Straight from an Orange Heart
By Lisa Elliott
Orange Heart? You’re likely asking what on earth the colour orange has to do with anything heart-related. Well, it is much like the Purple Heart which many of you have heard of. According to Wikipedia, the Purple Heart is a United States military decoration awarded in the name of the president to those wounded or killed while serving, on or after April 5, 1917, with the U.S. military. Our family has its own coloured heart of commemoration. It happens to be orange.
If you have been reading my blog for any length of time you must know by now, the month of August holds great significance in the life of my family. August 12, 2018 commemorates a decade since our son, Ben was diagnosed with leukemia. One-year-and-one-week later, August 19, 2009, Ben graduated to his heavenly home.
Up until August 12, 2008 my day-planner was filled with colour. Being more of a visual than a number kind of person, I used a different colour of highlighter to keep track of the vast array of comings and goings in our busy, crazy, and sometimes overwhelming life in a ministry home with four teenagers. Each family member had their own designated colour. And colourful it was; yellow, green, pink, blue, purple, and orange! A rainbow of activity that included: volleyball practices, band practices, social gatherings, special occasions, birthdays, anniversaries, church events, and so on. Never did I suspect that it would ever be any different. Nor could I have foreseen that it would turn from multi-colour to black and white in a single heartbeat—literally. On the day of Ben’s diagnosis, colours representing family activity were replaced with black and white pencil (with an eraser close at hand), as hospital admissions, appointments, and blood counts overtook every waking moment of my days. And it didn’t stop there. For the next number of years after Ben’s death, my day-planner remained colourless. Life seemed colourless as grief turned everything a bleak grey. Sure there was the odd stroke of colour to help keep track of the life that carried on—whether I was ready for it to or not. But that was colour’s singular purpose in my new normal.
Recently, I was asked what my grief looks like now, ten years later. I had to be honest in my response that there are still bleak grey days, particularly in the month of August, but also on days that, while my feeble dates and numbers memory forgets, my heart remembers—in full black-and-white-colour! For example, Ben’s birthday is still the most profoundly grey day in my calendar year, no matter how hard we try to make it a celebration of life. But even dates like April 1—what would-have-been his bone marrow transplant—create colourless days without warning, rhyme, nor reason until I look at my calendar and it all begins to make sense.
A full decade since Ben’s diagnosis, I’m relieved to tell you that I have gradually begun to add a bit more colour back into my day-planner. Yellow marks my social activity. Blue is my church involvement. Green represents personal growth and development and pink highlights anything related to my personal ministry. But as for orange: it now holds special significance. Anything highlighted orange includes things like date-night or days off with my husband, visits with my kids and grandkids, anniversary celebrations and holidays.
But you may still be wondering why orange? What is the significance of orange? Simply stated, orange is the colour for leukemia. And I’ve purposefully, intentionally, and deliberately chosen to take a colour that represented pain, suffering, dying, and death. And I have turned it into a colour that now represents those things that breathe life, joy, laughter, and as our son Ben would say, “fun-ness” back into this heart of mine.
You see, among Ben’s final words before his graduation to heaven were words he downloaded onto his computer and onto a CD entitled, “Ben’s 7 Important Songs”. These were songs he wanted played at his funeral. One of those songs caught us by surprise as we listened to it for the first time the morning after his death. It’s a song recorded by MercyMe that was intentionally inserted onto their CD, Coming Up To Breathe. The song, I Would Die For You encourages the listener to have fun in life and take time to enjoy the things that bring happiness. In spite of our unstoppable sadness, we committed to do just that—have fun in life and to make it all worthwhile… maybe even crack a smile, knowing Ben wouldn’t have had it any other way.
When I published my book, Dancing in the Rain; One Family’s Journey through Grief and Loss, my husband blessed me with a dozen orange roses that remain strategically displayed in my home. Since then, not only has orange appeared more readily into my day-planner, it has made its way into my wardrobe, to be worn on special occasions or days when I need to intentionally inject a little more “fun-ness” into my day.
One of the last conversations I shared with Ben he told me that when he closed his eyes, he was seeing the colours of heaven. When I asked him to describe them, he couldn’t. He said, “There are no colours that even exist here on earth.”
I’m so thankful that the God who holds my heart uses colour to speak life, joy, fun, and the hope of heaven into my otherwise, colourless days.
About this Contributor:
Lisa Elliott is an inspirational speaker and award-winning author of The Ben Ripple and Dancing in the Rain. Additionally, she has written articles for Just Between Us Magazine and devotionals for theStory. She and her pastor-husband, David, have four children (3 on earth, 1 in heaven) and serve the Lord together in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
To book Lisa for a weekend retreat or day conference contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org