Richard Exley Ministries

Strength for the Hard Times

Talking with Dad and Mom over the years about Carolyn’s death has helped me work through my own grief.  Although the "why" questions remain unanswered, somehow they do not seem so important any more.  And having made an uneasy peace with my grief, I have turned my attention to what I now considered a more worthwhile question.  Not "why," but "how."  How can we overcome the storms life brings?  How can we turn adversity into an opportunity for personal growth and development?

Unlike so many believers today, my parents had no unrealistic expectations.  They did not expect a trouble free life, nor did they blame God when adversity befell them.  Having lived through the great depression, they were acquainted with trouble and not intimidated by it.  The God they served would be with them and He would sustain them no matter what trouble life might bring.  Like the ancient psalmist they said, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear..." (Psalm 46:1). (click here to continue reading)

Their earlier hardships stood them in good stead when Carolyn was born hydrocephalic.  Having found God faithful in their previous difficulties, they were able to trust Him in the dark days following Carolyn's birth and her subsequent death.  They knew that He who had sustained them through sickness and financial crisis would not fail them now, nor did He.  As they walked through the valley of the shadow of death they were comforted by the Lord's abiding presence.  And on those dark days when it seemed God was gone they encouraged one another.  "It might seem God has forsaken us," they reminded each other, "but He has not."

These thoughts were on my mind the last time we talked and I pressed them for details, insisting that they be more specific in regards to how they made it through that terrible time.  In response to my probing they identified three or four foundational truths.  First, as my father put it, they knew where Carolyn was.  Picking up his well worn Bible Dad turned to 2 Corinthians 5 and began to read.  When he came to verse 8 he paused to make sure I was listening, then he continued reading, "We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord."

Looking me in the eye he said, "We were able to overcome our grief because we knew that Carolyn was in heaven with Jesus where there is no more pain or death, neither sorrow or crying” (Rev. 21:4).

"She suffered so much the short time she was with us," mother added, trying hard not to cry.  Composing herself she continued, "Knowing she would never suffer again was a great comfort."

Taking Mom's hand Dad said, "When I think of her now I don't see her the way she was.  In heaven I know she’s perfect – a beautiful child with soft brown curls and bright blue eyes."

As we talked I became aware of a second truth that sustained them in the dark hours of their grief. They draw enormous strength from the knowledge that they will see Carolyn again. Like King David, who also lost a child in infancy, they knew they could not bring Carolyn back but they boldly declared, “I will go to her, but she will not return to me” (1 Sam. 12:23).

"When tragedy strikes someone else," Dad mused, "you always think I could never bear anything like that.  Then something unspeakable happens to you and you discover a strength you never knew you had.  Only it is not your own strength, but God's strength  revealed in your hour of desperate need (see 2 Cor. 12:8-10)." 

Nodding in agreement, Mother said, "For the most part I don't think we were aware of God's special strength except in retrospect.  When we were going through the darkest hours of our grief it mostly felt like we were alone.  God had not forsaken us, but it often felt like He had.  Only when our terrible pain began to ease a little did we become aware of the special ways in which God had sustained us."

Sitting alone in the living room, after they went to bed, I reflected on the things they had said.  Not once had they made light of their terrible grief, or tried in any way to minimize the tragedy of Carolyn's condition nor the pain of her death.  With disarming honesty they acknowledged their grief and the doubts it had birthed.  Still their undergirding tone was one of faith.

Carolyn Faye was with Jesus, of this they were sure, and Jesus was with them.  Even now, forty years after her death, they do not have a clue how God is going to use this tragedy for their eternal good, but that He will use it for good they have no doubt.  And as they near the end of their lives they cling more closely to the promises of eternal life.  They know it is only a matter of time until they are reunited with her and when they meet again sickness and death will never intrude. 

I can only conclude that their faith gave them an eternal perspective that enabled them to live victoriously no matter what hardships came their way.  It did not make their difficulties painless, but it did give them the strength to overcome.

This article has been excerpted from 

“Strength For the Storm” by Richard Exley
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