Saturday, October 6, 2007

Along The Roadside

It was a routine type of evening. Dinner was over, I had just cleaned up the kitchen and washed a dirty kid-face, and was about to sit down in the living room when the phone rang. On the other end of the line the voice of my best friend said "Carla, are you sitting down?" Knowing full well what was about to come would be tragic news, I sat down and listened. A dear friend had been doing what many young and reckless people do, racing another car on a city street. There had been some drinking involved, and my friend lost control of his car. Somehow, he was ejected from the driver's seat and his body catapulted into a tree on the side of the road. His name was Eddie, and that evening 24 years ago, Eddie's young life came to an end at that tree. What for him was a bit off goofing off ended in tragedy. What for me was a typical evening cleaning up after dinner, forever became etched in my heart as the first time ever receiving an "are you sitting down?" phone call. I was only 18, and Eddie was just a few years older. It was impossible to wrap my mind around the news I was hearing, so I just sat there and cried.

I knew the street where it happened. A few years prior to that, it was a part of town I walked through almost every day, since it was close to the high school. It was a heavily tree-lined side street that a lot of us kids used for a shortcut through the park and to the bridge that connected the east and west side of town. There was one tree on that road however that stood out among all the others. It was tall, and it was wide, and it grew closer to the road than any of the other trees. As soon as I was told it was "the tree" on that road, I knew exactly what tree it was.

Over the years after that, I lived only a couple blocks from that very street and any time I had a reason to have to drive down it, I purposely avoided looking at the tree where Eddie died. It still hurt too much, and seeing and knowing of the actual scene was just more information than I ever wished I had. In the weeks after the accident, someone had tied a ribbon around the tree, but over the years it became weathered and tattered and what was once a bright yellow ribbon, eventually just faded away, and then it was gone. No one ever replaced it. I was glad that no one turned that tree into a roadside memorial for Eddie. All the locals and his friends and family already knew that was where Eddie died, and I guess no one thought we needed any more of a visual reminder than what great big tree, already was.

Over the many years since then, I have noticed that such roadside memorials are on the increase. It’s nearly impossible to drive down any highway in the US or Canada without seeing a cross, or a wreath of flowers, sometimes with a teddy bear or a single balloon, out in the middle of what seems like nowhere – marking a site where someone who was dearly loved, lost their life. I understand that for some people, such things help them cope with such a loss, and I wouldn’t dare propose anyone deprive them of such a thing. As for me however, I just don’t like seeing them and knowing that “this” is the spot that someone lost their life. I guess that’s a personal thing for everyone, isn’t it? Death is a strange thing and we all deal with it a little differently. As for me, I don’t do “viewings” (I did attend one, and that settled it for me that I would never do another, and I have not), and I’m also not very big on graveside decorations. Again, this is a personal issue for each heart and mind and for those who need to do such things, I have no issue with them doing that.

What made me think of this today, was how closely such roadside memorials parallel the Christian life, and the process of rejoicing over ongoing sanctification, or dying to self. For the unsaved, death is a brutally painful event and there can never really be any kind of rejoicing associated with it at all. Granted, many unsaved people will placate their hearts and minds with a “he/she is in a better place” platitude, and I suppose in some way that does make them feel a little better, even if it’s just a temporary band-aid solution to grief.

For the believer however, it’s a whole different scenario. Not only do we indeed rejoice even in our grief when a loved one goes home to the Lord, but even in our own lives when there is an ongoing dying to self, as we grow in Christ. Now that might sound rather odd, but Christians well understand what this means. Dying to self hourly, daily, yearly... it’s what we do as we mature in Him. This is putting off the old man (Col. 3:9) and growing in grace (2Peter 3:18).

Countless times in the lives of believers, there are times of being on the mountain, and being in the valley. Mountaintop times are a great blessing and a time of refreshing, renewing and reinvigorating. Then once again like clockwork, come the times in the valley. Illness or injury, family or relationship struggles, death, divorce, financial/job or career issues, and the list can go on, and on. We all go through it and we all go through it over and over again. This is what we all deal with as life is filled with these kinds of things.

As I drove down a country road today and noticed a roadside memorial that I’ve noticed countless times before, it struck me that the Christian life should be marked by these as well, at least in our thoughts. There should be one there for the day we were converted to Christ (although some will say they can’t recall that day, or moment) and the time everything changed. There should be one there for the first time we went through a bitter and painful valley, and how we handled it. Then the next trial, and the next, and so on and so on. We might not remember every single detail about every marker along this highway but if we look back a year ago, 5 years ago or 15 years ago, we should be able to see a steady progression in the death to self, and a consistant progression in Christ-likeness, in our lives. In the way we speak to people, the way we think, the way we pray, attitudes about church life, entertainment, hobbies, parenting, evangelism, and every other area of our lives.

I know that in my own life the roadside memorials that might be in place from 1994 would not look much like the ones in place for 2007. While they were (and remain) profoundly significant as markers along the road, with each passing year and with the growing in Him that takes place, it's impossible not to notice the changes and the differences between now, and then.

I heard a sermon once, years ago, where the pastor kept saying that Christianity is and should be a faith about remembering. Remembering God's promises of a coming Redeemer for the OT saints, remembering that the OT types and shadows were of a better way coming, remembering His death on the cross and every word the Holy Spirit inspired the writers of Scripture to put onto paper. Remembering also what Philippians 1:6 tell us in that He who began a good work in us, will be faithful to complete it. Remembering who is in control at all times, where our strength comes from, where mercy, refuge, wisdom and grace is found. Remembering who we were, where we were, and how He has changed us and set our feet on the narrow path and given us a desire to follow Him.

Its in the remembering, that we give Him all the honor and praise that He is due. Those roadside memorials should be a testimony to the truth of Philippians 1:6 and a great comfort to us while in yet another one of those valleys that we all go through. Is it especially painful right now? Is your heart aching and do you wish it were somehow resolved, reconciled or repaired? Are you tired of crying and just exhausted in every way possible? Have you been here before and how are you handling this particular valley any differently than you handled the last one?

I'm not really asking you, these are questions I ask myself when I need to. In that asking I look back and remember. I notice the roadside markers and lessons learned, advice given, Scripture verses shared with me at the time, and remember the encouragment that helped me through certain things before. Its in that way, that each time I die a little more to self and seek to be even more transformed by His grace.

While I'm certainly not the best example of this I could point you to, its still my desire to move forward and see less of me, and more of Him. Those little roadside memorials of pivotal times in my life help to do just that. They help me to remember how faithful He is, how weak I really am and just how much I need Him.