By Elaine Howlett
It was moving day for my pastor husband and me. Our bishop had appointed us to a different church and we were excited about the possibilities that a change usually brings. We had all of the furniture and boxes moved in, but we were too exhausted to unpack or set up beds. We ventured out into our new community to find a hardware store for a couple of items and a restaurant to get some dinner. We arrived back home about 7:00 p.m., and ten minutes later the phone rang.
I answered it. It was our son, Bryon. He asked if his dad was there. When I said that he was, Bryon said to put him on the phone too because he had some really bad news. I said, “What is it?” I could tell from the sound of his voice that something was terribly wrong. He said, “Get Dad!”
I ran outside to get my husband. When we were both on the phone, our life was irretrievably shattered when Bryon said, “Craig’s dead.”
My knees buckled. I struggled to breathe.
On the same day we moved to a new parish, our eighteen-year-old son, Craig, had died in a car accident.
This tragedy completely devastated my life. It consumed me physically, mentally, and spiritually to the point that I couldn’t function. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t remember, I couldn’t eat, and I couldn’t sleep for months. Nothing mattered to me. Nothing. I couldn’t bear the memories of the past and I couldn’t imagine a meaningful future without Craig. I was in so much pain that I didn’t want to continue living.
My mind kept racing to make some sense out of what had happened. I craved even five minutes when my mind would turn off. There had to be a reason. I had to find the answer to why this happened to Craig and our family. Who or what was to blame? I felt that since we were in ministry, we would somehow be immune to this kind of tragedy. How could God allow this to happen to us?
I doubted everything I thought was true about God. I even doubted the very existence of God, much less a loving God. Spiritually, I felt completely alone and abandoned by God. All meaning for life was gone. I was terrified of losing my faith. I knew that I couldn’t fake what I believed. God would know my heart and I was afraid that I might never see Craig again. I felt that prayer had let me down.
Every time I closed my eyes I saw a big hole that I knew had no bottom. The edges around it were slippery and wet and I was terrified that I would fall into the darkness forever. It was a very real possibility that the darkness of grief and doubt could have totally consumed me. I grew very weary of trying to stay out of that hole!
In the depths of that despair, I kept thinking if there is a God, and if that God loves me, how could He do this to me? How could He take my son from me? I thought, “A loving God wouldn’t do this to me.”
God said, “Exactly!”
I questioned, “Exactly?”
He wouldn’t explain.
I was afraid to read my Bible or pray. I thought I might find out that it was my fault. Besides, I didn’t see any use in it since God had abandoned me. I felt vulnerable and I feared that my other children were in danger. The physical pain was unbearable. The mental and spiritual anguish made me think I was going crazy.
I knew many people were praying for me. Thanks to those prayers, God began to reveal Himself to me in enough ways that I did begin to read my Bible and pray, even though I felt like it was futile.
I was so confused. Does God exist? That was the question that terrified me. Without God, I had no meaning to my life. Without God, Craig was not in a place called heaven and lost forever, and I would never see him again.
For some reason, I continued to search the Scriptures for answers. God began revealing His truth to me. What has happened to me is nothing short of a miracle – a beautiful and undeniable miracle.
The fourteenth chapter of Matthew especially spoke to me. John the Baptist had been beheaded in prison. John was dear to Jesus, and when He heard it, He went to a deserted place by Himself. I read this story many times. In my grief, I realized that Jesus wanted to be alone with God to grieve. Jesus needed comfort from His Father. Maybe He, too, had some questions. Later, Jesus sent His disciples ahead of Him by boat to the other side of the sea. He then retreated a second time to a solitary place to pray.
When Jesus finished, He walked on the water to the disciples’ boat. The disciples thought He was a ghost. A storm had taken them many furlongs out to sea and they were frightened from the winds and chaos surrounding them. They didn’t expect Jesus to come to them in the midst of a storm, especially on foot in the middle of the sea. They didn’t know it was possible.
Jesus then said to the disciples, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” Peter still wasn’t convinced. He asked Jesus, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” Jesus told Peter to come. Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water. The same miraculous power that allowed Jesus to walk on the water was available to Peter. Peter just had to believe in that power and trust that Jesus was who He said He was.
Peter allowed doubt and fear to overtake him and he sank into the water. He then cried out for Jesus to save him. Immediately, Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him. Once back to the boat, He said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Then the wind ceased.
I used to read that as a rebuke. Now I read it as an assurance. Jesus is saying, “You can trust Me. I AM. I’m all you need. Haven’t I proven that to you? Whatever storm you face, you can come to Me. I will walk on water if necessary to come to you. I will calm the storm and give you peace.”
Jesus could have let Peter’s doubt and unbelief take his life. He could have said, “I’m sorry Peter you got out of the boat and then lost your faith in Me. Now you must sink.” Jesus didn’t let him go.
When doubt and unbelief tried to overpower my faith, Jesus came to me. It had to be Jesus. I could not have survived the loss of my son without the miraculous power of Jesus’ presence in my life. I have a peace that surpasses my understanding. Six months before Craig died we had a conversation where he said to me, “Mom, if nothing bad ever happens to you, you don’t need any faith.”
I need to trust God with a child-like faith. I need to trust Him with a faith that doesn’t have all the answers, but still has the assurance that God can be trusted to be just and loving.
I have a mental image of Jesus carrying me kicking, screaming, and beating Him on the chest while I’m insisting that He let me go. I became so weary that I just couldn’t fight anymore and I became limp and lifeless. I appeared completely defeated. With the eyes of my heart opened by God Himself, I saw what I now know is the character of God in Jesus’ face. When I looked at Jesus’ face, tears were streaming down. They weren’t tears shed for me as in “pity.” They were tears shed with me as in “grace.” An overwhelming assurance of God’s love surrounded me then and holds me now.
My heart still aches and longs to see Craig again. I think about him often and miss him. But I have learned to trust God to love both of us with a love that knows no boundaries. God loves me with a love that came to me in my storm and with a love that won’t let go.
JUST BETWEEN US Presents...