When Barbara Smith asked us to write a letter to you regarding our struggles over the past two years, we were not sure we could. To say the least, the pain, the anguish and emptiness is, most days, hard to bear. The Lord however has made a way for us to write. We pray that this letter will speak to you not from our level of understanding but from our heavenly Father.
To be openly honest with you our experience over the past two years is not about understanding, because we do not understand. In Corinthians it talks about “seeing through a glass darkly; but then we shall see face to face.” I can’t wait for that day, because I don’t understand. But as our son Micah said at the memorial service, Bethany does not have that problem. She sees “face to face” what our Lord intended for her.
As I think back while trying to write this letter, the pain and the loss overwhelms me. I think of the day she was born and a few days later when Micah asked his mom when she and Bethany were coming home. Elaine said it would be a few days. Micah then asked her if she would send Bethany home with me. I remember getting up on Saturday morning and finding Bethany and Micah with their arms around each other watching cartoons. We are surely blessed from on High. When asked his sister’s name Micah would say, “Her name is Bethany Caryl, but Daddy and I call her “Princess”. (Hence “A Princess in Heaven” the song my brother Gene wrote at 2 a.m. the morning our “princess” went home).
I think a lot about the joy she brought to our family. She was openly honest and definitely her own person. She was mixing and matching her clothes making up her own outfits by the time she was two years old. She hated frilly little dresses. We will never forget the first dress my Mom made for her. Even though she was only 23 months old it was quite obvious to my mother that she did not like it. After a few suggestions on what she might do to “fix it” my Mom asked Bethany her opinion. Bethany said, “You wear it, Grandma”. When Elaine finally forced her to wear the dress to church a few months later, everyone told Bethany how beautiful the dress was. When we left the church, I pointed that out to her…her reply was “the preacher didn’t say anything.” We still laugh about that.
At three Elaine recalls when Bethany announced to her as she was swimming in the neighborhood pool that she had just trusted Jesus Christ as her personal Savior. Then she proceeded to go under water and we she came back up she informed her Mom that she had just been baptized. She had watched as Micah had been baptized the Sunday before and she wanted to do everything he did, thank goodness for his example. We often wonder if she understood what that meant. But as she grew up, she also grew in her relationship with the Lord.
Like all of us, she struggled in her walk with the Lord. One of her greatest disappointments was going to Eastside High School after attending Mitchell Road Christian Academy. Her middle school friends seemed to abandon their beliefs and she felt very alone. After that she decided to transfer to Wade Hampton High School.
Her greatest excitement was graduating from high school. She felt like her life was just getting ready to burst open. All through her illness and operation, she had a goal of getting well by the time the first semester started at USC. Then as things got worse, she moved it to the second semester start date.
She wanted to see all of her friend while in the hospital in Greenville even though it took all of her strength. The most precious times for me were in the wee hours of the morning when she and I were alone in the hospital. If you know me, you know that I am an emotional person. I cry easily. Bethany did not. We accused her of doing her crying in the shower so her face would not know tears ran down it (except with me). She felt like she could cry with her Dad. In those early hours of the morning she made an agreement with me; she could cry and I could cry; I just couldn’t cry in front of her.
When we talked of her cancer and what might happen, she said, “Daddy, the worst thing that could happen to me would be the best thing that could happen to me.” I cried.
Oh God forgive me for my lack of vision.
I told her I would take the cancer for her if I could. Without hesitation she said “No, Daddy, this burden is mine and I have to carry it to see what Jesus has for me.”
Oh, God forgive me for my lack of vision.
For four months, 24 hours a day, Elaine or I were always with her. I can tell you that God’s grace is sufficient but some days it is ”just sufficient” But isn’t that what He promised; to meet our needs not our wants, to walk though the valley with us, not around it. We are nothing special; no super human Christians; just sinners, loved by an Almighty God who sees the “big picture” A God who sent His son to die on a cross so that we could have a hope of an eternity with Him. Bethany had that hope! Was she scared – absolutely! But she had a hope that never faltered. Before her surgery she asked for the CD with the song “Hold Me Jesus” by Rich Mullins. Jesus is holding her right now.
I know this letter is getting too long, but as I began to write the flood gates of memory opened. Please forgive me.
Many times I have referred to our struggles as a picture of God’s tapestry. It still amazes us to look back at that picture.
Bethany’s roommate-to-be at USC had a friend who lived in Augusta, Georgia. Her friend’s Mom had a sister who lived in Orlando and came to minister to us in the hospital. This aunt attended services at a small Episcopal Church in Winter Park. Our realtor, a wonderful Christian lady also attended that church. We went out to the waiting room one night to meet the pastor of that church thinking one of those two ladies had sent him. He was with another couple that had brought him because of a lady Elaine and I knew in Ohio when we first got married. She had been our prayer warrior over the years and had sent her friends and their minister to us. This is the body of Christ is at work.
I felt so tired at the end. The morning the doctor took us into a conference room to tell us there was nothing else they could do, was a dark time. He said they could probably keep Bethany alive for a few weeks or even a month but ultimately the hard truth was – she was gong to die. Our choice was to remove some of the artificial support and let the Lord control the outcome or let her continue as she was kept alive by machines and medicine until something gave out.
Have you ever watched someone die, especially someone you love? I was with my Dad and my brother Gerald when they took their last breath. God controlled those deaths but here Elaine and I were being asked to remove our sweet daughter’s life support. All hope for her recovery was gone. It was the hardest moment of our lives. We felt so alone.
Many times during our trials, my arms started to drop and the waters started to overcome me; then our brothers and sisters came along side and lifted my arms and I was able to go on. It is still like that today. When I think I can’t go on, we get a card from one of Bethany’s friends that she tried to get into church. She had accepted the Lord and is in church and involved with Christian groups at the college she attends. Her family is now also attending a church in Greenville and very active in serving the Lord. Another friend of Bethany’s that fought depression is also going to church and singing in a praise group because of Bethany’s witness.
So many of Bethany’s friends (and strangely so, mostly boys) come to visit us; stay for days; and help us cope.
The college girls from the church here in Oviedo come to see us, leave cards on the special days and enrich our live with love. How beautiful is the body of Christ.
We mostly have been encouraged by the special writings in Bethany’s journals. As we read them I understand more about my “princess” and her love for her Lord. The most vivid to me is her New Year’s resolution for 2001 which we found in her Discipleship Group notebook. It read “ Bethany – just want Jesus”. May that be the prayer for all of us today and every day!
Don’t waste a moment of this life. Seek our Heavenly Father on your knees. Teach His Word to your children. Never be too busy to spend time with them for they, like the rest of our earthly attachments, are on loan to us. They are a gift!
I don’t understand, but I have never doubted our Heavenly Father. Strange as it may seem, I have never been angry with Him. For you see, I had a Christian Mom and Dad that loved me, and I saw them walk by faith through the hard times. As Elaine said to me in response to people who say they are amazed at our strength, “how could we be any other way?” We have lived our lives in the belief that God holds our eternal soul in His hands. Why would we toss that all away now? We as a family are definitely not strong. Read 2 Corinthians 12:9. The last conversation Micah had with his sister was about this verse.
There is so much more I could share with you but I have already taken up too much of your time.
Thank you brothers and sisters of Mitchell Road for “holding us up” when we are too tired to go on.
This is our prayer:
“May the Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make His face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. “ (Numbers 6:24-26)
In need of His forgiveness and grace,
Neil (with loving counsel from Elaine)