The border of heaven cuts through central Texas.
At least this is what I am told by Don Forrester, who describes his ten acre piece of land in Dripping Springs as the “edge of heaven.” Don works with friends ours at Texas Baptist Children’s Ministry, providing homes and care for foster children. He has a heart for ministry and a gift for storytelling. Seriously, check out his blog for daily nuggets of wit and wisdom.
Last week my wife and I, along with two of our friends, had dinner with Don and his wife, Treva. It was a great evening and the description of his home in Dripping Springs was accurate. Actually, I’m not sure if Dripping Springs is on the edge of heaven, or is a small glimpse of heaven on earth. Either way, the only thing better than the sunset over Texas hill country was getting to know the Forresters. They made a fantastic meal and we enjoyed wine and stories out on the back porch until close to midnight.
In addition to being a blogger, Don is an identical twin. We did not talk too much about this fact, and I realized why after Don handed me a copy of a small book he just finished writing called “Bitter or Better: A Personal Walk Through Grief.”
In the book, you learn that Don’s twin, Ron Forrester was a pilot in the Vietnam War. His plan was shot down one night. He was only twenty-five years old. For a period of time, Ron was listed as MIA, but when his whereabouts never surfaced, he was listed as KIA/BNR (Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered).
Don outlines the process of grieving for a brother, and the lessons he has learned from this process in the four decades since the tragedy. As a twin myself, this story hit close to home, and I was reading through blurred vision within the first two pages. Particularly because of passages like this:
“As a twin, my brother and I shared a special bond. He had always been there. He was a part of my identity. People referred to us as twins. We were regarded as a unit. It was as though half of who I am had disappeared.”
It is hard to describe the truth of this statement to non-twins. Growing up with my twin, Doug, I was not simply Dave. I was a hybrid: “Doug/Dave.” In our small Christian school, I did not have the opportunity to have different teachers, and so, until the twelfth grade, my brother and I shared nearly the same schedule. We competed on the same sports teams, and we competed with one another for grades. For better or for worse, it made me who I am today.
Don asked me if I was still close with my twin. I told him that we decided to go to different colleges after high school and that our lives have more or less followed different paths since that time. But the distance between us does not mean that we aren’t close. We keep in touch nearly every day. Whether that is by phone or just texting over gmail and Facebook, we are involved in one another’s lives in a way that I am not with any of my other siblings. (Sorry guys).
Don’s question, as well as his book, led me to imagine what the last five years of life would have been like, and what the next 45 years might look like, without a twin. To think of his wife, children, friends, and my family being reminded of him whenever they see me would be a weight that I would not want to bear.
What I do not want to imagine, Don has experienced first hand. He has had to bear the weight of loss. But as the title of his book indicates, he has learned to narrow down the reality of tragedy – or perhaps the tragedy of reality – into two basic choices:
I have heard it said that people emerge from tragedy with one of two outcomes. They either become better or they become bitter.
Through prayer and faith, Don has refused to become bitter. That is not to say he did not doubt God, or that he was not angry with God, or that he did not find his faith in God shaken to the core. After recounting his time of anger, Don writes:
Where does anger fit in? Based on my own experience, I’d have to say that anger is probably a temptation that accompanies very grief experience. Unfortunately, it carries with it the potential to debilitate and destroy.
The book has a number of these short, powerful statements, which are born out of a clear wrestling with God. For example,
Somewhere in the process, it occurred to me that I wasn’t big enough to take God on.
We can’t go back and erase the past. Our only option is to negotiate life in the present and look forward to the future.
God did not cause my brother’s plane to go down in order to teach me a lesson or two about living. There are two forces at work in the world. The tempter is the one whose intent it is to destroy and disrupt all that God intended. He is the author of war, not God. But what I am saying is God allowed me to ultimate benefit from the experience.
If you are experiencing loss or are in a season of grieving, I highly recommend reading Don’s book. Be sure to follow it up with a trip to the “edge of heaven.”