Thursday, November 16, 2017

Brian's Gift

For Brian and all who loved him.

by Danetta Kellar
@DanettaKellar

His favorite Christmas song was The Little Drummer Boy

And like the little drummer in the song, Brian Elbertson brought his gift to the King, and made Him smile.

This is the story of a gift of unexpected gratitude, given long before its recipients ever became aware. This is an incredible tale of how grace begins to grow before we even know it, and one day shocks us with its beauty.

It began in the heart of a God whose thoughts are higher than our thoughts, whose ways are higher than our ways. 

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace, the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands." -Isaiah 55:8-12

The idea was planted in the heart of a father who loved his daughter. Bob and his daughter were tight, and still are. But he always loved to play Cupid, a sparkle in his eye, that sparkle being his adult daughter Robin. Robin had committed her life to serving others. Loved by everyone and committed to Christ, she cared for broken people from Africa to the Southern United States. And she was single.

On the day our story begins, Bob was having an audiological exam for new hearing aids. And like he always does, Bob began talking and telling jokes, and before long the conversation between him and the audiologist landed on his beloved daughter. It didn’t take long to discover that the audiologist knew a great guy named Brian who was much like Robin: caring, full of life, and committed to others. And single. 

As the exam ended, the audiologist gave Bob advice on a new hearing aid, and Bob gave her his daughter’s email to pass on. Just in case.

A month or so later Brian emailed Robin. They met for the first time on July 4, 2010. It did not take long for the two to become very good friends. Brian made Robin laugh, and she became the newest taste tester of the delicious gourmet foods he was always concocting. Brian was an excellent listener and made Robin feel important and special.

Over time, their relationship bloomed into more than friendship. Robin and Brian began dating nearly a year after they took their first walk together. The next twelve months were filled with laughter and fun. One fall afternoon Brian introduced Robin to his brothers, Bruce and Lance. The Elbertson brothers became like family to Robin, fixing whatever needed handy work at her house and sharing many meals together with her and Brian. 

One day Robin asked Brian a question that had been growing steadily in her heart. Was this relationship leading to marriage, or not? If not, perhaps their dating needed to end. 

In response, Brian confessed, “I love you, but I do not have peace about marrying you.” 

Robin was devastated. She was in love with Brian, and in her heart felt certain that God brought him into her life for a very important purpose. They agreed outwardly to move on, but secretly in her heart Robin believed that God would bring them together again.

Three months later over a meal together with Robin and his brothers, Brian announced to Robin that he had met someone else. Brian’s eyes twinkled and Robin’s heart sank. This girl was special.

Robin knew she had to let the dream of marrying Brian die. She threw herself into activities with friends to distract her mind and give her heart space to heal.

One frosty morning Robin received a text from Brian. He was asking her if she could please take him to Urgent Care because he had a headache and could not see well enough to drive. His brothers were out of town, and his girlfriend lived over an hour away. Could Robin help?

Robin rushed to his house and drove him to Urgent Care. Brian was immediately rushed to the local hospital, where doctors discovered a mass on his brain. Within hours, Brian was in surgery. His brothers Bruce and Lance raced to the hospital and were given the shocking news that Brian had Stage 4 Brain Cancer, or Glioblastoma. In the background, Robin paced and prayed, tears streaming down her face, trying to understand the will of God in suffering.

During those frightening days surrounding the surgery, Robin met Brian’s girlfriend Jenna for the first time. Robin liked Jenna, despite the envy she harbored in secret.

In the months following Brian’s diagnosis, Robin and Brian’s family cried out to the Lord for healing. As they met faithfully week after week, a deep love for Brian’s family grew in Robin's heart, replacing the envy and heartbreak that had threatened to crush her.

One day, Robin heard God say, “Robin, I have asked you to minister to Brian and his family in a different way. Not the way you expected, as a girlfriend or wife. But rather as a family friend who never leaves their side. I want you to be My hands and heart to them right now.” 

The entire landscape of Robin’s heart shifted that day. 

She was faced with a choice. She could run away and never look back. No one would blame her. Or, she could lean in to the pain, trusting that God’s ways were higher than her ways, and His thoughts higher than her thoughts. And make herself available to the Elbertsons in whatever way they needed. 

By God’s grace and with His help, Robin chose to allow God to be her sustainer and helper as she helped the Elbertson family through Brian’s illness. 

In August of 2014, Robin reached out to Brian’s girlfriend Jenna, and Jenna reached back. They began talking on the phone regularly and seeing each other on weekend visits with Brian and his family. Robin began to see how God had crafted Jenna just for Brian. Jenna was exactly what Brian needed, and he adored her. Robin watched in amazement as her own heart began to overflow with gratitude that God had brought Jenna and Brian together.

In the meantime, Robin, Bruce, and Lance became even more like family. As Brian’s condition worsened, they worked tirelessly alongside his many friends to encourage him and make him as comfortable as possible.

On the final days of Brian’s journey, together they held him and walked him Home. Brian met his Lord on March 13, 2016.

Grief is a mysterious and unpredictable force, a club in which no one wants membership. But for those who mourn together, it creates an inseparable bond.

In the early days, Robin thought she was meant to marry Brian. She could never have imagined that the journey of joy and suffering ahead of her would lead her not to marry Brian, but instead his brother Bruce.

There was no sudden awakening, no startling realization that Robin and Bruce loved each other. Slow like the springtime after a frozen winter of grief, love made its appearance in small and beautiful ways. Spring gave way to summer, and the fragrance of Christ in their relationship could not be hidden any more than the scent of roses on a summer breeze. 

Robin will marry Brian’s brother Bruce at the dawn of the new year. 

It is a mystery to me why suffering so often leads to unexpected gratitude. I cannot understand it. 

But I see it again and again in the lives of those who are brave enough to entrust their pain to the One whose thoughts are higher than ours, whose ways are higher than our own. 

As the drums play this holiday season, we will remember Brian’s gift. And like the King, we will smile through our tears.


A note from the author: Robin became my sister-friend over huge platters of steamy lamb stew, warm rounded loaves of bread, and glasses of hot mint tea in the salons of North Africa. In the decade since, we have walked the mountains and valleys of life’s joys and sorrows together. Robin would never praise herself as faithful and unwavering. This journey was unspeakably painful at times. But we hope you will join us in praising our faithful God, who never, ever, let go of Robin's hand as she climbed.

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