About a year ago, as I was scrolling through Facebook, I read a headline from a social news site about someone’s child dying. I made the mistake of reading through the comments, and I’ll never forget the woman who wrote, “Well, I pray for God’s protection over my children every day.” I thought about writing back, “Well, so do I, but sometimes God has a different plan.”
The day we lost Justin, I prayed for him and his safety. I asked the Lord to protect him. When the sheriff’s deputies arrived at our door early Sunday morning, I was dumbfounded. When the shock wore off, I was hurt and confused.
I accused God, saying, “Lord, I asked you to protect Justin, and you didn’t. Why didn’t you protect him?” His response is the most gentle rebuke I have ever received. He reminded me of Job 38:4-5,
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements-surely, you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?”
The Lord so kindly put me in my rightful place. He is the Creator, and I am His created one. God does not answer to me; I answer to Him. I would have never chosen to lose my son, and I doubt I’ll ever understand why his allotted days were only twenty years. But, I trust that God is who He says He is, and ways are higher and thoughts are higher than mine. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
On the night of the accident, as I lay waiting and praying for Justin to get home, I began quoting Scripture to soothe my anxious thoughts. As I recited Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the LORD with all of your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” the Lord caused a pause in my spirit. I immediately knew something was terribly wrong. It would be a good while down the road before I understood what that pause was all about.
I simply could not wrap my mind around the “why” of losing Justin. I would cry, “Why, Lord, why did he have to die?” One night, as I asked yet again, “Why?” the Lord brought to mind the night of the accident as I lay in bed praying. I remembered how He impressed Proverbs 3:5 upon my heart, and then, I finally got it. It was like He was saying, “Missy, trust in me with all of your heart. Don’t try to understand why; trust Me.” That settled it for me and gave me rest in my soul.
Today, I have more questions, but I also have hindsight. Now, I know that I don’t have to have to understand God’s plan to trust Him. He is who He says He is, and He is always faithful.
Journal Entry 10-31-2016
It’s been a very hard several weeks for me. I have struggled with finding a peace of mind and a joyful spirit. In my current set of circumstances, my weight gain has been one of the worst consequences of lacking self-control. Physically, my body is maxed out. It hurts to sit, there’s too much weight on my tailbone. It’s hard to get comfortable, there’s just too much fat in my mid-section. Oh my feet, they hurt so bad. I am snoring, coughing a lot, and none of my clothes fit. Those are my physical woes…well some of them. The IBS is out of control and I look like a pumpkin! I am so ashamed and I feel embarrassed. It’s hard to look in the mirror. Spiritually, I am hanging on by a thread, thankfully, the Lord holds me tightly no matter the circumstance.
The story of Keeping My Promise, Justin
A year and a half would pass after my journal entry before I would finally decide to make a change. One Sunday evening, our twenty-year-old son Justin asked me if we could talk. For the last several months, he and I had been going back and forth about his desire to get a motorcycle. I was adamantly against it and he was passionately for it. It was clear that I was losing the battle because he had spent the previous weekend completing a motorcycle safety course enabling him to obtain a motorcycle license.
My son wisely repeated my own concerns for his safety operating a motorcycle and then very gently turned the tables and shared his own concern for my health and well-being. To my surprise, he told me that he would be willing to forgo buying a motorcycle if I would agree to get healthy! With my head swimming, I wholeheartedly agreed to his terms. Admittedly, I was a little embarrassed, but mostly humbled, because he cared so much for me to give up something that he was crazy excited about. After our conversation, I affirmed Justin and I thanked him for being so brave. I recognized that he was no longer a boy, but a man. Later when I was alone, I thanked God for his faithfulness and for not leaving me alone in my self-induced mess.
The very next day, I felt overwhelmed and a little fearful. I asked the Lord to strengthen me for my pilgrimage to stewarding my body well and then jumped in head first. I immediately cut out sugar, soda, and bread from my diet. Each night at dinner, Justin asked me how I was doing and enquired if I was still following my plan. My answer was a resounding, “Yes!”. His response was a Texas-sized smile and “Good job, Mama!”.
Only six days later on Saturday, July 15, our dear Justin was tragically killed in a car accident. Every day is a new opportunity to keep my promise to Justin as I cling to my hope in Christ Jesus.
Relief from Shame
Admittedly, I have struggled with my weight since I was a young girl. I well remember a night much like my journal entry above; I was in the pit of discouragement feeling ashamed and embarrassed. It was a vicious cycle of defeat and I saw no way out. I cried out to Lord in my distress and he renewed my hope with a tenderness that I have never forgotten. He led me to Psalm 34:5, “Those who look to him are radiant, their faces are never covered with shame.” With tear-stained cheeks, He lifted my chin to gaze upon His majesty showing me His love was not conditional to my behavior. When I look to Him, my shame vanishes. Isn’t that the hope of the Gospel? No matter the sin we have become entangled with, the power of Christ offers us freedom. For if the son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36 When the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin, He simultaneously provides the power and strength to change. Our sin and thorns in our flesh enable us to realize our desperate need for our Savior. I am reminded of the apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9,
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Power to Change
If I were to attain my goal weight, fit into my favorite pair of jeans, and it was all accomplished through mere behavioral modification and willpower yielding no lasting change in my heart, it would all be rubbish! My goal in life is to love God more. If the affections of my heart only shift from one sinful pleasure to another, it is all vanity.
When the Holy Spirit convicts us, our eyes are opened to the folly of our sin, and the only acceptable response is repentance and trust. Through this super-natural reconciliation of forgiveness, our heart’s are transformed more into the image of His Son, for it is his kindness that leads us to repentance. (Romans 2:4) Therefore, like Paul, we can “boast in our weaknesses so that the power of Christ might rest upon us.”
10 Months Later
At the time of this writing, I am ten months into my pilgrimage. It has been a winding and troubled road, but at every turn, He is faithful. Through his strength, I have made progress and I am able to physically accomplish so much more than before. If Justin were still alive, I know he would be beaming. God in his sovereignty arranged our conversation at just the right time when I would need it most. My heart is filled with gratitude for His love and care for me. He gives me grace upon grace along with the strength for what each day will hold.
It was a few weeks after the accident and our pastor came to our home to spend some time with us. My mind was grappling for answers and our lives were in a whirlwind of chaos. Luke sat with Tim and I for several hours as we shared our hurt, pain, and confusion. I remember pulling out my Bible and opening to one of my beloved passages of Scripture from Psalm 91:14-16:
Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When He calls to me I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.
In tears by this point, I shared that I felt like maybe God was angry with us and wondered if losing Justin was a punishment of some kind. Why didn’t he keep Justin safe, why didn’t he give Justin long life like Psalm 91 talks about? Did we, his parents, do something wrong? The inner turmoil that I felt was nearly unbearable because every single criticism I ever received as a mother was playing on repeat in my mind. My fears and insecurities were raising their ugly heads shouting at me and telling me that I failed Justin because I didn’t keep him safe. I remember Luke looking me in the eyes and confidently telling me that these thoughts were lies from the evil one. He said that the actual word Satan means accuser and that he was “sataning-accusing” me. He went on to remind Tim and I of the character of God and the beautiful Gospel of Jesus Christ. Oh, how we needed that fresh infusion of truth.
We are now 10 months without our dear Justin. The last two months have been laced with much heartache and trial. There have been several dark days filled with grief added with financial pressures and the everyday stresses of raising a family. Once again, the accuser whispered his lies; “God’s forgotten about you, He’s angry with you, etc.”. On one of those days, not too long ago, I hid in the bathroom for a moment and in tears asked the Lord to please bring us relief because it was just too much to endure. Later that morning, he met me with his Word as I was reading through Mark 1:9-13;
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
I read it once and then I read it again; Jesus was being baptized, the heavens are suddenly torn open, and God the Father is proclaiming, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”. Immediately the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness and for forty days he was tempted by Satan. Do you see it? He was not in the wilderness because he had done anything wrong, the Father was well pleased with him. It was His good plan all along, what a paradox!
And just like that, in a matter of a few moments, my heavy heart was lifted; my despair was replaced with hope. I practically ran into Tim’s office and showed him the passage in Mark 1. I confessed that I had been listening to the lies from the pit of hell and he rejoiced with me as I told him how wrong I had been for entertaining such thoughts. As I write, I am reminded how faithful God is and how much I love his Word, what treasure we find there! I love how it is described in Hebrews 4:12, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.“
Through the Word, the Lord in His kindness, revealed the contents of my own heart and showed me my error. I must not lean on my own understanding or allow my emotions to navigate through grief; I must look to my God and his Word. In the early days after we lost Justin, my emotions were raw and although the lies were not matching up with my theology, they nearly over powered me. While in the throes of trials and suffering, it is tempting to live in the emotion, but it is imperative that we press into Jesus and cling to the Gospel, for there we find unwavering hope. We must search the Scripture to know the character of God in order to combat the lies whispered to us by the enemy of our souls.
Every day, I am learning to trust the Lord in new ways. Our external circumstances remain the same, but my hope is anchored in the Lord. There is no peace like the peace that God provides.
Today, I opened my journal to its first entry dated April 3, 2017. It read, “But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. (Isaiah 64:8) Please help me to trust you when I don’t see or understand your plans.”
I had no way of knowing or even anticipating the loss of Justin. Yet, the Lord in his kindness was preparing my heart to trust him in such a time as this. For several years, I have been quite taken that the Lord reigns sovereign over all. I have said many times over that I find great safety in his sovereignty.
In those early days and weeks of grief, I was hurt and angry that the Lord didn’t answer my prayer the way I wanted him to. You see, I had a horrible feeling all day and into the night about Justin’s plans for the evening. I talked to Justin that afternoon and asked him to please be safe. I prayed and asked the Lord to please keep him safe. As I lay in wait for him to get home that night, I continued to pray. It was while trying to calm myself in the wee hours of the morning by reciting Scripture, I knew in my heart that Justin was not the kind of safe that I had asked for. My fears were confirmed by the ringing of our doorbell early the next morning.
I walked about numbly while a whirlwind of activity took place around me. I cried out to the Lord in my distress. I asked him to help me get to each next minute as I felt like I was being swallowed up by the most intense pain that I have ever felt. And now still, my most consistent prayer; Oh please, Lord, please, be near.
After the memorial service, we made a quick trip to California as I deeply desired to walk along the oceanside; seeing the vastness of the ocean has always reminded me of how big God is and how small I am. I could feel in my heart that I was harboring resentment towards the Lord. As I walked up and down the shore, I poured my heart out to the Lord. Finally, I stopped at a quiet spot and gazed at the enormity of the sea. It was there that the Lord reminded me of his conversation with Job. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?…” I then remembered releasing Justin to the Lord when he was just a newborn baby and very sick. All throughout his life we have declared that he belonged to the Lord. And he did, he was not mine, he was the Lord’s. The Lord gently and kindly put me in my rightful place as a good Father does. He is the Potter, I am the clay.
His sovereign reign is a sweet and bitter providence even when I don’t understand his plan. The Lord continues to sustain our little family every day. He is indeed close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. He can be trusted for He is faithful. A song that has blessed me 100 times over is A Sweet and Bitter Providence. I have shared the link below.