This past June 17th was the 30th Anniversary of the passing of my wife, Donna. On that Friday evening, thirty years ago we were out together on a date to celebrate my 35th Birthday. We enjoyed dinner and a movie and by 10:15pm we were on our way home. As we traveled northbound on Michigan Road at 106th Street I was unaware that an impaired driver was coming up behind our car at a ridiculous speed. He tried to pass us on the right by going onto the gravel shoulder, but misjudged and struck the right rear corner of our car. This sent us uncontrollably into the oncoming lane where we were hit by southbound car.
There was a horrible collision…spinning and glass shattering…and when our car came to rest, my head and shoulders were on the trunk with my head through the rear window. The emergency responders were there very quickly as I remember a paramedic speaking in my ear saying, “Hang in there with us.” I told him, “Don’t worry about me, just take care of my wife.” I will never forget his answer, “We’re not worried about her,” he said, “We’re worried about you.” When he said this I just knew that Donna was gone.
My immediate response was to cry out to the Lord, “O Lord, no this isn’t happening!” At just this moment His sweet and recognizable voice spoke to the quietness of my heart as God asked me, “Do you really trust me, or do you just say that you trust me?” Wow, what a question! I had trusted in Christ as my Savior in 1975. I had become a student of the Bible. I taught Sunday School and Bible studies, and Donna and I had truly walked with the Lord for many years. But I knew that this question demanded an answer.
In genuine surrender I answered, “Yes, Lord, I will trust you.” Instantly my heart was flooded with Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” It seemed that God was personally promising that He would work this tragedy together for my good…and for the good of our four children who had just lost their mother.
I was badly injured and had to endure surgeries and months of rehab. But the physical pain was nothing compared to the emotional pain and grief I endured by Donna’s loss. This is some of what I learned through the journey.
WHAT GOD TAUGHT ME THROUGH TRAGEDY:
- OUR CHOICE IS TO TRUST GOD
“When I am afraid, I will trust in you” (Psalm 56:3).
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5–6).
- GOD’S WORD IS TRUE. He proved His word to me in so many ways that I can’t begin to list them all, but here are a couple of examples.
- GOD’S PRESENCE IS REAL. God didn’t promise to keep us from the pain, but to walk with us through the pain.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
- GOD IS THE GOD OF ALL COMFORT.
“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3).
- GOD’S PEACE IS SUPERNATURAL.
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
- YOUR FAITH CAN STAND THE TEST. The depth of your test shows what God thinks of your faith. Even if you don’t believe you can withstand the hurt, God knows you can or He would not allow it.
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
- PAIN IS THE AVENUE TO GROWTH.
“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing” (James 1:2–4).
“These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world” (1 Peter 1:7).
- GOD HAS PURPOSE IN THE PAIN. The pain isn’t meaningless. God is using it to accomplish His work in your life.
“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10).
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17–18).
- I CAME TO KNOW THE LORD MORE INTIMATELY THROUGH THE SUFFERING.
“I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:3b, 5).
- GOD REDEEMS THE HURT. God uses what you have learned through your suffering to minister to others who are suffering. He redeems the pain and teaches us to minister His grace and love to those who are going through trials. When He takes away, He never replaces with less. I am reminded of God’s incredible grace, and how He redeems the hurt, every time I look at Kathy.
“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten” (Joel 2:25a).
“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (2 Corinthians 1:4, NLT).
A PERFECT ILLUSTRATION…My daughter, Sarah, pushed into her pain when she lost her mother. She processed every feeling and turned to God for understanding, comfort and strength. God redeemed her pain and now uses her to minister to others who experience tragedy. Here is a recent testimony she gave to someone who was hurting:
SARAH WRITES: “I lost my mom in a car accident when I was nine…She’s in heaven with Jesus and for the past 30 years my heart has longed for the day I get to see her. I want you to know that God has provided for my every need, every day since losing her. He has been so close to me since my heart broke at nine and I learned to lean on Him and trust Him. The goal of my life became honoring the Lord and honoring my mom’s life. Just know that God will be faithful…He has been to me from the time I was a hurting girl, until now. My mom taught me to love Jesus and that has carried me every step of the way. I’ve been able to minister to people that I never could have if I didn’t experience loss. God brought purpose out of my pain in such an awesome way. I think about my mom every single day and can’t wait to wrap my arms around her when I get to heaven!”
For over a year I lived in the book of Job after Donna’s death. What God taught Job four millennia ago, He taught me through my pain. I still resonate so completely with this book that I feel specific emotions on every page. The book ends with this observation…
“So the Lord blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning…In all the land no women were as lovely as the daughters of Job” (Job 42:12–15). You can see above by Sarah’s testimony why I believe this is true of my daughters…and not just Sarah and Abby, but also Randi and Jaclyn! (see picture)
When I think what God has done in my life since that fateful night of June 17, 1988, I stand in awe of our awesome God!!