A family trip to a local indoor waterpark produced a valuable image to help my surviving son and me persevere. It was shortly after his big brother's death. It felt like the light would never reappear in "the valley of the shadow of death" (Psalm 23) we found ourselves walking through. No matter how we felt, my husband and I were intentional to take moments to create positive memories for our still very young son and daughter. We still needed opportunities to laugh, hold one another, learn and grow. Whether or not we could actually produce a smile or embrace fully the lessons in the moment, was not at all important.
At seven years old, Daniel wanted to ride the big slides. There were quite a variety of which to choose. Some fast, some slow. Some with inner tubes, and others you leaned back, hands tucked behind the head, letting the water rush around your body as you zig-zagged to the pool below. We tackled the first one on an inner tube with two seats. He then confidently rode the tube alone, but he expressed no interest in riding the completely enclosed slide which seemed dark and scary to him. In fact, Daniel gave them a wide berth as we entered the acceptable slides.
We were experiencing a lot of new firsts without Jonathan. The sting of his death was still palpable, and we were navigating a level of grief we had never experienced before. Life felt dark, and yet, Daniel's steps of bravery on those slides penetrated the fog that seemed unable to lift. I smiled in a way I had done not since before my son's death. Daniel squealed with joy as he ventured the slides again and again. I didn't recognize God's hand in it all at the time. It is evident to me now that God was inviting me to be brave with my own fears.
Like my young son, I had no intention of going on the dark, confining slides. As if the lack of light were not enough, there is no getting off the slide, and you can't always see what's coming next. As one who is slightly claustrophobic, I am still traumatized by the first enclosed water tube I rode on as a child that caused me to panic. I've never been on one since.
I'm not even sure what prompted me, later, to go on the dark body slide, but I did. The slide was as dark as the inside of a cavern, but I was already in the darkest place imaginable. Grief feels like it swallows light. My energy was drained. Processing information took longer. Sleep did not come easy, and I was plagued by nightmares of trying to save my son. People tried to encourage, but it often felt like every word and deed were filtered through quicksand. The pull to give up was strong. My world was upside down, and I was trying to live with a large piece missing. I feared losing my husband and little ones. I feared losing my son's friends. I feared all of these devastating experiences would lead to nowhere... would not be able to be redeemed.
Others who experienced similar losses assured me that my sorrow would not always feel this heavy; that I would learn to live in my "new normal." I was blind to the hope they offered. But in that dark place I held onto Hebrews 11:1 "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen" (NIV). In my twenty-one years of walking with Christ, I already had evidence that He was present in all I experience. Navigating the loss of a child may have been dark for me, but it was not darkness for God.
The slide was no different. I viewed the twists and turns from the outside, and talked myself into riding on it. Even knowing I would not be able to see the twists and turns from the inside, I remembered the light that would greet me at the end. It gave me enough courage to take the chance on the enclosed slide.
Just before leaving, Daniel grabbed the two-seater and decided he wanted to ride the dark slide with me. As soon as we started down, I sensed his fear. “I’m beside you,” I soothed. “The light will greet us at the end.” With my comforting words, I felt his tension lesson. Upon exiting the pool, I told him, “My relationship with God feels like that slide right now. I don't see him, but I hear his voice, and I am trying to stand on the truth of his character.”
In the car, the kids asked to listen to their music camp CD. One of the songs was "You Never Let Go." As Daniel listened and sang along, he suddenly exclaimed, "That is like the dark slide! I couldn't see you, but I knew you were there. I know God is there, and that he won't let go of me." Again his definitive declaration penetrated my darkness and reminded me to look for the light in my circumstances.
God will never let go of me, whatever storm or dark place I go through in this life. My part is to know and trust that God is with me. “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4, NIV). I obtain that knowledge through reading about his character in Scripture, praying, and practicing walking by faith each day. Even now, six years after that moment with Daniel, I continue to practice looking for the Light of hope that God offers in my circumstances.
I can’t see where the devastating dark twist of our loss will lead. Yet, I won’t turn back, because I know God is here. With me at all times. Offering hope, peace and comfort even in the darkest times.
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:
Suffering is temporary. In the midst of it, I feel like it will NEVER end. The Apostle Paul, while in prison, shackled with chains, testified: "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all" (2 Corinthians 4:17, NIV). Part of healing is setting my struggles outside myself. Then, taking the time to notice how God can turn my sorrows into beautiful experiences that touch and transform my life, and the lives of others.
Knowing that God is with me changes how I respond to the tunnels I experience. He will work even the hardest things to His glory, and touch many other lives with my hope. Recently I have been able to give comfort to a mother who just lost her son. I point to the light of Christ at the end of every dark tunnel. I can both cry with her, and I can testify that joy, laughter, and hope still exist beyond the devastating experiences.
"And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us" ( Romans 5:5, BSB). Are you aware of how you are encouraging others by walking through this tunnel with Christ? I encourage others through sharing my testimony of faith. By photographing how joy and life emerge even from death. I also make myself available to those in the mental health field, and families struggling with loss.
As you recognize God's presence in your circumstances, others begin to glean hope from your response to sorrow. Living life to the fullest is not based upon sight. Rather it rests upon God's promise to always be with us, provide a way through, and turn our tunnels into testimonies of His light no matter what we experience.
· What is an image, such as the water slide, that describes or represents your tunnel right now?
· Draw a picture or describe in words what you believe hope looks like.
· Memorize and meditate on Romans 8:25.
I don’t understand your ways, Lord. Still, help me to trust your path, even when I walk through the darkness of painful and difficult circumstances. Amen.
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