A few weeks ago the Lord really pressed upon me to interview some mamas who have walked through a really difficult tragedy. I felt He gave me the vision to create a space for them to tell their stories. A place other parents could come and be encouraged on their own journeys through trial and tragedy. Every time I even mentioned this idea out loud to someone both my arms were covered in chill bumps, as if the Lord wanted me to pay extra attention to His call with this idea.
Being that I’m new to the writing game, I was incredibly intimidated. I’m not a journalist and didn’t want to risk rejection. I was afraid I’d fail at presenting their stories the way He’d intended. However, at the same I was recently convicted that I need to talk about my own walk through tragedy and trial first before asking others to be brave by diving deep about the hard stuff.
So here goes. Please read: I do not tell you any of this to ask for pity. The Lord has carried me through every difficult scenario in my life and I want to shine light on just that. His ability to shine through the overwhelming darkness. At times it has felt like I’ve been to Hell and back, but I always come to the other side loving and trusting Jesus more.
Let’s start from the beginning. I grew up in church and met Jesus when I was 3 years old. I know it sounds crazy, but I have always felt the Holy Spirit’s tug in my life. The greatest gift in my journey has always been a framework of hope (in Jesus) to look to in desperate times.
From the time I was twelve to eighteen, I watched five close friends lose their parents to cancer, aneurysms or car accidents. It seemed every year brought a new death that I tried to help my friends cope with. At thirteen one of my best friends stayed the weekend at my house while her mom was in hospice. Two more of my friends were also there when she received the devastating call that her mom had left this life all too soon. I will never forget those hours of trying to comfort and distract her. The time spent waiting for that phone call seemed endless and I felt so unequipped to support her in the coming weeks, months and years to follow. I couldn’t imagine going through my teen years without my mom there to guide me.
Fast forward two and half years, I was only fifteen and a good friend was diagnosed with brain cancer. Just two summers before that I’d spent almost every day with him and a group of our friends. After his treatments began he was completely unrecognizable and died within a year. It was too much to process that this evil disease could destroy someone so young, so quickly.
Coping with death became a normal part of my adolescence. Little did I know then I would walk through it all again just a few years later as a supportive spouse. Looking back on it now I believe the Lord was preparing me. If my first encounter with death had been my young brother-in-law, I’m not sure I would’ve made it.
I met my husband the spring of my freshman year of college. He was so cute and his optimistic outlook on life was so captivating. After dealing with so much loss I needed someone in my life who was a little less jaded; someone to point me toward the sunny side of things.
The first night we hung out we shared our testimonies. I shared my stories of past boyfriends, lost loved ones, and recommitting my life to Jesus at Young Life’s Windy Gap camp. He shared his journey with me too. We sat on the back porch swing of my dorm for hours. It felt so orchestrated by the Lord, this perfect match. We both left that conversation and individually (and secretly!) told a friend that same night we had found the person we were going to marry. Neither of us had any idea we both felt that way until a few months later when we confessed to having the same conversation.
We were married the summer before our senior year of college. A few weeks after the wedding we temporarily moved to Charlotte for our summer internships. My in-laws had recently settled there for a new job with his youngest brother Daniel. They liked the change of pace and were acclimating well so after graduation we decided to move back for jobs rather than pursuing a more typical path to Richmond or Northern Virginia.
Less than a year after we’d chosen to make Charlotte our home too, Andy’s 16 year old brother Daniel died tragically in a car accident four days before his 17th birthday. Our world was completely flipped upside down. In all my years of facing grief, nothing has ever compared to watching my husband lose his little brother so suddenly and tragically. His life was cut so short.
I will never forget the phone call we received Easter morning to go over to his parent’s house. It felt so ominous and we didn’t even know what we were facing. When we pulled into the driveway and I saw a car I didn’t recognize I knew something terrible had happened. It felt like that moment you’d see in a movie. Time stopped.
When we walked inside we were given the news of Daniel’s death. The stranger’s car turned out to be the Pastor of my in-law’s church. He was there to pray for us and provide comfort during our time of need.
The next few days were such a blur. Our family, friends and college roommates dropped everything to come and be with us. They helped us stand when we felt we might drown from it all.
Walking down the aisle at Daniel’s funeral is the hardest thing I have ever done. It was almost an out of body experience. Like watching myself force my legs to move forward in a repetitive motion. Every step felt like I could collapse with grief.
I had only known Daniel for a few years but in that time, he was my favorite. Daniel was the funniest kid I’ve ever known. He had the best jokes, was so down to earth and loved everyone. He made me feel the most welcome when I came around. Almost an ally at the dinner table who could make me laugh when I felt so nervous and was desperately trying to make a good impression with my future family. Daniel was the comedic relief in many situations and the one to make the rest of us stop taking ourselves so seriously.
I will never forget his passion for life and his love. He loved anyone he met so well. It didn’t matter who they were or what other people thought. He was just gifted with a big heart.
The first years after his death felt like we were ghosts. My husband went to work each day and came home exhausted and quiet. It was clear that just surviving the day felt like such a burden. It was heartbreaking to watch a shell of man just pass through time.
Prior to the loss, we were already in the lonely place of transition. We hadn’t made many (or any?!) friends in Charlotte and we were unsure of our place in this new city. A week before he died we had just moved into a new apartment in the neighborhood of South End.
We were excited to be closer to the city and were hopeful we’d meet other young couples just starting out. We began attending a new campus at church but it took us over a year to even begin to share our story. It felt all too heavy to tell someone you’d just met.
But we kept moving forward. We weren’t ready to join a small group so we started volunteering. Every week we showed up to set up, greet people, build relationships and tear down. Once we went into service, we would silently wipe our tears and worship God, the ulitmate healer.
A year later we finally felt ready to let the world in again. The Lord set us up with the most amazing small group. It’s been seven years and they are still our best of friends.
We were even fortunate enough to walk through the early days of parenting with them right by our side. From our small group, four babies were born within two months of each other so we were in it together every step of the way. I can’t imagine going through motherhood without them. They’ve held me up countless times and made me laugh when I needed it most.
I’ve learned the best thing you can do is keep moving forward. Despite the pain, the unbearable brokenness, continue to seek God first. He saw us in all of it and gave us exactly what we needed when we needed it most.
In the coming years the Lord has blessed us tremendously and paved the way. My husband has experienced a lot of success early in his career and we have two healthy children who love just as fiercely and passionately as we do. He’s provided a home for our family in the center of a neighborhood filled with authentic God seeking families. I feel so thankful for all the ways His presence in our lives has been so clear.
However, today my family is going through yet another trial and tragedy. This past summer my dear father in law Mike was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at 59. The weight of his diagnosis has been overwhelming. Once again, we feel robbed of time.
Mike has been admitted into a drug trial that treats the cause of the disease. The caveat is that 3 of the 4 test groups are placebo.
I’ve again been forced to keep moving forward when it all just seems like too much. I’ve continued to trust in God’s plan for our lives. He’s carried us through before and I know He will be there again no matter the outcome.
“The God of Comfort
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. 4 He comforts us in all our affliction,[a] so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation. If we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that as you share in the sufferings, so you will also share in the comfort.
8 We don’t want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of our affliction that took place in Asia. We were completely overwhelmed—beyond our strength—so that we even despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a terrible death, and he will deliver us. We have put our hope in him that he will deliver us again 11 while you join in helping us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gift that came to us through the prayers of many.”
Would you join me in praying for Mike and his wife Kathy in our family’s time of need? I’ve been pleading for the Lord to keep the disease from progressing so our children will have a lifetime of memories with their Pops. I can’t begin to imagine an alternative but if that’s not the Lord’s plan, please pray for us in the coming years. If things decline we will need so much prayer. Pops is the rock and leader of our family.
My only hope can be found in His word.
Treasure in Clay Jars
7 Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. 8 We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; 9 we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed. 10 We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be displayed in our body. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’s sake, so that Jesus’s life may also be displayed in our mortal flesh. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life in you. 13 And since we have the same spirit of faith in keeping with what is written, I believed, therefore I spoke,[a] we also believe, and therefore speak. 14 For we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you. 15 Indeed, everything is for your benefit so that, as grace extends through more and more people, it may cause thanksgiving to increase to the glory of God.
16 Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. 18 So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
As humans it is so hard to keep our eyes on Jesus but we must focus on His eternal plan for our (temporary) lives. If you’re walking through a hard season, I would strongly encourage you to reach out for help. Ask a friend to pray with you, become active in a church, join a small group, seek counseling, read your Bible, and be vulnerable. You never know who you could touch by sharing your own struggle and how therapeutic it can be for you in return. Some say your greatest trajedy is your greatest ministry, so don’t be afraid to share it. Let God use it for the good of His kingdom.
To God be the glory, forever and ever. Amen.