That’s one reason God gave us so many narratives in the Bible, so many faithful followers who have lived through practically every experience it is possible to live through. He has also given us people much closer to us, who set examples we can see every day. Today I want to share with you a couple who went through one of the worst experiences in life—losing a child--and came out gold in God’s eyes.
My in-laws lost their little girl to cancer. She went to the first day of school barely a month after her ninth birthday and had a seizure. After a year of treatments and surgeries, even thinking for a while that the doctors “got it,” she died at 10. I am not privy to everything that went on during that time. But I did notice some things in them that seem to run counter to many of the things I have heard and read about experiences like this.
First, Keith’s parents did not divorce. Undoubtedly there were hard times. I have seen that just in our marriage and the things we have dealt with. Everyone grieves over losses in a different way and when I decide that my way is the only right way, there will be problems. When I decide that my grief is worse than his, there will be problems. When, “You just don’t understand,” becomes a wall instead of a bridge, you just might have reached the end. However they managed it, the thought of divorce for these two never entered the picture. This was a couple who understood lifelong commitment as they had vowed before God, “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, till death do us part,” and they were determined to make it through no matter how difficult it became.
I wish I could give you specifics, the things they did that helped and the things they did that did not, but that was long before I knew them. This I know: They had a strong marriage, and however they managed it, they did it “together.” The communication seems never to have stopped, even though I am sure it was occasionally painful. They had each other and they made sure that the hurt drew them together instead of driving them apart. They were married just a few months months short of 60 years when my father-in-law passed away first.
Second, this couple did not lose their faith. Their commitment to God came even before their commitment to each other. They did not expect a life of ease and they never had one. They endured poverty, estrangement from family because of their faith, and many serious illnesses, some near death, besides this horrible illness of their child. But they believed in the resurrection. They knew they would see their child again, and that was a primary source of faith and encouragement. Keith remembers hearing, “This is what we believe” more than once during that period. And now they are enjoying the results of that faith, together with that lost daughter, and they will never lose her again.
And then there was this: they did not let this tragedy define them as a couple or a family. Of course they remembered their little girl and spoke of her often. I heard many “Remember whens” and other references. Her name often came up in casual conversations. They were more than willing to help those who had similar situations and better able than most to offer the needed sympathy, but it never became an entitlement issue. They did not think they ranked above any other family because of the things they had suffered. In their minds, we all suffer, just differently. And they felt their own brand of suffering made them responsible to be examples and sympathizers with others, not worthy of praise and admiration—not “special.” Pain and death come from Satan and they would never have given him any credit in any way imaginable. In fact, if anyone had tried to compliment them for how well they had come through the grist mill of life, it just might have made them angry.
Of course this experience changes you. Life changes you, but something like this makes that change happen rapidly. Keith told me they were different than before, but “different” isn’t always bad. I could still see all these good things I have shared with you when I came on the scene over ten years later. Isn’t it funny how it all turns out? I was the same age as Keith’s baby sister, born the same year, and my birthday was the date of her death. Nowadays people would have expected traumatic results, and analyzed it to pieces. But they never even mentioned the coincidences. If Keith hadn’t told me, I would never have known what they had been through, and the rest of their life story came out slowly over the years, most often from listening to Keith reminisce, not them.
Even through all their trials they stayed faithful to God and each other. In fact, Keith’s father was converted several years into their marriage, when they had already faced some challenges. None of this “health and wealth” sissy gospel for him. But then, this was a man who jumped out of an LST and waded through the water to the beaches of Normandy, walking all the way to Berlin.
I hope that you never experience the horrible tragedy of losing a child, but you will suffer something. That is the nature of life. When you do, here is a godly couple whose example might help you through it. Did they do everything right? No, and they would never have claimed to. But they did do this: They never gave up on their relationship, and they never gave up on God. That is how they made it through.
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him that is alone when he falls, and hath not another to lift him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have warmth; but how can one be warm alone? Eccl 4:9-11