In the days and weeks following that terrible day, I knew God was going to somehow use this. I was (and still am) defiant against all odds, in that belief.
In my journey of grief, mourning and pain that followed those first 12 months after Elizabeth’s passing, the picture of what I was supposed to do next started to become a little bit clearer. It wasn’t a complete picture, but at that point I knew I had a direction. At least I knew where to steer my ship and the objective was a very clear.
The direction and objective was this: My family and I had to become connected with a group of people whose faith was bigger than ours; their vision for serving God had to be alive and dynamic. I had to become linked up with Brothers and Sisters who knew, first hand, what God can do and how to harness the power of prayer, faith and togetherness.
On May 12th 2016, I took my first step, into a larger world. I didn’t know the details of where it would take me, and I didn’t know how it would unfold; I just knew I had to trust and obey as best as I could.
That May afternoon, one year to the day, I decided to plant a tree. I went to the local home hardware store and found the perfect one…a red dogwood. Red was one of Elizabeth’s favorite colors. The leaves of the tree were crimson and the annual blossoms a soft pink. It was perfect for my little princess; she’d love it.
Along with the tree, I bought a bunch of flowers to plant around it, and three large flat rocks to make a little walkway.
I drove back to our house and knew exactly where I was going to plant it. There was a spot in the back yard that had been bare from where we used to have a swing set, and later on, a small fire pit. The swing set was long gone and we had moved the fire pit to a different place in the yard, a while back. All that was left was a large relatively bare circle…it was the right spot for her tree.
I got to work. My goal was to get the tree planted and secured in the ground before the school bus went by that afternoon. A year prior was the last time I saw Elizabeth alive; when she had stepped off the school bus and waved hello to me.
I wanted to get her tree planted before the school bus came by again. Before the clock struck the exact minute and second, albeit a year later.
The ground was hard clay; unforgiving and resistant as I tried to drive the shovel into it. One of my neighbors, a nice older gentleman, noticed me struggling and laboring to break through the tough earth.
He offered for me to use his post hole digger. I hesitated at first. My eyes were misty and hands were shaking. I was filled with so many of emotions caused by why I had to do what I was doing in the first place.
My neighbor leaned over, looked at the tree still in it’s pot and then looked back at me. I think he knew what I was doing and why I was doing it.
After a moment, I thankfully took the post hole digger; he told me to use it as long as I needed and to just place it on the side of the his shed when I was done.
After digging for a while; I finally made a hole big enough for the tree.
As I placed Elizabeth’s red dogwood tree in the ground, and put the last bit of dirt over the roots, her old school bus went by.
I beat the bus.
Elizabeth’s tree was secure and safely planted, exactly one year since I had last seen her draw breath in this life.
From that day on, I knew that my family and I were going in a whole new direction. Following the tree planting, I knew my next task was to take my family and I back to a church that I knew we could be planted and grow. We had to be in a place where we would learn to properly steward our feelings and experiences. A place that our souls could heal and spirits thrive. We went back to Wave Church, in Virginia Beach.
Interestingly, we had attended Wave Church a few years prior, but it was almost an hour’s drive, one way, every Sunday. It was the excuse of convenience that kept us from being in regular fellowship.
But, this time I didn’t care about the drive. My mind was made up. I was going to get my family and I plugged in and connected; full force.
The first Sunday, following planting Elizabeth’s tree, we went back to church. We walked in and, as the ushers showed us to our seats, the worship music overtook us. The healing power of praise washed over my family and I; even my other little girl Isabella (who was eight years old at the time) had tears running down her cheeks. God was there…we could feel it.
Following the worship service, the kids were released for Sunday school. Isabella couldn’t wait to go with all the other children.
Honestly folks, I don’t even remember what the sermon was about, I’m sure it was good…I was too overcome with joy. We were just happy to be home.
Following the service, my wife and I went to go get Isabella from Sunday school. As we were going to get her, something in my heart said to go down and see the pastor, who was in the main lobby.
Following Sunday services, Pastor Steve Kelly is always the front entrance, greeting everyone as they were leaving. He’s a dynamic, personable and down-to-earth guy. His genuine care and engaging way of interacting with people sets the tone and is the very heart of Wave Church.
If you go to (or ever been to) Wave Church, you’ll know exactly what I mean. It’s absolutely amazing!
So, normally, at the end of each service, there’s a line of people that want to say hello and chat with him. While walking down, I was thinking, there’s going to be a long line, and we wouldn’t have a chance to catch up.
As I rounded the corner, to my surprise, Pastor Steve was standing there, talking with one of his staff members. No long line; no group of people.
I walked up to Pastor Steve and re-introduced myself. I say re-introduced, because he and I had met a few years earlier when we first attended Wave Church in 2010.
Steve chatted with me for a few minutes and asked how everything was going. That’s when I filled him in on all that had transpired, over the course of the past few years, and especially the last year. I gave him a quick background on everything leading up to my family and I being back in church that very Sunday.
That encounter with Pastor Steve was a huge first step. Over the course of the next two years, my family and I would become linked to a much larger family. We would make friends and develop relationships with people of like faith; strong Brothers and Sisters who we would break bread with and share in fellowship together.
It was a huge step in God working in and through the grief that my family and I were experiencing.
There’s a lot more that follows and happened after this point, which best saved for yet another blog post…but I do want to wrap up with this very specific note…please pay attention:
None of us are meant to do life alone. Life is intended to be experienced in a community and shared with other people, who can hold each of us accountable and encourage us – in good times and bad. People who can link up and lock arms us.
It’s in this that I discovered the power of a united people linked together in synergy as a body. A place where no single piece is the whole, but instead it’s a place where every part is working together and is in tune with the joys and yes even pain of the other parts. Every part is emphatically linked to one another.
There’s genuine power in togetherness; something amazing happens in a corporate network of people who share a common purpose and vision.
For it all to work, there has to be genuine and intentional action on the part of those who are looking to be connected and those who are already connected.
It’s in this linkage that we share one another’s passions, visions and even struggles.
Being linked in keeps us from being alienated and having to carry on our own, what ever life has dished out. It allows us to share in the journey together…never alone.
Again, there’s a lot more to follow, but in this particular Deck Log entry, I wanted to give some background on a major turning point for my family, how the initial steps to being connected to a larger community transpired and, most of all, why it’s so important to be connected in the first place.
More Deck Log entries to follow, so stay tuned!