“I love you, baby. You’re out of this world, that’s why I named you Venus.” I could never forget those words just as I could never forget that day. Without a doubt, that was one of the worst days of my life — Screaming and crying, “Mom, come back! Don’t leave! Please! We need you!”. But she never did come back. I can’t even remember if she looked back as she walked out the door, and out of our lives. I was barely 11 years old when my mom decided to leave my sister and I with our next door neighbor, wielding a $650 cheque, so she could travel the world with her boyfriend number seven. What was supposed to be a 3-week babysitting stint eventually snowballed into 10 years! I never saw her again.
It’s been ten years since then, and three since I could finally afford to move my sister and I out of Mrs. Kesther’s basement, and into a small one bedroom apartment in a mining town about 30 miles from where we grew up. It was definitely not The Ritz, or even much better than the basement we had just left, but at least it was OURS, and no one could hurt us anymore.
Veronica, my little sister, is and has always been, my best friend. We’ve always looked out for each other because we’ve always only had each other. We’ve got each other’s backs, and we have an unspoken pact to do each other no harm. “The two musketeers”, Mr. Jiggles, the building’s superintendent always sneered. That’s not his real name, obviously, but that’s what all the tenants call him, owing to the huge bunch of keys perpetually tethered to his belt hole, which jiggle obnoxiously with every step he takes.
My life was simple — work, home, and church, punctuated by a boatload of praying. I clung desperately to God because He’d always been there for us: When I needed to finish high school, when I needed a job, when we got sick and we couldn’t afford a doctor... God always came through. I’ve been through so much in my short 21 years, but God has helped me through it, and has kept me from spiraling out of control. While I’m not the “prefect” Christian (not sure anyone is), I do love God, and my church! ——— On a windy autumn evening, the clouds heavy with rain, Mrs. Shirley, the store manager, asked me to close up for the night. Even though I had been on my feet for a full 10 hour shift, I begrudgingly scurried outside, and began to take down the many “70% off special” signs we had displayed on the front lawn. I must have been on sign number 4 when a rogue flyer aided by the wind, decided to make my face its home. Ugh! Upset, I yank it from my face, careful not to smudge my makeup, and right before throwing it out, I take a glance at its contents, and everything changes!
Suddenly, my fatigue fades away, and in its place, adrenaline. I finish up, clock out, and run home as fast as I can. I barge into our tiny apartment, yelling in my best opera voice, “You’re going to College!” I watch the confused look as it spreads across my sister’s face while I bust a couple dance moves. “No, I’m not. We can’t afford that.” “Oh ye of little faith!” was my response as I handed her the rogue flyer and continued my happy dance. She shrieked as she read it, and the look on her face made the whole day worth it — smudged makeup, sore feet, and all. You see, the local Arts College at a neighboring city was giving out merit-based scholarships to the brightest kids in the smaller towns. The financing covered full tuition, accommodation, and included a bursary for books, a decent computer, and art material.
“What? Is this even real?” A quick Google search confirmed that it was. “Praise God!!!” We hadn’t been this happy in what seemed like, eternity. This was an answer to an ongoing prayer of mine — I never wanted Vee to end up without a college degree, and limited career options. Unlike me, I wanted her to have access to a future devoid of store hours and crappy tips. We prayed, danced, screamed and laughed all night, then filled out her scholarship application early the next morning, sending it off that evening.
After twiddling thumbs and fighting nerves for two days, we got a call from the College informing Veronica that she had been selected for the interview stage! More dancing, thanksgiving, and a pizza splurge later, we went out to get Vee a formal outfit for the interview. She had barely a week to prepare, and before we knew it, the day arrived. I had requested a few days off work to take the trip with her, and be there for moral support. With all the hours I put in, I also desperately needed some me-time! Work’s exhausting. Bryer Cove was about 2 hours away by bus, so we’d have to catch the 5am departure in order to make it in time for the interview. We woke up at 3am that morning, super excited and ready to take the trip that would change Vee’s life forever. I washed, conditioned, and curled her hair the night before, so getting it to behave that morning was easy.
We got to the bus station right on time, and boarded the bus with the other passengers. After a short prayer for safe travels, we were soon on our way. The bus made weird sounds as the journey progressed, but we laughed it off as typical for our small town — it never did have anything fancy, and hardly anything worked as designed.
Looking back now, I wish I hadn’t thought about it that way. I wish I had walked up to the driver and asked what those weird sounds were… maybe it would have changed what happened.
About an hour into the commute, we were on the highway, and everything seemed to be going okay, despite the occasional creaking noise. The next thing we all heard was another noise — it sounded like an explosion happening at the back of the bus, where the engine was. It all happened so fast! In quick succession, the driver lost control, and the whole bus veered off the road, barreling into a cluster of trees, as everyone screams. I grab Veronica by the hand and clutch it as tight as I can, somehow hoping that my grip might save her. She turned to face me as if in slow motion, and the look on her face was a vivid mix of fear, confusion, and dread. I’m about to scream “Jesus!”, but before any sound leaves my mouth, the bus flips and starts to roll. I’m upside down, surrounded by greenery, buffeted by sounds of people screaming, glass breaking, and metal crushing… the last thing I remember was a single tear streaking across my sister’s right eye, as everything goes black.
I wake up disoriented, in an initial fog… then the memories start flooding in, and my emotional response is instant panic. “Where is my sister? Where am I? Is she okay? Somebody talk to me!” “Calm down. You were in an accident. You’ve been unconscious for two days,” was the doctor’s response as she hurried into the room, summoned by my screams. My mind is racing as she proceeds to check my heart rate and reflexes, then asks me to say my name, my date of birth, and what year it is. “Doctor, what happened to my sister? Can I see her? Is she here?” I tried so hard to stay calm as the doctor tells me that my sister went into a coma, and may not survive. “I’m afraid her chances are slim, Ms. Frasier, and if she does make it, she might be brain-dead”. I couldn’t stay calm, I became hysterical and very loudly demanded to be wheeled to her. I stayed by her bedside for what felt like an eternity, my only companions being the many memories we’d shared, and the tears that refused to stop pouring down my face. I prayed for her healing, for a miracle, for my life to be taken instead of hers. But it’s either God didn’t listen, or that He did, but blatantly denied my request. Veronica died in the middle of the night.
Anxiety, Panic, and Depression soon took her place and became my new best friends. Church members visited, prayed, and brought over meals that I never ate. In many ways, it felt like I died in that hospital with my sister. Survivor’s guilt engulfed me — I began to resent myself for being alive… how could she die, while I got away with only a few cracked ribs and a freaking concussion? For the first time in my life, I was completely and utterly alone.
About 8 months of barely existing went by. I finally started telling myself that I was okay. Who was I to question God? He had a reason for taking my sister, He had to. I moved out of our apartment, donated much of Veronica’s stuff to our church, and soon slipped back into my old routine — work, home, church, repeat. I never really opened up to anybody about the hurt I felt from the loss of my only friend. I was alone, and wanted to be alone.
One day after work, I bumped into Mike, the guitar player from church. He walked me home, and when he asked if he could come into my place, I said sure. It was the first time having someone over since Vee died. He told me he had been feeling God nudge him to talk to me. “About what?” I asked, feeling slightly annoyed and ambushed. “The accident”, he responded. “I know what happened with your sister was tough, but know that God loves you, and...”
I burst out in tears before he could finish the sentence. “Does He really love me? If He does, then why would He hurt me like this? Didn’t He love Veronica? Then why did He let her die? I’m a Christian! I know that means I always have to see God’s will in everything, even when it sucks… but losing Vee more than sucked, Mike. It broke me. Even in my pain, I tried to remain a “good Christian”. I even went to church and everything, but I was suffocating. I felt like I needed a break from God, from life, from Christianity. I needed to be mad, to hate.”
Mike just held me in silence for a few minutes. Eventually, he pulled away to look at me, and said “Oh Venus, your Heavenly Father does love you. And I know you can’t possibly fathom that there’s a reason for the pain you’ve endured, and I’m sure this sounds as silly and cliche as every other time you’ve heard it, but there truly is a plan and purpose for everything that God does. While I don’t claim to know it, or to have all the answers, all I can say is… don’t ever hide from your Father. As in every relationship, there are good days and crappy days with Him as well. There is the common assumption that as a Believer, you rise above every challenge with as much ease as Jesus walked on water, but the reality hardly lives up to this ideal. Yes, we’re Christians, but we’re human as well. We hurt and we get hurt. That, in and of itself, is no sin. The issue arises from hiding our pain from our God, or feeling like we’re alone in it. He gave us the Holy Spirit and called Him our Comforter for a reason, because He knew, even then, that talking out loud would sometimes be a challenge. So in times when you feel like you’re drowning, find your Internal Oxygen, who lives inside of you. He’s right there in you and with you as you go through every painful experience. He’s uniquely equipped to counsel and comfort… if you’d only let Him. As we learned from Jonah, Adam, and Eve, hiding never truly solves anything. So, feel free to wail! To feel! To scream! Take all of the pain and lay it at your Father’s feet.”
After praying with me, Mike thanked me for letting him in, and left. For the first time since the accident, I had an actual conversation with God — filled with tears, yes, but it was honest, pure and without compromise. With the Holy Spirit as my guide, I plunged deep and laid my pain bare, at His feet. I set my burden down at the Cross, and while I can’t say that I felt no hurt or pain afterwards, I can truly say that I felt… better. I could breathe again. My true spiritual and emotional healing started that night, and God truly did lift a bulk of the weight off my shoulders. Soon, the guilt disappeared, and the depression eventually lifted. I was once more able to find my smile, and I didn’t think that was possible anymore.
I don’t know who you are reading this. Maybe you’re going through something similar — Perhaps you didn’t lose a loved one, but are hurting and lost, overwhelmed, or broken in some way. Maybe you’ve had some unanswered prayers, your hopes have been dashed, or your faith has been bruised. Maybe you tried something with all your strength, and you failed. Maybe you just feel like you need a break from life, from constantly pep-talking yourself, from Church, from God… I’ve been there.
I don’t have any clever fix-all quotes, but what I can tell you is, don’t try to fake it with God. The burden you are hiding will get heavier with every step you take, until it becomes so heavy that it buries you under its weight. Don’t let that happen. The Holy Spirit is right there to bear this weight with you, for you, and God has never left your side, even when all evidence points to the contrary.
(Proverbs 12:25) “Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.”
(1 Peter 5:7) “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
(Philippians 4:6-7) “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”