After Newtown: Fighting through tragedy, conquering grief

The loss of a child is a tragedy few of us can imagine, but after the shock and the grief, we have to live. Here's how some people have survived and triumphed in the face of impossible tragedy. Photo: Associated Press

CORAL GABLES, Fla., December 19, 2012 — Tragedy. It steals upon us like a thief in the night. It enters our homes with cold malevolence, robbing us of our earthly treasures, stripping away all that we hold dear: our health, our wealth, our family and possessions.

Tragedy isn’t a respecter of persons. It intrudes on us all: young and old, rich and poor, male and female. It brings its suffering regardless of race and regardless of faith. No one is immune from Tragedy’s assault, nor can we prepare for it. Tragedy comes when it is least expected, ripping apart hearts, turning our joy into ash, and paralyzing us into a numb, waking nightmare.

In October, Tragedy came with the name of Hurricane Sandy. It destroyed homes and lives, killing over a hundred, and left a pathway of pain and chaos that will take years to rebuild and overcome. Tragedy often strikes in the form of natural disasters.

Sometimes Tragedy is more personal. Every day people encounter accidents that claim lives and bring great emotional pain. Sometimes it targets us in the form of pure evil. It burst into a movie theater in Aurora and opened fire; it crashed into the Pentagon and New York’s twin towers, killing thousands in a fiery inferno; it preys upon innocent children and sexually exploits them. Last week, Tragedy, in the form of a deranged and heartless man, marched into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct., and took 26 innocent lives.

Some tragedies get enormous attention. Most often, Tragedy strikes under the radar and only those closest to its victims ever hear of its attack. I learned just today that a dear friend’s sister was tragically killed last Friday while taking her dog for a walk. I didn’t learn of her pain until days after Tragedy had struck.

As my friend and I wept together on the phone, I thought about other friends and family members who have been impacted by Tragedy. I thought about my aunt and uncle who lost their son in a plane crash. I thought of friends who lost their daughter in a single car accident caused by faulty tires. I thought of my neighbor who lost her husband and both of her sons. On and on I could go.

How do we move forward in the aftermath of such pain when every part of our being wants to curl up in a corner and die? How do we find peace when there are no answers to our “why?” questions? How do we take a step when we don’t even know which way to go?

I don’t know. I’ve never experienced the loss of a child.  I’ve experienced sickness, deaths of family members, and hardship, but I’ve never felt the indescribably incomprehensible pain the precious people of Newtown are experiencing right now in the wake of their tragedy.

When asked to write an article on the slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary, I wrestled with the question “What could I possibly write?” What words of encouragement could I possibly give when I don’t have a clue as to the depth of these people’s pain?

I came to the conclusion that the best thing for me to do is to share the testimonies of people I know who have looked Tragedy in the face and overcome it. People who have refused to let Tragedy have the last say in their lives.

My neighbor, Wanda Boutte, a precious lady who lost her sons and her husband sums up her ability to move forward as follows: “A relationship with God was key to moving forward. I knew that God’s nature is love and He is faithful to those He loves. For you to truly know this in your heart is so important in restoring your soul after a tragic loss.

“God experiences our hurts with us. Hebrews 4:15-16 says we do not have a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. God knows our pain and desires to help us through our toughest times. He is just waiting for us to come boldly to His throne of grace, so we can obtain His mercy and grace to help us in our time of need.

“This does not mean that I don’t miss my loved ones and long to see them. Yet, I can go on with God and life and be thankful for the time I had them with me. The void they left will always be there; but because of God’s love for me and His healing power, I can face what has happened to me and not be destroyed.”  

Wanda made a choice to believe God’s Word, His Promises, and His love rather than submit to despair. She refused and continues to refuse to let sorrow rule her life. She also refuses to live a life of regret.

“Every day I refuse to succumb to the ‘what if?’ scenarios of life. ‘What if’ is a tool Satan uses to try to destroy us by bringing guilt and regret into our lives. It is his tool to keep us stuck in the past (Phil. 3:13). We have to guard against these negative, unproductive thoughts as they can lead to depression. When depressing, crippling thoughts came to mind, one must choose to cast down those thoughts and replace them with truths from God’s Word (See II Cor. 10:4-5, Phil. 4:6-8).”

Choosing life seems to be the key to our ability to overcome Tragedy. Paul Coleman, a local pastor in Keystone Heights, Florida, found himself on the other side of grief when he lost his son in a tragic accident. He and his wife, Lynn, make a choice everyday to rise up and live victoriously in the face of Tragedy.  

“Each and every day, my wife and I choose to live in God’s grace and choose to live victorious lives. Does that mean we don’t mourn? Absolutely not! We do; but we choose not to stay there. We pray for God’s strength to carry us forward in the day-to-day obligations of life.”

Another element to moving forward that is a common theme among the testimonies of my friends is making the choice to forgive. Many people don’t understand the power of forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t for the offender; it is for the heart that has been ripped apart. Forgiveness brings healing, freedom, and restoration. Choosing not to forgive brings death as bitterness and anger take root and choke out anything Tragedy has left behind.

Each person shared openly the incredible pain and confusion over their child’s death. My dear friend Lisa Rund admits, “Intense pain from head-to-toe shocks your system when you lose a child. People often say, ‘Our kids are God’s children.’ But in reality, Emily was our child and we didn’t want to let her go. As a Christian, I was amazed at the emotions that rose within me – hurt, anger, pain and despair. But God understood. He listened to my cries and lovingly put His arms around me. 

“The last few years have been extremely difficult as many things still don’t make sense. We are real people with real hurts. We shed tears and experience real pain. Life isn’t easy. It seems unending with grief at times. The pain hasn’t gone away, nor do I believe we will ever get over it. But, with the Lord’s help, through His peace and comfort, we will get through it.”

And they have. Each of the above people has risen up out of Tragedy. They all live incredible lives; lives which make a positive impact on the world as they minister to others in spite of and because of their pain.

Through God’s grace and the love of family and friends, they have found laughter, peace, and joy once again. They have found passion and are living lives of purpose. Yes, Tragedy came into their lives and took something very precious from them, but it didn’t rob them of their hope and their future.

_____________

Above quotations taken from Kristi Overton Johnson’s Champion’s Heart Ministries, Victorious Living Magazine.

 

 

 

 


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Kristi Overton-Johnson

 

As a professional water skier for over 20 years and the World Record Holder in women’s slalom from 1992-2010, Kristi Overton Johnson has taken to the waters of the world with passion and perseverance. Kristi began her waterskiing career at the age of 4 and turned professional at 13. For 15 years, Kristi dominated women’s slalom, accumulating 80 professional wins and capturing more number one world rankings than any other female skier in history.
Before retiring from professional sports, Kristi founded a non-profit water sports ministry In His Wakes. Since its inception, In His Wakes has touched the lives of over 10,000 at-risk youth across the nation and internationally. This unique ministry brings hope, healing and encouragement through the avenue of water sports and through the message of God's love.
For years, Kristi has travelled nationally and internationally as a faith-based motivational speaker encouraging people through her life experiences as an athlete, wife, mother and ministry leader. Kristi also ministers through song and through her gift as a writer. In Running the Course, her first book, she wrote about her experiences as a top professional athlete and how through faith she found purpose for her life. 
Although Kristi is committed to helping others achieve their God-given destinies, she realizes that her first priority is her family. Kristi has been married to best friend Tim Johnson since 1994. Tim and Kristi have three children, the youngest of which were both adopted from Russia in 2004. They reside in North Florida where they raise their family and serve their community through Kristi Overton Johnson Ministries

Contact Kristi Overton-Johnson

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