"I get a Mulligan." Eight-year-old Jonathan informed me during a putt-putt game. "What are those?" I asked. "Do-overs," he explained, as he proceeded to pick up his ball and take it back to the beginning of the hole.
I don’t have a do-over for my son's death. The loss heightened my awareness that each moment is ticking away towards eternity. There is a greater sense of urgency in sharing the gospel and offering hope. It is unclear how much time I have with you or how God uses a singular touchpoint, but I do know He uses them (Isaiah 55:11). Each moment is ticking away and being counted. I can either waste it in self-pity at my loss or gain ground against a relentless Enemy who seeks to destroy us all. I am to dream and live life beyond my son's death, but often, I feel like two people on two vastly different trajectories.
My flesh and spirit are constantly at war. It is the battle Paul describes in the Book of Romans, "For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace" (Romans 8:6 ESV). In the past six years, I have battled fear, despair, and constant nightmares as I grind through the circumstances of Jonathan's death. These moments attempt to paralyze my trust and obedience of God.
I have experienced multiple physical attacks that have taken me to death's doorstep. Just over a year after Jonathan's death, blood clots filled my lungs when I was alone at home. Still, my heart expands with examples of God's faithfulness in the minute details of my battles, including that potentially deadly moment. My middle son, who should have left with his dad, stayed behind and called for help when I was close to losing consciousness. It was at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I believe.
I am deeply burdened for others who wrestle day in and day out with hopelessness. The emotional toll of walking alongside multiple families who have experienced losses due to suicide, is weighing heavily on my emotions. While doing battle against evil in order to support others in their loss, I met a local family who now fights alongside me The loss of their daughter eleven years ago to suicide brought us together. They encourage me to treasure each moment, even the hardest ones. They lead by example, helping to form a coalition of medical personnel and community leaders to train and equip others to offer hope to men and women of all ages.
My heart is gravely aware of evil, but faith reminds me of the trustworthiness of God's plan and purpose. When evil feels like it is gaining ground, I do not back down from the battle. Dirty and bruised from the fight against the giant of despair, I still celebrate the victories God orchestrates.
I share in the glory of those with stories of overcoming depression and suicide. As a result, I live life to the fullest and experience love, joy, and hope in the face of daunting personal tragedy. With great confidence, I can declare that what the enemy meant for evil, God is utilizing for good. And, God does this not just for my own benefit, but for the blessing of many.
God commands me to dream bigger than I did last year because He has bigger dreams in mind for me. My dreams take me beyond the nightmare of my son's suicide, and they offer hope in places the world says there is no hope. He continues to open my eyes to the depth of His love for me. He has also shown me the purpose for my suffering.
Therefore, I seek to look beyond the things I cannot control. "Let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up" (2 Thessalonians 3:13 BSB). I see sorrow in the faces of those familiar with loss, suffering, and injustice. I hear it in their questions and profound heartache. There is a longing for something good to come from the hardships they experience. Because I've witnessed life emerge from my own tragedy, I am able to help others watch for spring to burst forth from the winter of their grief. The result is God's glorious triumph.
God is not distant from our cries for hope. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18 NIV). I don’t always get this journey of grief right, and frankly, that is okay. There is no perfect way to let go. So I keep pressing forward with hope of Jesus in my mind. That way, when I make mistakes such as snapping at my children, or when I give in to bitterness, I stop dwelling on the error. Instead, I look for God’s possibilities through my mistakes.
Because of God's amazing love and grace, I have decided NOT to live the bad days over and over until I get it right in my mind. Instead, I seek to be a person who creates a life filled with hope. And the hope gets shared with others from the shards of my broken experiences.
Jesus came to take the fragments of my experiences and form a stain-glass window He shines the light of His hope through it. God utilizes my loss, grief, hopes, and bigger dreams, and creates a story worthy of cathedrals. It has never been about me getting everything perfect; it has always been about Him being the author and perfecter of my faith (Hebrews 12:2). I desire light to sparkle through every bit of my brokenness—a stain-glass window of hope, love, endurance—reflecting God-given tenacity.
So no, my dear son, we don't get mulligans, but we do get eternal life. We become spectacular new creations of hope through our brokenness—a stain-glass of imperfection, reflecting hope in Jesus Christ in unique and vivid ways.
“What ifs” are difficult to stop asking when you lose someone. Maybe you are asking the right questions, and yet you still seem unable to move forward. Instead of focusing the question on the past, can you direct it towards the future? What if God takes your awful experiences to save another life? What if your spouse turns to the Lord? What if God's dream for your experience is to save many nations, just as He did with Joseph's dreams in Genesis 37-48. The possibilities are endless for God.
What “what ifs” are you asking? Do they have negative or positive outlooks?
How is grief shaping your faith for the better? Are you becoming more compassionate when others experience loss?
Notice and record any positive changes in others because you chose to hope in your grief.
God uses every facet of our experiences to set lifelines of hope in motion. God even offers mulligans or second chances for us to make a change in our lives. There are many faithful women and men in the Bible who listened to God and made things better for themselves and others. Here are some examples you can look at in scripture.
The thief on the cross
Take courage and strength from these heroes of the faith, and take note of the many other faithful people who cross your path today.
Open my eyes, Sovereign God, to the possibility for positive outcomes of my what-ifs rather than remaining stuck in fear of my difficult circumstances Amen.
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