Monday, March 1, 2010

Unexpected Grace

This weekend Bryan and I headed down to Buckhead for a Wheaton College alumni and parents event.  In years past we've considered going but have never felt like it was worth the time and money to actually attend.  This year, however, an alum footed the bill for the entire event, so we could attend free of charge.

Bryan and I both attended Wheaton from 1996-2000.  It was a wonderful experience for both of us, though we would describe our time there in different ways.  It's where we met (during orientation our freshman year), where we became gradually closer friends, and where we eventually fell in love.  I look on those four years as a genuinely blessed, truly deepening time in my life.  I loved Wheaton from start to finish.  It's where the most important relationships in my life began (with a few exceptions), and it's where God taught me to embrace myself -- no matter how broken, ugly, or shamed I was.  For Bryan Wheaton was a darker and harder time.  During his years there, he learned his dad had cancer, watched as his dad died, and struggled with an all-consuming depression.  But out of those hardships, the Lord deepened Bryan's heart, his dependence on God, and his already firm faith.  And out of the hurt Bryan and I were both facing during our college years, the Lord birthed our love for each other.  Our marriage began in the ashes of Bryan's grief and of my struggle to heal from some deep wounds.  Wheaton played a pivotal role in our love, our lives, and our relationships with God.  We are abundantly grateful for that place.

As we headed to Buckhead on Friday, I said to Bryan, "Are you prepared to be asked, 'How many kids do you have?' We're going to get it a lot tonight.  Do you know how you want to answer?"  We discussed it and came up with saying something along the lines of, "We have three, but our youngest passed away about 6 months ago."  Sure enough, we heard the question repeatedly.  I'd say we were asked no less than a dozen times.  The first three times I cried, but it got easier as the night went on.  Though I was prepared to get the question, I was not prepared for the kindness and compassion we received when people heard about Samuel.  I got a lot of hugs.   More than one person teared up, and everyone was gracious and gentle.  I had forgotten how very much I like Wheaton people! 

We sat at a table with younger grads, and I loved hearing what they're up to, what Wheaton was like for them, and how they are doing in life post-college.  It was rich conversation, and I loved it.  There is something about the shared bond of having gone to Wheaton -- and more importantly, the shared bond of knowing and loving Christ.  It was easy to talk to these strangers and to feel like they were friends. 

After dinner, Bryan and I went up to talk to Dr. Litfin, the soon-to-be retired President of Wheaton College.  While we were waiting to talk to him, some 1980 grads stopped us to chat.  One of the couples attends North Point, our church and where Bryan works.  When they asked about our kids and heard our answer about Samuel, they were so tender with us.  They spoke about suffering and hurt, about how hard it must be for us, about how sorry they are for our loss.  But most significantly, they circled around us and prayed for us.  It was a prayer we needed and touched us deeply.  One of the things Phil Tuttle prayed was that we would continually come to their minds that they might keep praying for us.  I was so moved by that request -- that they would want to remember some strangers with a heartbreaking story, so they could continually pray for us.  Just typing about it has a huge lump in my throat. 

When we finally got a chance to speak to Dr. Litfin, it was a more blessed conversation than I could have anticipated.  Bryan simply expressed thanks for his leadership of Wheaton and told him that though Wheaton was a hard time in his life, it was a time of rich growth and God's goodness.  Dr. Litfin immediately honed in on the "hard time" comment and asked how it was hard.  When he heard about Bryan's dad, he was so kind and thoughtful.  Then in talking about Dallas Theological Seminary (where Bryan takes satellite classes, Dr. Litfin attended and taught, and my dad was once a professor), I asked if he knew my dad, and after a few questions, he learned about my dad's affair and the subsequent divorce of my parents.  He quickly asked, "How has that been for you as your dad's daughter?  Are you ok?  What has that been like?"  A few minutes later he put his arms around us and said, "You two sure have been through a lot!" to which I said, "and you don't know the worst of it!"  When he heard about Samuel, he started crying and shared a story with us about suffering and God's presence in it.  He told us about his daughter who, in 1972, was born 3 months early.  The doctors told him she most likely would not survive and if she did, she would be severely brain-damaged.  She is now grown up and healthy and a graduate of Wheaton.  He sympathized with us in our pain and shed tears with us.  I cannot tell you how much this meant to us or how blessed we felt by it. 

When we left we both said what an unexpectedly wonderful evening it was and how we will make every effort to attend in future years.  On the drive to the event, Bryan had prayed that we would somehow be able to encourage others, but it hadn't occurred to us that instead we would walk away uplifted and so gently cared for.  The night was a blessing and another picture of our Heavenly Father's tender love for us.  Now we have another reason to be thankful for Wheaton College.


  1. Yay!! What a blessing to have this whole new group of friends and supporters come into your lives in a way that revives the best aspects of your college experience. I will always remember our high-school conversations about college plans and how you had your heart set on Wheaton--it's clearly the gift that keeps giving.

  2. The Brave Little Soul
    By: John Alessi

    Not too long ago in Heaven there was a little soul who took wonder in observing the world. He especially enjoyed the love he saw there and often expressed this joy with God. One day however the little soul was sad, for on this day he saw suffering in the world. He approached God and sadly asked, "Why do bad things happen; why is there suffering in the world?" God paused for a moment and replied, "Little soul, do not be sad, for the suffering you see, unlocks the love in people's hearts." The little soul was confused. "What do you mean," he asked. God replied, "Have you not noticed the goodness and love that is the offspring of that suffering? Look at how people come together, drop their differences and show their love and compassion for those who suffer. All their other motivations disappear and they become motivated by love alone." The little soul began to understand and listened attentively as God continued, "The suffering soul unlocks the love in people's hearts much like the sun and the rain unlock the flower within the seed. I created everyone with endless love in their heart, but unfortunate​ly most people keep it locked up and hardly share it with anyone. They are afraid to let their love shine freely, because they are afraid of being hurt. But a suffering soul unlocks that love. I tell you this - it is the greatest miracle of all. Many souls have bravely chosen to go into the world and suffer - to unlock this love - to create this miracle for the good of all humanity."

    J​ust then the little soul got a wonderful idea and could hardly contain himself. With his wings fluttering, bouncing up and down, the little soul excitedly replied. "I am brave; let me go! I would like to go into the world and suffer so that I can unlock the goodness and love in people's hearts! I want to create that miracle!" God smiled and said, "You are a brave soul I know, and thus I will grant your request. But even though you are very brave you will not be able to do this alone. I have known since the beginning of time that you would ask for this and so I have carefully selected many souls to care for you on your journey. Those souls will help you create your miracle; however they will also share in your suffering. Two of these souls are most special and will care for you, help you and suffer along with you, far beyond the others. They have already chosen a name for you". God and the brave soul shared a smile, and then embraced.

    In parting, God said, "Do not forget little soul that I will be with you always. Although you have agreed to bear the pain, you will do so through my strength. And if the time should come when you feel that you have suffered enough, just say the word, think the thought, and you will be healed." Thus at that moment the brave little soul was born into the world, and through his suffering and God's strength, he unlocked the goodness and love in people's hearts. For so many people dropped their differences and came together to show their love. Priorities became properly aligned. People gave from their hearts. Those that were always too busy found time. Many began new spiritual journeys, some regained lost faith - many came back to God. Parents hugged their children tighter. Friends and family grew closer. Old friends got together and new friendships were made. Distant family reunited, and every family spent more time together. Everyone prayed. Peace and love reigned. Lives changed forever. It was good. The world was a better place. The miracle had happened. God was pleased

  3. Thank you for sharing this story. I wanted to check in on you guys and see how you're holding up. I don't know you but I work with your Mom and have been praying for you since the beginning. I know it's hard now with her overseas for such a long time. I still think about Samuel and keep his picture in my Bible to remind me to keep praying for you. I can see the Lord's hand in taking care of you.