. I was taught to rely on myself, to fight my battles on my own, to pull myself up by my own bootstraps and move forward. Self-sufficiency was the prize.
There’s a problem though. That fighting makes you cynical and battle-weary. And self eventually runs out. That fact was something I don’t remember ever being taught, so I was stunned when it happened.
After years of faithfully attending church and singing in the children’s choir, my Sunday church experience ended at the age of nine when our family moved and abruptly abandoned organized worship, without fanfare or explanation. I returned to church on a regular basis in 1984, one year after Chris and I married. In 1993, the year of my daughter’s death, I still waffled mightily between self-reliance and faith.
When we moved to Hawaii in 1967, church no longer seemed important to my parents. The move – which allowed for a change in a “new” life – was probably convenient for my father who held disdain for “organized religion.” He assembled his own faith and was content to live by his “own religion.” My mother stopped teaching Sunday school. We suddenly became Christmas and Easter Christians. Eventually, it was just my mother and I attending holiday services – without my dad. Sunday morning was now reserved for my parents devoting themselves to perusing the thick Sunday newspaper, then packing a picnic lunch for all of us to take to the beach in Waikiki. Suddenly and unexpectedly, my parents abandoned my spiritual training, and I was left roller-skating around the Methodist Church parking lot next to our high-rise apartment building. Often, I’d skate along the sidewalk to the sanctuary to sneak peeks in the windows, aching to go back.
What changed? What were our new priorities?
Education was one; gymnastics was the other.
My parents made tremendous personal and monetary sacrifices to provide the best private elementary and secondary school education available in Honolulu. Besides working full time, my mother – who became a gymnastics judge while we lived in Las Vegas, Nevada, our prior hometown – continued to devote generous amounts of time to judging and conducting judging clinics in Hawaii. My father assumed the role of coach, sacrificing evenings and Saturdays to take me to the YMCA for hours of practice. Almost every breath we breathed as a family was in single-mingled devotion to the sport. Nearly every decision made was dictated by my training or competition schedule, or the potential risk of an activity to my participation and advancement in the sport.
Thus began the process of removing my eyes from God and placing them on myself. Pursuing self-discipline for the sake of accolades, awards and applause; measuring my self-worth by the number of gold medals and blue ribbons I garnered; learning to perform for attention and acceptance; developing abject fear of failure and rejection if I didn’t measure up; battling jealousy and anger as I competed, and won – or lost. Getting “high” from the dangerous, life threatening moves I performed. Becoming anorexic in an attempt to gain “control” of my life, then “losing” that control through binging. Losing my way and selling out my soul to the world’s pleasures.
It all compounded to lead to my eventual spiritual, emotional and physical downfall.
It all compounded to rob me of a life-giving faith.
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Next week: My road to a juvenile faith and the struggle it caused.
Thanks for joining me!
*name changed to protect privacy