I held the newspaper clipping in my hand and read the headline over and over.
It was an obituary. Simple and harmless enough, and yet the words on the page held tremendous power over me.
He was dead.
A man that had tortured my youth and reappeared time after time in my nightmares was no longer a risk to me. He could never just appear in a public place and make my heart stop or cause me to run out of a building in search of an adequate hiding place and there was finally a guarantee that he would never be able to hurt me or anyone else again.
I honestly don’t know what the obituary said. I’m sure it had all the typical stuff: loving father, devoted husband, grandfather, yada, yada, yada, but all I as I look back, all I really remember was reading the name and something about his dying.
He had successfully passed from this earth leaving me holding onto feelings of fear, anxiety and shame that I spent decades trying to keep hidden from myself and those around me.
I felt as though I should have been dancing in the streets celebrating the death of my abuser but instead, feelings of anger and frustration welled up inside me. I struggled with worry, concerned that bitterness had taken over; that I was unable to let go of the pain and feel the relief this death should offer me…
…and then it hit me.
I wasn’t able to celebrate or even feel relief from his passing because I had some hard work to do first.
This was a season of autumn – a moment when the armor that I had used to cover up this pain had to be ripped aside and the raw, bloody, painful mess of my memories had to be exposed so growth and healing could begin.
I had to become vulnerable.
Sure, I could have chosen to quickly cover that memory right back up, tack the armor back in place and walk away, pretending that nothing ever happened, but not only was this not healthy for me, it wasn’t what God desired for me. Instead, God desired for me to use this season to heal and prepare for a season of new growth and beauty. He did this for me then and continues to do it now for me and for every single one of us. And just to remind us that this is part of His plan, the Lord created Autumn.
Every year at this time Mother Nature strips herself of the external decoration that blossomed around us from Spring to Summer. The leaves which graced the arms of each tree turn to glorious new colors and then wither and die. The buds hide themselves from the cold and snow to come so they can greet us again in springtime. As humans and people of faith, we also must have times where we allow ourselves to shed our external garments, so to speak, to prepare for the chance to change and grow emotionally and spiritually.
God offered me just such an opportunity the day I received this obituary but as you might expect, this change was not then nor never will be easy.
Joyce Rupp, in her book Fresh Bread, wrote that seasons of change like this are times when we allow ourselves to become vulnerable. Just as the removal of the leaves on the trees leaves each spindly little branch is entirely exposed to the elements, vulnerable to the ravages of wind, snow and ice, when we allow ourselves to be stripped of our exterior protection, we become vulnerable to those around us. Our culture tells us that vulnerability is something to be avoided; that to be vulnerable only opens the door to criticism, rejection and perhaps even abuse. But vulnerability is so much more than that. Without being vulnerable, we would never be able to accept the blessings that God has in store for us – blessings like love, friendship, laughter, art and renewal. Without vulnerability, we cannot grow to be the men and women He designed us to be.
It’s as if we are each a crystal vase. We could choose to be stored safely away in a box, surrounded by bubble wrap, guaranteed never to be chipped or cracked and remain “perfect”, but by making this choice, we also guarantee we would never be able to see the beauty that God has created us nor would we be seen for the beautiful creations that we are. God’s light couldn’t shine through us creating dancing rainbows of light on the wall for all around to enjoy nor could we hold within us the beautiful gifts God designs for us.
It seems odd to be thankful for an obituary, but I realize now that I would never be the person I am today were I not able to use that tiny piece of newspaper to shed myself of some of my protective garments and start afresh. Life is like that. Sometimes it’s the strangest little things that offer the greatest challenges and rewards.
Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us that our lives are full of seasons and each of these seasons has a purpose. Whatever season you are in right now, try to remember that even in the most seemingly desolate of seasons, there is a purpose. Reach up and know that God is there to walk with you through each moment. If you’re finding the season too challenging, reach out. There are people right beside you that are willing to walk with you. If you don’t feel that’s true for you, contact me. I’m here and I’m willing to help guide you to places where you will be nurtured and cared for.