The story behind the Brice and Brianna cross is not solely about me and my faith journey, but it is the result of it. Hopefully this testimony will meet you where you are in your own faith journey and will inspire you. I pray hearing the story and how these two young people helped me come back to Christ will increase the faith you have in Him.
I felt drawn to God at a young age, and was encouraged to attend Severn’s Valley Baptist Church by my Uncle David’s girlfriend Melody. After several years of attending off and on, I fell in love with Christ and accepted Him as my Savior when I was thirteen years old. Upon learning of my decision, my family began attending church more regularly as well. I felt very blessed and a little inappropriately prideful that my faith decision had brought our family back into the church.
I waited until my 16th birthday to celebrate my new love and passion publicly through baptism. I will never forget how I felt that day. I remember thinking that the connection I had with Christ was so strong that it could never be severed and the feeling of joy was so profound that it could be nothing less than divine. I am so thankful this foundation was established in those early teenage years, because I needed it desperately very soon, though I did not know how much I would lean on it at the time.
In my late teens I began to stray from my faith and gave into temptation as headstrong teenagers often do. I sought the approval of the cool kids and experimented with all the things cool kids do. Slowly the peace and joy I found started to wane as my behavior and choices caused me to move farther and farther away from God.
Still I prayed every day and knew in my heart there was more to life. Deep down I believed He was there with me. I still wanted a relationship with Him but didn’t do anything to cultivate one. My relationship with God was further challenged when my Dad was diagnosed with cancer right before I graduated from high school.
Always a Daddy’s girl, I struggled mightily when we lost him a short 8 months later. At the time, I leaned on my Dad for direction on all major life decisions, and he was more than happy to give me all the guidance I desired, and then some! We still laugh about Dad’s long lectures. But all joking aside, I really needed him to help guide me in my life. Looking back now I recognized that he was my true north. When I lost him I was lost as well.
Of course this loss came at a crucial time in my life. I was away at college and my faith was being challenged in fresh new ways every day. Everywhere I turned some professor was trying to tell me why my faith did not make sense, and why God was not real. Regardless of the subject; science, literature, or philosophy, it seemed all this alleged “logic” was threatening my belief. Being an analytical type, it was hard for my heart to win the battle against my brain. In addition, I was meeting interesting and intelligent non-believers for the first time and explored other faiths as well. I was confused and I was also angry at God for taking my father too soon. The divide between me and my Savior grew even more vast.
I remember being at Dad’s funeral and seeing all the flowers and gifts. One very common inclusion in these gifts and cards was the poem Footprints in the Sand. I distinctly recall scoffing at the poem and not feeling like God was with me at all.I felt like He had left me completely and I no longer felt His spirit in me in the way I had only a few short years earlier.
At this time in my life I didn’t understand how Satan was at work in all of this. I didn’t understand that the moment I gave my life to Christ he was coming after me full force in a battle for my soul. He was the source of all that temptation and the desire to be like the cool kids. Satan was the one who gave me distractions that took me away from nurturing the love I had in Christ and allowed the distance to develop. And he definitely had his evil influence in the people and things I learned and was exposed to in college. No doubt he delighted in my anger at the death of my father and used it to drive a wedge between me and God.
Still, as angry as I was I never felt comfortable self-identifying as anything other than a Christian. And I still prayed almost every single night even if the prayers where empty, repetitive, self-centered, and ritualistic. Even though I came very close to letting Him go, I was unable to completely sever the relationship.
I fell into depression my sophomore year in college and eventually dropped out, despite having made the Dean’s list my freshman year. I then met a very handsome but also extremely troubled man who I married in Vegas after only knowing him four months. I was adrift, and I think I would have married just about anyone to have a sense of family again. I rushed into the relationship because I wanted my life to have meaning. I wanted to have a home. I needed purpose. I thought marriage was the solution. Unfortunately, very shortly after we were married I learned he had a serious drug problem and he began using again. Along with the drug use came physical, emotional, and verbal abuse. I stayed in the marriage for a little over a year.
After that experience I decided that I would never depend on anyone again. The good people in my life, like my Dad, weren’t guaranteed to be with me when I needed them most. Other people in my life, like my ex-husband, didn’t have the capacity to give me the care and support I so longed to have. I became hell bent on returning to college and making something of myself so I would never need anyone’s help, charity, or love again.
I never truly leaned on Christ or invested in my relationship with Him in any way during this time. But still, I prayed and even attended church from time to time. I tried, but I was still too hurt and angry and besides that I wasn’t giving up control to anyone ever again. I was done. I was convinced that I was the only person I could really depend on and that I came into the world the way I would leave it, alone.
I worked hard and I achieved what I set out to do. I established a successful career, earned a few degrees, and married a great guy that I knew I could trust. Once I married Bill we began attending church again, and at times I would feel that connection to Christ begin to grow but I wasn’t doing the work I needed to do to really nurture a close relationship with Him. So not surprisingly, I found no real peace there. I was just going through the motions.
Then our long and ongoing battle with infertility began which gave me another reason to be angry with God. Satan again used anger to work on my heart, to attack my marriage and to try to destroy my faith. I had taken control of my financial and physical life. I was earning a good living, receiving a lot of recognition at work, and was in the best physical shape of my life. But my heart was empty and angry, seeking something more, something that I thought I would find in the child that I long desired but couldn’t have.
Satan didn’t make any of my bad decisions for me, but he certainly took advantage of every opportunity I gave him and set the stage for a number of choices that separated me from God throughout my life. But the way he worked on me the most was allowing me to believe I was in control. He helped me believe that it is was me who owned my destiny.
Still, no matter what I did I couldn’t control infertility. Believe me, I tried. I read all the books. I ate all kinds of organic and gluten free diets, took supplements, gained weight, lost weight, meditated, tried different fertility clinics, different treatment protocols, and spent disgusting amounts of money. No matter how much money I spent or what I did, this was something I couldn’t control. I was angry and further separated from God. I continued to try to be close to Him. I tried to have faith. I continued to pray but without heart and without giving Him control.
After multiple IVF treatments, God blessed us with our daughter “Evie”. You would think that would be enough for me to come back to the faith, but it wasn’t too long after she was born that we started trying for number two and faced even greater challenges that we still battle today. The anger continued despite the tremendous love I felt for my daughter. In fact I know now that the love I felt for my daughter also got in the way of my relationship with God.
After having Evie, I felt like I had finally found what I was looking for, that I once again knew this great love I had been seeking for so long. The only problem was that my love was also fraught with fear. After all, my daughter was no more invincible than my Dad and I could lose her at anytime. This was in part what drove my strong desire for a second child. I wanted to double down on this amazing love I found and ensure that I would always have it.
It was in the midst of this battle for our second child that God finally got my attention, and it was indirectly through my Uncle David once again. Sadly, however, this time it wasn’t his girlfriend trying to get me to go to church. This time it was my Uncle David and Aunt Tonya personally experiencing the one thing I feared the most that brought me back to the faith. It was their loss of their children, Brice (20) and Brianna (17), that finally woke me up.
God finally reached me at my cousin Brianna’s funeral. She was hit by a killed by a drunk driver in June of 2014. When I attended her funeral I was amazed at her parent’s and brother’s strength. I was moved that the funeral was more of a worship service than the sad event I expected. I was struck by the pastor’s message and by the sheer number of people in attendance honoring her life. But most of all, it was looking at her in the photos that had been strung together in a powerpoint presentation that touched me so deeply that day. She was so full of life. So full of love. In her softball photos she was a fierce and unfettered competitor. In her prom photos she was a beautiful and innocent princess. In photos holding her family or riding piggyback on her brother’s back she was a sweet and loving child. I knew in an instant that this amazing young woman could not possibly just cease to exist. And I knew based on her faith in Christ exactly where she was.
When the pastor called for anyone who wanted to accept Christ or rededicate his life to Him I was tempted to go up front, but truthfully, I didn’t need to do that. I had already accepted Christ and I now could see that He was with me all along. I quietly and privately rededicated my life to Him. It was one small thing I could do to make sure that this amazing young woman did not die in vein, to make sure there was some purpose in this. But of course that couldn’t be all of it, it was more personal than that. I felt like my old great love was calling me home. I knew in this moment that it was time to finally give up control and to let his unmeasurable love wash over me and give me the strength, peace, support, and love I had been searching for all along.
When Brianna’s brother Brice was in a fluke ATV accident a week later and passed shortly after that, you would think that might shake my newly reinvigorated faith. And as hard as it was to believe that this event was even possible, that his young life could be cut short so soon after the loss of his sister, I didn’t waiver.
Brice too was an amazing soul, such an inherently good young person who loved his sister so much and was going to be his parent’s saving grace after they lost Brianna. Of all the things that have caused me to be angry at God in my life this should have been at the top of my list. Two young people, barely out of childhood, my aunt and uncle’s only two children, swept away from us far too soon and so violently through no fault of their own. I should have been spitting nails and one of those nails should have been the last one driven into the coffin of my faith.
But that is not what happened. Satan had his time and had gone too far. This time was God’s time. God was fighting for me, he was reaching for me all this time through the pain, anger, “logic”, and fear. Just like the Footprints poem I had scorned at my Dad’s funeral, He was there all along but it was only when I was on my knees, when all control had finally been relinquished, that I was ready to feel his loving arms around me and respond the way I should have years before.
There is so much more to this story, and like it is for a lot of people it wasn’t one moment or one thing, my redemption and rededication happened over several weeks and is still in progress today. There were some pretty profound moments along the way though, and one of them was when we released floating lanterns in honor of Brice and Brianna at midnight between their back to back July birthdays. When those lanterns lined up in the shape of a perfect cross and floated toward the only two visible stars in the sky, it was as if God was telling us that He had them. Not just Brice and Brianna, but my Dad and all the others that passed before and since that believed in Him.
When I saw that cross I vowed that I would never lose faith again. I knew immediately that I would spend the rest of my earthly life getting to know Christ better and nurturing this renewed relationship. Christ had won and there was nothing that Satan could do to pull me away from Him again. That next day, the day of Brianna’s birthday and the day after Brice’s, their mother Tonya got a tattoo of a cross on her arm that was comprised of their names just like this cross I share with you now.
It was then that the idea of this cross was born. As a newly rejuvenated follower of Christ I longed to have a symbol of his sacrifice to wear and tell the world that I believed. Unfortunately I had lost my first cross necklace long ago. This cross was an image that I had in my mind and wanted to see come to fruition the moment I saw that tattoo on Tonya’s arm. It is made of solid silver and crafted by a talented Northern Michigan artist who patiently worked with me to make it everything I imagined from the beginning. While it was being created I would often reach to the part of my neck where it now dangles and close my eyes, imagining it there. It turned out just the way I hoped, even better, and I want to share it with you.
There have been times when I have wondered if making this cross was the right thing to do. I certainly do not want to put Brice and Brianna up on the cross in the place of Christ. Nor do I pretend that they were so pure and good that they should be worshiped like the one perfect person who died upon that cross for our sins. That is not what this is about. This cross is recognition that Brice and Brianna were instrumental in leading me back to Him. It acknowledges that their deaths, like His, were not in vein. And finally, it represents their belief in Christ and the assurance that they are with Him for eternity. It is for this reason that this cross is the most valued piece of jewelry I own, almost like my wedding ring in my remarriage to Christ.
Finally, I have included the words to two meaningful pieces of art to close this testimony. The first is the lyrics to The Old Rugged Cross, a hymn that was loved by my earthly father and was played at his funeral. While I miss him greatly and think of him daily, I rejoice in knowing he has eternal life with Christ. I am also overwhelmed by the fact that in the last several months I have gained a new father I can rely on and trust for guidance again. I am so full of peace and gratefulness every day for Him and His grace.
The other piece of art, of course, is the poem Footprints in the Sand. If you are hurting and like me have a hard time believing He is with you, I can promise you that the poem is nothing to scoff at. He is there with you and if you welcome and rest in Him this will become more and more apparent to you as you open your heart and mind to all he has to offer in His relationship with you. He longs to be with you, but even if you don’t let Him in, he will keep working at you and He won’t give up. Listen closely, you will hear Him calling for you.
God bless you in your faith journey, wherever you are.
***If you know anyone who would like a Brice and Brianna cross or would like to learn more about how Christ can change your life, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.***
***Learn more about Brice and Brianna by visiting their memorial Facebook page: Forever in Our Hearts: a Tribute to Brice and Brianna Taylor***
The Old Rugged Cross
by George Bennard
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suff’ring and shame;
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.
Refrain: So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.
Oh, that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
Has a wondrous attraction for me;
For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary.
In that old rugged cross,
stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see,
For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
To pardon and sanctify me.
To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away,
Where His glory forever I’ll share.
Footprints in the Sand
by Mary Stevenson
One night I had a dream.
I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.
Across the sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand, one belonging to me, and the other to the Lord.
When the last scene of my life flashed before me, I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that many times along the path of my life there was only one set of footprints.
I also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in my life.
This really bothered me and I questioned the Lord about it:
”Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you, you’d walk with me all the way.
But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life there is only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why when I need you most you would leave me.”
The Lord replied: ”My precious child, I love you and would never leave you.
During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”