A couple of years ago I heard a young man, in the midst of unbelievable grief, say something that has now been engrained on my heart and mind. He shared that when tragedy and horrific things strike we have to remember that it is just a small piece of the masterpiece God is creating.
When you are in an art gallery there is often a rope that keeps you from getting too close to the painting or work of art you are looking at. I always thought it was there to keep you from touching the art and somehow messing it up, but now I see it so differently. Maybe it is there so you will stand back and take in the piece as a whole. If you were close and could only see a small piece or part of it, I can’t help but think it would be messy and often ugly, maybe not even make sense. Yet when you can see the whole thing, all the small parts come together to make a masterpiece. I trust that God is creating a masterpiece that we will someday be able to see in whole but can now only see in part.
There is a lot you think about when you get ready to enter your first year of teaching. Will I know what to do? Will my students respond to me? Am I crazy? What in the world was I thinking? I remember clearly the day I got offered my first teaching job. After hanging up the phone, the initial response was pure joy and thankfulness. I was a real adult with a real job. I recognized how blessed I was to get a position so quickly and to actually have options of where I wanted to work. It didn’t take but hours for sheer terror to set in. All the questions and fears overwhelmed me. I began to pray that I would be surrounded by good people and phenomenal teachers. I believed that if I was surrounded by solid teachers I could watch them, learn, grow and be supported in my own teaching.
Thirteen years ago my request was answered in a big way. Not only did God answer my prayers but did so in a way that far exceeded what I could hope for. I met a group of people that not only made me a better teacher but more importantly a better person. They have become dear life long friends.
Cathie is one of these people. The program in which we taught was a challenge to say the least. Working with some of life’s most damaged and precious children was exhausting, rewarding, terrifying and hands down one of the toughest things I have ever faced. I can still remember watching her in complete awe. The calm and confidence with which she worked with those children is etched in my brain. We would have meetings every Friday afternoon. It was an opportunity to vent, problem solve, laugh and most importantly for me, to learn. There was not a situation that came up that Cathie couldn’t offer advice on. I knew that she was a special teacher and coworker from the first year I knew her. She commanded respect in the most gentle way. Even now I have a picture that sticks in my mind. She is walking down the halls, a student in each hand. They are reluctantly walking with her, scowls of disappointment burned on their faces. I make eye contact and she smiles and shrugs. It was not more than she could handle, nothing they could throw at her was. One thing I always knew about her was how much she loved her students. They could swear, kick, throw, treat her with unbelievable disrespect and yet……….she loved them.
It is so easy for us to want our feelings and emotions heard. We want people to listen to us, understand us, agree with us. We feel the need for others to know what we are thinking or what we think should happen. Cathie was quiet and gentle with never much to say in meetings. That was until it needed to be said. She chose very carefully when to speak up. That restraint caused others to listen when she spoke. What an amazing trait that is. She was an incredible listener, whether I was talking to her about a frustration in the classroom or something completely unrelated to work, I knew she heard every word. Not only did she hear it but she remembered it. I am sure there were times she sat listening to me and thinking how crazy I was. Then again she probably didn’t. Her heart was kind and gentle I am not sure she had a lot of ill to think or share about anyone.
After just a couple years went by, our work relationship became something so much more. She became a dear friend. Cathie was close to my parents age, her son’s the same age as me, but that never mattered in our friendship. she never treated me like a child, never tried to mother me or correct my sometimes misguided moments. She was just my friend. It’s hard not to look back and think about all the birthday’s of mine she remembered and recognized compared to all of hers that I let slip by. She was faithful and committed to her friends and co-workers. I knew that she cared about me, not just teacher me, but person me. She cared how my heart felt, how my day went, how my family was and most importantly how strong my faith was.
Cathie and I had the opportunity to have classrooms next door to each other for a couple of years. The adjoining door was rarely closed when we were not teaching. Over time we began to share with one another our commitment and struggles in our faith. When I think about her the one very clear thing that I admire the most in her is her faith. That is saying a lot because the list of things I admire about her is long. When I start listing those things I realize that they can all be brought back to one place……her faith. All of those things, those qualities I admired, I believe, were there because of her faith. There was no doubt to me and I know all who knew her that her faith was the one most important thing in her life. She loved the Lord and it showed. She was committed to God and being who he wanted her to to be. In my mind I remember several very vivid conversations about God and faith. We talked a lot about trust. Those conversations now rest in my mind and heart as precious and sacred memories. I long for more of those conversations with her. I miss them most. I wish there had been more of them, I wish……..
Every year I knew Cathie I can think of at least one thing in her life that was a hardship or struggle. In all of that her faith was strong, unwavering. On more than one occasion I walked away from conversations thinking that I wanted faith like that. She would never offer up the struggles she was facing but would share when asked. I think honestly I learned about a lot of them after a conversation in which I was sharing one of my own, usually petty struggles. I knew without a doubt that when she said “I will pray for you” she meant it. It wasn’t a passing thing to say or just the right thing to say. She meant it and I know faithfully followed through on that promise. This was an incredible way that she challenged me in my own faith. She taught me not just to say you will pray for someone but to actually do it.
I have been blessed to grow up around strong, faithful people. My family heritage has been a gift, my friends have molded and shaped me as I have grown, I have been blessed with spiritual leaders and examples in every stage of my life. It is not a little thing to say that Cathie has been among one of the top people to influence my faith. To try and thank her for that, would always fall short this side of heaven. Maybe this is why my heart is so broken, maybe this is why the loss is so deep or maybe it’s just because of her, because she was, because she loved me and was my friend.
I’m a firm believer that God places people in your lives for a reason. Sometimes that reason is a mystery that is never solved here on earth and other times the reason is crystal clear. I know without a doubt why God placed Cathie in my life. It was to make me a better teacher and to draw me closer to the Lord.
To my friend, thank you for allowing God to use you in that way. Thank you for being open to this young, naive and often confused woman and teacher who needed you as her friend and mentor. Thank you for loving your students in a way that challenges me everyday. Thank you for loving your co-workers even on the days that they (me) were hard to love. Thank you for not reacting in anger or frustration but rather with grace and compassion. Most of all thank you for being my friend. I have been blessed beyond what I can express. I know this clearer now than ever.
I miss her, oh how I miss her. Today I am choosing not to ask why. Not because I don’t want to know, because I so badly do. I don’t get it, I don’t understand why she gone, I struggle to see the purpose of all of this. I am not asking, because of the very thing that I learned the most from her……..faith. She lived out her faith in beautiful ways and now I must do that as well. I know if I could sit down and talk with her now, have that one more conversation I long for, she would say that we just have to trust. I can actually here the words coming out of her mouth. God has a plan and it is not for us to understand, it is for us to trust. I so look forward to the day that I can see the completed masterpiece from heaven. Until then I will trust that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
Cathie, my friend…….I love you……I miss you……I thank God for you!
Lord it’s in your hands.