Orphan

Two weeks ago, I woke up with two parents. Today I woke up an orphan.

Orphan. What image does that word paint in your mind?

Growing up in a family that watched and participated in musicals, my first thought is Annie, with her curly red hair and freckles trapped in an orphanage waiting for parents who are never coming back. My next thought is Oliver, asking for more gruel and being kicked out on his ear to fend for himself and learn to “pick a pocket or two.”

I’ve never really thought about an orphan being an adult. But it’s true… now I am now an orphan.

IMG_5144Many people, at a loss for words, sought to comfort me by reminding me that God has a special heart for orphans. Having grown up in church, I know that “pure and undefiled religion” is to care for orphans and widows.

With the loss of my father, I was reminded of the many times in scripture that God promises to be the Father to the Fatherless. These thoughts comforted me as I began to grieve the loss of dad in such a surprising and tragic way on March 29th.

Sunday I was listening to a pastor explain that his grandfather died when his father was young and, as a result, his father was very absent. Yet, when my father endured the same tragedy, he leveraged that pain to develop a heart for those without parents. I have been inundated the last two weeks with examples of how he filled the role of father for many fatherless boys.

I made the decision this weekend that I would take my father’s path.  I decided that I would allow this tragedy to shape me for the better and to equip me for the ministry that God has planned for my future.

IMG_5101The loss of mom on Tuesday was devastating and for a moment I was without words (an uncommon state for me, for sure). Once the wave of shock rolled over me and the pain began to set in, I immediately resolved that my commitment to see God bring beauty from this pain was even more important.

My parents were amazing.  They loved and served with everything that they had until their last moments on earth. My father passed driving the bus full of seniors returning from their annual choir retreat. My mother was working on details for the annual Seder up until she went to sleep. Both of them were a gift to this world and wanted nothing more than to leave the world better than they found it.

To have them gone so suddenly and so tragically, I believe God must have a plan to redeem their deaths just as He redeemed my father’s fatherlessness.

The last 48 hours so many people have told me they are amazed by my strength… but I don’t feel strong. I feel hurt and confused. I feel a bit lost and unsure. Mostly, I feel a childlike curiosity.

It’s like watching an artist as a young child.  I see the black strokes that have been made on the canvas and I can look around the studio and see all the beautiful works of art the artist has already finished. With wonder and curiosity, I look at the marred canvas in front of him and ask “how will these dark strokes become something beautiful?”

I have walked with God through many good days and bad days and He has never left me alone or abandoned me. The most painful and confusing events in my life have always been used for my good. His character is unchanged, although my circumstances seem uncertain, and I can walk in confidence because I have been here before.

Annie is eventually adopted by Daddy Warbucks and Oliver is adopted by Mr. Brownlow. While I don’t have a rich man looking to adopt me and redeem my future, I do have the richest Father in the world, one who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and He has promised that he will make all things work for good for those who trust Him.

We all face pain in life.  We can choose to let that pain make us victims and live selfish, irresponsible lives. Or we can choose to search for the hand of God coming in to redeem our pain and turn it into something beautiful. I choose the latter and I am excited to see what big things God has planned to redeem this tragic and painful situation for my good and His glory.

IMG_5029_cropped

Confused but Confident

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
James 1:2-4

I know that my God is good. I know that His plans are right and true.  I know that all things work for His glory and my good.

But I am confused.

Is it ok to say that? I trust God knows what He is doing and I trust that He has a plan … but it doesn’t make any sense right now.

If mom was going to die, why not just have her on the bus two weeks ago? Why put mom through the pain of grieving the loss of Dad just to have her join him 13 days later? Why put the four of us through planning a second funeral with the ink still wet on our thank you notes from the last one?

And what about the kids? Mom and dad faithfully served for so many years in preteens and Awana. Why put all those kids through the pain of losing Dad … just to rip mom away two weeks later?

Last night I was listening to a sermon from Grace about the stages of faith.  He talked about the wall… and how believers will eventually be led into a dark night of the soul so that they can move from knowing about God to knowing God. He was referencing the verse in James that instructs us to count it all joy when we endure trials because we know that the testing of our faith is what perfects us for every good work.

The pastor pulled his illustration from David, who had everything stripped away and was a fugitive for over a decade before his eventual assent to the throne of Israel. He explained that God had to strip away everything from David so that David could find that God was all he needed.  This is what prepared him to reign and made him the best king to ever rule over Israel.

As I listened to the sermon, I recognized my own feeling of having everything stripped away from me to leave me with only God to cling to. When Cassie called and told me mom was dead, I had a strange mixture of emotions… sure I was in shock, sad, hurt, and brokenhearted. But the overwhelming emotion today has been confusion.

Maybe downright curiosity.

God, what are you up to? What are you trying to build in me and what great work do you have for me to do that requires a test of such fire?

David endured a decade without his status, wife, family, dignity, and home country because he was destined to rule Israel for 40 years and would be the king to deliver Israel from their enemies. David would make Israel great again and that is exactly what he did, by delivering them from oppression and turning the heart of the people back to God. In all this success, David remained humble because God had taught him that this could all be taken away in an instant.

I am not called to rule a country, conquer an invading force, or return a nation to the Lord. But clearly God has a plan for my life and that plan requires a character in me that must be refined through the fire of pain.

Just as Jonah had no right to complain about the loss of the vine, I cannot bemoan God the loss of such amazing parents.  Many are never blessed with such a caliber of parents in the first place and I should count myself blessed to have had Murray and Dianne in my life.

Today was a day of tears, and there will no doubt be more to come in the weeks that follow. It was also a day filled with stressful decisions… adult decisions that I never expected to be making at this stage in my life.

First there will be the week of busyness. I will continue to wonder what God is up to and I will ask for wisdom as we work through the complex legal process to follow. I will write another obituary, we will process another cremation, and we will make another slide show.  We will order another set of flowers and each of us will give another speech at another memorial.

Then there will be the week of stillness… the week where reality sets in because both of my parents are gone and my life will never be the same. We will sell the properties and liquidate the estate and divide the inheritance and settle the details. Items will be stored, others sold, and still others tossed out as trash.

Eventually normalcy will return, work will resume, and days will begin to progress with some semblance of order. Somehow all the pieces of life will come back together to form a new picture, a new future, unlike anything I ever imagined.

My hope and prayer is that in a year when I look back on this unimaginable tragedy I will say with confidence that God has shaped me into a stronger woman and prepared me for His great work in my life.

Life is hard. No one makes it out alive. I am glad for community and I am grateful for family.

Above anything else, though, I am glad to know with absolute confidence that my parents are both alive and I will see them again. Hopefully a long time from now… but I know I will see them again.

Someday, millennia from now, from the other side of eternity, I know that I will look back on this time and see the hand of God. I will see how he had shaped myself and my siblings from this experience and I will trace His fingerprints in our lives as we each go on to do amazing things.

A tear will form in the corner of my eye and God will wipe it away. But the tears on that day will be tears of joy and gratitude that in the darkest nights and the hardest moments, God never left me alone. And, more importantly, He did not allow any of the pain to go on in vein because every bit of it will be redeemed, both in this life and the next.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

 

Father to the Fatherless

I have learned more about my father in the last week, since his untimely death, than I ever imagined.  Sifting through thousands of pictures, it’s incredibly difficult to boil down his life and impact into a slide show that won’t take 3 hours.

Murray William Barrett… Dad, as I have always known him, became fatherless at the age of three. This means my father was raised by a single mom back when being a single mom wasn’t common.

Rather than become rebellious, dad developed a heart for helping other fatherless boys. His mother knew she couldn’t teach dad how to be a man so she intentionally found other men to come alongside and be the father figure he needed. My father paid that forward by investing in fatherless boys, and preteens in general, for the rest of his life.

For privacy reasons, I cannot post the names or pictures of my father investing in the next generation, which span from his college years up till the week before he passed. (A sample of these pictures will be represented in the slides presented at Saturday’s memorial service.) Throughout all his “college years” pictures, I didn’t find one picture of my dad at a party or hanging out with friends. They are all pictures of him with boys at a nearby boarding school.

During my dad’s time in the Marine Corps, he was involved in work with South Texas Children’s Home. His investment was such an impact that he made the news and is in an article asking people to “adopt” fatherless children. Dad also took his squadron of pilots out to the home to help with various service projects. He was involved with South Texas Children’s Home to the point that they continued sending my grandmother letters years after he had already moved elsewhere.

20170403_130918

My father served in United States Marine Corps but knew he wanted to return to working with boys.  Once his service was complete, dad became the Lower School Headmaster at Hargrave Military Academy. His second year in that role, my father was told he must teach middle school math. This serendipitous coincidence unearthed in my dad a love of teaching and he immediately knew what he wanted to do with his life.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America had a special place in dad’s heart and he mentored boys through the program in three different cities as his career moved him around the country.  After my parents were married and moved to Oklahoma City for my mom’s military assignment, he applied for a new “little brother” … but then found out mom was expecting and was encouraged to focus on his new child.

Dad accepted this guidance, but still continued to invest in the children of Oklahoma, primarily through teaching in the local schools and being involved in the church.  I know this not from memory (I was one when we left Oklahoma), but because Oklahoma State Representative Scott Inman talked about it on the news.

Throughout our childhood, I can’t remember my father ever missing a recital, sporting event, or church play. We took family trips and had amazing experiences. Looking back, I can see opportunities to make more money that my father passed up to ensure he was fully present for his children.

While dad was always invested in children’s ministries or youth groups, no matter where we lived, it’s in New Braunfels that his impact is most visible to me. This is partially because I was older when we moved to New Braunfels but also partially because my parents have lived here for nearly 16 years, longer than any other place in their lives.

My father taught at New Braunfels Middle School but he wasn’t just there to teach math and collect a paycheck.  He invested in his students far beyond what is expected of a teacher and sought to impart maturity, self-image, and confidence in every child that entered his classroom.

Mom and dad became involved with the Awana ministry their first year in New Braunfels and have continued to work with it ever since. Currently my mom is the commander and dad was the games director, leaving big shoes to fill for whomever comes behind.

My parents started teaching the preteens at First Baptist Church in 2003 and have continued to lead that class to this day. Between these two programs, an entire generation has come up under dad’s love and silliness, balanced with mom’s structure and forethought.

When my younger sister went off to college, dad decided that it was time to return to Big Brothers Big Sisters for a new “little brother” and has been filling the role of mentor and father figure to a fatherless boy ever since. Although the time came to retire from his consistent teaching schedule, dad quickly enrolled as a substitute, amplifying his impact as he was no longer limited to one school or one classroom.

As a deacon, my father prayed for and visited widows. Eventually Billy convinced him that he was a senior adult and should join the Sunshine Singers, FBCNB’s senior adult choir. He took part in service projects and was always there for someone in need.

But my dad’s heart belonged to children and there was a special space reserved for boys who, like himself, lacked their father. This is not something that happened because he sought significance in his retirement.  Dad’s entire life was marked by this passionate investment, whatever way he could, wherever he lived.

Where some, when faced with the tragedy of being fatherless, would become inward focused and selfish, my father looked outward and sought opportunities to be that father for anyone who had a need. My hope is that I can carry on his legacy and leave just a fraction of the impact on the world that he has had.

That is how I will honor his life now that he is gone.