September 30…a day forever etched on my heart—it marks the day, twenty-six years ago, that my daughter died. I’ve decided to post the following blog every year on this date. As a memorial to her, to my family, to those who have lost loved ones, to those who suffer and mainly as a thank you to God—who by His love, mercy and grace heals the brokenhearted. I wrote it last year, but honestly it rings with the truth of finding treasure in tragedy—that never ages…
A quarter of a century has gone by since my two-year old daughter Haylie Anne, left my arms to be in Gods. It was September 30, 1986. Twenty-five years is quite a while, even so, at times it seems as yesterday.
When Haylie died I quickly wanted another child, so the void in my heart would be filled, I soon learned the spot she held in my heart was hers; and it remains hers till this day. It is interesting how each child holds a certain place in our heart. I’ve given birth to seven children, as each one arrived, their place in my heart never crowded the other. My heart only expanded and made room for each.
The meaning of Haylie Anne’s name is Hero of Grace. God in all His wisdom allowed a hero of grace disguised as a wide-eyed, precious girl—to visit my family. For what purpose? How could such a short life serve a great purpose? Haylie may have lived only two years but the imprint of her life is still alive.
At her funeral a friend sang a song he composed. The words have never left my remembrance, they rang; “Haylie chosen of God to do His will on this earth and now the princess has married her prince.”
Haylie was never meant to live a long life, her purpose was fulfilled in God’s perfect timing. Yes, her death was tragic and unexpected, but her life warmed my heart, filled my arms and has lasting effect.
In tragedy we can always find treasure. God has deposited numerous treasures in my life through hers. Because of her, I live my life with intensity and intention, loving God and others as if I may not see tomorrow. Mainly, Haylie’s life and death have bridged me to God in a way that nothing else ever has or could. For that I am grateful.
Today, I just want to remember Haylie out loud, and to publicly thank God for His Hero of Grace.
Haylie, until we meet again…
Following is a three-part series of finding Treasure in Tragedy, also written last year in the weeks after the Hero of Grace post. Understandably this is long, but well worth the read. If you, or someone you know needs to find treasure in tragedy please read and or pass this on. Thanks!
The Hero of Grace post talked of finding treasure in tragedy, I now realize the need to share; “how” to find treasure in tragedy. Not only in death but all forms of heart-break and devastation.
First, realize suffering is part of life. It is written into every script, no one is exempt—it visits the rich and the poor, young and old, including everyone in between—only the degree and intensity may vary. We live in a fallen world where death, sickness, loss and all forms of sin and suffering abound.
The common question is why? Why would a good God allow suffering to come to good people? The truth is; God is all good and all-knowing. God is the only answer for life, especially when it hurts.
Good and evil are continually at war—it’s interesting how when tragedy strikes everyone blames God. That’s what I did when my daughter died. God helped me through the time of her sickness and death, then I turned right around and became angry with Him. Why? Why do people automatically blame God as if He was the one who brought the calamity?
Remember good and evil? The fact is—the devil—the enemy of our soul—is evil. His whole purpose is to kill, steal and destroy, even greater, he wants us to curse God. He wants us to lose faith and turn away from the only One who can help us! The devil is worse than tricky, he brings devastating situations into our life that cause heart ache and pain, getting us to turn away from our only source of hope and help—then laughs. Do you know why he laughs? Because his evil plan has left us hopeless. Not only hopeless but angry, bitter, unforgiving and empty—without help.
The way (or the how) that I found treasure in the tragedy in my daughter’s death was as follows…
The Lord in His grace, showed me myself—I was angrily shaking my fist at Him, blaming Him for my pain. He spoke and said why not shake your fist at the devil—the enemy of your soul? Why not shake your fist where it will do you some good?
I realized I was basically working against myself, my hard heart towards God and my anger were hurting me and making my situation worse! Again by the grace of God, I turned my fist to the enemy, to the one who came to destroy me and my family, more than that he came to steal our faith and kill us spiritually, hoping that we would spend eternity in hell with him.
I am not a very passive person and believe me when I caught a glimpse of the devil’s plan and how he got me to turn on God the One who loves me—my only help, I was furious and I still am! All my anger is harnessed and turned against evil. I will not give the devil one inch in my life or in that of my family. When he comes against me and he does quite often, my faith only gets stronger and my dependency on God increases.
The enemy’s plan for humanity is to turn us against God and to cause tragedy—his hope is that we will not find any treasure in it. God, in deep contrast to the devil, plans that we find good, in all that is bad. Understandably, it is difficult to see any ray of sunshine in thick darkness and pain, but guaranteed if we will make a shift in our thoughts towards God, soften our heart and stop blaming Him, we will find just what we need—hope, help and healing—we will find Him.
The big question at this point would be—how? How do I soften my heart towards someone who has allowed this pain in my life? For me the answer was in surrender and trust. I let myself be loved by God. I surrendered to His love and help, then there—in the place of true love—I found trust.
Think about this…if you don’t soften your heart and surrender what are your options? Be angry and become the bitter person everyone avoids? Surrender to the devils plan; curse God, live a miserable life then die and spend eternity with him? If you ask me none of these are even options. Why not get on God’s side where hope, comfort and real love await?
Surrendering to God caused me to find treasure in all situations. The biggest treasure of all is my relationship with God.
“The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” John 10:10
Heartache, if allowed can pave the way to a deep connection between you and God. There was a saying going around when my daughter Haylie died; “You can get better or you can get bitter” I hated that saying. Of course I wanted to get better…but how? (Years later He required broken instead of better…but that’s a different story!)
The day after her funeral my husband and I, along with our four-year old son Joshua, went out-of-town to try to regroup. One night while waiting for a table at a Mexican restaurant a mass of people scooted in next to us, they sat so close that their daughter’s feet were in my lap. We chatted and the inevitable question came up. How many children do you have? At first we all froze. This was the first, but certainly not the last time that question was ever asked. Truthfully, I still stumble for the right answer. My husband looked at me, I looked at Josh, we fidgeted and looked at each other again. I answered and out came the whole story. The woman who asked the question was a beautiful, subtle blonde who wore a soft, yellow turtle neck. Tears came to her eyes as she told us the story of her two-year old daughter who died, just a few years back. I looked at her and said, “You are so beautiful and look so normal. I don’t think I will ever feel normal again.” Her response was, “God and time.”
In the following years when tempted to bend towards bitter, I would recall the woman in the yellow turtle neck-adorned in grace-without a trace of bitterness.
God put that woman in my path. He faithfully causes our lives to curve and bend in directions that lead to Him. He had the answer (the how) to the better or bitter question, before I ever asked it.
All throughout the time Haylie was dying and clear through the grieving process God in His faithfulness set up situations just as this one. Little helps and nudges that assisted me in healing and finding Him. A surrendered, tender heart, toward God will allow the treasure of His faithfulness to be revealed.
Another treasure that has helped me through life is the concept of allow. God does not allow anything to happen to us unless it passes through Him first. At first this could be alarming and take us back to the “Why” question, (but we already cleared that up in part one).
In the book of Job we understand Satan asked God if he could wreak havoc on Job. Then we see God allowed Satan to devastate Job’s life. We can find comfort in the idea that everything the devil or the world throws at us has to be allowed by God.
It’s comforting because:
- We trust God and His faithfulness—He is faithful
- We can rest and be assured in the understanding that God will not let anything we cannot handle come to us. This means He has faith in us that we will make it through. (1 Corinthians 10:1)
- In our weakness we are made strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-11)
- We know that God see’s the beginning from the end and will help us. (Psalm 121)
Jesus suffered and in essence made a way for us. (Hebrews 5:8) Through His suffering we are made whole, we are comforted knowing that even though in suffering—we might not feel whole—we have faith—that we can and will be whole. We know God’s amazing love fills in all our gaps. There is not a religion and/or pill that can promise that!
We basically have two choices:
- Be the people who let the punches of tragedy send them on a never-ending roller coaster—thus allowing negativity to define us.
- Take advantage of suffering and embrace it. Knowing that suffering is part of life—and can be a refining fire. Allowing God to define us into pure hearted believers.
A sure treasure I found in tragedy is this—I look at it as purposeful. Why? How? Because it causes me to see my weakness and thrusts me into God—the only safe place to live life. The only place I can take all my pain, questions, misunderstandings and disappointments of life. A place where I can lay them all down, letting them go and make an exchange with Almighty loving God, who cares for me and loves me.
When tragedy approaches I try not to even give the devil a second look, I turn to God and ask “What do You want to accomplish in me, through this?”
The “Hows” of finding treasure in tragedy are easy—trust God—He will never leave you or forsake you!
I ask you, what does God want to accomplish in you through suffering?
“For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord, who has mercy on you.” Isaiah 54:10
The most beautiful occurrence in history was wrapped in tragedy. The cross which once represented shame and death is now a symbol of life and beauty. Just the same, all our suffering can be given in trade for beauty.
Some say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. God—our beholder, longs to give us beauty for ashes. Our biggest obstacle would be our inability to believe in the miracle of such an exchange. This is where faith makes an entrance. Treasure for tragedy is only an oxymoron for those who can’t believe. But for those who can believe without seeing, it is a welcomed reality. Of all the hows given in these blogs on finding treasure in tragedy, this quite possibly is the most important.
I used to think pain was my portion in life. Frankly after my two-year old daughter died, I was terrified of pain. I lived with the fear that I did not want my future to be as painful as my past. However because of this fear, it was difficult to engage in the present.
Let me give you some more insight into the year Haylie died. Three months before she died, my older brother also suddenly died. He was twenty-nine, my childhood hero and friend. Less than a year before his death, my marriage took a huge hit and was very unstable. The only way to describe the pain of that year is to say; it felt as if the music stopped and life was blank. Yet the world continued. And somehow I was expected to continue as well. I was twenty-four years old and the stubborn stains of pain and tragedy were attempting to embed themselves in my very person. The enemy of my soul wanted suffering to define me. Thankfully, the One who loves me wanted it to refine me.
It is important to examine our attitudes toward tragedy. The story of Job in the Bible was one of those books that I wanted to ignore. Mainly, I neglected it because I was afraid of its content. The book of Job tells about one man’s outrageous suffering. Suffering was what I lived to avoid, so why would I want to read and learn about it?
I was able to avoid the story until about six years ago, when my world completely fell apart. The catastrophe was nothing like the year Haylie died, yet it was devastating. I believe it to be so because of my attitude towards suffering. I had the attitude that I had already suffered enough for my whole life time. I did not have the understanding that suffering is not a tally keeping kind of situation. Neither did I realize that suffering is part of life. God used Job’s story to shed new light on suffering as well as change my perspective and attitude, teaching me to embrace it.
Job 1:1, declares that Job was “Blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil” This tells us Job had faith. Job was the kind of person who trusted God, therefore he fortified his life and belief system. He had seven sons and three daughters. He had good health and plenty of wealth, he was well-known and admired.
The tragedy that tumbled his life was this: all his children died, all his possessions were destroyed as was his health and reputation. Sounds like a great story huh? Actually it is, because when the weight of tragedy fell on him, he was unwavering in his belief in God.
He said of suffering in Job 1:21, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.” In verse 22 it says, “In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.” In Job 2:9-10, his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”
The book of Job is a great place to learn of God’s sovereignty and of our human frailty. Job not only held fast to his faith during suffering, but He found God in a way that only suffering can bring. The art of embracing suffering produces the treasure of genuine faith. Following are but a few treasures from the book of Job.
When God speaks to me or when I hear a good sermon, I always ask God; how do I apply this to my life? So likewise I want to give you hows on applying these treasures to your life.
Treasures we can discover from Job:
1. Job fortified his life: Satan wanted to steal Job’s faith—he couldn’t because Job trusted God before tragedy struck. The key here is to be in a close relationship with God and be grounded in His Word, so when life serves up tidal waves we will not drown. Go under a bit; probably, swallow some water; yes, but when we are fortified in our faith, we quickly find God as the life-preserver. We see God’s love as a sea without a shore, never-ending and always available.
How to fortify: Surrender and pray. Read the Bible—believe it and do what it says. Get and maintain an intimate relationship with God.
2. Job did not blame God: His attitude about suffering and God were in balance.
How to not blame God: Embrace suffering as part of life. Accept the fact that God is good, He cares for you and will never leave you. Believe He is trustworthy and faithful, regardless of the circumstances.
3. Job accepted good and bad from God: He trusted God to do His best for him, even in suffering.
How to trust God: Give up grudges and forgive. Surrender your will. Lean into God and see what happens.
4. Before suffering Job thought he knew almost everything; after suffering he realized he really didn’t know anything: The realization that Job came to during his suffering, was that he was prideful and God is sovereign. Read Job 38-42.
How to deal with pride: Face the truth—God knows everything and we don’t. God allows suffering and we are not above it—come to grips with this fact and allow God to accomplish something good in you through tragedy.
5. Before suffering Job knew about God; after suffering he knew God. This was the biggest reality that hit me after my huge crushing six years ago. I realized I knew a lot about God, but I had yet to actually know God the way He desired me to know Him.
How to know God: All the treasures above coupled with the Holy Spirit, will lead us to the point of stepping into an intimate relationship with God where we actually hear His voice, do His will and personally know Him. It really is all about surrender. Once we hand our life over to Him and let Him have His way, He meets us and draws us closer to Him. Here He heals and delivers us. In the place of true surrender we find rest, peace and safety.
6. Before suffering Job was upright, after suffering he was holy: Tragedy refined Job and made him holy. Basically the heat of the fire he was in, melted away his self-sufficiency. Setting him beyond normal, away from pride, causing him to see his great need for more of God.
How to be Holy: Holy–defined as set apart. The applied cross and blood of Jesus makes us holy. Another way holiness comes is by refining, because refining removes impurities. To be holy, we must allow God to be God in our life, allowing Him to set us apart for His good works. Let suffering refine us, making us more like Him, causing us to see our need for more of God.
In conclusion, the suffering I found in tragedy has strengthened me, mainly because it has caused me to draw all of my strength from God. It’s made me realize my weakness; therefore my great need for Him. I no longer live in fear, but in Faith. Faith in Someone higher than I. Also I now know God—not just about Him.
A treasure that I behold, is the importance of submitting my will to God’s will. God’s will is all I want. For someone like me with such a strong, stubborn will, this is indeed a good thing! I have peace where as before, peace was illusive. Living controlled by my will was exhausting—control and manipulation always are. I am more than ecstatic to let God have all control.
It’s my prayer that these blogs on Treasure in Tragedy have helped you at the very least to organize your heart and thoughts in regards to suffering. And at the most I hope you can trust God with all your cares.
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:1-5