You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
David C. Cook; New edition (October 1, 2009)
Richard Exley is the author of twenty-nine books and has written both fiction and nonfiction. His articles have appeared in numerous magazines, including Leadership Journal, Charisma, Ministries Today, The Pentecostal Evangel, Advance, Enrichment, and New Man. He has served as senior pastor of churches in Colorado and Oklahoma, hosted several popular television and radio programs, including the nationally syndicated Straight from the Heart, and appeared on the 700 Club, Richard Roberts Live, Action Sixty, the former PTL, The New Jim Bakker Show, and The Harvest Show. Richard and his wife, Brenda Starr, spend their time in a secluded cabin overlooking picturesque Beaver Lake in Northwest Arkansas.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (October 1, 2009)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
The first letter
How often I think of the loss of your beloved and the anguished grief to which it gave birth. The initial moments have been indelibly imprinted upon my mind. I can still see you smiling bravely as you rose to greet me when I came to give what comfort I could. Somehow that brave smile was even more heartrending than the sobs that came later. Even in the moment of your loss, you still wanted to be the caregiver; you wanted to make my task easier.
In your grief, you said that you felt handicapped, that you had never had to deal with anything like this before. How right you are. Nothing in life really prepares us for the death of a loved one, especially if that death is totally unexpected. Although we know that people—even children—die every day, we never think it can happen in our family. And with good reason, for it has been estimated that the average person can go through a twenty-year period without being exposed to the death of a single relative or friend.
Still, sooner or later all of us are confronted with the inevitable. It may come unexpectedly. A phone call in the middle of the night notifies us of our brother’s sudden death. A uniformed police officer quietly informs us of a fatal car accident involving our son or daughter. Or it may come as the long-awaited blow at the end of a lengthy illness. However it happens, it is always painful and inevitably followed by grief and an almost overwhelming sense of loss.
I won’t pretend that I know entirely what you are feeling or that I can fully comprehend the depth of your grief. Nor will I pretend that I have all the answers to your tormenting questions. In truth, all I really have to share is my love and the painful lessons I have learned while dealing with my own grief and while helping others deal with theirs.
My first experience with death came when I was just nine years old. Mother was taken to the hospital sometime in the middle of the night, and Grandma Exley came to stay with my two brothers and me. For the next two and a half days, Mother struggled to give birth to her fourth child. She succeeded only after the doctors belatedly performed a cesarean section. I was too young to understand any of this, but I can remember the laughter and cheers when Grandma told us that we had a baby sister. In minutes we were announcing it to the neighborhood.
Sometime later, Dad came home and gathered us three boys around him. He was bowed with weariness and grief. With great difficulty, he told us the painful news. Yes, Mother had given birth to a daughter, our long-awaited sister, but things didn’t look good. The baby was hydrocephalic and wasn’t expected to
live. Even if she did live, she would never be normal.
Tears were running down Dad’s cheeks when he finished, and I seemed to be smothering. I couldn’t get my breath. I sat there numbly for a minute; then I burst off the couch and ran through the dining room and kitchen, choking on my sobs. I flung open the screen door, making a frightful racket, and stumbled down the back steps toward the garage.
For the better part of the next hour, I lay facedown on the dirt floor. Great heaving sobs convulsed my small frame, and it seemed like everything in the universe withdrew, leaving me alone with my pain. The dusty floor mingled with my tears, becoming mud, and I pounded my fists into the ground until I had no strength left. After a long while, my grief seemed to exhaust itself, leaving me with a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I think I accepted Carolyn’s death that afternoon, but it wouldn’t become a reality until just before Christmas, three months later. The intervening weeks were filled with several crises. Once, Dad and Aunt Elsie rushed to the children’s hospital in Denver. When they arrived, Carolyn was critical,
at the point of death. The doctors were able to stabilize her condition, and after she had spent several days in the hospital, they brought her home for the last time. I vaguely remember Mother placing Carolyn in my lap as I sat in the armchair. She watched with a painful love as I fed my baby sister a few ounces of formula.
It seemed that each day brought some new disappointment. Soon we realized that Carolyn was both blind and deaf, and her head, larger than the rest of her tiny body at birth, became increasingly disproportionate. With a pain that still lingers, I remember watching Mother as she bathed Carolyn tenderly, then carefully measured her head to see if, by some miracle, it was any smaller. It never was. Mama would bite her lip, and silent tears ran down her cheeks as she put away the cloth tape measure.
Carolyn died in her sleep at home early one morning. Our family doctor and Aunt Elsie arrived at about the same time. He confirmed the death, and Aunt Elsie fixed breakfast, which no one ate. A short time later, the mortician came and took Carolyn’s tiny body away, and the gray December day passed in a maze of necessary activities.
The funeral service and the trip to the cemetery have been completely blocked from my memory, leaving me without a single detail. However, I do remember eating supper after the funeral. Grief rendered the food tasteless, but we ate anyway, mechanically, out of some misbegotten sense of obligation. We ate in the kitchen with one small lamp as the only light. It cast deep shadows around the table, shadows that matched the sorrow in our hearts. To this day, I have not had a sadder meal.
As a child, I was able to accept Carolyn’s death without affixing responsibility. It was enough to know that she was with Jesus, in heaven, where there is no more sickness or pain, no more sorrow or crying. By Christmas her death was already becoming a painful but fading memory.
The questions came later, after I became a pastor and found myself ministering to families in similar situations. Their desperate questions gave birth to my own: Was God to blame for Carolyn’s death? Did He kill her, or at least allow her to die? Questions like these drove me to my knees. Desperately I searched the Scriptures for understanding.
After months of painful agonizing, I concluded that sin, not God, is responsible for disease and death. That is not to say that Carolyn’s death was the result of her own personal sin, or even—God forbid—the sin of her parents. Rather, it means that sin has tainted the entire human race, and diseases and death are the inevitable consequences. Romans 5:12 (KJV) declares, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the
world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men.”
As I counsel those who question why humans must suffer, sometimes I simplistically explain that we inhabit a planet which is in rebellion, that we are part of a race living outside of God’s will, and that one consequence of that rebellion is sickness and death. God doesn’t send this plague upon people, nor does He will it. It is simply a natural consequence of humanity’s fallen state. Although as believers we
are new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), we remain a part of this human family—a family that is tainted by sin and death. As a consequence, we, too, suffer the inevitable repercussions of that fallen state, even though we may be personally committed to the doing of God’s will and the coming of His kingdom.
In truth, the cause of sickness and death is not God but the hated enemy, sin. Not necessarily our personal sin, nor a specific sin—for life and death cannot be reduced to a mathematical equation—but the fact of sin.
Jesus addressed the relationship between personal sin and death in Luke 13:1–5: “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you no!’”
Jesus does not tell us why these particular individuals died while others equally sinful were allowed to live, but He does make it clear that the reason for their deaths is far more complicated than mere cause and effect.
As you well know, David, when death strikes unexpectedly, we long for a reason, an explanation, but often there is none. In desperation we try to make some sense out of it, but often there are simply no pat answers, no ready conclusions. In times like these we must always resist the temptation to speak where God has not spoken. Beyond the simple explanation that death comes as a result of humanity’s sinful state, God has not given us any insight into the “why” of individual deaths.
In many ways, David, death remains a mystery, even to the Christian. Why is one child taken in infancy and not another? Why is a good man stricken in the prime of life, leaving behind a wife and children, while other vicious and cruel men live to a ripe old age? Why? Why? Why? The questions are almost endless, and I must admit that I am often without answers, but of this one thing I am sure—God is not to blame! In fact, when tragedy strikes, when a loved one dies, God’s heart is the first of all hearts to break!
In His comfort,
Lord Jesus, my grief is unspeakable; the pain never goes away day or night. I can’t sleep. It seems I watch the clock tick away the minutes all night long. I have no appetite, no interest in food. The tastiest meal is tasteless in my mouth. All the color has gone out of my world, leaving it bleak and barren. Worst of all are the tormenting questions. Why did this happen? Why didn’t You answer our prayers? Where are
You when I need You?
Yet even in the darkest night I cling to You. I trust Your love and wisdom even when I cannot understand
Your ways. In my heart of hearts, I know You are too wise to ever make a mistake and too loving to ever cause one of Your own needless pain. When I weep, I choose to believe that You are weeping with me. Knowing that You share my grief gives me comfort even if it doesn’t take away the pain. The promise of Your presence and the hope of eternal life give me the strength to go on. With Your help I truly believe that my mourning will one day be turned into dancing, and until that happens, I will trust You. In Your
holy name I pray. Amen.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or
danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. —Romans 8:35, 37–39
©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. When You Lose Someone You Love by Richard Exley. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.