It was a cold night in the first week of January. Out in the country, so far removed from the majority of civilization, it seemed unfathomable that so terrible a thing could happen. But it did. The next day, news crews would attempt to stoically report on what would be labeled as a “double-murder suicide”. It was a tragedy that would shock and horrify the entire state of Idaho.
The idea that a peaceful farmer would be repeatedly shot until dead, while he attempted to rescue his sister (and neighbor) from her abusive husband—the man who also turned the gun on his wife, and finally himself—was so unbelievable and traumatizing that, to this day, some still find it hard to comprehend.
I was 13 years old at the time; the oldest of 4 siblings. I had been left behind to watch over the youngest two at the house. My mother and sister had gone out to the barn to talk to my dad about the disturbing phone call they’d had with his sister’s husband, Chris. It was that phone call that led to him leaving the farm behind to check on her. It was that phone call that changed our lives forever. My sister eventually came back to the house to say that our mother still waited at the barn for Dad to return. It was hours later when Mom finally came back to the house, but this time she was followed inside by police officers. It was then that she said words I’ll never forget, as tears streamed down her face.
“Your dad’s dead.”
I couldn’t breathe. I thought for sure she was wrong. Surely, the police had told her a lie or…something. But, unfortunately, it all became apparent that they had not, and she had spoken the truth. She’d seen it firsthand. He was gone, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
After a few more hours, another building crashed down on me as I heard the report that my Aunt Laura had died shortly after arriving at the hospital via Life-Flight helicopter. The bullet wounds she had sustained were too great, too numerous to fight against.
The events of that night will be forever burned into my brain. A sorrow so great that it has been etched onto my very soul. For years afterwards I had nightmares about losing Dad. But just as horrifying were the dreams I had in which Mom announced she had cancer. I remember waking up sobbing from one such dream and going to search for Mom. She was despondent as usual, since my dad’s death. But when I told her about the dream, a strange light entered her eyes, and she said, “I wouldn’t care if that happened. At least then I’d get to see your dad again.”
Her words broke my heart and shook me to my core. I was still only 13 at the time, but I felt certain that something had to change. Something needed to happen to pull her out of the foggy misery that she cocooned herself in. I didn’t know what, but that day I began to pray. I knew God existed, but I’d never really considered Him beyond “bed-time prayers”. In that moment, however, I reached out to Him in the hope that He could prevent me from losing another parent—I knew I couldn’t take it if she died then too.
My mother didn’t die from cancer that year. Or even the next year, or the next. It wasn’t until I turned 21 that she was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. She’d been complaining about having the flu and feeling sick a lot over the past winter and early spring. By the time she decided to get checked out, it was too late for any real treatment. Her diagnosis came back by mid-April, and 6 weeks later, on June 6th, at 6pm—exactly 6 hours before her 49th birthday—she took her final gasping breath.
A lot of events had happened between my 13th year and my 21st. Most notably was the day when my entire family (siblings, that is) was baptized at Calvary Chapel—one year after I’d stepped up in faith to give my heart to the Lord, while attending my new church (Bowmont Community Church). I’d prayed desperately for the salvation of my family. My mother, who had been raised in a Methodist church growing up, had committed herself afresh to the grace of God shortly after I became a Christian. She began attending Calvary Chapel with the rest of my siblings.
We’d still had a lot of tension between the two of us at this point. Whether it could all be attributed to my head-strong teenager-ness or her antagonistic nature, no one can really say. I think it was probably a bit of both. For months after my dad passed away, she had “checked out”. It had become my burden to look after my siblings and make sure she ate food—even if it was just toast for the day. And after so many months of working to make things function independent of her, she finally “woke up” and started parenting again. It caused a lot of friction.
Thankfully, after I’d moved out at 18 and began my adult life, our relationship began to smooth out. And when my 21st year rolled around, we were finally beginning to mend all the broken fences in our relationship. She shared more and more about her walk with Jesus with me, and I reciprocated in kind. By the time she passed away that June, she was at peace with both Jesus and me.
She’d made arrangements for my siblings to live with a family from her church—one she trusted explicitly, who had fostered many kids before. That transition was still a bit rocky, but thankfully, God had His hand in it the whole time.
I left Idaho again for a time. My heart and soul were crying every day. I trusted God (and continue to do so), but often wondered why our family had to endure such pain and suffering. Why did we have to lose not just one, but two parents? Why did my nightmares come true? Why did she die of cancer? She’d fought so hard to keep the farm and our family together after Dad died. Why, after all this time, did we now have to give everything up?
To this day, I still don’t know the answers to all of these questions. Certainly, I can see God’s hand at work in my life (as well as my siblings’ lives). The tapestry of our lives, while knotted and confusing from this side, must surely be brilliant from the side God is looking at. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of that brilliance. Sometimes I see…
Jesus had a plan from the beginning. My suffering, and that of my family, was not in vain. The death of my father led me to seek other friendships. One such friendship lead me to a church that taught the truth of the Bible (rather than the false doctrine that had surrounded me growing up in the RLDS church). That biblical teaching led me to true faith in Jesus Christ. That true faith in Jesus led me to witness to my mom and siblings. That witness (and much prayer) led them to saving faith as well and a church family at Calvary Chapel. That church family led to a real family for my youngest siblings after my mother passed away from cancer.
I’m sure the connections are even more substantial. Maybe even unfathomably extending beyond what anyone can see or expect this side of eternity. I suppose I won’t know until after I die and find my eternal rest with the Lord.
In the here and now, however, I trust that God’s plan is greater than my own. That His will, so much higher than my own understanding, has foreseen all the greatest victories and given Him glory. Isaiah 55:8-9 says: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts… (NKJV)” This passage helps me remember that He is always higher than me—His perspective is perfect.
Even in my darkest hours, I have clung to Him. Even in the midst of soul-crushing grief, I have held on tight. The words of King David often brought me comfort. Particularly the lyrics of Psalm 18 (ESV):
I love you, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
and I am saved from my enemies.
The cords of death encompassed me;
the torrents of destruction assailed me;
the cords of Sheol entangled me;
the snares of death confronted me.
In my distress I called upon the Lord;
to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears.[…]
He sent from on high, he took me;
he drew me out of many waters.
He rescued me from my strong enemy
and from those who hated me,
for they were too mighty for me.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a broad place;
he rescued me, because he delighted in me.
It has taken many years to come to the place where I can talk about any of these things without crying. Even to this day, I still have dreams of losing them all over again. I still wake myself up from gut-wrenching sobs. Some of these wounds will never heal. Some of these cuts are too deep to truly ever move past. But God, in His infinite wisdom, has given me peace. He has provided me comfort again and again. Through friends and family, He continues to bring me support.
I find that, day by day, my pain and heartache is easier to bear. They say that “time heals all wounds”. And while the sentiment appears true on the outside, I would say it is more “God heals all wounds over time”. In order for us to move on from such hurt, we must open our hearts up to our Heavenly Father. If anyone can understand the pain of loss, it’s God the Father. If anyone knows what it is like to watch a loved one suffer and die, it is our Father in Heaven. He (God the Father) watched His own Son be brutally murdered, for the sake of us (and our eternal salvation in our place and for our sin. So great is His love for us that He sent His only begotten Son to die for us.
Can you imagine a love like that? Can you fathom knowing that you would have to endure such a thing just for the chance to save murderers and thieves, liars and adulterers, idolaters and coveters—enemies that hate your very existence? It seems nearly impossible to imagine…let alone acknowledge it as historical fact. But that is exactly what it is—a real event that happened.
Jesus died and rose for us. Jesus forsook Heaven’s comfort to become a man and die in our place. It was Jesus who bore the sins of everyone– past, present, and future—so that we might have eternal life with Him. It was Jesus who is now our High Priest, Intercessor, and Advocate before the Father.
If you’ve never placed your faith and trust in Jesus, now is the time. He is the lifter of our heads (Psalm 3:3). He is a shield about [us]. He give us comfort and peace, love and hope in Christ alone. Psalm 23:4 says, “Even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil for You are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Many people will recognize the words to this Psalm because it is often quoted at funerals. Why? Because it demonstrates that God is with us, even in the face of death and darkness. We are never truly alone. Even in our overwhelming grief, when wave after wave of sorrow pours over our heads, we are not alone; we will never be forsaken.
At times He may feel far away, but if we cry out to Him, He will draw near to us. He is never far away from His people. He is our comforter, our deliverer, our fortress, our Strength. He is the Hope of the World. In times of hopelessness and doubt, heartache and pain, worry and fear, we can trust that He will hear us in our time of distress and wrap us in His everlasting arms. Call out to Him and know He holds you in your grief. His love is for you. His grace is sufficient. Please find your rest, peace, and hope in the Prince of Peace the Lord Jesus.
Sarah is happily married to Dave Jenkins the Executive Director of Servants of Grace. She enjoys spending time with her husband, family and friends, watching movies, reading, writing, and working on websites. Sarah serves as the Director of Design and Development for Theology for Life.