This week was my daughter, Andrea’s spring break from Harding University, and last Saturday morning, I was looking forward to seeing her when she arrived home that evening. When I got up that morning, my wife had already left to go into her office for some early Saturday morning work, but she had left me a note: “Call me.”
Have you ever gotten an emotional punch in the gut? Had the wind sucked out of your sails?
I called my wife. She had news. “Andrea’s friend, Nicholas was killed in a car accident this morning.”
Nicholas Smith was an excellent student at Harding. A Bible major from Buford, Georgia, he was planning to work in the ministry as a career. Looking forward to that, he had agreed to an internship this summer at a congregation in Syracuse, New York. And, he and his girlfriend were headed there for spring break, along with a number of other Harding students, on a mission trip, when his car was involved in a multi-vehicle pile-up near Louisville. The Lord took him home.
He was a good friend to my daughter.
My heart immediately went out to Andrea. In her four years at Harding, this would be the third person that she has known who has been killed in a car accident on the way to or from school. And, Nicholas was close. She and Nicholas had been friends since her freshman year. Good friends. He had accompanied her to social functions, and they regularly hung in the same circle of friends. Laughing. Joking. Playing games and goofing off. I just knew she was going to take it extremely hard.
You see, last year, she was deeply heartbroken when a girl in her dorm had died, and she was not nearly as close to that young woman. As her father, it tore me up to see her in so much pain. And, I worried that this one would be so much more devastating. Grief can be incredibly debilitating, and I worried about how it would affect her…especially as she herself was on the road, driving the nine hours home.
As her father, I remain concerned, but I am no longer anxious about it. In fact, I am now quite proud of her.
Rather than withdrawing into a cocoon of self-despair, she instead poured herself into others. After she had gotten the news, and in the midst of her own deep-seated grief, she began to phone many of their mutual friends, in order to break the news (before they read it on Facebook, etc) and to be their “shoulder” to cry on. She gave to others despite her own sorrow, and her heart has made me proud.
Not that she isn’t going to struggle. I know she will. But, just so you can get a glimpse of how she is handling it, here is a tweet she sent out on Monday:
“I'm not okay, but I will be and God is still good and present in my life.”
I am proud of her for two reasons. First, she has her own faith, and she has matured within it to the point that she can stand firmly knowing that God is there for her. Second, she has matured spiritually to the point that her heart for other people has more power in her life than her own personal pain or struggles. She is her own woman with her own faith, and that faith is strong.
As I write this, she has gone to Georgia to attend Nicholas’ memorial service. She was even asked to share some memories during the service. It cut our time with her short this week, but she needed to go. For Nicholas. For her friends. And, for the Smith family. There would have been no way that Nancy and I could have stood in her way.
I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. 2 Timothy 1:5
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 3:14-15
Like Timothy, I can see the sincerity of my daughter’s faith, and I know that so much of it finds its roots in how my wife trained her in her youth. (And I hope I played a little part too.) But even so, she has made it her own, and it has blossomed to maturity within her heart. I watched Nicholas Smith’s memorial service online, and his faith was obvious as well. His faith also was his own, and he gave to everyone around him. His faith impacted everyone he had contact with. No wonder they were friends.
To bring this around to us…
Riding along with my pride in my daughter are some challenges for my own heart.
How often do I let my own struggles get the better of me? How often do I let my discouragements cause me to slide into my own personal cocoon? Is my own faith strong enough that I would be giving to others through my own turmoil?
Isn’t it something when you start learning from and being challenged by your own child? (That makes me proud too.)
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4
We all know this, right? We need to have the needs and concerns of others on our hearts, to postpone our own needs and concerns in order to care for our neighbors. But, to do that while in the midst of personal pain is the ultimate challenge. It’s just plain hard. However, looking to the needs around us might be the best, most effective way of dealing with our own pain. Something to think about.
To the young parents out there reading this, let me leave you with a couple of thoughts to reflect on…
1. Share your FAITH with your children…not just your religion. Let them see it living in you.
2. The greatest gift you can give your child is the example of your faithfulness. Your example shouts louder than your words ever will.
Give to your children the tools to make you proud of their faith too.
To close, I ask all of you to keep the Smith family in your prayers. May God bless them with peace and the touch of His loving hands on their shoulders.