I really did learn so much from that blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy of mine. He wasn’t perfect, 😏he sometimes made hasty decisions without weighing all the consequences, 😳and occasionally he cared a little too much about his “swag”.🙄
But . . . Rhett’s heart and moral compass were pure and honorable. He was kind, fearless, and full of adventure, and he taught me some vital truths about relationships and God through his life . . . and his death.
We used to have two old horses that roamed the pastures behind our house. They always stayed in the general vicinity of each other and often hung around the cows. These two horses were rarely if ever ridden, but we loved having them around. Rhett and Mara would feed them apples when they could get them to come over to our fence, and occasionally they would try to sit on them. I remember feeling sad when one of the horses passed away because I was afraid the other horse felt lost and lonely.
Soon after the first horse died, I made the following comment to Rhett: “I hope that horse thinks he is a cow now. I don’t want him to be sad. I want him to just blend in with the cows so he knows he hasn’t been left alone.”
Immediately, Rhett responded: “No way, Mom! I want that horse to KNOW he is a horse. He doesn’t need to pretend to be something else just because he lost his buddy.” I was struck by the wisdom of that statement. Rhett was so right, and he had recognized something important that I had not: Loss should lead you to find your identity, not lose it.
The next day I was outside washing my car when I heard a strange noise coming from the field behind our house. The noise was Rhett laughing and galloping bareback on an unbridled horse across the pasture. I was shocked to say the least. What did he think he was doing? He didn’t even know how to ride a horse!
I held my breath until he finished his ride and walked back up to the house carrying the large bucket he had used to help himself climb up on the horse. He casually explained that he was “showing” the horse that it was definitely still a horse because no one ever rides a cow. Rhett knew that sometimes words were not enough. He knew he couldn’t just TELL the horse, he had to SHOW the horse who he was. It was risky and it took time and effort, but Rhett was always willing to go the extra mile. Once again, I was the student learning about life from that unbridled blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy of mine.
The November before we lost Rhett, we had decided as a family that we were going to do devotionals after dinner when we were able to sit down and have a family meal. Of course, that wasn’t every night because we were a busy family with sporting events and many other obligations. We all knew what order we went in, so each person just got ready and held on to their “word” until it was their turn and we found ourselves seated around the kitchen table sharing a meal together. Each person had to have a title for their “devo” because we wrote them on a chalk board for the month.
On December 23, 2015, the five of us had just finished eating a meal when Jimmy asked whose turn it was to do the devotional. Rhett jumped up and said it was his turn as he ran to his room to get his iPad. He returned to the table and found the notes he had made in preparation to deliver the “word” for the evening. He announced that “Unbox God” was his title.
He started out by saying how much he loved Christmas and opening gifts. He went on to say that we often miss the real “gift” of Christmas. He said we open up Christmas presents with excitement because we are eager to see what’s inside the box, but we never really “unbox” God. He explained that we often keep God in a box and therefore we never really get to see how BIG God is. He challenged each of us to focus on unboxing God in our lives. We prayed and wrote it on our December board. And again, I was thankful for the lesson my blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy had taught us.
And five days later, Rhett was dead. Just like that. Killed in a tragic accident. Ripped out of our lives forever. No warning. No goodbye. Just gone. Suddenly and forever gone.
I don’t remember many specific details about that night as I sat on the floor in our living room while people flooded our home with love and tears. I kept replaying Rhett’s devotional in my mind, and I knew that I would indeed need to “unbox” a very big God if I had any hope at all of surviving this loss.
I was absolutely sick to the core of my being. Rhett was dead, my precious blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy was in the morgue, and I was completely devastated. It was so unfair! I had never taken Rhett for granted. I had always been so thankful for the treasure I had in Rhett, for his love, and for the lessons he taught me on such a regular basis. How could this be happening?
But happen it did, and in Rhett’s final act on earth, he taught me the hardest lesson I have ever learned. I suppose one day I will thank him, but that seems impossible right now. I just can’t bring myself to say the words out loud. . . I can barely type them.
How does a mother ever “thank” her son for dying before her? That’s absurd!
How does a mother ever accept the fact that her son’s death taught her the most valuable lesson she has or EVER will learn?
I still do not know how to be truly thankful for this; I will openly admit that right now.
I’m just not selfless or strong enough yet to say “thank you” for this lesson.
I doubt that I will ever be strong enough to say those words on this side of heaven.
But, I am fully aware of what Rhett’s death has taught me.
There is no denying that this lesson cost me SO MUCH MORE than I was ever WILLING to pay. Losing Rhett taught me that I must find my identity in Christ instead of relying on anything else. Because quite simply, I learned the hard way that there really is nothing else.
To put it plainly, the lesson for me was that I need Jesus more than I need ANYTHING.
When my life was easy, Jesus was a great “addition” to my life. I loved him and honored him with my words, but loving Jesus with my words was no longer going to be enough. I had never totally made Him my first priority. He was never my sole source of HOPE. And, while I had never taken Rhett for granted, I had most assuredly taken Jesus and His death on the cross for granted.
But when they lower a casket into the grave that holds a literal piece of your own soul, you become more thankful than ever for Jesus. Rhett’s salvation is secured ONLY because of Jesus and His death on the cross. I couldn’t save Rhett. The paramedics couldn’t save Rhett. Jimmy couldn’t save Rhett. We never had that ability, but I am humbly thankful that Jesus did what none of us were ever capable of doing in the first place.
I do not think for one moment that God orchestrated this tragedy to teach me a lesson. We live in a fallen world that is sometimes full of heartbreak. What happened to Rhett will always break my heart. Always.
But like only Rhett could do, he SHOWED me the real crux of what this life is all about. He just had a knack for pointing me toward love, truth, and Jesus, and his departure from this world was no exception.
The “out loud” thank you will have to wait until I am in Heaven in the actual “unbridled” Presence of Jesus with an “unboxed” God and reunited with Rhett again. After I thank Jesus for who He is and what he did for me, I imagine I will grab my blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy and whisper in his ear.
I will say “thank you for SHOWING me how much I needed Jesus!”
Meet me in the Confessional:
1. I confess that this was so hard to write. I have cried hundreds of tears writing this. I am thankful for Jesus, but I’m still so broken. I wish I could have learned this lesson in a much less costly way. Gratitude can be hard!
2. I miss my “blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy” more than words can say.