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Green Was Her Color

MediaRecorder MagazineGreen Was Her Color
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Christine, the girl who loved green, was a simple gift of rarest purity. From her flowed love, unsullied and unceasing.

When I think of Christine, it is always of innocence bathed in tragedy. She came into our lives when her parents, Brenda and Blair, were struggling with grief from the loss of their older daughter Julie, whose life ended abruptly in a car wreck. Julie and Brenda were soulmates: they looked alike and had the same warm, outgoing personality. Julie would burst through the door, throw herself on Brenda’s lap, and say, “I love you Mom.”

Their other child, Christine, was Daddy’s girl. Born three years after Julie, she was big and strong but with the IQ of a 5-year-old.

Christine opened up a new world to me. Having spent much of my life in an academic environment, I hadn’t come to terms with the world of the mentally challenged. But because of Christine, I grew to see these children, some of them grown to adults, in settings of joy and love. The simplicity of their enjoyment and the purity of their love grabbed my heart.

Slowly, slowly I was overwhelmed. From the “normal” people who cared for these kids flowed such love and affection, such acceptance and affirmation as I had never before witnessed. These special people required no supervisor with advanced training or college degree to be their teachers at church—the only requirement was the ability to love.

Brenda, Blair, and Christine began to attend the same church we did. Christine was assigned to a class for kids with special needs. The first day her teacher gave her a Bible with a green cover and thereby won her heart—she loved the color green. Sometime later another wonderful thing happened: mother and daughter were baptized.

It was a story of life out of death, grace out of tragedy. But another chapter was yet to be written.

On the Thursday morning before Easter, the county police called my office. I had gone out on an errand, so the call went through to Noelene. It was Brenda, breaking up so badly that Noelene couldn’t get details beyond the fact that something tragic had happened to Christine.

By the time I got the news and rushed to the home, neighbors were gathering. Representatives from the coroner’s office were upstairs in Christine’s bedroom. Christine had been on spring break. She and Blair had planned a big day together. He wouldn’t go to work; they’d sleep in late and then go out for breakfast. But when Blair went to call her, Christine didn’t stir. She had died in her sleep, presumably suffocating from a seizure.

I stood numb as Blair called the funeral home to make arrangements. Same people, same situation. “Just do it like you did before,” he said in a voice that came from far away.

Christine was one month away from her 21st birthday.

Two daughters—both gone.

Two daughters—both dead at 20.

What can you say at a time like this? Nothing that says anything. You can only be there to hug and listen and weep with hearts overwhelmed by life’s cruelty.
Immediately Brenda asked me to conduct the funeral. Noelene and I spent a lot of time in that home of tragedy, especially during the first two days of their grief. And that is how I came to see clearly for the first time an aspect of Brenda’s life that had been staring me in the face all the time, but I’d been too oblivious to see.

The friends who came by the home, and later for the viewing at the funeral home, helped take the scales from my eyes. As I met more and more of them—and there were many—I came to realize the common factor: Most were associated through children with special needs. Classmates of Christine. Teachers of Christine. The principal of Christine’s school. One father in retirement heads a foundation to provide homes for children with special needs whose parents are aging.

The decency of these people I met was extraordinary. Their relationship with Brenda and Blair and with one another went way beyond friendship. It was much more than being in the same boat of caring for “difficult” kids. They had a radiance about them, an unselfish love more profound than I had ever encountered.

Gradually they helped me realize—without trying to instruct me—that these “special” children are special in ways I hadn’t dreamed of. I learned that kids such as Christine and her boyfriend Josh and her friend Gretchen (who told me as soon as I met her that she wanted to speak at Christine’s funeral—and did) are blessed with rare and beautiful gifts. I learned that they have the ability to love without hating, that they can experience good without knowing evil, that they can find joy in the simplest amusements.

This, their world, is pure grace. That Good Friday, Noelene and I spent much of the day with Blair and Brenda. When I went to bed, my head was full of Christine and Brenda and Blair. After keeping Noelene awake for a couple of hours, I moved to the guest room and tossed around some more, but I still couldn’t drop off. I went downstairs, put on a CD, threw a blanket over my shoulders, and stretched out on the family room sofa.

But this night even Mozart didn’t work for me. Sometime in the wee hours I gave up trying, dressed, and went walking. The night was clear and still, the air heavy with the scent of spring blossoms. I was scheduled to preach in but a few hours, but my thoughts were on what I would say Monday morning when we would bid a last farewell to Christine.

As I walked on and on, a phrase floated through my brain, snagged on something and lodged. The words kept coming back, stronger, louder: “Green was her color.” Gradually other ideas attached themselves, and I knew what Monday’s message would be.

I walked until the words had all come together. Then I went home, put on Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 15, stretched out on the sofa, and fell asleep.
A couple of hours later I was up and writing.

Green Was Her Color
Green was her color.

Size and shape, fit and cloth didn’t matter if the color was right. Christine would be at the Community Services center with Brenda and would haul out a load of outfits. Dresses, jackets, blouses, pairs of shoes—they’d all be green.
“Look at these dresses,” Brenda would say. “They’re size 10. You need to look for 18s!”

Christine would go back for more, but they were just like the others—the wrong size, they wouldn’t fit. Only one thing mattered—they were all green.
Green was her color.

She was born in May when spring was in the full, when the trees wore silken jackets of green, when grass covered the fields and earth throbbed with life and vitality.

She fell asleep on the first day of April. Winter hung on late this year, but she lived to see the snow melt away, the first buds shoot out, and the greening of the land.

Green was her color.

Christine was a spring child. She was a child of eternal sweetness and love who could go up to perfect strangers, give them a big hug, and say, “I love you.” Who could resist this spring child?

She knew love; she never learned evil.

She knew the affection and protection of parents. She knew the warmth of friends such as Gretchen and Josh. She knew the joy of her dog, Freckles. She knew the taste of food, especially nachos. She knew fun. She knew contentment, happy to play with her Lego building set for hours. She knew love.

She knew the love of Jesus.

She never learned evil. She was shielded from the crookedness and ugliness, the deceit and cruelty that most of us know—lying so close at hand and sucking us into their orbit.

So who can say who was disabled? Was it the spring child or was it we who think we are whole? The spring child left behind a legacy of pure sweetness and unconditional love, a legacy of good.

No doubt some people looked at Christine and asked themselves how this girl was gifted. But we here today who have looked through the open gates of heaven, know that gifted she was—gifted with a rare and precious ability that any church would desire to find among its members.

Green was her color.

Jesus told many parables about the spring. Here is one:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads [when the color green appeared], then the weeds also appeared.

“The owner’s servants came to him and said. ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.”
(Matthew 13:24-28, NIV)

Life is marvelous, and life is monstrous. Blair and Brenda, you must have racked your brains asking, “Why? Why, God? We’ve been there, done that! We went through this three and a half years ago. How could God put us through it again?”

An enemy has done this. God isn’t the author of this tragedy; neither are you the cause. Nothing you did or failed to do has been a factor in the loss of your beloved daughter.

An enemy has done this.

Although God isn’t the author of evil, He can turn even evil to a good purpose. The passing of His saints, such as Christine, causes the rest of us who live on to reflect on who we are and what sort of legacy we will leave when our name is called. And thus, even through her leaving us, Christine continues to bring the greening.

Green was her color.

Her favorite song was “Jesus Loves Me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
She knew love. She knew that Jesus loved her. All that matters in religion comes down to that. All that matters in life comes down to that.
Jesus, too, was a spring child. In the spring of the year, when the Passover moon was at the full and the Holy Land was covered in green, He went to the cross.

“There is a green hill far away,
Without a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified,
Who died to save us all.”
(Cecil Francis Alexander)

By His dying He gave life to all. With His stripes we all—Christine included—are healed.

Green was her color.

Because He lives, we too shall live. “I am the Living One,” He says. “I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18, NIV). “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25, NIV).

The greening is coming. It is coming as surely as spring came at last this year.
The greening—when the desert shall bloom like the rose and the earth give up the dead. When God will dwell with His people and wipe away every tear. When we shall be free from heartache and loss and suffering. When Christine will be with us forever.

No dark valleys then. No death valleys. There will be a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth will have passed away.

Christine will be so happy in that day.

Green was her color.

___________________

BY William Johnsson

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