Spring: An Anniversary of Loss and Life

Spring:  An Anniversary of Loss and Life

 

The month of March marks the end of winter for those of us in North Carolina.  The transition is sudden, with temperatures jumping from the 40’s one day to the 70’s the next.  After months of cold weather, our street comes to life again as children play for hours and adults return to working in their yards.

For me, spring is an anniversary of paradox, loss and life, death and rebirth.

I’m from the South, born and raised in the heart of the Bible belt.  In my hometown of Mills River, North Carolina, a tiny town nestled in the mountains of western North Carolina, identifying oneself as a Christian is as unnecessary as informing others of one’s humanness.  There are more churches than retail stores and restaurants combined.  Revival tents dot the sides of the road throughout the summer.  Locals look forward to Friday night pickins’ at the town’s feed and seed where bluegrass bands, like Appalachian Fire, sing and play well into the evening.  Visitors find themselves frequently and unexpectedly lifted up to the Lord. Long-time residents of Mills River sweetly exclaim, “Well, bless your heart!” and “God bless you honey!” and “Have a blessed day!” after tourists innocently ask for directions at Mills River Grocery, or after they order French toast from Mills River Restaurant.  Just as a compass points a lost traveler east or west, the small- town culture of Mills River points to God.

It’s impossible to grow up there, surrounded by some of God’s most beautiful and majestic landscapes, and not be aware of His presence.  Rolling hills covered in a carpet of green rise up to create the feeling of being nestled snuggly into a natural cocoon.  Dairy cows gather along the road’s edge, forming the illusion of black and white fencing.  Rivers and streams wind through the countryside, creating a soothing symphony of sound.  Fields of corn stretch over acres of land, the intricate rows forming natural mazes.  Silos rise up beside meticulously hand-constructed barns, providing 5-star luxury accommodations for the farm animals.  The signature of God is recorded on every magnificent landscape, stream, river, and mountain of Mills River, North Carolina.

Growing up there, it’s not surprising to learn my family believed in God.  We prayed before meals and at bedtime.  The sweet sound of bluegrass and gospel filled our house, with Mama and Daddy singing along loudly and joyfully to groups like the Kingsmen Quartet and The Freemans.

Uniquely, the vibrant strokes of Christianity colored my educational easel, as well. We attended public school where we made Christmas decorations and watched Christmas movies for days leading up to Christmas break.  Friday night football games always began with a prayer, not a moment of silence, spoken over the loud speaker, asking for God’s protection over the players and giving thanks for the opportunity to participate.  I played volleyball and basketball with the same group of girls from the third grade through graduation.  My teammates and I took turns leading a devotional before games, using scripture and verses to encourage sportsmanship and Godly behavior on the court.  We huddled up before each game to say the Lord’s prayer before running out to the blasting notes of “The Wild, Wild West” (for West Henderson High School).

Being a Christian wasn’t something people concealed; it was the norm, a clique to which all wanted to belong.    

I wasn’t an exception to this norm.  I was part of the Christian crowd.  I was saved. I had managed, at the young age of eighteen, to have a personal relationship with Christ, unpolluted by the dogma of religion.

College is often a time of discovery.  Many experiment with newfound freedom through parties and sexual escapades. My experimentation differed; I discovered my feminist voice, my liberal views, and my unbelief.

Being young and impressionable had less to do with my drifting than my innate desire to search and question, an inquisitiveness which has been a part of my personality since my early childhood.

The university environment fostered my desire to investigate.  For the first time in my life, I asked why I believed what I believed.

French poet Antoinette du Ligier de la Garde Deshoulières predicted correctly when she said, “Seeking to know is only too often learning to doubt.”  When some of my questions couldn’t be answered by the teachings of my faith, that rope was severed and I began the free-fall into agnosticism.

During the spring of my sophomore year of college my faith in God died.

During my senior year of college, wedding preparations began.  Like most brides-to-be, I happily sought the perfect dress, the tastiest cake, and the prettiest flowers.  After securing a beautiful outdoor venue in Asheville, my fiancé and I began the search for a nonreligious officiate to direct the ceremony.  I found her through a web search, called, and made an appointment to meet and discuss ideas for the vows.

We wanted a service which reflected our love.  We did not want an unproven God to receive credit for what we had accomplished or for what we hoped to create in our marriage.  Our vows, void of God, focused solely on us, our journey, our love, and our future.  We stood before the people we loved and said “I do” to a marriage without a God.

During the spring of 2002, less than three years after taking those vows, I stepped around the shattered pieces of my marriage.

Standing there, humbled and hurt, emotions stirred in my heart.  I longed for a belief in something beyond myself.  How could I continue on the same path of self-reliance, a path which had steered me to a place of loss and loneliness?  But more importantly, how could I return to a relationship I had abandoned?  How insulting would it be to God for me to turn back to Him during this time of grievous loss, when I had turned my back on Him years before? Wouldn’t I become the definition of hypocrisy?

Whether we begin a walk with the Lord and stray, as I did, God is there.  If, from the beginning, we journey alone, God is there.  Simply, no circumstance exists for which God will abandon his children.  His hand is always outstretched.  His kingdom displays all of the signs of treasure.  He longs for us to climb up the steps to His throne and knock.

When accompanying my dad on his junkin’ trips as a child, the owner’s decision to welcome us into his home after we unexpectedly knocked on the door created excited anticipation for me.  My dad knocked, I watched and waited, and when he extended his hand, I accepted without hesitation.  Placing my small hand within his larger one, I followed, looking forward to the journey ahead.

My return to God was just as easy, just as simple, and just as exciting. 

It was on an afternoon walk in the spring, a year after the collapse of my carefully constructed life, that I answered God’s call to deny myself and follow Him.

My dogs and I walked alone on a local trail.  The sun, bright above us, created dancing patterns of shadow as its rays fell through the canopy of trees.  The silence of the walk was broken by the occasional song of a bird or snapping of a twig as a squirrel jumped around playfully in the underbrush.  Wanting to feel the sun’s warmth, I stopped at a bench bathed in its light.  The dogs, tired from the distance walked, flopped down in a shady spot nearby.  As I lifted my face to the sun, my heart began to stir again. 

The memories of the previous months’ events rushed back to me.  Grief crawled up from the pit of my stomach, forming a lump in the back of my throat.  I closed my eyes as the shame of my decision to abandon my faith worked its way up, too, causing me to choke on a sob I tried hard to silence.

In trying to push back the emotions of many months, I realized I was falling again into the old habit of self-reliance and self-control.  Weary from the effort and exhausted by years of traversing the hills and valleys of my life alone, I took a deep breath, I reached out my hand, and I knocked.  Allowing the tears to flow, silent no more, I spoke openly to God.  Through my sobs, I begged God’s forgiveness.  With my face lifted up, as my tears rolled down, I asked Him back into my life.  As the warmth of the sun hit my face, my emotions quieted, and I felt a peace descend on my heart.

The cathartic purging of regret, shame, and sadness created room for God to enter.  The door opened, and He extended His hand; I placed my small hand in the palm of His larger one, and without hesitation, followed, looking forward to the journey ahead.

As another Spring arrives and as Easter approaches, the symbolism of life and death, loss and rebirth is undeniable.

I am thankful for my losses because without them, I would not have my current life.

I am thankful for Christ’s death and resurrection because without them, I would not have the promise of eternal life.

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