A Year in the Valley

A year has passed since our oldest child, Christopher, died in a car crash and our family was launched into the valley of grief and sorrow. This year has, at times, seemed like it has been stuck in fast-forward, one event blurring into another like a disjointed nightmare. Maybe that was God’s way of helping us endure and process our loss while trying to move forward. The shroud of grief has clouded my memory of the first few Valleymonths after Chris’s death, but the days were filled mostly with getting out of bed, often only by God’s strength, drifting into work (if you could call what I was producing then “work”), and forcing interaction with our family and friends in a thick haze of existing more than living, enduring each day like a sorrowful, tear-filled reproduction of “Groundhog Day.”  The same-same for quite a while.

In those early days, I didn’t “feel” God with me. No moments of comforting warmth and peace came or the overwhelming sense of His presence, as I had experienced many times in the past. Perhaps I wasn’t ready for God to speak to me in that way because my emotions were so raw and frayed.  Regardless of what I felt, I did see His hands work in amazing ways. When I would be at my brink and didn’t think I could endure one more minute of anguish, a friend or family member would call or text with a message of encouragement exactly when I needed it. I’d switched radio stations and hear a Bible teacher who seemed to be speaking right to my situation. On one occasion, on my first visit to the crash site, a friend just happened to be driving by (from 45 miles away on a day and time she wasn’t supposed to be there) saw me on the side of the road, stopped, and prayed with me through that difficult moment. God orchestrated countless situations to comfort and strengthen our family, and He placed so many loving people in our path, dozens of times in inexplicable ways.

Chris’ death has impacted every area of our lives, from sweet memories of the past to planning for our future. I recently heard a speaker say that you never recover from the loss of a child; you can only recalibrate.  At this point, I would agree. Losing a child at any age feels very much like a spiritual and emotional amputation—a part of yourself has been ripped away forever from your innermost being.  The pain is all too visceral, aching deep in the soul like extreme phantom pains from a missing limb. And, like a physical amputation, your life is altered forever. You can never navigate the world in the same way, and the experience changes you. Hobbling forward is a very slow, painful journey.

Some of the lessons from this year haven’t been entirely bad. Losing Chris has stripped all the pretense from my life, teaching me what’s important right now—my walk with Lord, serving His purpose, and loving my family. I simply haven’t had the bandwidth to focus on any of the other noise and nonsense going on in the chaotic world around us. My prayer life has gone to a level I never imagined. I’ve been in survival prayer mode, praying all day, every day, just to make it through. I’ve screamed, wept, questioned, doubted, repented, thanked, praised, and gone back through the cycle again and again. I have discovered the meaning of the scriptures saying we are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).

I’ve been amazed at the strength and faith of my incredible wife, Lori, and our children, Shannon and Justin. We’ve all had to walk through this valley together, yet each in our own way. Again, in God’s providence, when one of us would be having a bad day, another would be there to console or lift up. I’m ashamed to admit that Lori, Justin, and Shannon have had the lopsided job of keeping me upright and functional, but I am so very grateful for them.  I’ve witnessed the horror stories of families who are ripped apart by a tragic loss.  We have been so blessed that, by God’s grace, He has drawn us closer through this.  I think Chris would be proud.

We’ve experienced some great days as well. Shannon got engaged, then married to a godly, wonderful young man, and she began her teaching career. Justin completed his first year of college and published a short story, finished writing a book. Lori and I celebrated twenty-eight years of marriage.  Our life has inched forward, but Chris is ever-present in all these things.  We do the awkward dance of trying to remember and celebrate Chris’ life for all the joy and blessing he gave us while staving off the sorrow and depression that often accompanies those memories.

All through this year, I’ve been forced to examine my faith in ways I could not have before. I’ve had to ask the difficult questions: Did I still believe in the goodness of God even in this horrible circumstance, and did I still believe all the things about Him that I believed before July 11, 2017?  This walk through the valley has taught me that two seemingly conflicting ideas can both be true: I can be crushed and brokenhearted by God and still believe even more that He is good and all of His promises are true. Not that what happened to Chris was good—it surely was not. However, God uses “all things for the good of those who love him” (Rom 8:28).  God did not stop being God because tragedy struck our family, and we know that despite our pain and loss, God is using this situation to bless many others. We’ve seen evidence of that already.

As Job said when he lost his family, his wealth, and his health: “Though He slay me, yet I will trust Him.”  The Bible clearly teaches that our world is terminally broken, and we will face many trials and tribulations (John 16:33). When our pain and afflictions here are compared against the vast splendor of eternity in Heaven with Jesus, well, there is no comparison.  “’He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev 21:4).

With the Lord’s strength and guidance, I hope to continue to limp along with Him through the valley until one day when I enter those gates and meet my Savior face-to-face, and I am reunited with my son again. What a glorious day that will be!

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