Our family has shed many tears these past fifteen months since our son, Austin, un-expectantly passed away. We, however, have come to a greater awareness of the awesome and often indescribable grace that is available to each of us. I am not saying that it has been an easy road but my desire is to expound on the immeasurable grace that is so precious to us. I would like to share some stories regarding the many ways that we have personally seen God’s hand of grace in our lives…
One of my earliest recollections was when Austin was about six years old. He had survived a heart transplant when he was eight months old and a very aggressive and deadly cancer when he was five years old. The cancer was in remission for one year when we received the life-changing “blow” that he now had a second cancer and needed surgery and more aggressive treatment. As I was weeping and crying out to God, I prayed. “Lord, I have experienced Your grace many times but what about Austin? How much grace is there for him? How will he take this devastating news and the reality of all that he will have to endure again? Please, God, show me that Your grace is there for Austin as well!” It was only a few days later when God very directly answered this Mommy’s prayer. Austin came to me and shared a story that sent goose bumps all over me and brought tears of joy to my eyes. He said, “Mom, remember when I had the cancer in my stomach and I had a lot of pain? You and Dad would stay beside my bed and rub my stomach so that I could go to sleep. Well, one night I woke up and I felt so much pain and you and Dad weren’t in my room. All of sudden I felt a hand on my stomach and the pain just went away! I looked around the room but I couldn’t see anybody. I just went back to sleep.” Talk about a direct answer to my prayer! In conclusion, I will come back to this story….
Even though we would have chosen to shelter our four daughters from needing to experience this journey of grief, we see the many ways that they have been growing and maturing because of this harsh reality of life. We have a tendency to think of prosperity, security and good health as positive things and, in contrast, poverty, un-stability and sickness as negatives. This isn’t always the accurate picture because our poverty, ill health or insecurities can truly be our greatest treasures. I think of the story of a man who experienced flooding on his property and saw his farm in complete ruins. In complete devastation, he looked across his land and at all the damage that had occurred to everything he possessed. As the sun began shining brighter on the banks of the receding water, he stopped and proclaimed, “What is that sparkling on the banks? It almost looks like gold!” He was right. It ended up being gold! He became very rich because of all the gold that was found on his property. His greatest loss had become his greatest blessing.
Our thirteen year old daughter, Alisha, also had a heart transplant at three months old. She has always counted on her big brother, Austin, for her support as they have walked their journeys as heart transplant recipients. Alisha observed Austin waiting for his second heart and the days following this major surgery. After seeing all of the pain and difficulty that he endured during this event, she struggled with many emotions. Alisha had so much fear regarding her future and an overwhelming fear of death. We prayed many times that God would enable her to reach out and claim His grace for her life. When Austin passed away, we were concerned about how this would also affect her. It was truly amazing as we saw her transformed by the peace of God! A few weeks later she came to me and stated, “Mom, I can honestly say that I no longer fear death but I am excited for the day when it is my time to go!” I asked her what changed her perspective. She responded, “Do you remember how Austin always offered to go first with all of our painful procedures? He would talk me through each one and tell me that it wasn’t going to be too bad and I was going to be all right. Well, now I know that Austin again went first and he is there waiting for me. When it’s my time to die, I know that not only will Jesus be there with me, but Austin will be there as well. He will talk me through this process and help me to make this journey.” Isn’t God’s grace awesome? At our services, Alisha now enjoys singing her favorite song that we have recorded on our latest CD, “Knowing What I Know About Heaven.” The song is entitled, “Angels in The Room.” It communicates a message of hope for the time when we are promoted to Heaven.
As we take personal possession of grace, we will be able to use our darkest nights to our benefit. We can choose to waste our pain or we can choose to allow the pain to shape and mold us more into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. In the early weeks of Austin’s home-going, I shared with Brianna and Alisha that we have two choices in how we will respond to our great pain and loss. The first choice is to trust the sovereignty of God and believe that He is good-no matter what! The alternative is to choose to become angry and bitter at God for taking Austin and then progress on the downward spiral that this choice will take us. This wrong choice will eventually destroy us. Since we know that Austin is in Heaven, we know that it will also lead us further away from the possibility of ever being reunited with him again. We are so grateful that our girls have chosen to claim God’s gift of grace in spite of the many questions of why God would allow this to happen to our family.
So what is grace? How does grace look in the lives of a believer? I like this definition of the word grace: It is the desire and the power to do what we ought to do. How does this pertain to claiming God’s grace during a death, a severe trial or financial loss? I believe that God’s grace enables (empowers) a child of God to respond as Jesus did when we are severely tested or affected by devastation or loss. In my last week’s blog, “Our Family’s Successful Struggle With Grief”, I shared how we can feel forced to suppress our emotions and thus become hardened and even cynical of others. I also believe that when we continue to question God’s goodness and walk in defeat without the joy of the Lord on our faces, we are a detriment to the kingdom of God. I may sound a bit harsh but I believe that we, as God’s children, have many times responded in either of these two ways. This is a big reason why nonbelievers are seeing no difference in our lives than in the lives of those who don’t profess a relationship with God. (In Austin’s book, “I’m a Winner Either Way” there is a chapter that is entitled, “God Is Still Good.” This is where we discuss this important response to a crisis, in greater detail.)
So how does a believer respond like Jesus did? Jesus had such a close relationship with His Father that He didn’t question God but took Him at His word. The only time He questioned God was when He said, “My God, why have You forsaken me?” (The reason God turned away from His Son was because He now carried the sin of the world on Himself.) We have many promises of God being with us. Do you take God at His word or do you constantly need visible evidence in your life? Is your faith in Your Heavenly Father strong enough to be unwavering even when God withholds any visible evidence of His goodness? His Word is so much more dependable than our senses are! “Those who are the most likely to trust God without any evidences except for His Word, usually receive the greatest amount of visible evidence of God’s love.”
In conclusion to the earlier story about God’s hand on Austin’s stomach…I believe that this is a great word picture of grace. It is the evidence of Jesus’ presence in our lives. When I prayed for grace to be demonstrated to Austin, it was manifested with the reality of His presence. As we go through difficult trials, we often experience the sense of being carried in Jesus’ arms and feel an overwhelming sense of God’s love and sweet presence in our lives. We treasure these times and this is what enables us to endure with true joy in the midst of heart wrenching pain. In the case of God’s hand on Austin…Although the pain temporarily went away, it returned the next day and Austin had to endure a very difficult surgery and recovery. Things didn’t turn out in the exact way that we had been praying but God in His sovereignty allowed us to experience a time of trusting in Him in the absence of our definition of goodness. However, He did give us a glimpse of His presence to help us through this trial. The only times that we will experience true and lasting joy are in the moments when He is very real and intimate with us. Only when we are finally at “home” will we be fully and joyously blessed with God’s constant and all encompassing presence! Oh, the amazing grace of God!
Rejoicing in Him,