The Sapling

The first time the strength of my roots was seriously tested was when I was sixteen. Two weeks before my Junior year in high school, my best friend and two other close friends were killed by a drunk driver. I was working away from home for the first time that summer, and in retrospect I believe it was by divine design that I was absent. Had I not been hours away at work, I most definitely would have been the fourth victim of that accident, for there was no one in my life that I was closer to at that time than my dear friend.

When I heard the news I went into shock. My brain couldn't process the sudden anguish, and I sort of shut down. Everything was a blur. Voices came at a distance, as though my head was under water. Nothing mattered. All I wanted was peaceful oblivion from the complete onslaught and overload that came upon me. I remember falling asleep for a time, just to escape. When I woke I had to hear the grisly details of the accident. As I heard a description of the three girls' injuries, I didn't even weep. Not yet, anyway.

I isolated myself in the bathroom. I sat motionless in the bathtub until long after the water turned cold. My sister came, knocked on the door, and asked if I was okay. It took me a few minutes to respond as I thought about what a completely ridiculous and inane question that was. Was I okay? Of course I wasn't. My world had just been shattered. As I pondered the question "was I okay?" it eventually dawned on me that my sister was just making sure I wasn't catatonic or lying there with slit wrists, or something. Somehow, I responded. I dimly registered through my pain that I didn't want my family worrying about me, though I knew they would regardless.

I'm not sure when the crying started. I just remember how long it lasted. Though my external crying and audible screaming was frequent enough, it did abate. I was able to breathe in and out, shower, eat, go to school, do my homework, and pretend to care about all my friends who hadn't been killed. But truthfully, the the internal sobbing never really ceased. At least not for a year or two. I allowed myself to be completely consumed by my grief. It probably wasn't the healthiest way to handle the pain, but I couldn't help it. I wanted to drown in it. I wanted to be so overcome that my heart would stop beating, just to still the pain.

I began to ostracize myself from my friends and most social activities that high school presents. Somehow, it was easier to cope when I was alone. The more people I was surrounded by just made her absence seem more acute. I began to avoid any place that held memories of her. I cut off my friendship with almost everyone who had known her. I formed new friendships with people who hadn't known her, so I wouldn't be reminded at every turn. She was so much of my world that when she was gone I lost half myself. I had to redefine myself and recreate my life. Time passed. Life eventually went on.

How did I survive the storm? To be honest, I don't think I had a very deeply developed root system by that time. I was just a sapling, not a mighty oak. I had just enough faith in my Heavenly Father that He carried me through the torrential winds and crashing rain. It was as though the sapling was tied to a strong iron stake in the ground. And as the storm beat upon me, my roots deepened, my trunk thickened, and my branches strengthened. In the midst of the storm the only thing that grounded me was my Father in Heaven. I cried out to Him in many a mighty prayer. I devoured the scriptures nightly. Though I had abandoned church and seminary attendance, my personal relationship with my Heavenly Father and my Savior was never so complete, so dependent, so thorough.

That time of faith amidst suffering is was gave me the root system I have today. It gave me empathy. It gave me perspective. It gave me gratitude. It made me who I am. Intense like the refiners fire, this experience prepared me for the challenges that yet lay ahead. It helped me become the type of person that others could rely on during their own personal hurricanes.

Since that time I have dealt with chronic health problems. I have helped my mother cope with the effects of chemotherapy and the attendant fear. I have struggled with the usual challenges that face young people as they pursue education, marriage, work, and happiness. Through every trial, big or small, I have stood strong. How? By understanding that complete dependence on God is the only way to survive this life. Those who get by without a faith in God are merely unaware and ignorant of how He sustains us and blesses us with the ability go on.

"I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."
Philippians 4:13


Tallulah said...

You are one of my favorite people in the whole world! You may have felt like a sapling then but you are one of the strongest, most wise "oaks" I've encountered.
I know the feeling of wanting to turn inside. I understood so little about what I was going through that reaching out to others seemed impossible. It actually changed when a neighbor of mine took me on a walk and told me about her experience with the death of her mother. I'd never felt so connected to another person. I'd visit her regularly and we'd discuss the gospel and other common interests. She was quite a bit older than me but I'll be forever grateful to her for pulling aside a silly 12 year old girl and share something so personal and sacred. I don't think she even realizes the impact she had on me.
Mojo talked about "new growth" on a tree. For me that symbolizes the good things that come out of our personal storms; the hope we can share with each other. It's almost as if our branches are wanting to reach out to someone else. I like that image.
Anyway, I love you! You're such a beautiful person, and I can't wait to hear more from you!

Mamma Mia said...

Isn't it incredible in these instances when we don't feel adequate enough or possibly even deserving, the Lord swoops in and is there for us. You said you had "just enough faith." How true that statement is. I have also felt the had of the Lord work miracles in my life when all I felt I had was literally a mustard seed or speck of salt amount of faith. In those moments it is a testament of how much He truly loves and values us. I was really touched by your story. I was also really touched how you mentioned the Savior's hand in strengthening you when you most needed it. You sound like an amazing woman. I'm so glad you are a part of The Oak!

Mojo said...

I came across a powerful quote the other day that came to mind as I ready your posting, "Grief is to the soul what fever is to the body." Thanks for sharing your story.

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