The months of October and November usually bring a certain sense of completion, calmness, and relatively anticipated feelings of family, fun and memories with Thanksgiving and Christmas just around the bend. But last year at our agency, we received an applicant for homeless shelter, whose life had been totally obliterated at the end of October, leaving her seemingly lifeless, lost, and with nowhere to go.
She had been through a very turbulent and violent attempt at marriage with an eight-year-old daughter in tow. That little girl had probably seen more in her first five years of life than some of us have seen for all the duration. Fighting, alcohol and drug abuse, and a terrible, chaotic, living environment caused them to finally separate, seeing their daughter at different intervals, depending on what the court had decreed. Apparently, this little girl’s father had visitation rights during the week of Halloween, which upset her mother, but realizing that this was part of the agreement to try to start a new life she acquiesced, hesitantly. And this is where our story begins, on Halloween night. The little girl’s father, apparently in a drug-induced stupor, and flying as high as the tallest mountain, drove her trick-or-treating. He decided to “camp-out” at a friend’s house where they continued the debauchery. Within thirty minutes of their going door-to-door with other friends and taking his eyes off her for more than a fleeting moment, tragedy struck. Another drunk driver did not see her and hit her and killed her instantly on the street, her lifeless body lying there still clad in a Halloween costume and candy strewn across the street intermixed with her blood.
When news reached her mother, she was more than distraught. The elements of anger and denial, and depression and blame and guilt filled her mind, and it wasn’t long until she lost everything. This is where she came to us looking for shelter, and a new direction. How she made it through Thanksgiving, and Christmas that year is only a gift of God having brought her to our doors close to the first of the year. After she made all the arrangements and understood the requirements and conditions of remaining in the shelter, she came to me. During our short time on our initial visit, I realized that there was something very different about her, even though she was completely wiped out emotionally, she was not spiritually empty. She had always been a believer and a disciple of the Lord Jesus, and she taught her daughter how to pray, and constantly told her that there was never such a thing as a hopeless situation. Now, she was called to live and follow her own advice, a moment in her life that she found hard to remember because of the trauma.
Over the next three months, we spoke about what she planted in the fall, in the autumn, during all those days and nights, leading up to Halloween, and All Saints, and All Souls Days. What she planted was a rich harvest that would yield remarkable fruit but not right away. Her life had hit more than a brick wall. Her heart had been ripped out of its haven, and now she was truly alone. Members of her family had rejected her because they didn’t feel like she had been responsible enough, and her friends didn’t understand how this could all happen, and besides, she couldn’t even hear, some of their intended, albeit lackluster Peter Pan advice, cosmic rationales for why things happen. Slowly, but surely her faith, like seeds of a mustard plant, beginning to sprout what she had planted in the season of autumn, and what she had been planting during this horrible fall and loss of human life was critical to her survival.
By Mother’s Day, she was a new person. Members of the staff were concerned about what she would do at a Mother’s Day community banquet with other mothers and grandmothers present, many of them with their small children close to them, their voices adding to the celebration. But what this woman planted in those days of long, quiet afternoons, with orange and red hues dotting the surface was what exactly she needed for the harvest. Her face blossomed, and before she left us, she was committed to helping other women and men who lost their children at a tragically young age, saying over and over again, “I don’t need to give back, I need to move forward and celebrate the life that my daughter gave me,” even though she was now face-to-face with the living God.
Her life is more than an example to us. It is the only way to live. Every day we are planting something in our hearts and minds, even though we may not realize it, and not realize why, we must believe that our tears will be turned to dancing and it takes a delicate hand to continue to plant hope and healing and resolution, even when the sky is dark and cold and gloomy.
I watched her that night. She visited and witnessed with other residents about what it would take to turn things around. She glowed as she spoke about her own life and the loss of her precious child. In my estimation, that woman is a success because she knew what she planted, and she harvested well. In these hot summer months that are approaching, let us pray that we can be purged of selfishness and egoism, so that we can see that life is so much more than what we have, than what we give.
What will the rest of the year bring, you ask? What are you planting?
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“Joy is hidden in sorrow and sorrow in joy. If we try to avoid sorrow at all costs, we may never taste joy, and if we are suspicious of ecstasy, agony can never reach us either. Joy and sorrow are the parents of our spiritual growth.” ~Henri Nouwen