That's Julie Tipton in the center of this wonderful picture. The beautiful young lady is her daughter, Annie Laurie, and the handsome young man is her son, Chad.
As I said in my preview post, Julie has endured a lot. She was the victim of an abusive relationship. I doubt that she likes me using the word "victim", though. You see, she's more of a survivor than victim and we all know that victims wither and withdraw but survivors fight and march on. That's Julie.
Like my friend, Kimberly Adelson, Julie and I met at work. She is a speech-language pathologist for the school district I used to work in. For the past few years, she had an office in my building and that handsome young man in the picture was a student there for a bit.
Let me tell you a bit about Chad. Chad was bright, precocious, well-mannered, big-hearted and deeply, deeply troubled. I won't go into much detail because the details of Chad's tormented and tortured adolescence aren't the point of the post. His mother's triumph over tragedy is the point and should be the focus.
After struggling with his "demons" for several years, Chad ended his life by hanging himself in May of this year. Julie found him, Julie helped revive him, Julie made the most difficult decision a mother should ever have to make and Julie survived it all with grace and beauty and a spiritual dignity that I've seldom seen before. Julie would tell you that it all happened through the grace of God. I would probably agree, but I would add that God gives you grace but you can choose to accept it or reject it. I'm not sure I could have accepted grace if I had been in her place.
When I first heard of Chad's suicide attempt and that he was in the ICU of a local hospital, I contacted Julie via text and let her know that my wife and I would pray for her. Later, before coming up to the hospital, I called her and asked if I could come see her. Her tone of voice on the phone, her calmness, her quiet grace as we talked was soothing to me as I struggled to find words to comfort her.
I arrived at the hospital and sat with family and friends for quite a while. I watched and listened and chatted. I saw love and grief and pain and laughter and sorrow. I saw God's magnificent grace and I saw Satan's darkest evil as well. I've never thought of myself as one who can sense the presence of "evil" but I knew in one very particular moment, that the very essence of evil was nearby. It was palpable. Many others who were present felt the same thing.
In the days of Chad's stay in ICU, Julie had to deal with that presence and she was left to make all of the decisions regarding his care. Ultimately, she made the decision to terminate life support and to donate Chad's organs.
I cannot imagine being in that situation. I'm not sure I could ever make that decision. I know that, as I spoke with Julie she had found incredible peace with her decisions. I will never forget some of the things she said to me.
"How can I not be at peace when I know Chad is no longer suffering?"
"So many people will benefit from his organs. I know he would want that."
"Chad is not here. I know he's in a better place."
"Chad's demons were bigger than him. They overwhelmed him. I know he's no longer tortured."
"I can literally feel the presence of people's prayers. I know that tons of people are praying and I can feel it. That gives me my peace."
Julie believed, and so do I, that Chad had finally found a peace that he could never have known here.
I know Julie shed tears of grief and I know that she had moments of anger and doubt and fear and a sense of abandonment, but I also know that her faith system and her belief in a higher power were so strong that she made it through one of the most tragic events a parent could ever endure. Not only did she make it through but she became a beacon of hope and an example of grace in action.
While many at the hospital were grieving and crying and mourning, Julie was healing broken hearts and weary souls. She was encouraging each of us to keep our faith and to believe in a greater plan and a greater vision than we'd ever imagined. Jesus commanded his followers to live so that others will know who you follow. Julie lived so that others knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, who she followed and who she had faith in.
At Chad's memorial, I watched as Julie individually hugged and greeted hundreds and hundreds of friends, family members, schoolmates, acquaintances, neighbors and strangers. She ministered to each person with a hug and a word of hope. It seemed to me that she was the shepherd of this great flock and that she was tending to each of her sheep as they came forward.
I will never forget those days. I will always cherish the few moments I spent with her at the hospital, at the memorial and in the days and weeks afterward.
Recently, Julie and I met for lunch. At our lunch, I was glad to catch up with her and to hear of her continued journey. As we sat and ate and talked, I marvelled at how positive and focused she remained and how she continually referred to the peace she had and the importance of the grace of God. When it was time to go, I broke down a bit as I told her what an important role she'd played in my life recently. Like so many others, from her example, I learned that we can find peace in times of distress, that following the command to live so that others will know who you follow is not just something to take lightly, and that grace is a gift from heaven that we can accept or reject. Julie accepted grace and was and is blessed abundantly.
There is so much more to this story than I could ever write. If you want to follow Julie's story and learn more about Chad, please visit her blog http://www.julietipton.blogspot.com.
Please do me the small favor of saying a prayer for her. She draws so much strength from the prayers of others. Remember, she can feel it.