This Side of Eternity
I’ll never forget the words from my brother when I picked up the phone on that Monday afternoon in June. “Brian, Dad is dead.”
Time stopped in that moment. I couldn’t comprehend what I was hearing. What happened in the moments after is a blur of highly emotional phone calls, searching for some sense of understanding. My father was a hero to me. He and my mother, his childhood sweetheart, raised five children while enduring the challenges of full-time ministry. My father was a pastor to many, but to me, he was my father. What made this phone call particularly difficult to process was coming to the brutal knowledge that my father ended his own life and died by suicide. This was the opposite of everything I knew my father to be. He was always strong, an overcomer. He overcame a trying childhood without a father of his own. He forged through the incredible difficulties of starting a family with a teenage marriage, all without the support of family and lacking any sort of resources. I watched my dad struggle with physical ailments for years and never once heard him complain about it. He was the consummate overcomer. I couldn’t reconcile that the man I loved and looked up to could possibly end his life.
What made this even more difficult was the now compounded grief we were already wrestling with. In December, just six months earlier, my wife Kristi gave birth to our third daughter, Emmeri. She had the perfect birthday, born on December 12, 2012. We were thrilled to welcome another member to our family on 12/12/12. We never find out what the gender of the baby is beforehand. I honestly love the surprise and getting to meet our child for the first time, not yet even knowing their name. Our joy would quickly turn tragic as we noticed Emmeri was struggling to breathe on her own the day after she was born. In one moment, we were holding our baby rocking and singing to her. Next, we were surrounded by a flurry of medical professionals rushing to save our daughter’s life.
The doctor who delivered Emmeri stayed with her for what seemed like endless hours keeping her alive as we waited for a specialized mobile unit to take Emmeri to a children’s hospital. We were transferred to one hospital, and then immediately on to another. In the process, we were given the news that our daughter likely wouldn’t live. From that moment, we joined with many others and prayed and believed God for a miracle. The medical team did all they could to discover what was wrong with our precious daughter. In the end, we were left with more questions than answers. A few days later, our immediate family gathered in the hospital as we said goodbye to our daughter. My father, as a pastor, performed an impromptu baby dedication, and my sister-in-law led us in a few songs of worship as we were gathered together. Even writing these words now, I can feel the emotion I felt that day as I watched my daughter draw her last breaths while resting on my wife’s chest. Next came the hurt and confusion. We wondered if our broken hearts could ever be mended.
As a Christian and a pastor, it was hard to come up with any answers. How could God let something like this happen? How could we lose our daughter and only months later lose my father in such a tragic and completely incomprehensible way? Is it possible to reconcile a good God when faced with such hurt, pain, and tragedy? In those moments, we found out where we truly placed our faith. The notion of amazing grace became more real in these moments than ever before. During this season, Kristi reminded me of the words from Matthew 5:45 that it rains on the righteous and the unrighteous.
When we face unimaginable tragedy, or things don’t go the way we think they should it may be tempting to lose our faith in God. As we leaned into the grief, we found a renewed strength that only comes from the divine grace of God. How I longed for a different outcome. I still feel the sting from their loss from time to time. Yet we came to understand the words in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.”
In the Americas today, Christians feel like deciding to follow Jesus should insulate us from any kind of harm or tragedy. The opposite is actually true as Jesus himself told us that we would face difficulties in this life. We see it time and again in the life of biblical characters like Job, Abraham, Ruth, and John the Baptist to name a few. Being a Christian or even a pastor doesn’t exempt us from hard times. It is the promise that Jesus will always be with us no matter what we face that gives us hope.
I have found that a life of honest and uncensored prayer and dialogue with the heavenly Father is what gives us the strength to endure. His grace is enough to sustain us. We rest on the promise that one day He will wipe away every tear. We may never understand on this side of eternity why we face trials. However, our hope is anchored in the promise that as we face difficulties, God is drawing us closer to Him and making us more like Jesus.
I don’t know what trials you have faced, but rest assured God loves you, He is for you and He has never left you. Our faith is not in what happens to us in this life but rests firmly in Jesus.