After Kenny died, a dark cloud came over me that eventually appeared to snuff out any light. Hope seemed dead and my faith in God was crumbling into ruins day by day. There was two factors that added to this darkness. One was another baby who had become critically ill but then became well again. That is a good thing but for me, hearing people praise God for answering the prayers made on behalf of this baby only made me wonder all the more why God didn’t answer the prayers for Kenny. The other factor was that a little over a year after Kenny’s death, my younger brother John also died. He left behind a wife and two children. It was just too much and yet, little did I know but an encounter with God was just around the corner.
This is the third part of the story: of how I discovered God again in a new way that brought a renewed faith and hope. It is part of what makes me so passionate about the gospel of Jesus Christ and the hope it offers to a broken and hurting world.
I wish the process of healing was as linear as I am going to make it appear to be. But that is just not how healing and renewed faith are discovered. It tends to be a messy process that take different routes for every person.
For me, the road to healing begins with a wonderful community. From the outset Laura and I were surrounded by a very supportive family as well as friends from Harding University, Covenant Fellowship Church, and our Wednesday Evening Bible Study group. I don’t know how many of those people had ever ministered to a people who had lost a child, but they were very caring and supportive in the way they treated us, listened to us, ministered to us, and so on.
I also had begun seminary at Harding School of Theology (HST). In hind-site, I would not recommend beginning seminary right after losing a child but the community at HST also was helpful. Over the year, as my faith continued to crumble, a couple of great things happened that kept steering me towards an encounter with God.
First, my wife and I did go through some grief counseling that was provided to us free of charge which did help my wife and I to practically help each other to grieve in more healthy ways. Second, a friend of mine gave me a pocket knife that he had sharpened along with a story about the knife. The story basically explained that he had bought the knife to pray for someone as he sharpened it and then God revealed to him that he was to be praying for me. In some way, this all kept God in the picture even though God was becoming very fuzzy and frustrating.
One day I was sitting in chapel at HST and was just near the breaking point. My brother had recently died and I was just tired. On that particular day I heard the hymn Be Still, My Soul (see below) for the first time. The song, which now is a favorite, eloquently expressed both the grief and pain I was reeling in as well as the hope I wanted so badly.
But hope seemed so illusive…perhaps impossible at that point. I was tired. I felt like a man lost in a dark cave with nothing but blackness. I was just tired of walking in what seemed to be an endless journey of nothing but more darkness.
All I wanted to know was “Why?” Why did my son die? Why did God seemingly not answer the prayers? Was he unable to or did he just not care too? Did God even hear those prayers? While Be Still, My Soul spoke of the hope I wanted to have, I was not even sure if there was a reason to hope in God.
As I said, I was tired and was ready to give up. I had planned to quit seminary and even had been offered a job selling Honda cars. But then I met John Mark Hicks, who would become both a friend and a Professor of mine. He was speaking at HST on his own spiritual journey which included the death of his first wife and his son, Joshua, later on in life. Despite his suffering, he spoke of a deep faith in God. So I went up to him and asked him something about how he was able to trust in God.
What John Mark Hicks pointed me to was Romans 8:28 which says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” At first, I was sort of disappointed because far too many people had used this verse just to dismiss my grief and struggle without even taking the time to understand. But I gave him the benefit of the doubt since he understood what I was going through. John Mark Hicks told me to go home and read, to learn what that “good” is about. So that night after Laura went to bed, I pulled out my Bible and began reading through Romans, reading again through Romans, and reading, and…
At some point God spoke. Not in audible words but nevertheless I heard God speak and he said, “Rex, my good is your redemption and if you’ll trust me, I will see that good to the end even if you don’t understand how I work that all out.” And just like that the light began to break through the darkness, hope began to emerge. It was like a thousand pounds being lifted from my shoulders. I no longer needed to understand or have an answer to the question of “why?” to all my questions and yet, I found myself able to trust God again.
Ten years later I am a person full of hope. I believe God is redeeming the world in Jesus Christ, making all things new (cf. Rev 21:5) and that includes us…you…me. I don’t understand everything about how that is happening and there are things about God which are remain mystery. I’m ok with that. I wish Kenny was still alive and would give almost anything to hold him just one more time. I cannot contemplate the thought of embracing Kenny in the new heaven and new earth without some tears of joy. Further more, as terrible as it has been to lose a son, God has used this journey to give me a faith and hope that I did not have before. For that, I am thankful.
Thank you for reading this story, a story about Kenny and I. But most importantly, a story about God.
The following video is of the choral group Libera singing the hymn Be Still, My Soul set to a video with images of the Holocaust.
See also part 1 and 2 of this “Remembering Kenny” trilogy: