The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:5 (NIV)
One of the first things I remember being said in a counseling adolescence class I took in seminary was this quote: “Everybody needs a face that lights up when they walk into a room.”
I have never been able to find who said it, except I know my professor, Dr. Robert Dykstra, said it to our class. That saying resonated with me and has stuck with me all these 23 years of ordained ministry.
I was a rather shy, insecure girl growing up. Most of the time I think I faked it fairly well but inside I was very unsure of myself in most every way. I thought I was not smart, not pretty, overweight (which I was for a little while), and I doubted my abilities and decisions. Sometimes I lacked a sense of self-worth.
My dad and mom separated when I was eight and soon after were divorced. I loved my dad and I know he loved me but, I’m sorry to say, he intimated me quite a bit. He had a way of teasing that was sarcastic and he could be very gruff and that – sometimes – felt downright mean. He was a crop duster when I was a child and he found work in North Carolina, spraying tobacco and cotton crops, which meant he was gone much of the time. (We lived in Kansas). I’m sad to say that I felt relieved when he was gone and anxious when he was home.
After the divorce he moved permanently to North Carolina where he lived until he passed away in 2016. I spent a couple of months with him the summer I turned ten but besides that, I only saw him occasionally when he came home for a death in the family or some serious event. (I’m happy to say that the last 30 years of his life, he and I developed a much closer relationship.)
A while after the divorce my mother married my stepfather – a wonderful man who took good care of my three younger siblings and me, as well as the two that he and mom eventually had. But while I loved him, I had already formed this insecurity about myself and struggled with those inner doubts. My stepfather cared for me, but it took a while to believe he really loved me like a father.
What I know as a person who has studied and counseled with youth and adults, is that it is true – everybody does need a face that lights up when they walk into a room. For many children that face is a parent. For me, it certainly was my mothers face. But there was another beloved face that always lit up when I came into his presence … my grandad – George.
The last article I wrote was about George and Grace and how they found a baby in a basket on the front porch. That baby – whom they named Barbara Ruth – was my mother. I told you how Grandad was very sensitive and showed his emotions when he saw something he deeply loved and felt passionate about.
When I was at my grandparent’s house, which was several days a week, I experienced that light and love in his face. It was all for me, and it nurtured and nourished my soul; it healed me in ways that is difficult to describe. In his presence I knew I was loved. I didn’t doubt it for a minute. In his eyes I saw everything I needed to believe I was worthy of love, I was beautiful, I was smart, I was fun and creative. He was a light to me and a gift from God to a child who needed assurance.
Grandad was also very influential in helping me to know God’s love for me. My faith grew strong because of his faith and example. He would sit with me on the back steps as we looked out at his beautiful roses growing in his yard, and we would sing. We sang songs like How Great Thou Art and We are Climbing Jacobs Ladder. We sang Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and Lord, I Want to Be a Christian.
He told me over and over that God loves all people regardless of race or color. He told me never to believe that I was more important, or more loved in God’s eyes, than a person of color. He taught me to try my best to not be prejudiced but to care for all people.
George lived a simple Christian life with his beloved wife, Grace. He set an example for me as I experienced love and light, even when things seemed dark sometimes. They both taught me about forgiveness and grace (which is the theme of my novel about them).
“Everybody needs a face that lights up when they walk into a room.”
Who is that face for you? Are you being that light for others? Who do you know that needs your face to light up just for them?
When we show others that light, we reflect the light of Christ for people who often feel they are in dark places.
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.