December 7, 2013: There I was, all snug in my bed, with visions of sleep dancing in my tired head. When all at once an alert I received. The elves had come; they had come indeed!
Down to the mailbox I dashed with great speed and found five little gifts wrapped with great love and great care. “Come Andi! Come Cory and Kami, too! Get out of your beds — there’s something to do. Our elves have come! Yippee! Hurray! It’s a yummy end to a rainy, wet day.”
December 13, 2013: What a cool gift!!!! Fun stuff and movie gift cards. We are so stinkin’ excited…except for the harmonica… Santa, I’ve been good this year! Why?!?! Hey elves, the girls were looking out their window for you and still missed you. Our elves have crazy skills!!!!
December 25, 2013: Dear Christmas Elves: Once again we are overwhelmed at your love, creativity and generosity. We opened our stocking gifts from Santa with our elf gifts this morning…wow!!!! You have shown such love to our family for the last 25 days. Yes, this season is hard for us, but you have helped to lighten our hearts, and for that we will be forever grateful.
Her Facebook posts held only a hint of the whole story. Yes, the season was hard for Michelle Blackmon and her four children, Jame, Kami, Cory and Andi — hard well beyond the understanding of most of us. Six months earlier, on June 14, a month after her 23rd wedding anniversary, Michelle became a widow, and her children lost their dad.
Michelle had no time to prepare for her husband Alan’s death. There was no lingering illness, no hint in the morning that the afternoon held great tragedy. It was as if the ground opened up and swallowed the foundation on which Michelle and her children had rooted their lives. In fact, it was not like that; it was that! It was nothing less than that.
The Kindness of Elves
Old friends, new friends and friends yet to be stepped up that Christmas. From December 1st through the 25th they left daily gifts at the Blackmon’s door. The kids called these friends their Christmas elves, but to Michelle they were God’s ambassadors, bringing a little joy to what was the worst Christmas of her life.
“I didn’t want to decorate,” Michelle said. “I wanted to go away. Leave town. I didn’t want to be reminded of Christmas because I would be reminded of Christmas without Alan. But the kids wanted Christmas, so I gave in. We put up the tree. We decorated. I even put up Alan’s stocking and left it hanging with the rest of our stockings even though the pain stabbed me through the heart each time I saw it. Then, our Christmas elves surprised us. They were amazing. Every day it was something different on our doorstep or in the mailbox. There were gift cards, movie tickets, candy and lots of food. One day they gave us Duck Dynasty beards!”
Michelle has a picture of her and the kids wearing the Duck Dynasty beards. It shows a bit of joyous foolishness provided by an unknown friend that for a few moments took away the memory of that June 14th afternoon when police detectives knocked on her door and asked her to step outside. There on her lawn, in front of her home — her place of safety and refuge — they told her of an isolated corner in a supermarket parking lot, and of her husband in his car, and of a handgun he had bought for her protection that he had taken from their home, and how he had used that gun to end his life and forever end the world she and their children knew.
A Fairytale Beginning
“Alan and I met the first day of classes our freshman year at Texas A&M University,” Michelle remembered. “He was in my dorm building after hours. I roomed with the RA. She caught him and brought him to our room to fuss at him. I remember looking up from my math homework and thinking, Ewww!”
Alan’s impression of Michelle was much different. “He showed up at my room nearly every day after that and won me over. We went on our first date in November, and by December I knew I was going to marry him.” They dated through college. After graduation, they married and honeymooned at Walt Disney World — a fairytale start to a marriage with a horror story ending.
Acceptance Without Understanding
For a time after Alan’s death, Michelle told people it was an accident that ended his life. “I didn’t want to have to explain,” she said. “When I said it was a suicide, people I barely knew would ask, ‘Do you know why he did it?’ I was still in the process of trying to understand and couldn’t even explain it to my family and friends, let alone to people I barely knew.
“I believe now that I will never know entirely why, and I have to accept that.” But even in acceptance there is anger. “I want five minutes alone with him when I first get to Heaven,” Michelle added, and you know by her tone that she wants to point out a few things to him he might not have thought through before he decided to end his life.
Michelle has been asked if she blames God for Alan’s death. She doesn’t. “I’ve never blamed God. This was Alan’s choice. This was not God’s choice for Alan.”
Michelle’s relationship with God has grown stronger through this ordeal. “I don’t know how a person has the strength to make it through something like this without God,” she said. “I spend a lot of time alone with God, studying the Bible and listening to sermons. Reading good devotional studies is absolutely critical to my survival.”
Michelle chose to follow Jesus Christ when she was seven years old but feels strongly her total commitment to Him and her acceptance of His salvation happened on Easter Sunday in 1991. Her children have all chosen to follow Jesus Christ and have been baptized to proclaim that choice to the world. Michelle is more than a little grateful about that. A mother of teenagers is always worried about the choices they make, and Michelle knows they made the one right choice that ensures their eternity. With Alan’s bad choice they all lost a father, but as children of the King, they have a Heavenly Father they will never lose.
Building a Family
All four of Michelle and Alan’s children are adopted. Michelle had miscarriages. Devastating, yes, but not the end of parenting plans for two twenty-something Christians who saw God’s hand at work in all things. If you can’t have your own, there are plenty of children who need to be loved you could make your own, Michelle and Alan believed.
“We adopted Jame from Thailand in June 1997 when he was two years old,” Michelle said. “The adoption process took 14 months. We learned about Jame when he was one, and while we were waiting, we were able to send him pictures, toys and clothing. One special thing about Jame, the first baby I miscarried was due on June 6, 1995, and that was Jame’s birthday! What a God thing!
“Alan spent time in Asia while he was in the Navy, and we were very comfortable with adopting from Asian countries,” Michelle said. Kami was adopted from China in February 1999, Cory from Thailand in December of 1999 and Andi from South Korea in 2002.
“We adopted Kami from a Chinese orphanage that had been started by Baptist missionaries. Kami had been left on the doorstep of a police station when she was a day or two old. She had a 104-degree fever the day we got her. Cory’s story is unique in that he is Jame’s biological brother. We had just gotten Kami home when we heard that Cory’s mother had another baby and wanted her new son to be with his brother. So, we started the paperwork! Andi is another miracle. We were done adopting, but Kami wanted a sister; Andi had some special needs, and she needed a special home. How could we say no?”
On a Typical Sunday
If the Sunday before Alan’s death was typical, you might have seen Michelle as the featured soloist, standing on the podium between the 100-member choir and the 2,000 congregants and heard her sing a song of praise and adoration to her Lord with a clear and true soprano voice envied by professional singers. That God-given talent would greatly serve her through the coming year. “Being able to sing and worship God — even when I may not feel like it — has been vital to me. Singing is like breathing to me. It’s a part of who I am,” Michelle said.
If the Sunday before Alan’s death was typical, Alan might have walked into the sanctuary from a side door and crossed in front of the church with a service dog by his side. One of his volunteer ministries was working with service dogs, and he helped socialize them by taking them out in public. Alan might have reached his typical pew area and looked around for his children. Andi and Cory usually showed up, dragging in like kids do, but with youth ministries going on, Jame and Kami often found more exciting places to be.
If you sat in his area, you might seek Alan out during the meet-and-greet time, shake his hand and whisper something funny in his ear. He enjoyed a smile and a laugh and was quick with a retort. He was the type of person you might say would be the very last person to…
On June 20, 2013, the morning of Alan’s funeral, Michelle wrote in her newly started journal, “Today, I am going to say goodbye to my best friend and my children’s father. Right now I just can’t see the future without him, but I know God has a plan for me. This did not take Him by surprise even though it turned my world totally upside down.”
Totally upside down was an understatement.
Seeing the Whole Picture
The day of Alan’s funeral, the kids were 12, 14, 15 and 18. Michelle was a homeschooling mom with no source of income or a clue on where she stood financially. She had a university degree in Curriculum and Instruction, but her calling had been inside the home as wife, mother and teacher. Alan was the provider. Their marriage had been a partnership, but the partner who brought in the money did not share information with the partner who ran the home. As it turned out, Michelle’s financial picture was not healthy. The family was in deep debt and without savings.
“I faced a lot of things I did not want to face,” Michelle said, “but I had my church, and I had a core group of friends who showed up at my doorstep and would do anything for me. And what they didn’t know, they had friends who did know. I was not in a place in life that I ever wanted to be, but my God put some of the most amazing people in my life who were able to give me good counsel and work on my behalf. God is my strength, and He made sure that I knew I was not alone.
The outpouring of Christian love was overwhelming. My church, along with my friends and my kids, were my rock.” Michelle believes, “Friends are God’s hands and feet on Earth. Friends have cleaned my house, fed and entertained my children, prayed with me, put up with me on my worst days and loved me when I was unlovely.”
From Survival Mode to Living Again
Today, Jame is a sophomore at Auburn University. Kami is active in church youth choir and AWANA, a program designed to help churches and parents raise children to know and serve Christ. Cory is in the church youth choir, active in AWANA and a coxswain with The Rocket City Rowing Club. Andi rows in The Rocket City Rowing Club, plays piano, sings in the youth choir and is active in AWANA. Michelle works from her home through Skype as a math tutor for children who have learning problems.
Michelle believes in God’s timing, and she knows He is telling her, “It’s time to move on.”
“I wish I knew what God’s plans for my future are. I know they will be good ones and right for me. I love to travel. I love missions. I feel like we are just beginning to move out of just survival mode into actually living. For now, I plan on continuing to homeschool, continuing with my new job and getting the kids ready for college. I am praying and waiting to see what God has in store. I am from Texas, and I would love to go back one day, but for now Huntsville is my home. The kids have grown up here and we have a huge support group here. I can’t see leaving anytime soon.”