Friday, December 10, 2010

This I Believe

     St. Francis of Assisi once said, “It takes only one sunbeam to chase away a shadow.” Even a child understands the literal meaning of this quotation. Figuratively speaking, however, one must have experienced some shadowy periods in life, and the subsequent people or events that enabled one to see the light at the end of the tunnel in order to fully understand the meaning of this phrase.
     As someone who attended Sunday school and church weekly as a child, I learned early the song "This Little Light of Mine" and eventually made the connection that the light of the SON could shine through me. Later still, I memorized John 12:46: "I have come into the world as a light so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness." My faith has been a guiding force for as long as I can remember.
     During my lifetime, many people illuminated my pathway on my occasional walks through the shadowy valleys. When my husband contracted chicken pox at 35, and with it, varicella pneumonia, my church group began a prayer chain before he was even loaded onto the Lifewatch helicopter. Hours of agony passed as I worried about how I would ever raise four children on my own if he didn’t make it. I knew many prayers were being sent heavenward on his behalf, but it wasn’t until I finally took time to breathe a prayer of my own that I felt immediate peace and knew that he was going to be all right. Within the hour of my prayer, he became stabilized, but the physical danger lingered much longer than I had ever anticipated. Still, in my heart, I knew he would eventually come home. Seventeen days later he did.
     One weekend early in my teaching career, one of my seventh graders took his life. Having spent the weekend out of town, I learned about it on Monday morning when the principal called a brief faculty meeting to inform those of us who had not received the news. Facing my first class with that empty seat and the knowledge that Jason's face and voice would never fill that seat again was a challenge. What words could I say to begin class, knowing full well my own words would be choked with emotion? I did the only thing I knew how. I informed the class of his death, and told them we would begin class with a few moments of silence in his memory. Those who wanted could say a silent prayer. How inadequate that seemed, but it allowed us to make it through that day, and each subsequent day became a little easier.
     In December of 2000, Jonathan and Reginald Carr unleashed their murderous rampage on five innocent victims in Wichita, Kansas. One of those victims, Jason Befort, was a former student of mine. I had close connections to many of his family members through church and 4-H. The immediate weeks and months following the murders was a truly dark time, a deep valley from which some family members seemed forever lost, especially once the trials began and they were forced to relive the excruciating details of that night in a snowy soccer field. Even people of faith are tested to their very limits, and questioning God's purpose became like a mantra. Reading and rereading the book of Job and daily prayers eventually helped illuminate the path back to faith.
     My darkest walk in the valley took place during the 2001-2002 school year. Of course, 9/11 affected us all, some more personally, and all of us politically. Then in December of that year, I received news that my only brother had been killed in an elevator accident. The pain of this loss seemed unbearable. Almost one month to the date of his death, my mother had a massive heart attack, leaving her near death and quite weak for months.
     Our methods of grieving are as individual as the number of people who grieve, and my weekly visits to the cemetery and monthly flower deliveries were comforting to me. I found peace and solace there, knowing in my heart Tom was not there, but still feeling a sense of closeness as I updated him regarding my mother's condition and other family matters. Despite well-meaning acquaintances who told me I was lingering too long in mourning, I continued this ritual, gradually decreasing the weekly visits to monthly, until the pain of his death rescinded into memories.
        Surrounded by my church family and compassionate friends who understood my relationships with my brother and my mother, I climbed out of my dark dungeon of depression with their enlightening words of comfort and found a brighter outlook. Eventually I could speak of him without dissolving into sobs, and gradually, my pathway began to brighten.
     It is being the recipient of light through these human Sonbeams that I have grown in my faith and become more knowledgeable in scripture to be able now to shed light where shadows threaten. We can learn from and become stronger through adversity if we but allow His light to show us the path to follow.
     God gave me the strength to offer comfort and support at the bedside of a friend whose terminal illness took him far too soon from his family. He died peacefully, surrounded by family holding his hands, his wife quietly reading his favorite scriptures, and me keeping his grandson occupied. While I went to the house to be a source of comfort for the family, I received a blessing of my own. Given the choice, this is exactly how I want to go out of this world, surrounded by family, peaceful music playing softly in the background, and my favorite scriptures being read.
     When my teenage son flipped a pickup end-over-end in the early morning hours one Sunday morning, fear and anxiety gripped my soul. When the immediate crisis had abated with the knowledge that he was not seriously hurt, I gave thanks to God for the teachable moment that allowed my son to recognize he had been given a second chance at life and must make the most of it. I praise Him daily for sparing my son's life so that he would later find his soul mate, marry, and begin a family of his own.
     When my own daughter miscarried, not once but twice, I comforted her in the only way I knew how, through verses from the book of Job and through prayer. My words may very well have fallen on deaf ears during this time of grief, yet God’s word cannot be refuted. He gave me the words to offer her, and she found her way past the grief and into a stronger person who later bore two more children.
     Not all people are willing or ready to leave their individual shadows, but I have learned to seek the light and to surround myself with other beams of light, ready to shine wherever shadows threaten. I have come to understand that to the world, I am just one person, but to one person, I may just be the Sonbeam that allows that one person to experience light again in their world.

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