I remember the way the muscles in my face fell, a smile erased. I remember the muffled tone of my husband's voice trying to tell me the news. I watched his eyes change, the creases of happier times melting to pain. I screamed as if every ounce of air left in my chest would evaporate. Sitting on our stoop my chest began to tighten, things were starting to spin. Words spoken, unbelieved. Joe was gone.
Emotions still well up in me when I remember the day we got the phone call that my Father-in-law passed away. Passed away--no--was taken. Although the sting is gone the ache remains as a forever reminder of what we lost.
Until that day, death of a loved one was absolutely my number one fear. It caused me anxiety, brought on depression...it robbed me of time worrying about it and thinking about it that I can never get back. I was sure that if it happened to me it would paralyze me. I wouldn't be able to recover. I would be a shell of a person from that day forward. And then it did happen to me--to my family--and things didn't go as I expected.
Months after his death, I'd had time to grieve and process it all, and life somehow went on for everyone else around us. It's a funny thing to expect everyone else's lives to fall apart too, and then they don't. I felt unexpectedly angry and bitter toward families who still had their dads, whose children still had their grandfathers. I avoided places we had gone with Joe so that I didn't have to remember the void. I had two kids, a devastated husband and I would soon be headed back to the mission field a broken, depleted mess. Something had to give.
God began to plant reminders of his grace every chance He got. I wasn't receptive to it at first because I was too angry and confused to really even want to receive anything from God, especially since I knew it was Him who took Joe. But as my heart softened, as I realized the state I was in was only self-destructive, I recognized what God was trying to whisper:
Death is redemptive.
I thought He was crazy, telling me that death was redemptive, I almost wanted to shut Him out. But the more I stopped being angry and the more I started listening, change creeped in in the most beautifully challenging ways.
Back in the Garden, when Satan tempted and humans fell and relationship was broken, the Evil One thought he had won. But let me tell you, The Deceiver was deceived. It wasn't just lip-service when God breathed the words, "...For I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you, not to harm you..." It wasn't just a great quote for sermon notes or a pumped up pep talk or a parent's last attempt at encouraging a fallaway teenager. He meant those words for us, in all situations. Even in death.
Especially in death.
You see, God is good at taking what Satan intends for evil and turning it into something good, something redemptive. If you ask most Believers who have lost a loved one, down the road they will say, "I wouldn't have the relationship I have with God today, if I hadn't walked through that valley with Him."
Losing Joe changed Mike and I. It changed our marriage. It changed our parenting. It changed how we viewed our lost world. Joe lived with such amazing purpose to bring people to Jesus that somehow with him gone, we felt the honored responsibility of carrying on his torch. We decided in those fragile months following his death that we were done living a comfortable life. We were ready to live more radically for Him, just as Joe did.
It's been a painful road. It's been a road paved with grace. It's been a road leading to redemption, not only for us and the precious life we felt we were wasting on comfort and safety but also a road to redemption for the people we were, and are, determined to introduce to a God who pulled us out of the miry muck into His glorious light.
Our son, Levi, never had the chance to meet his "Gaga" this side of Heaven. But because of a God who turns tragedy to treasure, Levi will have a front row viewing of his grandfather's eternal impact in the years to come.