#184 Praise and Purpose in Pain, Part 1

 Photo by Erin E Photography

During the summer of 2017, with Father’s Day approaching, I purchased matching journals for my husband and for my 23-year-old son, Jacob. As an English major, Jacob loved taking detailed notes and ruminating on concepts presented during the worship service. Embossed on this new journal cover was John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

On June 6th, Jacob visited our house and I gave him my gift. We talked about the Scripture on the front—that God so loved the world—and Jacob said, “Mom, where would we be if we didn’t know Jesus? I can’t imagine. We would be hopeless.”

Looking back, everything about that visit seemed golden. Jacob appreciated his gift. He spoke with us in-depth about God’s word. As he turned to leave, I said, “Hey Jacob. Can I have one more hug?” He said, “Sure, Mom! You can have all the hugs you want!” That was our last conversation with Jacob. Despite his willingness to give me all the hugs I ever wanted, that would be our last one.

Around midnight the very next day, Tuesday, June 7, Jacob was killed in a car accident. In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, we awoke to an insistent pounding on our door. The sight of police lights and the uniformed officers made us assume that something was going on in our neighborhood. When we opened the door though, dread came over me. As they told us the news, I immediately went into emotional shock and verbal denial “No, that can’t be. No. No. No.” I kept thinking they must be wrong. It couldn’t be real. This was my son that I just saw the day before. He was fine. He was healthy. He was happy. He was not dead.

As our two daughters came down the stairs, my husband told them about Jacob’s accident. Devastation upon devastation. We had just lost one child and now we were faced with crushing the other two with such painful news. The girls adored their older brother. They, too, could not believe that this was real.

Frankly, that night it felt like our insides were being ripped out. It was devastating. There are no words to really describe it. Questions surged through my mind about where Jacob was. I knew he loved the Lord and he gave his heart to Jesus in a treehouse when he was four. I had no doubt that he was in heaven. When he was in sixth grade, he rededicated his life to Jesus and was baptized. He loved God and was so intentional about his relationship with Jesus.

While this knowledge gave me comfort from the very beginning and still carries me through, the first two days we were simply overcome with our grief. At this point we were just going through the motions of living. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t even drink water. Nothing would go down. We were trying to survive, but I was convinced I was not going to make it. The grief was suffocating.  As people flooded our home with their concern during those first days, there was no time or space to be alone with the Lord. Truthfully, we didn’t even know how to talk to God about what had happened. Even though we deeply loved the LORD and relied on Him for all things, we could not reconcile this tragedy with our understanding. It did not make sense that our son who was so good, patient, forgiving, and deeply kind could be taken so quickly and without warning.

Jacob was a young man full of so much potential and so much goodness. Honestly, you truly don’t understand how much you love your son or daughter until they are gone. No person could ever fill that void. If I bore a hundred more children, they could never fill the hole left by Jacob.  This must be how God sees us, as His unique, precious children, each with our own blueprint, each irreplaceable. This must be why He pursues us so lovingly and consistently, so that none may be lost.

God did continue to pursue me and He met me in my grief 48 hours later, again in the dark of night. I wasn’t able to sleep. As I lumbered down the stairs, the Holy Spirit reminded me that we are to give thanks in all things. I couldn’t do it though. “LORD, how do I give thanks in THIS?” I opened my Bible to a random place and began to read. It just so happened that in my sorrow, He opened His word and His heart to me through the book of Psalms. The words poured out, speaking to me about praising God, the very verses that I needed to believe, the very verses that I needed for my next step with Him. I read the word desperately and longingly, like a soul starving for nourishment, and then I said, “God, as bad as this tragedy is right now, I know I am supposed to be thankful. You will have to give me the strength to do that. I love You so much. I praise You and praise Your name. Thank You for the time we had with Jacob.”

I surrendered everything to the Lord. I had been trying to handle Jacob’s death on my own strength. I was unintentionally closing God out, not including Him in my pain and sorrow. That night I gave Him both my sadness and my praise, and everything changed. I knew I was going to be okay, that I was going to live. It truly felt like a great healing took place. Whereas before I had no strength, suddenly I was given supernatural power and my soul was upheld by His own mighty hand. I have never experienced anything like that moment, like the change that washed over me in His presence. A few moments later, my husband came downstairs to check on me. I told him, “I can’t believe what just happened.” He prayed the most precious prayer for me and all of a sudden I felt physically hungry for the first time in days. Total surrender to the Lord altered everything. As people came the next day, I couldn’t wait to tell them about it. “Please tell anyone who is suffering they have to surrender to the Lord. They have to look to the Father.”

As we moved forward and prepared for the funeral, we longed for someone special to sing at Jacob’s service. Since we have family members who regularly perform, I thought finding a singer would be simple. After asking multiple people that were close to us, we realized that it was not so simple after all. How can a person sing when their grief is so utterly overwhelming? I wanted someone to sing for Jacob to honor him, but our extended family was overwhelmed with their own sadness. I was disheartened, but my husband said, “Let’s just pray.” We cried out to the Lord, “We are trusting that You will either give us a peace that no one is going to sing for Jacob or send us someone to sing.”

The answer was quite unexpected. Since the night of Jacob’s death, our youngest daughter Anne had found solace in playing the piano and singing almost continually about Jesus. The song on her lips and in her heart was “What a Beautiful Name.” It occurred to us to ask her to sing that very song in honor of Jesus and in honor of Jacob. When we asked her, she did not say no. Instead she took time to seek the LORD in prayer and then she returned with a yes and with a group of friends willing to stand beside her and play during the song. When they came over to practice, I could do nothing but stand outside and weep.

The day of the funeral was beautiful… the weather, the service, our daughter’s song. About 1,000 people were at the funeral that day and until this point, no one knew that Anne could sing.  Even when we told the family before the funeral, they asked us in surprise and disbelief, “Anne is going to sing?!?” When the moment came, you could feel the Holy Spirit in that place. It felt like all of heaven was with us. I felt like Jacob was with us. In hindsight, I’m so thankful we went through with having the funeral even though it was difficult. I’m so glad Anne chose to lift her voice in a song of praise despite her grief. Once again, the LORD’s strength carried us through.

People were so kind and gracious to us in the aftermath of Jacob’s death. They showered us with love and prayers, some so powerful that we could only drop to our knees in surrender. I could honestly feel the prayers of people. They were grieving alongside us and the Holy Spirit kept giving them words that we needed to hear. During those days when I felt constantly drenched from my own weeping, God kept comforting me with verses about tears. You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. Psalm 56:8. I felt His love in a way that I have never felt before.

Even though His presence was near and prayers of our friends uplifted us, the next six months presented problem after problem. Our roof caved in, our daughter fell out of bed and severely fractured her arm requiring surgery, and I experienced a horribly painful case of shingles. When my husband lost his job during this same time frame, we wondered how any of this could be working for our good. But God. Always God.

The Lord took our tragedies and wove goodness into them in such miraculous ways. While singing at the funeral, our daughter Anne felt the Lord calling her to a career of worshipping Him in music. Since we didn’t have a good recording of her singing at the funeral, we decided to make a YouTube video of her rendition of “What a Beautiful Name.” Not long after that, we were contacted by a talent scout. He invited us to Nashville and we decided to step out in faith and go. We met with a recording artist manager who was very interested in working with Anne. Seeing that she was only 16 years old, and we didn’t have the funds to proceed with the manager’s fees, voice lessons, and an apartment in Nashville, we slowed down the process and began to pray. We knew that God had called Anne into worship, but we didn’t know the exact route or path.

Meanwhile, our middle child, Elizabeth, was busy with her own business. She started designing clothing and sewing years earlier when she was 13 or 14. When she opened her designs up to the public through Etsy and Instagram, her business boomed and she could not keep up with the sales demand. The LORD was giving her favor in her business and eventually she had so many orders that she needed to hire additional help. She found a factory willing to produce her designs and again her company grew.

The LORD was truly weaving together the plans He had for all of us. Because the Lord blessed Elizabeth’s design company, she volunteered to finance her sister’s Nashville career. Anne was able to hire the manager, take voice lessons, and get a Nashville apartment. She has now signed with Capitol records and will be releasing her first songs in 2021. She will spend her time writing Christian music and lifting her voice to praise the beautiful name of Jesus.

And the loss of my husband’s job? Well, that too has been a providential work of the LORD. God lovingly gifted my husband Kent with an intentional time of mentorship and service to our girls who were in the midst of such profound change. Kent has been able to spend a lot of time with Elizabeth, giving her advice, guiding her with finances, and helping her to grow her business. This would have been impossible with his previous job. He also has been a companion and mentor to our youngest daughter as she has traveled back and forth from Nashville. Now he is able to walk alongside both his daughters as they follow the path God has set out for them. Working with our girls has ministered to his heart in a way that his previous job never could have.

I can honestly say that losing Jacob changed our perspective. The things we worried about before were things that were so insignificant. Now our priority is to give to others and love others. We care for people on a deeper level and feel the pain of others in a way that we didn’t before. A lot of things have changed for the better, but I would love to have Jacob back. I wish I could be the person I have become and still have my son. I think for all of us, experiencing that depth of pain led to switching gears in our lives. You won’t really know God as your Comforter, Provider, and Father until you really need Him in those ways and lean into Him and surrender to Him in those desperate times. Gratitude and praising Him, even in the sorrow, changed everything. Perhaps that is why He instructs us to give thanks in all things. Gratitude changes us. The Lord has been so faithful to us; it is hard to put it into words. He has provided for us in miraculous ways. It’s so beautiful to see how God can pick you up and put you back together, even when your heart seems broken beyond repair. In a time of such loss for our family, God gave Kent such gain through deep relationship with his girls. He gave Elizabeth incredible openness to minister to her family through generosity and service. He gave Anne vision and opportunity to lead others into worship of Him. And He has given me the gift of Himself, over and over again in my grief. I am thankful.

Through all things, may the name of the LORD be praised.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the

God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in

any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share

abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

Corinthians 1:3-5

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#131. Every Day Is A Gift

 Artwork by Lily Murphy

I was raised in a loving Christian home and baptized as a young girl. The Lord was always part of our family. This was a great blessing, but I sometimes felt as though I didn’t really have a powerful testimony because I didn’t have a big conversion story where I could say my life changed in a moment.

All my life I wanted to be a wife and mom. My husband and I were blessed with two daughters. On my 30th birthday, I found out I was pregnant with our third child. We were very excited about it. When we had our 20-week ultrasound, I immediately could tell there was something wrong because the technician kept going over the heart of the baby. Then the doctor came in and told us the baby had something wrong with his heart. We were whisked to a high-risk OB who confirmed the diagnosis of the heart problem. Up to this point in my life, I had never experienced the anticipation and fear of the unknown. From the beginning of our son’s diagnosis, the Lord was teaching me—drawing me to Him in a way I had never been drawn. I had never really had to rely on the Lord before—never really experienced a tragedy or serious illness. I can remember thinking it would be easier to miscarry . . . then I wouldn’t have to deal with the pain of the baby being born with the heart problem. I shared this with my dad, and told him that I wished I could be the child and didn’t have to deal with the situation. I wished that I could climb into my dad’s arms and he would take care of it for me. I have come to realize that my heavenly Father WAS taking care of it for me—providing comfort, strength, and perspective all along the difficult journey.

The very next Sunday after we found out about our baby’s condition, we sang the song “He Knows My Name” at church.

I have a Maker

He formed my heart

Before even time began

My life was in his hands (by Tommy Walker)

God gave me this song at just this time to comfort and reassure me. It was almost as if my son was saying this to me. It gave me a great peace.

The doctors gave us three options for our son: compassionate care, heart transplant, or surgeries to repair. We chose the surgeries, all the while praying for a miracle. We knew that God could heal him if He would choose to. One of my friends gave me great perspective when she said, “No matter what, God will heal him—either on this earth or he will be in heaven where he will be completely healed.” I just had to trust God with him.

Our son, Jacob, was born September 5, 2004. He weighed 8 pounds 9 ounces and looked totally healthy—perfect. As the doctor had predicted, he did not have a left ventricle in his heart and some of the arteries that supplied his heart were much smaller than normal. His surgery kept being put off because they thought he had an infection. It was delayed and delayed—which gave us more time with him—and finally it was decided he would have the surgery on September 14. He was wide awake when they took him back. He looked right into our eyes before they took him, and it was like he was saying, “It’s going to be okay.” I believe he died during surgery. After surgery, he was attached to machines on life support—his heart and lungs weren’t working.

The next morning the cardiologist explained that our son’s heart was dead. After much information and prayer, my husband and I decided we would let him go. We called all of our family in, we surrounded him and held him, and we prayed and sang. The family left and my husband and I stayed. Jacob’s little hand was wrapped around my husband’s finger and they turned off life support. The decision to take him off life support was difficult—it was and yet it wasn’t—because of how we felt about his quality of life and because we weren’t afraid of letting him die. There is a mural at our church with the image of big hands with little children’s hands in them and the words, “Given to you, to be brought back to me.” In other words, our children are not our own. They are given to us by God who has entrusted us with their care. God gave us the gift of peace to release Jacob and not be afraid of his future. We knew he was safe. Nothing that this world has to offer can bring the kind of hope that God has given us.

It was a very empty feeling leaving the hospital knowing you should be leaving with a baby but you are leaving that little body there. You feel like life has just stopped and yet it keeps going for everybody else. Time just stood still. It felt like everyone should pause with us, but it was our grief, our pain—and life went on around us. I don’t remember those next few days very well. The choir sang “You Raise Me Up” at the funeral which had become the anthem of my heart. My husband wrote a song for Jacob and sang it at the service. I spoke and our dads prayed.

The comfort that came from the Holy Spirit and from fellow believers that He placed in our life was such a blessing. And eventually we were able to comfort others. About a year later, I shared my testimony about our son at church. There was a man who was visiting who came up afterwards and said his wife was pregnant and that their son had same the same heart defect our son had (what are the chances he would visit our church the day I shared about Jacob!). I gave him our phone number and said if his wife ever wanted to talk, to call. A few months later the man called and said their little fellow had been born and was not doing well. He asked if I had any words to help? Out of nowhere, I felt the Holy Spirit say, “You need to go see them.” In all of my life, I have never heard a clearer message from God. I called my husband and told him and we went. We talked with them and prayed with them and prayed over their son and then we left. We didn’t hear from them for a while—but then when their baby was 39 days old he died. They called and asked if my husband would do the funeral and a 12-year friendship began. The Lord connected us through loss—not expected, but a blessing. It was helpful for us to see a purpose in our pain.

In March of 2006, we were blessed with another son. He has been such a joy to us and I can’t image life without him. If Jacob had lived we might not have had him. I’m thankful that I was blessed to have them both.

I am a nurse and often my patients ask how many kids I have. I say “Three here and one in heaven.” This opens up conversations and allows me to witness and share our story. You just never know how your story will impact others. Because of Jacob, I now have a connection with people who have suffered loss. We can relate to one another and offer hope and encouragement to one another.

God got us through, and even though His plan was hard, there was goodness in it. I have come to know a loving heavenly Father who in our times of trouble wants to comfort us and let us know we are not alone. He doesn’t delight in seeing us in pain but he sees a purpose behind it that sometimes we don’t. He sees the whole picture and we don’t. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord (Isaiah 55:8). 

Sometimes even now I will just be hit with grief and I will be so sad but at the same time so thankful. It is true that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. I would never want to have that time with Jacob taken away even though it was painful. I have learned every single day is a gift. Knowing that not a single one of us is guaranteed tomorrow, helps me appreciate all the beauty, love, and joy that each day brings. 

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.