Through the dark, lonely days following the death of my only sister, Melissa, I thought hard about what God's purpose for such a tragedy could possibly be. Unfortunately, it seemed that the myriad of emotions that consumed me was also blinding me from seeing God's hand in any viable way.
The first emotion I was struck with was shock. Complete unbelief. Not Melissa. Not my sister. Not my best friend. I regretfully remember shouting at my poor, patient grandmother and accusing her of being a liar when she came to tell me the news. Melissa was only twenty-five. How could someone so young suddenly be gone?
When the time quickly came when I could no longer deny that the impossible had truly happened, the anger began to set in. I was angry with the doctors. I was angry at the hospital. I was angry with myself for not being there when she passed on. And, as badly as I hate to admit, I was angry with God.
How could He let this happen? Why would He take away someone with so much life left to live? Why would He take a wife from her husband, a mother from her two small children, or take from a mother her only daughter?
A mother's only daughter, you say? Yes. Because even though Melissa and I had stopped using the prefix to our actual relationship title, stepsisters were what we really were. In 1974, my own mother had been killed in an automobile accident, and a state away, Melissa's father had been murdered. We were each six years old that dreadful year, our birthdays being separated by only a month and ten days. When we were both ten, our respective parents began dating, and shortly thereafter were married. We were both excited at the thought of having a sister since neither of us had ever had one before.
Of course, as with any two children of the same age, there were almost as many rocky spots in those first years as there were smooth. We picked different friends who couldn't get along or we both like the same boy from school or church. But in most ways, we enjoyed the same kind of relationship that most sisters share. We developed a system of getting what we wanted from our parents; if the favor was needed from our mom, I asked; if it was needed from our dad, she asked. And of course, if someone caused trouble with one of us, they soon found themselves facing both. Mom used to say that our relationship was an even closer one than that she shared with her own sisters, and maybe that was true. Unlike most, we could remember a time when we weren't in each other's lives and that, I believe, caused us to appreciate the simple fact that we did have one another.
As she and I grew and matured, we became closer than ever. We both re-surrendered our lives to Christ, we both moved to the Weaverville area of western North Carolina, and we both started families. Just as the first marriages we each began quickly failed, we had each other for support. Through rain or shine, we knew that there was at least one other person on this earth that felt our hurts and shared our joys as fully as we did ourselves.
One cool November day, God had taken all that away from us. From me. How could this be explained? Where was the sense in her death? Why had He not taken me instead? Then came the overwhelming pain. The depressing, debilitating heaviness that I felt might never leave me.
For a long time, I found no answers. There seemed to be no answers to be found. But gradually, as I turned more toward our Lord, I began to let go of the anger that was strangling me. I was reminded of the many blessings I had received during our years together. Honestly, I had taken Melissa for granted. Her smile, her love, her kindness and her unwavering strength. All the great and good things my life had been filled with for fifteen years. I was reminded that it was the outcome of no accident that she had come into my life in the first place. Nothing short of God's own hand had brought our family together, and though we all sensed its incompleteness now, God had blessed us immeasurably by giving us those years together.
There may still be days every now and then when I am reminded of the sadness her absence has brought to my life. My son's birth only 17 months after her death made him our parent's only grandchild that Melissa would never know. Her sons will soon graduate from high school, and she has not been able to take pride in the wonderful men that they are becoming. Nor will she watch as our parent's hair turns to gray with the approaching years. And she and I will never be the little old ladies rocking on the front porch as we used to laugh about someday being.
I will always miss her. I don't imagine that will ever change. But more and more, I've been able to see ways in which God has used this experience to change our lives in positive ways. She has been spared the sorrows of this life- her grandparent's deaths or the nationwide fear of 9/11. Melissa's husband remarried, and now has a little girl that has blessed his life, as well as the lives of her big brothers. Through our shared grief, our mother and I have grown even closer. Without the support that I always went to Melissa for, I have become more mature and more confident of my own decisions. I have learned to depend on Him for all the comfort, wisdom and understanding that I once sought from her. And I guess I can't help but to think of heaven as being just a little sweeter since knowing that she is with our Savior and experiencing no pain, no sorrow, no worry, no tears.
For these things that I've been able to see, there are probably a hundred more that I can't. I've learned that most often God's reasons can't be explained by black print on a white sheet of paper. The effects that such events have on our lives are many. And when all who have been affected add their stories together, the effects become too numerous to count.
I believe that His purposes in such situations can be better understood if we see them as a precious stone. Held at arm's length, the gem is seen as little more than a flat, cold, inanimate object. Studying it more closely, one can see the many facets, and that each has been shined and polished to expose God's handiwork inside the stone. In each individual surface, we are able to see the minute details of his workings and the complexity of His design. We can see that the cutting was undoubtedly painful, but in the end, He has made of this rough, jagged rock a thing of great beauty.
Dear friend, we can never know all God has planned for our lives. What we can be fairly certain of is the reality that loss, pain, regret and grief come into all our lives at some point in time. How we view and handle those times is the key to peace. Cry, but cry out to Him. Pour out your heart to Him seven, seventy, or seven hundred times, if that is what it takes. Ask Him the hard questions. Ask Him to give us His heart and eyes so that we may be able to see, feel and understand the situation as He does. His ears are always open, His arms are always comforting and His heart is always healing. If we are patient and open to His voice, He in time may begin to give us those answers that we so fervently seek. The answers that we don't find here will be known to us when we join Him. And don't forget to praise Him for His word, which tells us that all these earthly trials will soon be as removed from us as east is from the west.
What joy it will be to look into Jesus' face and thank Him for seeing me through such difficult days as the ones that I have spent with life's grief. I, for one, know I never could have made it without Him. And because of His love and mercy, I know He would never have wanted me to.
I've learned that most often God's reasons can't be explained by black print on a white sheet of paper. This is a very good personal story with great lessons for all embedded in it. I would like to have seen a space between your paragraphs for ease of reading, but the content is magnificent. Thomas