The beautiful theme of community and love that meets us in the darkest hours is just one of the reasons that I adore Episode 3 in Season 1. In the midst of grief it can be easy to “lose our voice” and I am convinced, that as Elizabeth wrote in her journal, it is the light of love that restores every lost voice.
This episode resonated and challenged me on a deeply personal level. Many years ago, I was the recipient of extravagant love, much like Rosaleen in the midst of my own grief walk. I had always been beautifully surrounded by a loving and faithfully supportive family that I don’t take for granted, but when my ex-fiance’ broke off our engagement only a few days before Christmas in December 2008 and a few short months before we were to be married, I was living more than 12 hours away from them and found myself losing my voice due to the pain of darkness.
When the fairy tale dream that I had envisioned with my fiance' came to a shocking and sudden end, I found that people and noise had become a balm to my broken heart. Noise, not ice cream and chocolate as the myth states, had become the thing that I had tried to “fill up” my life with to pass the quiet hours after my teaching day was done. The hours that had once brought so much happiness now stretched silent and sad with long sleepless nights before me.
Noise and my desire for companionship drove me to play countless episodes of old TV shows until I fell asleep at night. Morning talk shows were what I blasted from the first moments of rising each morning and kept me “company” in the early hours of my day and taught me more about pop culture than I had ever known in my entire life. The search to escape grief drove me to throw myself into my teaching career as never before. Despite living an hour and a half away, I arrived at the school by six am most mornings and left approximately fifteen hours later. While some expressed concern, no one knew exactly what to say and so the majority of adults that I worked with gently tried to tiptoe around my broken heart. The gentleness was a loving attempt to share in my grief in their own way.
Unfortunately this led to many stilted conversations and lots of awkward silence. There were precious friends on staff who embraced my messy state and heaped a generous amount of love on me, and yet I needed more. I longed for someone to see beyond the broken shell of a person that I had become and I longed to see love courageously acted out in human form. Most of all, I longed for love to restore my lost voice. Despite the extreme kindness of many people in my life, my family lived over 12 hours away, and I was feeling that I needed the body of Christ in ways that I was unable to express in words.
In many ways I was very similar to Rosaleen… locked in silence and unable to move past what happened despite the loving-kindness that surrounded me. And just like Rosaleen went silent I found myself losing my voice to grief. Unknown to me, and in the opposite way of Rosaleen being helped by a teacher, my unspoken hearts prayer request was about to be answered in the most unlikely of ways- through my students.
One day during my planning period, about 3 weeks after my world came crashing down, I found my classroom surprisingly empty. I glanced around at the quiet room and realized that I needed another distraction from the silence that would last until my next class arrived. I walked out of my room and down the hallway to the third floor student lounge which had gorgeous floor to ceiling picture windows that overlooked the soccer field and surrounding woods. It was a favorite place in the school building and I was surprised to find it empty. I settled into a chair and surveyed the still winter scene outside and ironically considered how similar it was to everything that was in my life. Just like outside, everything looked dead in my life.
As I sat pondering this scene I didn't hear Paul, one of my senior students, come in and settle in on a chair beside me. As it dawned on me that he was there, I felt the teacher side of me kick in and I looked for something "brilliant" to say. In the haze of my own grief and pain, I was dimly aware that the holidays must have been just as difficult for Paul as they were for me, due to some family situations, but for the life of me I was once again at a loss for words.
"This view is amazing. I never get tired of it." I heard him say. I nodded and he hesitated and then continued. "How was your holiday, Ms. V?"
"Short," I replied, my voice laced with sadness. Even though I had only been back for three days it seemed like years.
“Ms. V-” He interrupted my thoughts, and I turned to look at him as I realized he was hesitating. “Ms. V,” he said again. “I am so sorry.”
As I glanced away and back out at the winter scene outside the window and then back at the young man sitting beside me, I realized that my cheeks were wet with silent tears. “Thank you,” I whispered.
For the first time, someone outside my family and best friends had acknowledged the pain I was going through. Not in a way of making it better but with four simple words that acknowledged the deep hurt I was feeling and gave me room to grieve. Those four precious words were uttered from someone who had done nothing to cause the pain but instead chose to step into the pain.
I am not sure how long we sat there in silence that day before the bell rang, but I do remember the feeling of peace filling the silent space that had crept into my heart because a senior decided to look outside of themselves and reach out to their teacher whose life been seemingly shattered. It’s ironic because in many ways, nothing changed that day, but in other ways, everything changed. The need for noise to numb the pain was gone and it was replaced with a peace that had been lost since the night my life had shattered.
Often times, all we need is someone to come and sit with us and say “I am so sorry”. It might seem like it is not enough but trust me- it can change everything. The minute you choose to extend grace, kindness, and love to another hurting human being something powerful happens. The light of that beautiful and gentle love restores the lost voice.
That year was living proof of this to me. After that conversation, there were countless ways that love was physically expressed by this senior class for the remainder of the year. At a time that could have been one of the most selfish times in their lives, these seniors poured consistent, practical, and personal love into my life. There were hundreds of letters of encouragement, students who convinced me to take up running after school when I just felt like sitting, countless cups of coffee, little notes left on my desk, in books, and in my car, gifts of music that were filled with uplifting and encouraging words, DVDs given, Katharine who called me “beautiful” when I looked anything but, invitations to eat lunch so that I never ate alone, many jokes and pranks played that brought laughter, Starbucks gift cards, money for a new car when mine died, invitations to weekend outings (including Valentine’s Day) and hundreds of Dutch Blitz games simply because I once said I liked it. Whether it was a conspiracy between all of them or a simple plan to care that morphed and grew, those simple yet precious acts of love changed my life and brought back my voice.
It has been eight years since those precious students changed my life and yet while our lives have continued on, I am reminded of that year often with simple gratitude and a heart full of incredible thanks as that year has influenced me deeply, even to this day.
In what could have been the worst year of my life, I truly only remember with a fond and humble smile. With a smile that knows and understands what it means to be the recipient of incredible love and kindness here on earth and with a humble heart that has seen the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living despite the hard. Without a doubt, a circumstance that brought me so much pain was the backdrop for a beautiful time in my life. When I felt like Rosaleen, standing in the dark mine looking ahead and seeing only darkness, my own group of "Elizabeth's" showed up with the light of love.
I have been thinking about that year and this episode a lot recently, especially with all of the turmoil surrounding our world right now. I think we all want to change our worlds and we all have great and big programs and ideas, but what changes peoples lives isn't often the planned out programs or things. Instead, it is the intricate and personal way of loving people directly. It's stepping into the darkness with the hurting and the broken-hearted and lovingly and personally reminding them that they are not alone. It is gently reminding them that their story at this crisis point season in their lives is not the end of their story.
We each have the beautiful opportunity to remind someone that their worst days are not the end of their story as we bring the light of God into someone's life. Sometimes it is sitting and just listening. Other times it is offering a word of encouragement. Sometimes its saying the simple words of "I'm sorry" when you are not to blame. Sometimes its taking the time to listen to a friend say, "Please help my little girl" like Molly did. Sometimes its understanding in wisdom that we can encourage our children to embrace the brokenhearted along with us.
The gift that the parents of that senior class gave me was priceless. Those parents gave me the gift of healing so that one circumstance would not be the definition of the rest of my life. And those parents perhaps taught their senior aged children the most important lesson before they graduated, the gift of lovingly embracing the brokenhearted.
Mother Theresa once said, "Do you want to change the world? Go home and love your family." Let's do that today. Let's go home and love the family that is before us. Let's lovingly bring the light of love to those who have lost their voice and let's love the people right in front of us. Do you realize that you could be the person to help change the course of someone's life? You can. Do you realize that your personal and practical love can have a huge effect on the community at large? It will. I beautifully witnessed this myself as out of the love that these students poured out on to my life, the entire school community was influenced. It truly was a piece of heaven on earth and sweet friends, I promise you will see that happen too. We have the opportunity to beautifully create a "Hope Valley" right where we are in our lives, in our families, in our communities, and in our world, because the light of love truly does restore every lost voice.
"The Lord will be your everlasting light and your days of sorrow will end."
"The Spirit of God...is on me... He sent me to preach good news to the poor, heal the heartbroken...God sent me to announce the year of His grace... and to comfort all who mourn, to care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion, give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes, messages of joy instead of news of doom."
-Isaiah 61:1-3, The Message-
*Please note that the quotes used in these weekly devotionals are the sole intellectual property of Hallmark Channel, WCTH, & Crown Media, LLC. These on-line posts are in no way supported, endorsed, or affiliated with WCTH, Hallmark Channel, or Crown Media. They are simply encouragement inspired by Janette Oke and this precious show.*