Tonight’s post I write with both a heavy heart and a fresh appreciation for the grace of God. For me, this weekend was the juxtaposition of both joy and sorrow all undergirded by the strength and sovereignty of God. Let me back up and explain.
Friday evening started off well enough. We were headed to Nathan’s favorite park to celebrate his fourth birthday. We had a picnic dinner, the kids played in the sand, and Nathan rode his bike until darkness set it. All in all, it was a fun night of celebration as a family. When we got home that night, my wife was checking her e-mail (or maybe Facebook) and found out that a member of our church had been in an accident while in Costa Rica on a missions trip. There was not much detail in the message except that an accident had happened in the water and that a member of our church, Dean Stoecklin, had been without air for several minutes and was, at that point, on life support. I knew who Dean was mainly because his two older kids (they have four) have been in our children’s ministry for the last couple of years. The oldest is going into 2nd grade this coming fall, and the second oldest into 1st grade. They have two younger children as well.
On Saturday, we had a family picnic/graduation party/birthday party out of town to go to. While the day was fun (we played way too much volleyball), the Stoecklin family still weighed heavily in my mind. I prayed for them often, and checked Facebook frequently for updates. Each time that I checked, the news seemed to be more and more discouraging. As I posted at some point during that day, I felt the weight of Romans 12:15 throughout the day. Romans 12:15 says:
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. [Romans 12:15 ESV]
I drove back late Saturday night to teach at church this morning in Kids Connection. This morning we talked about God’s deliverance of Israel through the Red Sea as they fled Egypt. We emphasized that, when it seems like we are backed up against a wall with know place to go that God helps us through. We also talked about how God doesn’t always lead us on a path that makes sense to us, but that He always knows what is best for us.
As I was leaving church this morning, I got another update that Dean had passed on. Fortunately, his wife had been able to get to Costa Rica before that happened. So, why am I recounting this whole story? Well, first because the family still needs your prayers. Pray that God would comfort them through this time, and pray for wisdom for Dean’s wife as she tells the kids what is happening. Secondly, because events like this make you reflect on many things. Dean was close to my age. he may have been a year or two older. He has four kids like myself, several of whom are approximately the same age as my kids. The whole series of events reminds me of the importance of treasuring every day God gives me with them and with my wife. I need to be more patient and hold them a little bit longer each day.
That all said, I realized today why this whole situation has weighed so heavily on me. Aside from the tragedy itself, and the relationship I have formed with the two older kids in the children’s ministry, the two older children are roughly the same age I was when I lost my mother. I know the impact that has had on my life. I understand the pain and the loneliness that it bring. I have been on the receiving end of a conversation I couldn’t really understand the time but which became more and more real to me as time passed. I have wrestled with the questions and dealt with the doubt. I have spent the time wondering what things would be like and reflecting on what might have been. I feel deeply for what the kids are about to go through and how it will impact them for the rest of their lives.
I don’t want to leave there, because by God’s grace they do have one thing that I didn’t that I know will comfort them and help them through – and that is Jesus. Each weekend, and through the week, children’s ministries around the world share the love of Jesus with kids. We teach them that He is there for them, that He can comfort them, and that He will help them through tough times. When those tough times come, we must encourage them to lean into to Jesus and rely on him when their lives are turned upside down. Through it all, we can pray for them, and with them, that God’s name would be glorified.
Thank you so much for sharing your heart and for being such an encouragement to my niece Sabrina. Our hearts ache along with you and we certainly do not understand the “whys” and “how comes” but know that God is still on the throne, He is still in control and He will not forsake us or leave us. We continue to pray for Sabrina, the children, his parents and siblings and New Life church and the mission team as well. We recognize that even though right now you walk through the canyon of grief that one day you will have walked through it and will again have “joy in the morning.” We serve a Mighty and Everlasting God who loves beyond measure and whose love never fails or ends. Thank you, again, for being a blessing to my dear sweet niece and family. If you see her on Saturday please give her a hug for us as we are not in the position of making the trip from Wisconsin.
With Gratitude, Sadness and HOPE,