It is late February, and the last few days have kind of been a blur. You see, three months ago we planned this trip.
I registered one of my sons, Connor, for his first official tour at Abilene Christian University. I was supposed to watch my daughter, Lindsey, perform at the Seekers of the Word (a Christian drama troupe) breakfast and attend my favorite ACU tradition: Sing Song. It was going to be memorable.
On Jan. 25, however, our lives were changed. Would Connor want to go on his tour, just three weeks after his sister died in an tragic accident on Highway 36, near Abilene? How can I watch Seekers perform without Lindsey? How could Sing Song ever bring me joy again?
As the time to leave grows near, I begin to feel sick. Everyone would understand; I would have a legitimate excuse to back out. It’s OK to change your mind while grieving, I have been told. Still, I wrestle with myself, telling my cousin how much I dread getting in the car and waiting until the last minute to pack. As the trip begins from our home in New Braunfels, I feel my blood pressure rise. As ACU students are texting me about how they can’t wait to see me, my stomach tightens further. Will I disappoint them?
It is late Friday night and I am driving as we approach Abilene. I assume the boys and Todd are asleep. As we approach the outskirts of town, I notice a sign pointing towards Oplin, and it takes my breath away. The song, “I Hope You Dance” begins on the radio. Todd, who has been feigning sleep, sits up and says “Really?” The last time I heard that song was three weeks ago at my daughter’s funeral. My arms are covered in goosebumps as I burst into tears. I reach to Todd. Lindsey is all right. I know it. Peace comes over me; my blood pressure begins to drop. We arrive in Abilene and sense Lindsey’s presence.
The next morning we are up early to go on the campus tour. We are meeting Todd’s brother’s family and my in-laws. My in-laws take Dawson and my nephew, Gunner, to the Seekers of the Word breakfast. Todd, Connor, Trent, Tammy, Peyton and I are off to explore ACU. Being that we all attended there I am not expecting to learn anything new, but I am proven wrong. Our tour guide is a young man who is Korean but from West Africa. He tells us many things about ACU I didn’t know before. He was the first one that day to remind me of the ACU community that has been pouring into me for the last few weeks. But hearing this stranger explain what it means to him, makes it come alive to me. My energy and courage are revitalized.
I meet up with my former supervisor, Suzanne Allmon (’79). She was a great mentor in my life during a time where I didn’t have a huge support system, and we have have been friends ever since. Thankfully, God placed Lindsey as a student employee in the Office of the President, where Suzanne now works. She ate lunch with Lindsey the day she died. She has told me beautiful things about her and noticed the quirks that made Lindsey unique. Again, God and the ACU community did not disappoint.
We reconnect at lunch with some dear college friends who also belong to the community of parents who have lost a child. They cry and tell us we will make it through, and that doubt and anger are natural feelings. Our love of God and of ACU give us instant common ground. We are now blessed with someone who has walked the road before us and can make us feel hopeful.
I am nervous that evening as we head to Sing Song. That event was a huge part of my life while I was a student at ACU. Will it now just be a time of sorrow for me? Will everyone be staring at me? I ask God to cover me with peace, and He does. I look through the event program. Where my daughter should be listed in it is instead a dedication to her. The words are such an accurate representation, as though her mother or father wrote them. The lights are lowered and the show starts. I am amazed by the level of talent and the show itself. My heart swells.
Lindsey had many friends in the Trojans, one of the men’s social clubs at ACU, yet one that has yet to win a Sing Song competition in the event’s 57-year history. Earlier in the week, I sent the club a poem and a picture of Lindsey, encouraging them to win. In return, they embraced me: I received texts, Facebook messages and phone calls promising to do their best to make Lindsey proud. It is getting close to the time for their act and I am so nervous for them. As they are announced, our family’s 9:00 alarm to pray goes off. You see, the Smith family made a pledge at Thanksgiving that every day at 9 p.m. we would stop and remember our place in this world, our family and our blessings. Do you think it is a coincidence that the Trojans took the stage at 9 p.m.? I don’t. The club went on to sweep first place in every category.
We ended the night with the ACU tradition of singing “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.” Five thousand voices sang the lyrics beautifully. I wept as I thought about the road my life has traveled. Why did Lindsey and I choose the same path to attend ACU? Why did God take her home before me?
He knew from the beginning that the Smiths were supposed to be Wildcats. He also knew I would need the Abilene Christian community for such a time as this. I am forever grateful.