Beauty for Ashes

Originally published Tuesday, 20 May 2014.

I knew something happened. Shaking my head, I adamantly whispered, “No. no. no. no…” But with tear-filled eyes they told me. “Laurie, your dad was murdered last night. He’s dead.”

Startled, my eyes began to dart around the room, not knowing what to do with what I had been told. As my new reality began closing in around me, I felt the shackles of a heavy burden weighing me down, but there was no escape. I wanted to run away. I wanted to scream. I wanted to hit something, throw something. 

This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening, I thought.

But it did happen. And in that moment, my life was forever changed.

About a month before my dad died, he took me out to dinner. It was a welcomed treat for a poor college student. I sat across a small table from him. And after a bit of small talk, he asked me, “So, whatch ya going to do after you graduate?”

“I don’t know,” I said, putting my fork down. I was a year away from getting my bachelors degree, and the thought of getting into “real life” excited me. “I’d like to see what kind of a job I can get first, but maybe I’ll go on to law school. Or maybe I could get my teaching credentials and become a history teacher,” I added with enthusiasm. “What do you think?”

“I think that’s up to you,” he responded with a grin and a look that made my heart smile.

Soon, our conversation turned, and with a spark that I hadn’t seen in quite some time, my dad told me about a woman he’d been dating. I asked some questions about her, and my dad did his best to answer them. “She’s a good Christian woman,” he told me.  And he went on to tell me that he started going to church again.

“Oh, good,” I said. But then tried to change the subject. I wasn’t a Christian at the time. In fact, I was far from it.

But then my dad said this, “Laurie, when I die, I want people to remember me for who I am. I don’t want anyone turning me into something I’m not.”

“Okay,” I responded slowly, thinking it was a bit of an odd remark.

“It’s just that, when someone dies,” he continued, “people only want to talk about the good parts of that person. But that’s not who they really are. There are good parts and bad parts to everyone.”

He has a point, I thought. Yet, I had no way of knowing the significance of what he was saying.

A month later, my dad died. And the conversation that we had over dinner became engraved upon my heart. I tried to honor my dad’s request to be known as he was. It weighed heavy on my heart as I wrote his eulogy a few short days after his death. And each time I spoke or wrote about his life and death, it was on my mind. Still, the significance of his words alluded me––that is, until I began to write more about my past and, more importantly, about the beauty and redemption that God has created out of it. It was then that I knew without a doubt that the Holy Spirit encouraged my dad to speak those words to me, over a decade before I needed them, to give me the freedom to write with the transparency needed to help others.

I have no desire to write about myself. But I cannot keep quiet about what God has done in and through my life. I have learned a lot about the heart of Jesus. He truly is our Redeemer. And it is Jesus’ desire to lift us out of our despair and our pain and bring us to a new place. A place that is rich in beauty and blessing.

Yet, God has shown me that in order to get there, we must choose, through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, to say yes. To say yes, my Lord, I will follow You. Yes, my Lord, I will obey Your commands. For, it is when we lay down our fear, our pride, and our resistance that we are able to experience life as He intended. The life that Jesus died for us to have.

This is where redemption happens.

It is only through the grace of God that I chose to say yes. I chose to follow Jesus when He told me that it was time to love and forgive the man who murdered my dad. What happened after this, was nothing less than a work of God. He brought good out of evil, love out of hate, and peace out of despair.

Still, this story began with a tragedy. With the loss of my dad. And I have to be honest––there is a part of me doesn’t want this to be my story. I don’t want to be a murder victim’s daughter. But I am. What I want is to have my dad back. I want to be able to feel him pull me abruptly toward him to receive one of his great big bear hugs as he often liked to do.

But that’s not the story God intended to tell. And I know in my heart that the stories God creates are far richer than anything we can conceive of in our finite minds.

The story God has created is a story of the grace, mercy, healing, forgiveness, and redemption that can only be given through Jesus. But ultimately, it’s a story that displays the glory of our amazing God. And I pray that it encourages you to say yes to whatever Jesus calls you to and to embark on your own Jesus-led story.