When I question my purpose in life or find myself at a crossroad not knowing which way to turn, the truth in God’s Word reminds me that He chose me for a specific purpose. The gift of knowing that God has a plan and purpose for my life encourages me. Along with that fact is the beautiful promise that the days of my life were written in a book even before time began – knowing this gives great security and peace. When pain was inserted into my life, I held onto the simple phrase, “for my good and His glory.” Oh how I wanted to see God’s glory and for Him to be glorified. For me, God’s glory to and through me was the purpose for my suffering.
1. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:8-10
2. “My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” – Psalm 139:14-16
3. “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” – Job 42:2
4. “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” –Genesis 50:20
5. “For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.” – 2 Corinthians 4:15
When trials come that seem to intercept God’s plan, I know that God is still there. He promises to use what was meant for evil for good, nothing can stop His plans, and God is always at work for my good and His glory!
On September 25, 2015, my wonderful 30-year-old son-in-law, Patrick, suddenly passed away from an unknown heart related condition. He left my only daughter, Brittany, who was 25, the mom of 3 small boys. The oldest son, Peyton, was one day from turning 3-years-old, Evan was 1 1/2 years old, and Nathan only 3-months-old.
My wife was out of state so it was just Brittany and I at the hospital crying together. My tears were not for Patrick because he knew the Lord and was in heaven, my tears were for my daughter and 3 young boys without a father. God immediately placed in my mind and heart that I must do my best to provide a father figure for those boys.
At nearly 58-years-old and with a busy life of my own as a realtor and flipping houses, I was already spread thin, so I prayed for God to help me help them. They stayed in our home for approximately 6 weeks before they went back to their home and then stayed with us a lot of weekends and holidays. I also stopped by to see them as they live only 25 minutes away.
It has now been almost 4 years and these 3 boys are well balanced, good kids that I believe will do great in life despite not having a father in those early years. These are 3 of my 14 grandchildren, at the time of Patrick’s death, all were 5 or younger and 12 of them are boys! During the early days it was obvious that I spent more time with these 3 than the rest and my 3 sons and daughter-in-laws graciously understand that.
At times, I was their 3rd mom behind my daughter and wife, but most of the time I am just “Pops” to them. I was, and still am, very intentional about everything I do with them.
Her 3 boys are young and resilient and will be good God-fearing successful men with their own families someday soon enough. I’m glad that God somehow gave me the time, strength, energy, and wisdom to be there for them in this season of their lives.
I was not alone in the quest to help these boys, they were blessed to have their other grandfather, several uncles all living nearby, and other men who had also been intentional to pour into them. They are loved and prayed for by many of us and that all combines to make for a great support system for them.
These past.4 years, especially the first 22 months, I changed many diapers, got up during the night more times than my tired body wanted to, fed, cleaned up, clothed, bathed, and did what a father would normally do with them and what their amazing father, Patrick, did for them. We also played, wrestled, rode the 4-wheelers and zip line, went fishing, did routine house chores, like taking out the trash, repairing things, and have many other great memories.
We cannot control what God allows to happen to us but we can choose to make the best of it. I choose to embrace the task and enjoy the journey and that makes all the difference!
My head is clear up here. Maybe because I have time to think and nowhere to go but to seat 35F. The perspective from 30,000 feet is almost life altering. It makes me think about my suffering and the suffering of the world all around me, like most things tend to do these days! On the ground we only see what’s around us, the baggage lifting, the hustling, the inevitable security snafu, plans changing, planes leaving on time, off time, really whenever they want. And for us, the passengers, we don’t really know why in the world we can’t just get on the plane and get to our vacation, our home, our final destination. But then, we finally do get the kids moving, the bags sent off, and all our clothes back on after the security assault. Boom! Trays are locked and seats are upright; we take off. It’s then that everyone takes a deep breath because, for one, drinks and snacks are on the way but mainly because we can see that we are actually going somewhere.
Isn’t it like that with our suffering? We are on the ground level and all we see is chaos. Plans didn’t pan out. Frustrations are mounting. Finally, we fall to our knees screaming, “Get me outta here, I didn’t sign up for this. I just want to get to where I am going.” I’ve been there 1,000 times over. I don’t want the process I want the paradise. I want to skip sanctification and get to the “well done, now come and rest.”
Christ must have felt that too. He is the King over all, yet came down to ground level to live in the hustle and strife of earth. In the garden he pleads with God asking him to deliver him to the destination any other way than the one that was planned, but that’s not what happened, so Christ submitted to the plan, knowing what was to come – purpose, restoration, and life, life for all.
So, when life around you starts to crumble and you think your heart can’t take anymore, bring your hope back up to 30,000 feet. From there you can see that Christ is working for your good. All the little and big things were indeed painful but also momentary and purposeful. God knows every last thing we need to get us to where we are going. What seems meaningless to us on the ground, may not seem so meaningless from the aerial view (thankfully they take the extra time to double check the engine, right?). The cross sure seemed that way too. From ground level it was the brutal death of a faultless man. Keep your hopes high because you have cause to. That dark picture on earth was God working for us an eternal salvation, an eternal final destination with him.
Keep your eyes on the final destination because it’s coming. The anticipation of the destination gives us the endurance we need to fight the stresses and pains of the day to day.
May always used to be my favorite month. The beginning of truly warm and sunny weather, everything that was once lifeless for the winter now lush and green, the end of the school year, and my birthday. Aside from the intense pollen we have here in North Georgia, there wasn’t much I didn’t like about the month of May.
Now it’s a strange month. I stray from saying “bad” because there’s always good to be found, so it’s just a strange month. As April nears its end and May approaches, I find myself becoming easily annoyed and impatient. I know I’m a sinner, it doesn’t take spending much time around me to find that out, but this specific time of year is different. All of my tasks seem overwhelming, and I can’t think clearly.
Then I realize it’s a larger, unanticipated wave of grief crashing on me with strength and persistence. The days surrounding painful anniversaries bring on a sometimes surprising level of grief.
I could say May is a bad month for me, but the truth is it’s a blessed month. The sweetness of salvation becomes greater juxtaposed with the bitterness of loss. And it’s strange, but it’s the good kind of strange.
When grief hits hard, whether expected or unexpected, I encourage you to lean into the One who is strong enough to carry all the pain of the world. We all need relationship with our Heavenly Father. A relationship where we know we are destitute of any hope, and the only hope we have rests in the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ.
I could tell you a million things to help you along your walk with grief, but there’s only one true way to healing and without that all the rest will only momentarily cover your pain. That one way is Jesus; fixing your eyes on Him, thinking on Him, dwelling and meditating on His word, talking to Him and listening to Him. When we want to scream at the ones we love because we feel strangled by grief, we can cry out to Jesus to not let our flesh be overtaken by the pain of this world. When we feel like we haven’t a bit of energy or mental clarity left to get us through the day (or even begin the day) we can call on our great God to hold us up throughout the day. There is victory in Jesus alone. May is my strange month, but it’s a month filled with the deep reminder that Jesus is the Victor of my life – not me.
Last week we crossed over the 20th anniversary of my husband’s death. Without fail, this day still produces a catch in my throat, tear in my eye, and tenderness in my heart. It doesn’t take much effort for memories of the trauma to flood my soul even for my children as well.
Is that okay? I think so. May 17th is our Good Friday—a dark day of death. Are we emotionally stuck even after two solid decades? I don’t think so. For the Apon family of nine, remembering this scene in life’s drama has been good, necessary, and impossible to avoid. This is the day that changed the trajectory of our lives.
From our finite view, this day wasn’t supposed to happen, or was it? God wrote the story in a book even before time began. Because of Psalm 139 we know He knew, but did He allow or appoint such suffering? The same unanswered questions remain. The enemy knows when and how to use these to bring torment, if I let him. However, like Job, my response to silence the enemy keeping me at a place of surrender to my God is this information is too wonderful for me!
God responded to Job’s questions with the reminder of Who He was instead of explaining what He was doing. In my Bible, the title of this section makes me smile, “Job’s wise silence.” We are told that Job even put a hand over his mouth almost as if to say, “I am nothing, know nothing, and already said too much.” I can relate to Job.
“Then Job answered the LORD and said, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore, I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”
When you break down the word wonderful in this famous response, it means marvelous, surpassing, extraordinary, beyond one’s power, and difficult to understand. Most of us easily admit that suffering is beyond our control and too difficult to understand, but to define suffering as marvelous, surpassing, and extraordinary requires an eternal faith-based perspective. Shifting the focus from the natural to the supernatural is often a moment by moment, day by day, week by week and year by year requirement for healing.
It is so crazy how life can be going one way one minute and can literally come crashing down in the next minute. April 7th is one of those days, and it is a day I will never forget. I was driving back from Brunswick, Georgia after the most fun weekend with one of my best friends. Life was good. Halfway through our drive, I received an unexpected text that was going to change everything. It was a text telling me that my best friend’s husband, Evan, had gone into cardiac arrest and had been declared brain dead. I had to read the text multiple times just to allow my brain to register what I was even reading. I remember thinking “Evan who?” There was no way it was Evan Gill. Our Evan. The Evan that we know and love so deeply. The Evan who made us laugh more than anyone else in the world. The Evan who loved sauce more than the food he was eating. The Evan whose personality was bigger than life itself. There was just no way.
I was in so much shock, tears were streaming down my face before I even realized I was crying. I was crying at the sudden death of our friend Evan, and I was crying thinking about Lauren, his wife. I can remember saying over and over again in disbelief, “My best friend is a widow. Lauren is a widow. At 25 years old, she is now a widow.” All I wanted to do was get to my friend.
Walking through the doors of that hospital still seems so surreal. When Lauren walked out of the room, I hugged her, and we wept. Through her tears she mustered out words I will never forget, “Evan is not coming home. He’s not coming home to me.” I had no words. None. All I could do was fall to my knees and cry with her. Losing Evan as a friend was the hardest thing I’ve ever walked through. Watching Lauren say goodbye to her husband as they rolled him away was even harder. The grief of those moments are unmatched in my memories. I will never forget the sounds of the rawest parts of her soul crying out as she said goodbye to what she thought was her forever. There was no preparing for it. You can never really know what it’s like until you’re in it. All I knew for sure is that she is my best friend, and while I would have given anything to mend her broken heart and take the pain away, I knew that was the Lord’s job, and I would have to trust him as he walked with her through the valley of the shadow of death.
I remember shortly after talking with our girlfriends, we had NO idea how to be the friend of a widow at 25. What do we say? What do we do? We were truly at a loss. However, God made it so clear to me that all I had to do was walk. Not walk ahead of her and try to direct her steps, not to walk behind her and let her fend for herself, but to walk WITH her. As her friend, I was called to fight, pray, hope, believe, and worship on her behalf when she was too broken to do so herself. I was called to cling to hope on her behalf when she had none. I was called to declare victory over her life when she didn’t believe she would overcome. I was called to believe that Jesus WOULD turn these ashes into beauty, that He WOULD reopen her heart to hope again, to love again, and have courage to keep moving forward.
I was called to sit and listen to her as she processed things out loud. I was called to be sad and cry with her. And I was called to CELEBRATE too! To celebrate the wins, reminding her that joy and grief can coexist. LET THEM!
Side note: It’s okay to laugh and to still have good times in the midst of hard times. You do not have to feel guilty about that! As hard as this past year was, the moments when Lauren would laugh so hard she couldn’t breathe or felt some sort of emotion other than grief, were the moments that brought hope during the hardest times. Seeing a widow experience those joyous things amongst the grief are truly gifts from God. We held onto those because I believe they were unique ways that hope was being rerooted in her life again.
And just like there is no ABC way to grieve, there is no ABC way to walk with somebody. It will look different for everyone. As long as you are seeking the Lord and taking it one day at a time, I promise you will find your way, because just as the Lord was guiding Lauren’s steps, He was also guiding mine all along. Surely, he will yours too!
Unfortunately, there will be people along the journey that will find it hard to walk with her and it might make things harder rather than easier. There will be people who will be quick to judge and criticize the way a widow goes about her life moving forward. If a person won’t walk with her, truly walking day to day with her, they will have NO idea how the Lord is healing, guiding, and leading her. So we must first remember, scripture has called us to care for the widows, not tear them down. Caring isn’t assuming we know what’s best for them, but actually listening to them. Just because they are grieving does not mean that they are incapable of living their life. At the end of the day, I trust Christ in Lauren and I trust that He was, is, and will continue guiding her every step.
Grace over criticism will go a long way in the healing of a widow. Trying to take control of a widow’s life won’t bring you healing or take the pain away, only Jesus can do that. So instead, hear what they are saying and know that regardless of what life may look like from the outside, they are not only grieving the loss but also the life they had and the future they wanted but will not get. So, I ask of you, if you know a widow, be kind to her because I promise you, nothing about her life is easy right now and the last thing she needs is added hardship and unnecessary pain.
Lastly, friend, as you walk with the widow know that moving forward does not mean that you are forgetting the person you have lost. We will ALWAYS miss Evan. Always. Nobody would ever try to replace him because literally nobody ever could. Moving forward isn’t moving on. Moving forward is trusting and believing that Jesus is 10,000 steps ahead of us in all of this. AND, not moving forward is exactly what Satan wants. He wants us to sit in our grief forever. He doesn’t want us to move forward because moving forward is merely a reflection of God’s grace, hope, healing, and provision and that is the last thing the enemy wants.
If you are reading this and you happen to be the friend of a widow, first let me say that I’m so sorry for the loss and pain you are experiencing. It hurts. So much. And there is no other way around that. Even when you feel so lost and it doesn’t feel like it, remember that your friendship matters, Jesus is bigger, and there are brighter days ahead. Here’s to you and your journey with your friend. I wish you weren’t on this path, but I am confident you will both know Jesus more deeply because of it.
It has been a great joy to fulfill God’s call to meet the practical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the widow and fatherless through Perspective Ministries! Since the beginning of the year we have met 314 emotional needs, 102 spiritual needs and reminded the fatherless 119 times that God is Father as promised in Psalm 68:5.
Emotional needs are met through the timely arrival of a bouquet of flowers, cards, butterfly gardens, ice cream gift cards, Easter lilies, and resources to help with the grief process. Spiritual needs are met as we disciple widows through our monthly WidowLife support groups. And we are always looking for opportunities to encourage the widowed mom. Her job is difficult, and we feel it is important to remind her that God is there as her defender and the Father to her children. It’s exciting to have already gifted camp scholarships for four fatherless girls this year!
God’s timing is always perfect as Jennifer shares:
I thought about not sending my daughters to church camp this year thinking we might use the money for elsewhere, but the Lord spoke clearly to my heart, and I knew they were supposed to go and room together as sisters. I spoke to them about this idea and learned that they really wanted to go, and this news made them happy!
As I was paying their deposit, I was told to write their names on the memo line. As I was writing, the staff member said, “Ivey and Erica? You won’t believe this, but Perspective Ministries just called let us know they wanted to scholarship your girls for camp!” WOW, this was an enormous financial blessing and the timing confirmed that they are supposed to go. God’s will is undeniable! Thank you Perspective Ministries!!!
Often, we hear stories of how a card, gift, or visit was perfectly timed by the Lord.