Today is kind of a bittersweet day. 6 years ago my cousin Phil took his own life at the age of 19. And for a week after I couldn’t cry and didn’t know why. It wasn’t until I asked God a simple question that I got an astounding answer. The tears poured out like a broken dam or levy yet my heart was given peace. If you’re wondering what that question was, we’ll get to that.
He was Catholic and I know their stance on the subject but attending a Pentecostal church I didn’t really know where I personally stood on this topic. I guess a part of me never thought it was important because, let’s be honest, I didn’t plan on taking my own life nor did I see anyone in my family or friend circles that I thought were capable of such a thing. I thought that if it doesn’t affect my own salvation or interfere with my belief that I was saved and heading to Heaven, that it wasn’t important for me to know. A juvenile and apathetic outlook to say the least. But in one phone call my life was forever changed. The lives of my family were deeply burdened as we all had to make sense of what had happened. I think the biggest roadblock to us all were the “why’s.” Why did he do it? Didn’t he understand how much it would hurt? And anger. Angry that he couldn’t see the mess he created. Then sadness came…at least for everyone else it did. Me, I couldn’t even shed a single tear. I felt like the cold, heartless, black sheep at the funeral that was seemingly unaffected by it all. I didn’t understand it and even attempted to force my own tears. After many failed attempts the only conclusion I was able to come up with was that I never would have made it in Hollywood. Crying on purpose really is hard and aside from the emotional storm I was in the middle of, I had a little more respect for actors and actresses.
Typically I’m a pretty emotional person when it comes to hurting circumstances. I posses, what I call, an over abundance of compassion and empathy that sometimes leaves me feeling like a blubbering fool. Perhaps that is why God chose to answer me in this way. This is something I wouldn’t have missed. My lack of emotion was startling to me. So where did this leave me? Did I not love him enough? Was he not important enough to me to feel pain for his loss? It left me with questions, but one in particular.
During a brief moment of alone time I asked God this: “God why can’t I cry?!” The strange thing is that it wasn’t really the question in my heart but I didn’t know that until later. This was the question before the question… Still following? I thought my biggest concern was the fact that I couldn’t physically mourn the death of a family member. And furthermore perhaps even slight embarrassment knowing my family might have thought any number of things about me because of it. Shallow, I know…
So I asked that question and to no surprise my ceiling didn’t answer back to me. I suppose I had God in a pretty small box because I don’t think I really expected an answer. (In Christian lingo that means I lacked faith) As I laid my head down that night I had no idea what lie ahead for me.
I remember it being 4 in the morning. I never woke up randomly during nights so this was exceptionally odd to begin with. But I didn’t just wake up, I woke up in what felt like the most real, tangible, incredible dream I had ever encountered. To even try and describe it would be impossible and an insult to its true beauty. To this day I’ve never seen and felt a dream like it ever again. It remains burned in my memory in such a way that it is as vivid as the night I saw it. God made no mistake in making it obvious that He wanted to show me something important.
The dream started with me looking upon the shadow of a figure on a throne and my cousin Phillip on a throne-like chair beside him. In the distance in front of them was a see of forest. Trees. Trees everywhere. It was as if we were really high up looking down on the rolling hills of creation. There was enough distance between the chairs that I was able to see and listen in on their interaction and conversation. Phillip seemed so thrilled to be where he was. That part confused me immediately as I was fully aware of the current real-life event that took place while in this dream. My gaze became very focused on what was happening between them. Then I realized that the figure in the throne was the Lord as he leaned over and softly said something to Phillip. While he did that I saw Him extend a giant paint pallet out towards Phillip. Philip then pointed at some globs of red and orange paint then motioned and pointed at the forest in front of them and said “That one!”. When he did, the dark green trees exploded into the color he had picked. With each color he picked he became more and more exuberant; much like a small child. Over and over and over again he pointed to globs of color and painted the landscape of God’s creation in beautiful hues of red and oranges. The artist side in me began to swell with joy as I understood that aspect of exuberance; I had felt it many times before when I was pleased with something I was creating. Then in a second that vision was gone. But a new one took its place. The only way I can describe this one was that it looked like a movie clip of a time in my life that had really happened. We were kids, playing in Grandma’s front screened-in porch. Me, Michelle, and Phillip. I must have been about 11 or 12 and Phillip was just young enough to be an annoyance to me and Michelle but old enough to keep up with us. On the floor thinking up our next adventure, we talked about our favorite colors. Michelle told hers, I shared mine and in an excited voice much like the one he had in the previous vision declared, “Red is MY favorite color!” Then it was gone.
My eyes shot wide open. I laid there, frozen in bed unable to move for fear I’d lose the memory of what had just happened before I had the chance to figure it out. I must have laid there for 20 minutes until finally I felt the wetness of tears soaking my cheeks and the pillow beneath my head. I couldn’t stop them they just kept coming like a waterfall that had finally found the cliff. I sat up in an attempt to get myself together and cause myself to think clearly again. But I couldn’t shake it. It wasn’t like a typical dream where after a few minutes you begin to realize it was a dream and that your subconscious had succumbed to the emotion of the it during your slumber. No, it wasn’t anything like that. This was more real than the nose on my face. After I sat up I heard a voice softly say to me, “get up.” I got up and wondered around the house at first wondering why I was to be “up.” Then I was reminded of my journal. It was like my body already knew what to do without my mind having to tell it to do so. I sat down and described my dream on paper so not to forget it. For 2 days after I was like a zombie. I couldn’t stop thinking about that dream no matter how hard I tried. Why did I have it? What did it mean? The one thing I never asked was if it was real. That part I knew to be so with every fiber of my being.
On the 3rd day Zak (the guy I was dating at the time) and I had plans to visit his family’s cabin up north. It was going to be my first time visiting there and I was a little disappointed that my excitement had been replaced with a sort of melancholy. Once there, Zak showed me around the land. While he was preoccupied with something else I saw a pathway and felt compelled to follow it into the woods. Probably not a wise decision on my part being that there were talks of bears in the area just before. But I followed the low-lying brush until I saw it. I was blinded by sun rays that shot through an opening in the tree leaves and it stopped me dead in my tracks. When my eyes refocused I saw it, the most beautiful tree. All the trees around me were green but as I looked up colors of red and orange shined bright before me! This one, lonely, tree-so full of vibrant color. The tears poured down my face as the answer to what my dream was about hit me. Phillip.
Like someone had hit the rewind button on a VHS tape and then played it in fast forward stopping only to play that clip of Phillip proclaiming his favorite color. Then it repeated that small clip over and over.
“My favorite color is red!”
“My favorite color is red!”
“My favorite color is red!”
It was him. Phillip painted that tree.
It was then that I realized the true question that was buried deep within the shallow walls of my heart. The question I didn’t realize I needed to know. The question that kept me from mourning such a tragic disaster. The question wasn’t “why couldn’t I cry.” The real question was, “Is Phillip in Heaven?”
The answer I thought I would never need became the very thing I couldn’t get past. I couldn’t mourn because I didn’t know if I needed to. If he were in hell I’d have much reason to mourn. But if he were in Heaven then I should be jealous. Not knowing made me numb. Catholicism says you’re damned yet I heard through family that he had been pursuing the Lord more in his last days and was even ensuring that his little brother got up and dressed for church every Sunday even when he didn’t want to go with him. Phillip was adamant about his little brother going and something inside of me suspected that Phil had recently given his heart to Christ. I was stuck in mid-air like a see-saw waiting to be tipped up or down. God tipped the scale. God more than answered my question of why I couldn’t cry, he answered the question in my heart of where was Phil? Phillip was with the Lord and I believe that him picking out the colors of the fall leaves was no mere visual God used. I believe that really happened and that God gave me just a small and very tiny glimpse into the joy and love God shows and feels for us. When a mother or father sees their child take their first step or ride a bike the for the first time without falling the most joyful pride comes over them. I’ve been told its unexplainable. God didn’t just give me an answer as to where Phillip was for eternity, he also gave me a glimpse of how much he loves me. He loved me enough to end my pain and agony over not knowing. He loved me enough to show me himself as a loving, caring, parent, not only a mighty God upon a throne. He loved me enough to give me this amazing dream that I’ll forever remember and be able to remain in peace about this situation. He loved me enough to push me to find answers to things I do not know of Him; and through that searching I’ll find that God is more loving than I ever made him out to be. He taught me to seek Him. And most of all, he showed me how he pursues his children in such a way that they might show love back to Him.
So when I say that today is a bittersweet day, it is bitter because of the loss my heart feels for Phillip in remembering the anniversary of his death. Yet it is sweet because of the amazing love God showed to me through this tragic situation and the things I learned from it. This event catapulted my passion for Him. I am forever changed and God has more than proven that even the worst of times can be turned into good for those who love Him. He’s shown me that He pays no mind to the outward, wordly perspective, but instead is a God who searches hearts. And if Phillip is in Heaven, then that means only one thing could have happened… Phillip gave his life to the Lord before he passed. Though sad and sinful as the act was, the act of taking his own life didn’t take away his salvation and had he not given his life to Christ prior, then with it would have come the severest of consequences. So I praise God for pursuing Phillip so that he could know Him before his passing and I curse the devil that preys on those who are depressed and tells them the lie that they are worthless! And today I pray against it. I pray that those who feel there is no hope will come to see how special they are in God’s eyes and turn from the lies of Satan. God is hope. He is the only hope. Without Him this world is too much. Give the Lord your burdens and let not your life be snuffed out. Through his lies Satan may have snuffed out Phillip’s potential here on earth but praise be to God that he will be living eternity in paradise.
“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”