If you’ve missed any part of this series, click on any post directly below.
Part Two-My Storms in a nutshell
Part Four-More Depression
Part Five-Even More Depression
Part Six-Guest Post, Dan Blanchard
Part Seven-The Last Depression Post
Part Eight-Death of a Child
Part Nine-Death of a Child
Part Ten-Guest Post, Holly Good
Part Eleven-Death of a Child
Part Twelve-Death of a Child
Part Thirteen, Death of a Child
Part Fourteen, Death of a Child
Part Fifteen, Death of a Child
Part Sixteen, Conclusion
Welcome to the on-going saga of different ways God speaks to us through the major storms of life, and specifically how He spoke to me through the death of my son, Noah. To read the details surrounding his death, click here.
This post is adapted from my book manuscript entitled, Defining Moment: Deciding to Live After the Death of Your Child. I would love any feedback you can offer, as I’m presenting this manuscript to publishers this summer. Thanks Guys!!!
“The point is not that we have nothing to fear
but that His presence is the basis for our courage.”
The following journal entry was written after a conversation with one of the doctors while we were awaiting Rebekah’s final DNA test results to see if she, too, had LCHAD (the disease that killed Noah). Rebekah was about seven-months-old, and it had been about a year and four months since Noah died.
October 29, 1999
Sometimes at night, when I lean into her crib to kiss her goodnight, the fear just grips me. See, I know what it is like to kiss my baby goodnight for the very last time. I know the pain that follows.
There is a fear that is present in every parent. Fear of something going wrong during pregnancy or birth. Fear of sickness. Fear of danger. But those fears are common and, for the most part, unfounded. But when I fear illness or death for my child, it is because it is a possibility, maybe a probability. The pain (that word seems so insufficient) that follows the loss of a child is worse than I ever imagined it would be.
Today I discussed Rebekah’s health with one of our doctors. He said he would know for sure by Christmas whether or not Rebekah has the disease that killed Noah. Christmas. Two more months of flu season. His words were thoughtful and kind, “You trust God, don’t you?” he asked sincerely. As if my trust in God could make the test results come back negative.
Trust God. Trust God. Good question.
Do I trust that He loves me? Yes.
Do I trust that He loves Rebekah? Yes.
Does He hold us in His hands? Yes.
Hear my prayers? Yes.
Answer them? Yes.
But do I trust Him to keep Rebekah healthy and give us many years to enjoy her here on earth? No, I do not.
Can He keep her healthy? Of course He can.
Will He? Good question again.
Trusting God for me has been terribly skewed since Noah died. I trusted the best I could. I read healing scriptures over him daily. I searched the Word of God for conditions on healing. I read books written by famous ministers of divine healing. I watched healing crusades on television, extending my hand in faith hoping that some of that power would touch my son. I spoke to people of great faith, trying to build my own. When doubt came into my mind I fought back by making certain that I shared Noah’s testimony of healing with yet, another person. While Noah threw up and I rinsed out my clothes and his, I rebuked sickness and disease. I spoke to it with authority. I proclaimed it to the doctors, my friends, my family, strangers in the airport, in the gas stations and the grocery stores. I stood in front of 4000 people at my church and gave his healing testimony. I wrote out his testimony and sent it in hundreds of Christmas cards.
As he lay in Toledo Hospital…dying…I sang, “He’s been faithful, faithful to me…” over his bed. And through my tears, I told the nurses he was, in fact, healed…and he died anyway.
Faith to me, at this point, seems almost unattainable. I don’t even know how to do it. If the faith I had wasn’t even the required, “mustard seed” size, then I don’t know if I’ll ever have faith for my children.
These days ….I rely on prayers of others–because God answers prayers for healing for other people. He doesn’t answer mine.
Please don’t tell me not to be fearful. Please don’t ask me if I believe God. You have no idea with your healthy children what I should, can, can’t or don’t believe. And I’m too weary to say all of this to you…
So I answer, “Yes” to your question. Yes, doctor, I trust God. Maybe if I say it enough, something will click and I’ll get it. Perhaps someday this area of my relationship with God will be restored.
This journal entry illustrates perfectly my frustration with the concepts of faith and trust in God at the time. While God had already restored so much of my joy and peace, I evidently still struggled with trusting Him, even a year and four months after the loss. It has been a long journey that, honestly, still continues to this day.
Being a Christian most of my life, I had always loved and trusted God. That is, until Noah died. After all my years of faithful service to Him, after all the months of endless praying, after all the times of public declaration of His power in my life, He failed to grant me the one request that meant the most to me.
I felt totally abandoned and betrayed by Him.
I had to find my way back to a place where I believed God would answer my prayers for healing—an answer other than “no.” My faith foundation had been pulled from me and I needed to rebuild it.
The Bible says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God. He who comes to God must believe that He is, and he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
How could I approach God for restoration of my joy and strength when I didn’t have any faith in His promise to answer me? It wasn’t that I thought He couldn’t heal or couldn’t answer my prayers. I just thought that he wouldn’t. I was surely in a faith crisis.
Dr. James Dobson’s book When God Doesn’t Make Sense is entirely devoted to this subject. Hear what he says:
“It is an incorrect view of Scripture to say that we will always comprehend what God is doing and how our suffering and disappointment fit into His plan. Sooner or later, most of us will come to a point where it appears that God has lost control—or interest—in the affairs of people. It is only an illusion, but one with dangerous implications for spiritual and mental health. Interestingly enough, pain and suffering do not cause the greatest damage. Confusion is the factor that shreds one’s faith.”
It is true that I had never been more confused about what God was doing than at the moment my son passed away. When God healed Noah at birth, I believed that Noah was going to live many, many years and carry a great testimony for God. Thousands of people around the world knew about Noah’s healing, and many people turned their lives over to God because of it. Jon and I had already been asked on several occasions to pray for children who were sick. I thought that our ministry would be to these children and their families. I felt as if God had anointed Jon and me to pray for the sick and see them recover. It never occurred to me that God would choose to take Noah at the age of nine months. How in the world was this supposed to give glory to God?
It didn’t help that many well-meaning Christians had strong opinions about Noah’s death, as well. At the time of Noah’s death, Jon and I attended a wonderful Bible-believing church. The people of that church proved to be a spiritual lifeline to us during those months and years surrounding his birth and death. We love those people dearly and to this day, they hold an exclusive place in our hearts.
There was a sect of people in that particular church, however, who believe that it is always God’s will to heal a person. That is, if a healing does not take place, it is because of some external factor, but it is not because it was God’s will. This particular doctrinal stance teaches that supernatural healing is obtained by a simple act of faith in God. Now faced with the death of our son, this doctrine proved to be troubling for us and for them.
As my church family tried to comfort me, some of them couldn’t help but attempt to draw conclusions as to why my baby died, despite our prayers (and theirs). They suggested many interesting theories, most of which don’t require much discussion (e.g. Satan snatched Noah out of our hands to steal his testimony, or there was some hidden sin in our lives that precluded God from healing Noah).
The most troubling explanation to me, however, was the one that questioned our level of faith. I knew that I had believed the best I could. I did everything I saw to do in the scriptures, not to mention anything that anyone suggested I do. But in the end, they concluded that God desired to heal Noah, and would have, except His hands were tied. If only we had prayed differently, then perhaps we could have freed God to perform the miracle that He desired to perform, but couldn’t.
On one particular night I had a troubling encounter while at a Children’s Ministry event, with a woman I hardly knew. She approached me to talk about my pregnancy with Rebekah, as I was now several months along. She felt compelled to explain to me that my son’s death was due to my inability to pray with faith. She rambled on for what seemed like an hour, but was probably more like ten minutes. She went on to say that if I wanted my unborn child to live, then I needed to find someone else to pray for her. I stood there with tears streaming down my face wanting to run away and hide, yet feeling as if God was confirming to me what I suspected to be true: I was completely incapable of having a living child because my prayers were inadequate. I left the event in tears, more upset and confused than ever.
Later that night, my dear friend and Children’s Pastor, Pat Holland, phoned me to find out what happened to send me out of the church crying. During our lengthy conversation, I admitted to her that I no longer understood faith. I told her that I felt like God was completely displeased with me and I didn’t understand why, because I had believed Him the best I knew how.
After listening to me cry and confess, she said something that changed my life forever. She said,
“Sandy, real faith is not when you believe God and then get whatever you prayed for…real faith is trusting God, even when you don’t get what you’ve prayed for. Sandy, you have real faith!”
I had never heard anyone explain faith like that before. Up until that point, I had always been told that if we had enough faith, we could have whatever we prayed for. If we didn’t get what we prayed for, then it must be because we didn’t have the faith. Now, that one statement started me on a new road to rebuilding my faith in God. Now I had a new definition, a new understanding.
For the first time, I began to comprehend that God wanted me to trust Him, not just for a healing, but no matter what He did. It really wasn’t about whether or not He answered my specific prayers for supernatural healing. It wasn’t about finding the key or the formula that gives way to miracles. It was all about getting me to a place of total trust—a place of complete surrender—to Him. The question wasn’t, “Lord, why didn’t you heal Noah?”
The question was (and still is), “Lord, how will you use this to draw me into deeper intimacy with you and conform me into the image of Christ?”
God then began to talk to me about His sovereignty. He showed me that He alone makes the ultimate decision if and when to heal. It isn’t up to me. Little by little, God showed me that the control over the healing…when it was performed, how it was performed and if it was performed…was in God’s hands, not mine. Suddenly, the focus shifted from what I had done or how I had prayed to what God did and what He desired.
But at the same time I was finally getting a grip on the faith thing, I would often find myself completely gripped with fear. Fear Rebekah would die, fear Jon would die. I didn’t know how to learn to trust God again, knowing that His “good plan” for me very well may involve more loss. I would sometimes try to convince myself that I had reached my “tragedy quota” and I was off the hook for a while…maybe even for life. I decided that I had paid my dues and that God would not require me to suffer any more for quite some time.
Then, just five months after we buried Noah, I found myself on an airplane to Toledo to disconnect my mom from life-support and arrange her funeral. It was a sudden, unexpected death. I could not believe that God was asking me to bury my son and my mother in less than six months! I remember being on the plane in the middle of the night, staring out the window with Jon next to me. I was so angry with God, I didn’t even know what to say to Him. I just remember thinking,
“you took my son, you took my mom, are you going to take Jon too? If there is ever a time I need my mom, it is now…what are you doing to me?”
I realized at that point that no one is exempt from tragedy…even people who have just suffered tragedy! The bible never promises us that we will not have pain in this life. That is a hard pill to swallow, but it is true.
Over the years, I have fluctuated between trusting God completely, and being gripped with fear at the thought of losing another child or my husband.
Does it mean that during those times of being afraid that I was not walking in faith? Many people think so, but I don’t.
I think that in this world we have a lot of things to be afraid of. Indeed, I’ve already faced my worst fear. That isn’t the point. The point is that in the midst of the scary things, we can put our trust in God…and we can still be brave.
Although God never promises us that we will live a pain-free, tragedy-free life, He does promise us that He will be with us through every sickness and every storm. God doesn’t want us to fear, but it is not because He will deliver us from all the bad things that can happen to us. It is because He is with us in the middle of all the bad things! Here is another good definition for real faith: Learning to trust that if God chooses not to calm the storm, He will still hold you in His hand throughout the storm.
Where are you on this journey of faith? I’m sure your pathway looks very different from mine in many ways. Maybe the first time you ever prayed was when you cried out for God to save you from a storm. Or maybe you’ve been praying and seeing miraculous things since you were a child. No matter what the case, my guess is that on some level you have struggled with the concept of having faith in the God who allowed darkness to come your way. I know what that feels like. It is still difficult for me to trust God to protect me, even after all these years, because I realize that “protection” may very well mean that I have to suffer.
But I’ve found a new freedom in letting God make the decisions. I’ve stopped striving for the answer, for the formula, for the solution. I’ve given control of my family, my future and my life to the Lord. It hasn’t been easy, and I still often struggle to regain control. But the revelation of real faith has been enlightening.
God uses everything—especially the painful, scary things—to draw us into intimacy with Him. And in the continual act of leaning on the arms of God, it is there that we can face our worst fears. It is there that we learn to trust Him again. And it is there that we perfect our faith.
Happy Easter, everyone!