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When kindergarten finally came that next year, it caught me completely off guard to learn how little school really had to do with the act of learning. Remember how I said we’d moved to a town where everybody knew everyone? Well, my family didn’t really know anyone, and so I quickly discovered that I wasn’t a part of this “everyone” that everybody wanted to know because, not only did I seem to not know the right people, but I also didn’t seem to have the right clothes or the right last name – all of which seemed to add up to me being a nobody, or at least that’s how it felt to me. And so I responded in a way that all too many young kids who don’t know that they’re a uniquely special creation of God, do – I started chasing after what my world was telling me to be and do, in order to be socially accepted. As a result of this decision, my grade school years were filled with poor choices and plagued by hurtful memories.
By the time I’d reached the sixth grade, I had shoplifted clothes and had already tried smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. I was also affluent in bad language and in the art of kissing boys. Not to mention all the horrible things I’d participated in doing and saying to other kids, and all this in an effort to be included in the “everyone.” Despite the fact that I was able to work my way into that group that everybody saw as the “everyone,” I didn’t like or feel good about the person I was now seeing in the mirror – the person that I’d become in order to gain that “status.” In fact, I even began to loathe the things I’d done and the things I felt I had to continue to do in order to keep said “status.” Eventually, it got to the point where I was fed up with it all and wanted nothing more than to just be me again – the me who felt free from the pressures of seeking popularity, and no matter what the cost.
The fed up attitude all ended up coming to a head at my six grade birthday party, where I quickly learned what the true cost would be for standing out against the crowd. That it meant being an outcast of sorts – a target for relentless teasing and bullying. And it meant that a large majority of the people I’d worked so hard to be able to call my friends, were in fact not my friends at all because, not only were they not willing to stand up for me, but they actually even turned against me. In this I was shocked, but in this I did also learn the meaning of a true friend and to treasure those rare gems when found.
The treasure that I found that day was a girl by the name of Becky Gerow. She was the only one who stood up for me on that birthday, and she was one of only two who remained my friend for the remainder of that difficult year. Though neither of us had any idea of it at the time, in doing so, Becky had planted a seed that would later grow into a lasting legacy of God’s eternal love through a saving relationship with my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ…but that was still a ways off.
In the summer after sixth grade, I went to visit my grandparents in California, as I did every summer. During those months, Becky had made up with everyone. She chose the road of forgiveness and moved on. I didn’t. When I returned to school the next year, in remembering all the hurt of the previous year, I chose to travel down the road of anger, mistrust, and eventually bitterness, until the distance between Becky and I became so wide that we had become no more than acquaintances in the same class, and this is how it remained until our freshman year in high school when we ended up on the same cheerleading squad. It was through that “coincidence” that our friendship was rekindled.
During high school, Becky and I hung out enough outside of cheerleading, for me to see that the heart she had shown me in the sixth grade went beyond just the ordinary bonds of a grade school friendship. It was a part of who she was as a person. Time after time I witnessed her showing similar acts of kindness to her other friends, and even other students in which she wasn’t necessarily friends with, but who were being bullied or treated unfairly. By the time we both graduated, and Becky had moved on to Colorado to further her education, I wouldn’t say that we’d retained that best friend status we’d once known as young kids, but I would say I’d still considered her to be one of the truest and most treasured friends I’d had , and so when the news reached me just a few short months later that she’d been in a fatal car accident, I was left reeling in a confused mess of emotions.
One of the more prominent emotions that Becky’s death set off for me was in questioning my belief in God and in life after death. While I had always considered myself to be a believer in God, I hadn’t actually taken any measures in following Him, nor had I felt His presence in my life since I was a very young girl. That is, unless you count the shame and unworthiness I felt for the decisions I’d made and hadn’t made, and for the direction I’d chosen for my life overall up to that point. For even though I’d decided long before that to not make poor choices for popularity’s sake alone, I was still struggling with trust, friendship, and relationships in general – basically the whole social scene of school altogether, and alcohol, not God, had become my "de-stressor" of choice. But that’s a topic best left for another day…
It was at Becky’s funeral that the seed she’d planted in my heart all those years ago was watered with the truth and began to grow into what I now recognize as the everlasting legacy she’s left me. There I learned how she had accepted Christ shortly before her accident while attending church with her new boyfriend in Colorado. This was the first time I’d ever heard of being “born again” through Christ as the way to salvation. Or maybe it was just the first time it’d caught my attention because it was the first time in which I was truly seeking answers. I’m not really sure which it was, but either way, all that really matters is that I received the answers I was so desperately needing in my life and in my grief. For the first time in too long, I felt the Spirit of God tugging on my heart that day. God was using Becky’s death, one of the friends in whom I’d trusted and treasured the most, to water the seed that would grow into leading me to a trusting and treasured relationship with Him – the Lord of Lord’s and King of King’s – the God of hope and love…eventually anyway. It would take a little over four more years for that seed to take root and begin to bloom, but Becky’s part in all of that wasn’t done just yet.
Shortly after Becky’s death, I started having dreams with her in them. In those dreams I would be trying to get away from a deadly tornado and she would appear amongst the destruction and rubble with an outstretched hand asking me to follow her. Initially I would always grab her hand and let her lead me, but then it’d always seem she was leading me closer to the eye of the storm and I’d inevitably let go and begin to run in the other direction. This dream continued regularly right up until the night before I’d finally accepted Christ. That night, in the dream I didn’t let go of her hand and just before I thought the tornado was going to suck us in, an open window appeared before us and she led me through it. On the other side there was no sign of a storm, just a porch with a swing in which we sat silently watching the sun come up as the ocean rolled onto the beach before us. I then looked over at her, after the sun had fully risen, only to discover that she had gone. That next morning I finally answered the alter call and accepted Christ and I haven’t had that dream since.
I know that there are those who're going to say that I’m crazy, but that's OK because I know it to be true -the Lord put Becky in my life so that she would later lead me to Him. She showed me the love of God during that difficult time growing up, and it was through that simple act that I was later influenced to be open to hearing and seeking the Lord. Though Becky’s life may have ended at eighteen, the legacy that she’s left will live on forever in me, for which I will be eternally grateful for, and it is my hope that it will be passed on through me into other’s lives as well.
Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God's sunrise will break in upon us...showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace. ~Luke 1:78-79 MSG
"The soul of a child is the loveliest flower that grows in the garden of God." ~Margaret Fishback Powers
That is why the LORD says, "Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. don't tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead." Return to the LORD your God, for his is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish. ~Joel 2:12-13
*Photo pictured above courtesy of Amy Henderson Photography