365 Days Later.

Today marks one year.

One year since an EF3 tornado tore our city to pieces. 365 days of picking up the pieces and putting lives back together. 52 weeks of trying to make peace with a new “normal.”

It’s weird how 1 year can be so short, yet so long.

When I think about life before the tornado, it seems like it’s been ages since that was our “normal”. Like sitting in Mamaw’s kitchen eating Christmas brunch happened for the last time years ago. But, at the same time, the memory is so clear, it feels like just last month I was seeing the destruction for the first time.

All of the emotions-the shock, horror, and disbelief-I felt seeing everything for the first time is still so fresh. The way my heart stopped when I saw the first aftermath pictures while sitting, completely helpless, in my dorm room in Nashville. The chills and nervous sweats waiting, hoping, for a call from home saying everyone was okay. And the tears that fell when I heard those words, “Mammaw’s house was hit by the tornado and they were inside when it hit. We don’t know anything else right now.”

April 28th, 2014 is a day that our city and family will remember for years to come. Those images are not easily forgotten. 365 days later and they’re still clear as day.

But a year brings new life, new beginnings, and a new perspective.

5 years ago, I would have spent hours looking for reasons why this happened. Searching far and wide for answers to all of the “Why?’s”. Because, we all know, the age-old classic, “Everything happens for a reason.” But as I’ve experienced more of life, I’ve realized that’s not really true.

Sometimes, things happen because we live in a world ruled by laws of nature. We experience death and disaster because that’s part of life. It just is.

Properly dealing with tragedy, then, has little to do with finding a “reason” for why something happened and a lot to do with simply searching for the good that can be garnered from it. In every situation, no matter how atrocious, some small piece of silver lining can be found.

So, sitting here, 365 days later, where have I found the silver lining?

In the celebration of life and family.

On April 28th, 2014, we had no way to know that we would lose my Papaw to cancer a short 8 months later. We all knew his diagnosis wasn’t good, but he was going to make it. He was taking chemotherapy and radiation. He was going to make it. He had to make it.

But he didn’t. On December 16th, 2014, Papaw lost his battle to cancer.

But because of those horrible events on April 28th, we spent those last 8 months of his life closer, both physically and emotionally, than our family had been in a long time.

For the first few weeks after the tornado, we all lived under the same roof. We shared dinner around the same table every night, and we spent more consecutive days together than I ever remember.

And in those days, we pulled together as a family. We leaned on each other in ways we didn’t before.

We cried with each other, we reminisced with each other, and we held each other up. We recounted fond memories and relived old stories some of us had forgotten. We spent time cherishing each other as family should.

And I think the events of that day gave us a little reminder of how fragile life really is. Earthly possessions can be destroyed in a second, but so can lives. We were so thankful that day to have made it out with all of our family members alive. But in a few short days to come, things would be a little different.

While the events of April 28th, 2014, are some I would never wish on anyone, I’m thankful for the intangible “things” it brought our family.

It brought closeness. Restored relationships. And a gracious reminder to savor the day, because life is fragile.

Without that day, I’m afraid we would have all kept living our lives, separately, cruising down the fast lane. But instead, we slowed down, hopped in the same car, and started enjoying life together.

And while there may not be a “reason” for why the tornado hit, I can appreciate the restored life it left behind. And I’m thankful for it.

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An Open Letter to the Parents of a Prodigal

Let me start by pointing out the obvious- I am a 21year old kid, with no children of my own, and absolutely no parenting experience. I am, by no means, trying to offer parenting advice to any of you. Clearly, I have no ground to stand on in that area.

But what I can offer, is some perspective from this side of the fence.

In the past few years, I’ve walked through some dark days alongside close friends. I’ve witnessed people close to me make choices that went against everything they were taught. I’ve sat and listened as friends have recounted the positive and negative ways their parents handled their rebellious phases. We’ve hashed out past hurts and wounds that are still healing. I’ve watched the many different ways different parents have chosen to handle tough situations. And I’ve wondered how I would handle it if that was me one day.

It may seem like a weird discussion to have over morning coffee for a group of college kids, but several times close friends and I have discussed what could be the best approach to handling rebellious kids, and even if there is a single “best” approach? If I was that child, do I think there would be anything my parents could do to “fix” me? Or what would I want my parents to know or understand?

So, to those of you who are walking that difficult path of watching your child defy you and walk away, here’s a few things I think you should remember.

1. It’s not always your fault. More often than not, actually, it’s not your fault. I’ve seen so many parents spend hours analyzing every little thing they could have done wrong. What if I had placed more emphasis on family Bible study? What if I had spent more time explaining the importance of following God? What if I had done this better or hadn’t done that? What if I told you your child choosing a path that isn’t the one you taught them has little to do with you and a lot to do with them? Yes, if your child is 3 and goes around hitting other children, that might be on you. But if your “child” is 19 years old and chooses to go against everything they’ve been taught, that’s not on you anymore. At some point, you have to acknowledge that your children are going to make their own decisions. Sometimes, they make the wrong one. Sometimes, they make the wrong one 400 times in a row. But that was still their choice. They are responsible for that decision. Let them take responsibility for their choices, and stop blaming yourself for their mistakes.

2. Even if it feels like it, their defiance doesn’t stem from a hatred of you. Sure, there are some kids who do everything their parents tell them not to out of spite. But, again, that seems to be the minority. When your child goes against your wishes, it’s probably more likely that it was something they did because they wanted to. It wasn’t a silent message telling you they hate you. We live in a world where the Devil’s temptations are rampant and persuasive. Throw in the society that we currently live in, and you’ve got a pull strong enough to capture the attention of most kids. As humans, we are weak when it comes to temptation. We are going to fail. Sometimes, kids fall into things their parents could have never dreamed of. I feel sure watching your kids fall into Satan’s traps is one of the hardest things to watch. But assuming your child hates you because of how far they’ve fallen, makes it even worse. Don’t equate their disobedience to their level of love for you. Even in those dark days, they still love you. They may be running full speed down the wrong path, but they still love you.

3. The best way to restore your child, is NOT by retracting your love. As a friend, I have fallen into this lie before. I thought the only way to show my disapproval of their actions was to sever the relationship. Because continuing to show love and continue the relationship seemed to be approving of their actions. But, that’s not always the case. Especially, when you are a parent. Showing love to someone does not equal showing approval. And if your child has grown up knowing what you do and don’t approve of, they will be very aware of whether or not you approve of their choices. They do not need you openly diminishing your love for them to remind them their choices are not okay. If you do sever that relationship, or retract your love, you have given them nothing to turn back to. When the day comes that they wake up and get their lives together, they won’t feel like they have you to come back to. But if you keep those arms open, they’ll have arms to wrap them in love when they need it the most. And if you still aren’t convinced continuing to love them through it is the best approach, remember the story of the prodigal son. The father was watching daily for the return of his son. He hadn’t given up on him or walked away in disgust. He continued hoping and believing his son would return. And when he finally came back, he immediately rejoiced. He didn’t make the son earn back his love, work for acceptance, or prove that he had changed. He embraced him with love that had never wavered and rejoiced.

4. Never give up. When you are watching your child walk a path you want nothing more than for them to avoid, your days are going to be dark. Your path is going to be difficult. And you will have days where it seems that things will never get better. You will be tempted to think there is no hope left for the restoration of your child. You might even feel like they are too far gone to ever turn back. But Never. Give. Up. When you truly believe in your child, they can sense it. When you believe they can accomplish something, they start believing in themselves too. And when you give up, they can feel that too. And, in turn, they’ll be tempted to give up on themselves, believing the lie that tells them they are too far gone. It will be hard. It will be exhausting. Some days it might even bring more heartache to keep believing than comfort, but never give up. They need someone to keep believing in them. They need that more than anything.

5. If/When they do turn back, leave their past in the past. When the day comes that they come running back to you, rejoice with them. Embrace them with love. Shower them with support. And help them start fresh. But don’t hold them to an unrealistic standard. Eventually, they are going to mess up again. We all do. It might be something small, or it might be another huge mistake. Whatever it is, refuse to let yourself bring up the past. I promise you they have not forgotten the person they used to be. They probably remember those days with embarrassment and regret. They will always remember those days. But while they’re trying to move forward and start fresh, they don’t need you continuing to judge them by those past mistakes. When they make new mistakes, handle them accordingly. But leave the past in the past. Those days are gone. The damage is done. And they need forgiveness. As a parent, you don’t want to be continually reminded of all the times you failed as a parent. Your child doesn’t either. Offer forgiveness and keep moving forward.

Into Your Hands

Last week, we watched a video put together by our campus ministry team full of interviews of several students and faculty. In the interviews, the individuals were presented with different words Christ spoke from the cross, and they were asked to tell what thoughts or emotions were sparked when hearing those phrases.

After going through several phrases- “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”, “Woman, behold Your son.”, and “It is finished.” to name a few- we came to, “Into Your hands I commit My Spirit.”

We had heard great comments and reflections about all of the phrases, comments that really made you put yourself at the foot of the cross and understand more fully the impact of those words, but this specific phrase led to profound wisdom shared by one student.

When asked what, “Into Your hands, I commit My Spirit” meant to her, she shared honestly, and spoke directly to the heart of college students everywhere.

In essence, she talked about how these words, obviously, signified the physical death of Christ was approaching. He acknowledged that at the point of his physical death, His Spirit would leave His body and be reunited with the Father in Heaven. But more than pointing to His physical death, it reminded her of the submission to God’s will Christ exercised. Not only in His decision to go to the cross, but throughout His entire life, Christ submitted Himself to God and His will. As early as 13, we have examples of Christ in the temple being “about His Father’s business.” His entire life was dedicated to serving God and submitting to His will.

If you’re thinking “Yeah, that’s all fairly obvious. What’s the profound part?” Here’s the kicker.

She took it a step further. “So what does this mean to me? It means that I need to be just as willing to let God rule my life. It means being open to following where God leads. It means walking through doors He opens and not pouting about ones He has allowed to close. Maybe it means saying, “I have these big dreams and plans laid out, but God, I’ll follow where you lead.” Maybe it means going a completely different direction than you ever thought you would be. It’s about saying, “God I really want to be a _______ (nurse, physician, teacher, lawyer, therapist, whatever it may be) but if you lead me somewhere else, I’ll follow.” It’s about being willing to put your own desires aside, and submit to His will, fully trusting Him to lead.”

Hmph. Talk about words you wish you could un-hear.

Those words spoke truth, but they brought conviction with them.

I’m the girl who plans every possible aspect of her life. Before I go to bed, I plan out what times I will accomplish each individual thing on my to-do list the next day. I start planning the outfits I need to pack for vacation weeks before I ever open a suitcase. I constantly calculate time frames for when I need to have things done. I need to know all of the details before I agree to something. I’m the furthest thing from a “fly by the seats of your pants” kinda girl. I despise change. I hate uncertainty. I don’t do spontaneous very well. And anything “unknown” throws me miles out of my comfort zone.

With all that said, the idea of putting my own plans aside and submitting to God’s will is terrifying. Crazy, right? Knowing that the creator of the entire universe is willing to lead me through life should be the most relieving thing in the world. But it’s terrifying.

It’s not that I think God would lead me down the wrong path, but what if it’s somewhere I don’t want to go? Or somewhere that looks lonely, or scary, or difficult? What if it’s dark, or hazy, or too demanding? What if I’m not qualified, or strong enough, or smart enough, or brave enough? What if I’m not ready?

Oh, but what if on the other side of that lonely, dark, scary road, there’s joy, companionship, strength, beauty, and growth? What if God knows you need to walk that path to become a better you? What if He sees the path you have chosen leads to a life that is more destructive than profitable for you?

And as for not being strong enough, smart enough, brave enough……

We don’t have to be enough.

We just have to be willing. 

And regardless of how dark or light, scary or beautiful, lonely or secure, the path we are called to walk is, God is always right there walking with us. Dusting us off in failure and cheering us on in triumph.

He is omniscient. And He is loving. He will not lead us astray. And His path leads to life.

It might be uncertain for as far as we can see, but our plans are never fool proof either. It may feel like planning our own life is the safest option, but, when put to the test, that’s merely an illusion.

Can we follow Christ’s example, and submit our lives fully, putting all of ourself into His hands? I believe it’s what we’ve been called to do.

If you’re uneasy about submitting, or fear where He will lead, you’re not alone. But check out these verses. God won’t lead anyone down a path where He doesn’t go with you. No matter how scary the journey, you can take comfort in that.

God will show me the path of life. (Psalm 16:11)

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not lack. (Psalm 23:1)

God will instruct me and teach me in the way I should go. He will guide me with His eye. (Psalm 32:8)

My steps are ordered by the Lord. (Psalm 37:23)

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)

I trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding. In all my ways I acknowledge Him and He directs my paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

I shall hear a word behind me, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever I turn to the right or the left. (Isaiah 30:21)

Thus says the Lord, my Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, Who teaches you to profit, Who leads you by the way you should go.” (Isaiah 48:17)

The Lord will guide me continually. (Isaiah 58:11)

I desire to do God’s will so I shall know whether it is from God. (John 7:17)

I follow Jesus so I shall not walk in darkness, but I have the light of life. (John 8:12)

I hear Jesus’ voice and He calls me by name and leads me out. Jesus goes before me and I follow him, for I know his voice. I will by no means follow a stranger. (John 10:3-5)

The Spirit of truth has come and He is guiding me into all truth. He will tell me things to come. (John 16:13)

I am led by the Spirit of God for I am a son of God. (Romans 8:14)

It is God Who works in me both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13)

I let the peace of God rule in my heart. (Colossians 3:15)

I will stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. (Colossians 4:12)

The God of peace will make me complete in every good work to do His will, working in me what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 13:21)