Minutes turned into hours. They’d been gone too long. I hesitated to verbalize my fear, as if doing so would somehow bring the fear to life. And then it happened.
December 7th 2016 was a routine day for our family serving as missionaries in rural Alaska. Home was a remote village off the road system, so flying in small planes was the only travel option. We finished up chores that day, grabbed last minute items, and hopped onto separate airplanes to head to Anchorage, 150 miles away. Our oldest, Josh, was in Anchorage attending his freshman year of college and we looked forward to connecting with him there. Sam, our high school senior, jumped on an early flight with his school sports team and I rushed off to catch my commercial flight . My husband,Scott, and two youngest children,Kaitlyn and Zach, met up with a friend to catch a ride to town with him. I arrived in Anchorage as scheduled. But the plane carrying my husband and two of our kids was late.
As search plans and boats were deployed, a long night of wondering began as I waited with my two oldest boys. The weather did not cooperate. Freezing temperatures and blinding fog hindered the efforts of friends and strangers. And we waited, begging God for news of a rescue.
The afternoon of December 8th the awful news reached us that debris from the plane had been found. The answer to all the prayers for rescue was a heart crushing “No”.
Tragedy reveals, faster than just about anything, where we truly put our faith and how we really see God.
I distinctly remember the surreal feeling as we waited for the staff from the National Park Service to arrive to tell us what they knew. It was our worst nightmare. We listened as they gave us the details that were available. There were no survivors. In one awful moment our family of six was suddenly three.
Tragedy reveals, faster than just about anything, where we truly put our faith and how we really see God. What I want to share with you in the few words that follow are some of the lessons I have learned these past three difficult years of grief, and what I hope will help equip you, and your boys, for the tragedies that will visit you.
Even Jesus Got “No”
Like Jesus in the garden, it’s not that the Father didn’t hear our cries for rescue from the Alaskan wilderness. When Jesus poured His heart out to His Father in the garden on the dark eve of His death, God the Father sent an angel to strengthen Him (Luke 22:43). The Father provided for Him, but He didn’t grant His Son’s request.
And He didn’t grant ours. But He did meet us in our darkness. Was the Father still good in that moment? Yes! We were shocked at the news, but God was not shocked. He had everything in place to demonstrate His care for us in the valley of the shadow of death. In a similar way, the redemption Christ purchased by walking through his valley of the shadow of death: His suffering, death and resurrection, was the ultimate expression of our God’s goodness and love.
Responding to our Fear
Fear is often our gut reaction to tragedy. It can make us angry and distrustful. When our fears press upon us God uses this pressure to bring to the surface what we truly trust in for rescue and comfort. When fear is looming large and dark over us we learn the most about ourselves, and about God.
Do you walk your children all the way through the process of loss, not lingering in the pain nor skipping over it? Both are important.
What the Bible clearly teaches from cover to cover is that it’s the deep heart groanings that God longs for us to bring to Him. David paints a beautiful picture of candid heart-felt lament in Psalm 13. He is honest with his pain, makes His requests known to God, but ends with reminding himself of the truth that God’s love is trustworthy. He chooses to sing and remember. Speaking about those we love and have lost, acknowledging reality, is healthy and vital. The loss was staggering. It is important not to ignore the truth of the pain and loss.
Do you walk your children all the way through the process of loss, not lingering in the pain nor skipping over it? Both are important. Does the conversation come all the way around to the character and steadfastness of God? It doesn’t take a plane crash to reveal the realities of what we truly trust in. Often it is in everyday disappointments that we first learn to be honest with ourselves and God. When fears or disappointments confront your boys, see these as a training ground to help them respond in a way that ultimately points them toward Christ.
How God Met us in our Darkness
We saw God provide all we needed in the days that followed, just like He had been doing all along. It’s easier to see that provision clearly when everything else is stripped away. Day by day we allowed our new normal to unfold. Josh came home from college to work while his younger brother Sam finished his senior year. Fall of 2017 they each headed off to college. The following spring Josh got married. Together we discovered how milestones like graduations and weddings are excruciating reminders of what was lost. But God has walked with us there too.
In the first months of grief I was trying to pay attention to what God might be stirring in my own heart for this next and new stage of life. I made the decision to move out of Alaska. I needed to keep doing the next thing, even when I couldn’t see more than a step in front of me. Unexpectedly those next steps ended up including the sweet comfort of a fellow grief traveler whose wife lost her battle with cancer. Barry and I were married September 2018. God knew we each needed a partner who could share in the grief and the joy God had called us to travel. Now we could travel the road together.
The Pain Points us to our Savior
The past three years I have wrestled my way to the conclusion that the ultimate rescue God offers in Christ is infinitely more important than the temporary rescues we often ask for. Parents can’t promise safety or protect those we love from pain and heartache, but we can remind ourselves, and our children, that the One who is in control is good and has a bigger picture in mind. We can also take comfort in the fact that God gives grace when it is needed. I have often heard, “I can’t even imagine” as I tell my story. It is true that the tragedy is hard to imagine until you taste it, but the sweetness of the grace in the center of the suffering is just as indescribably sweet. You don’t get that sweetness until you’re there.
So let’s make sure we know how to rest in the fact that because God provided the supreme rescue from the power of sin and death in Christ, we can trust Him and live lives without fear. Not because things aren’t scary, but because He is big enough and He will never leave or forsake us. Through God’s Word and through watching us, our children discover how to respond to fear, pain, and difficulty, and they learn their God is big enough.