It’s been two months… Two months of praying, reading, and searching. Two months of struggling to put my thoughts into a cognitive string of words that adequately convey how I feel. I’m praying that now may be the time to give it shot.
On Saturday, February 15th, I loaded my bags in the church bus, picked up three team members and met the rest of our mission team at the church before 5:00 am. Our team of 18 was on the way to the Little Rock airport to start the journey to Honduras for an 8-day medical mission trip. Outside of playing with my kids, mission trips are my favorite thing to do, hands down (followed closely by eating wings and tacos).
On the hour long flight to Dallas where we were to change planes, I laughed and cut up with a couple strangers to the point that our cheeks were cramping up and tears were rolling down our faces. We even had the flight attendants laughing. While half the plane was confused at the ruckus, the other half was irritated that their early morning nap was being interrupted by a couple of loud folks laughing hysterically.
As the plane descended and my phone came into cell range the notifications began to blow up. I listened to a couple voicemails of hysteria and distress, and then returned a call to find out my brother had taken his own life the night before and my mother found him that morning.
While sitting on the tarmac, the flight of hysterical laughing and tears of joy quickly diverted to a feeling of sorrow that was almost suffocating. In an instant, everything changed.
It took over two hours to cancel my flight, get my bags, and find a rental car. Then I made the 2.5-hour drive to my mom’s and began a week no one was prepared for. Over the next week I drove over 1500 miles to and from my mom’s trying to help with arrangements, going through pictures, etc.
That Wednesday, my Nanny (mom’s mom) fell and broke her hip. With her ER visit, they found stage 4 cancer in her lungs, and an aortic aneurysm (that we knew she’s had for years) had ruptured. Broken hip, stage 4 cancer, ruptured aneurysm: it was a trifecta of conditions that the doctors would not touch. Nanny falls on Wednesday, we get the diagnosis Thursday before my brother’s visitation, I officiate his memorial service on Friday, and Hospice is called on Saturday. I put a few more miles on the car the following week and Nanny passed away Saturday, February 29 – one day after her 84thbirthday. This is only scratching the surface of the heartache, pain, and frustrations of the two weeks. If I am to be honest, these details, and the details I don’t want to disclose, brought so much frustration and borderline anger that it is impossible to truly communicate it through words on a screen. Sharing the rest of the details are not necessary because they do not change the take away.
I am not an emotional person. As a matter of fact, Jenny refers to me as an “emotionless robot”. I don’t write this for some great need to talk through my issues. I am sharing all of this for one reason and one reason only: I want you to know God is still good.
There was a phrase that resounded in my head countless times throughout each day over the course of the four weeks that followed my brother’s passing: If He is God of the mountain, He must also be God of the valley. Before Tauren Wells wrote his song “Hills and Valleys”, the Psalmist wrote:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. (Psalm 46:1-3 ESV).
When the mountains crumble into the sea, when the oceans roar with such vigor that the moutains tremble in fear… when the world seems so perilous that all of creation cowers. The Creator is our refuge. He is our fortress, our strength, our help. I told the people at my brother’s service: do not be mad at God when your world is crumbling because of the actions of His people. Run to God when you feel like your world is falling apart.
It is during the times of weaknesses and hardships that we grow. Paul wrote, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:10).
It is during trials and struggles that our faith is made stronger. I do not understand how we are to “count it all joy” when life is hard, but James tells us to. He says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” (James 1:2-3). I do not understand how I am to count it as joy in the middle of a week like I had… or even during the weeks that followed. But I know my faith grew a lot during that darkness.
Here’s what I was reminded of: Jesus says in John 16:33 we will have tough times, “but take heart, I have overcome the world.” If you are a follower of Jesus, you have the power of Christ within you, no matter how dark your night gets. Deuteronomy 31:6 reminds us that the Lord is with us. He will not leave or forsake us.
Here are just a few of the many ways I saw God at work during the darkness: I was able to sit down with Nanny and talk about her faith, her life, and what she wanted in her service; God provided funds for an unexpected funeral and for travel expenses that were not budgeted (to just about the exact dollar); He provided a church family for my mom that prepared meals and encouraged her; and a bunch of folks got to hear the Gospel.
If you find yourself in a dark season of life, I hope you remember three things: 1) if you are a follower of Christ, He will not leave you. He will see you through this. He will be your strength. 2) If you have never trusted in Jesus, now would be perfect time. Feel free to reach out to me, or you can simply pray: ask God to forgive you for your mistakes, and give your life to Him by committing to follow Him. 3) Do not ever believe the lie that your life is too far gone or is so bad that the only hope you have is to end it. Reach out to someone that can get you help: your pastor, friends, family, etc. Your impact if farther than you know, and you are loved by more people than you realize.
This was at Tim’s wedding several years ago… I have a feeling the conversation was a bit different when Nanny found him in Heaven…