Friday, December 27, 2013

A Christmas I will NEVER Forget

Gosh.... this has been quite a holiday season and New Year's has not even hit yet, I am trying to stay grounded and focused as I prepare for all 2014 has in store for me. Before I share something that I feel is pretty amazing, I want to give some back story for those of you who may not understand without it.

Rewinding to December 1980, I was living in my hometown of Ware, Massachusetts and my life was a very happy one. I was a little girl surrounded by a loving family had many friends and relatives nearby. Our immediate family consisted of my newborn brother Aaron, born on December 18th, 1980, my brother Keith who was 7 years older than me, my sister Teresa who was 9 years older and my foster sister Lisa who was 11 years older; and of course my mom and dad. We were truly one big happy family and everyone knew that. We lived a Christian life and even attended Christian school; it was simply how we were. Back then, I was taught that if you did what God said in the bible and lived as he wanted us to, that all would be good in your life, so to me it made complete sense.

July 31st, 1981... my sister Teresa was involved in a drunk driving accident leaving her in a coma for 5 days before she passed away on August 5th due to severe head injuries. It was sudden, it was tragic... and indeed a terrible accident that tore my family and my faith to shreds. The man who was driving the vehicle that was ultimately responsible for my sister's death was only 19... he was being 19. Many of us (including me) have gotten behind a wheel we should have called a cab, his fate just brought him to a place many of us have luckily never been. He lived...

For years I did not know the whole story of what happened... I  overheard bits and clips as my family talked about it here and there but one thing I always felt was an emptiness inside... I wanted to know more about what happened that night.

I stopped believing in God as I got older, and by the time I was in middle school, God was merely a "Holy Santa Claus" to me... non existent, just some made up dude that was supposed to make you feel safe when you were feeling not. What I am saying is that I was an atheist for most of my adult life. I struggled... a lot. My life was always two steps forward and three steps back and because of that for many years I was constantly frustrated and confused at what I did to "deserve" this kind of life.

Then in 2005 when I was faced with a situation that I could not handle alone, my mom told me in a hotel room out n California to "surrender it to God". I remember chuckling and mocking her saying "yeah... right I have been "praying" all week and God has done NOTHING for me." She would not be swayed and insisted that I "Give this to God." I had been angry at this invisible entity for years and actually blamed Him for everything that had gone wrong in my life. However, that day I had exhausted all of my efforts and had nothing left so I fell to my knees sobbing at the situation I was in and yelled out and said, "Okay GOD, if you are real then SHOW ME! You have done NOTHING for me in life but give me crap that I did not deserve, and caused me a bunch of pain so if you want to prove to me that YOU exist and that you CARE then take this... I got nothing left, take it and FIX IT and I will praise you forever and tell the world you are real."

Although I was not a " believer" anymore, I suppose it was my time to see a miracle because less than 24 hours later, what I had been trying to solve for 9 days "my way" was solved so effortlessly that I barley believed it myself.

That day changed my life and over the next several years I started learning more about this "great man" in a way that was real, not altered or changed to "fit" a religious mold. I learned the truth about God and his son Jesus. That too changed my life in a way I cannot describe, it was so eye opening to learn that what I had learned as a kid was not true. Just because you are a Christian does not mean that you will not struggle, it does not mean you won't feel pain or have grief, it just means that when you are in these moments you can truly call on Him and he will get you through it. Look, I am no holy-rolling Bible-thumper... that would turn you off, just as it does me. I am just sharing my story in hopes that if you are down and out that you will maybe do what I did and be lucky enough to experience what I have since that day.

Now fast forward to July 2010...  I started writing my book when I was at my lowest... by far the toughest year of my life at that point; and writing was all I had to do to stay positive and in forward motion. For the first time since 1981 I reached out and asked my mom to tell me play by play what happened that night and she shared the story in tears. It was the first time I had ever heard it. Over the next few days I could not help but wonder what ever happened to the guy who was driving so I searched his name and found one man with that name on Facebook and it was in a nearby town of where I grew up. At the time I wanted to send a message but I was not sure what to say or if it was even him, so I refrained. The book was finished and released on what would have been my sister's 47th birthday... October 19th, 2012. On April 27th, 2013, I was going to be traveling to Massachusetts for a book signing in my hometown and I had an uncontrollable urge to send a message to that guy on Facebook who I had found in hopes that it was him. Something inside my heart wanted him to know that something good came out of that tragic event, an inspirational book that began with losing my sister. I wanted him to know that I forgave him and that I knew that it was an accident. I assumed that this man had lived with an unbelievable guilt for all of these years because he never served any time for what he did and something inside of me wanted to relieve him of that.

So... I sent a message to that man telling him who I was looking for and gave him a link to my website for the book. About a week later he emailed me through the website and told me that I had the right guy. He sent me a very brief " I live with that guilt every single day." And that was it. I replied inviting him to the book signing and said I would like to meet him if he could make it... I never heard from him again. Later I found that his Facebook was set as private and I took it as he wanted to be left alone. I was sad, but understanding. I somehow thought he would be the key to finding out more about what happened in the last moments of my sister's living life, it was a connection to answers, to my past... to my sister that I wanted so deeply.

Since then my faith in God has grown even stronger and wonderful things are happening in my life left and right. I have prayed for that man and had hopes that he would somehow find that "Big Guy" himself because I know that He can give you peace like no other. So Christmas Eve Night/ wee hours of Christmas morning actually, I was writing my last blog post... feeling very spiritual and wanted to shout out to the big guy above on the day we celebrate His life... this was about 1:30 a.m. Christmas morning. As I always do... after finishing my blog post, I immediately open Facebook to post it to all my pages and groups that I belong to. I saw at that moment that I had 3 Facebook messages. I posted my blog links and then checked my messages. When I opened my box... I saw his name first. The man who drove the vehicle had sent me a message and had been simultaneously typing it as I was typing my Christmas blog... WAY later than I had originally planned. I trembled and came to tears as I opened that email and this is what it said:

Hello Shelley, I am so sorry that I could not attend the event at the library in Ware in April. I am also sorry that I was not able to talk to you more about what happened. For personal reasons I was unable to contact you or email you back. That being said... I must tell you that I feel compelled on this Christmas Eve contact you and tell you how much I regret what happened on that night...I did not mean for it to happen. It was simply an accident and I pay for it everyday of my life.. I live with the guilt of taking her life everyday...I wish that I was the one who passed. The holidays make me think of family and at this time of year..I ALWAYS think of your sister and your family. The thought of your family having to deal with the loss of your sister must be devastating...the hopes and aspirations of a beautiful, intelligent, vibrant young woman were taken away by my selfish decision to drink and drive. That night will forever haunt my memory and will forever be etched in my mind. I can only imagine what she would have done with her life if I had not chosen to drink and drive. Words will never express the pain I feel and I am sure that they will never express the loss that you r family felt that night. I am truly sorry for what happened. Maybe it's divine intervention that is making me contact you or maybe the spirit of Christmas...I just could not sleep thinking about it and I had to contact you. I hope your family has a very Merry Christmas and I hope that you all know that I am TRULY SORRY for what happened that night. If you have any questions or if you would like to contact me please feel free to email me.

And he gave me his email address. 

I emailed him back and said:

Hearing back from you was the most emotional Christmas gift ever. I have so much more to say but will have to wait until these tears dry up. Thank you SO much... and yes, divine intervention indeed, I call Him God. Merry Christmas I will write soon. ~Shelley~

He replied once more:

Yes...god is a big part of my life... I look forward to hearing from you...

It was honestly the best Christmas gift ever. A chance to connect with my past... a painful part of it and to forgive someone selflessly that probably deserves that forgiveness, for we are ALL worthy of being forgiven. THAT is what you learn when you learn about the one TRUE GOD; we are all worthy.

As I end this blog tonight I hope you get the message... I hope you take something from it that you may not have thought about before because that is all I want. One last thing I will share that is kind of funny... and ironic and well.... kind of perfect for this post. When you "say" you are a Christian, you actually have to act like one and many that I know do not. They judge, ridicule, make fun of and exclude people just because of something they are, are not or something they did. I am here to say that if you want to live as Jesus did, you have to love ALL forgive ALL and be a good person to every person no matter who they are or what they choose. I have found that as I have done this my life has turned around and I am blessed more and more each day. 

Several months ago I was in a gift shop delivering a book to the owner in hopes of her carrying my book there and she told me that I had a "presence". I have heard that so many times in the past few years and it's kind of weird to hear it because I am not always sure if it's a compliment or an insult. She asked me to find my name in a collection of name cards in this binder that she had and said I could have one. I laughed and said... "my name is not spelled traditionally, it is spelled S-H-E-L-L-E-Y... my name is NEVER in any of the gift shop goodies with names... never a pencil, a key chain or anything growing up." She said, "Well just look and if you find it take the card." I flipped through and low and behold there it was... only one card and I almost fell over when I read it. I now carry it in my wallet everywhere I go along with another card that I wrote one word on at a training I went to this year and well... these are the only reminders of my purpose that I will ever need.

Have a great night guys and gals! I love you all and THANKS for reading!



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