Thursday, April 16, 2015

Blessed are those who mourn.

. This past weekend my husband, one of our ministry partners and I embarked on a very sad journey to a tiny Wisconsin town to offer what support we could to a family suffering unfathomable amounts of pain and confusion. They had lost their 5 year old little girl, Angela, when she fell into the Wisconsin River on April 6th. As of today- April 16th- they still have not found her. The family held a candle light vigil to honor the little girl, and to pray for her to be found and for them to be granted some sort of closure.
Candle light memorial
The entire thing was heartbreaking at a level that is incomprehensible. My heart broke for the family of this beautiful little girl. My husband's heart broke for them as well. My husband was the one who felt led by the Holy Spirit to make the 2 hour drive and spend the weekend walking up and down the banks of the Wisconsin River praying for this little girl to be found. My husband lost a child 20 years ago, and he understands the heartbreak that this family is going through. Looking at the face of my gorgeous 2 year old little boy, I felt overwrought with emotion at what devastation losing him would bring to my life. I couldn't imagine being these parents. One day you have a perfectly healthy, happy child, and then the next day they are gone. No one can understand- REALLY understand- unless they have been through the same pain themselves. I think that's what prompted my husband's urgency to go to this family. He understood the pain. 2 Corintians 1:4 says that "God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us."
Balloons that were released along with lanterns into the sky.
You know who does understands the loss of a child the most, though? God. He lost a child once. And I'm sure it was heartbreaking for him as a father to see his beloved son die such a painful, terrible, shameful death. He knows. He feels. He is looking down with love and compassion wanting to take the hurt away. Psalms 56:8 says that God keeps track of all of your sorrows, and bottles all of your tears. He hates seeing his children in pain.  He is right beside Angela's mourning family, holding them up with his right hand. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted (Psalms 34:14), and even if it feels like God is a million miles away and that he doesn't care about your pain, I promise you, he's there. I know firsthand.
The large group of people from the community who came to show their support.

I have never lost a child, but I have experienced a death of a loved one so devastating that I thought my life would end. Before I met my husband (and before I became a Christian), I was engaged to a wonderful man- Dave. He asked me to marry him, we moved in together, and we started planning our life together- until death do us part. One day, on an ordinary morning just like any other morning, I woke up and found him dead. He had died in one of the most gory, gruesome ways possible. At 38, his life was over. And mine was too. I remember sitting at his wake, knowing that all of my hopes, dreams, and plans were laying in that coffin. I stepped outside to smoke a cigarette (thank God that's a habit I kicked!), and while I was standing outside the funeral home, my phone rang. It was the jewelry store- telling me that my engagement rings that Dave had ordered were in, and that I could come and pick them up any time I wanted. I lost it. Why, WHY would God do this to me? We were supposed to spend our lives together! Why would he take away the only person that had ever truly love me! I wasn't even really sure if I believed in God, but if he existed- I'm sure he had to hate me! Why else would this be happening?
                                     
When I went back into the funeral home, I stared blankly at his body in the casket, trying to savor every last second that I could to remember what he looked like- because it was the last time I would ever get to see him. I very vividly remember thinking that my life was over. My desire to live was gone. I had tried to build a life, and this was the outcome that I got. I was done trying. I wanted to curl up and die. Then I distinctly heard a voice. A voice as real as yours or mine. A voice that said "It will be okay." I felt a sense of peace wash over me, and I remember being so confused. How would this ever be okay? I was staring at the love of my life in a casket? That was about as far away from okay as it could get. There was no coming back from this, no fixing it. And whose voice was that? Was I really losing it?
 
Prayer for a lost angel.

That was in May of 2008. As I would find out, that voice was God's. And that moment in the funeral home was a turning point in my life. God used his death to break me enough to where I was at a point to surrender to him and cry out for him to help me. I had no other choice, the pain was too unbearable. The drugs couldn't even take it away anymore. I was desperate. So I cried out to God and begged him to help me if he was real. Little did I know then what a life changing prayer that would be. God led me to a Christian Restoration home in Milwaukee that dealt specifically with drug addicts. It was basically a hospital for the spiritually sick and wounded, and it's where I learned how to live, drug free, and build a relationship with God. And it changed my entire life. I saw God do miraculous things there, and change me into a person that I didn't recognize- a much better version of me that I never knew existed under all the drugs and alcohol. And God used Dave's death to get me there. If it hadn't been for that horrible time in my life, I would have never been desperate enough to really, truly surrender. I leaned on God in a way I didn't even know was possible, because it was the only tiny glimmer of hope I could hang onto. He was the only one who had the power to heal me, to take away the pain, and I needed him. I truly believe that I wouldn't have made it through that time in my life if it wasn't for God. I would have died with a noose around my neck or drank myself to death. But God carried me through.
My husband Ben and our son Justin
It was also the place that I met my Husband. I didn't know it at the time- because not only was a relationship the furthest thing on my mind for over 3 years due to my grief, but I was not very fond of Ben when I first met him (but... that's a story for later!). My belief that I would never truly love again was proven false when I was finally in a healthy place, and  God brought Ben into my life. A man that I never could have imagined. A Godly man, who would protect me, lead me, and treasure me. A man who had lived through a similar hell as I, we were perfectly matched, and understood each other like no one else ever could. We had both seen God's redemptive power at work in awesome ways in our lives, both clawed our way back from the brink of hell in our drug addiction, and both walked away from our children (as hard as it was) because they were better off- and safer- without us. We had parallel lives both in addiction and out. We both had a calling on our lives to minister to drug addicts- which is not an occupation that anyone would ever understand or support without having been through the Christian restoration ministry that we both ended up being leaders in.  Our "perfectly matched" relationship was much deeper than the shallowness of enjoying the same food or drinks or music that many people base their relationships on. We had the same testimonies and had experienced the same power of God in our lives- and were both working towards the common cause of devoting our lives to helping other addicts find God and be freed from their addictions the same way we had. We understand each other in a way that no one else possibly could, because we have lived almost the same life. It was truly a God ordained relationship, and one that never would have happened if Dave hadn't died and caused me to seek God with all my strength.

Our new beginning- Justin
Through God bringing Ben into my life Ben, I received one of the greatest blessings of my life- My son Justin. A child that neither one of us ever imagined being in our life- but God had plans for all along. We had to have our lives totally shaken up, rearranged, and utterly destroyed in order for this beautiful child to be made manifest. What looked like our total destruction was really the beginning of God turning us into the people we were meant to be all along. I know for me, God used Dave's death to protect me from myself. If he wouldn't have died, I would be dead right now. We were both really severe alcoholics, and neither one of were able to stop while we were together. What seemed at the time to be the darkest moment of my life, was actually the beginning of Dawn. God is merciful and just and will never do anything to be cruel or vicious. Whatever you are going through, hang onto the promise that there is a reason for it somewhere, no matter how unfathomable that may seem. His ways are not our ways, and somehow it will fit into the master plan. We may not be able to see it in retrospect, or we may never know why until we are in heaven and God tells us face to face. But God is aware that it is happening, and knew it would happen before he did. You are not alone and you are not forgotten, and years from now you will be able to look back and see that you survived the un-survivable, and see that God had his hand on you during the entire time. He will walk you through the valley, and somewhere down the road there will be another mountain top.

In Joshua 1:5, God promises that he will never leave us or forsake us, and Romans 8:28 talks about how everything works for the good of those that love God. This is not to j y that all things are going to be good, or that everything that happens in our lives are going to feel nice. It means that God will take all of the pieces- the devastating ones, the confusing ones, the bitter ones, the unimaginable ones- and interweave them into your story to bring you to exactly where you are supposed to be. The pieces never make sense alone. It is only in retrospect that we can look back in awe on how God was able to work something straight out of a nightmare into something beautiful. We will see that those who mourn are truly blessed- because God will walk with you through your hurts, and when you come out the other side, not only will you be stronger, but your relationship with God will be strengthened in a way it never could have been otherwise, and you will be a testimony to others who walk your same path. The pain will not last forever.