One day about twelve years ago, I was playing basketball during my lunch break when I got a phone call that changed my life:
“Jeff, you need to leave immediately and go straight to the hospital…your 2-year-old niece has been hit by a car and it’s serious.”
I remember the panic that ran through my body. My heart raced as I grabbed my keys. There were so many questions and so few answers. By the time I reached the hospital, I took one look at my older sister standing outside the ER and knew that my niece had died. Kara was gone. In 15 minutes, our lives had changed forever.
As details about the tragedy came in, it was more horrible than I’d imagined. My brother-in-law had accidentally backed over her while moving a trailer. My sister and my 5-year-old nephew both witnessed it occur.
Years later, our family still carries the scars of walking through that tragedy together. Though I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, this experience is a part of the story that God entrusted to us as a family. He ministered to us in very special ways during this time. You may have experienced something similar, but I write this to demonstrate that God can redeem and restore the truly horrible things in our lives to help us know Him more.
I want to share five specific things the Lord taught me in the midst of tragedy:
1. Theology matters. (Psalm 119:111)
Questions about God and His character are thrust to the forefront when tragedy strikes. We find ourselves asking, “Where is God?” or “Why didn’t God stop this from happening?”
I’ll never forget the poor theology spoken over my sister by friends and family. She was hearing statements like, “the devil stole your baby away,” as if God had somehow fallen asleep at the wheel. I went home that night and compiled as many Bible passages as possible to help her navigate her grief and give her a better understanding of God, His character, and his ways.
2. God’s presence is most potent in times of tragedy. (Psalm 23:4; Mark 4:37-39)
I remember a strange supernatural peace present with us at the funeral home as we hugged friends and family attempting to comfort us. Due to nothing in my own strength, I came to the realization that God is an “ever present help in time of trouble” (Psalm 46:1). He provided a peace that transcended understanding during a difficult time. Some might claim it was “shock.” However, that was too simple an explanation for the power we felt in comforting those who were visiting us.
3. God speaks in little ways to remind us He loves us and is in control. (Psalm 73:26)
My sister was doubting whether she was a good mother to Kara and often wondered if the tragedy could have been prevented. A few weeks after Kara’s death, she was cleaning my mom’s house when she happened upon on an e-mail that my mom had printed. This e-mail, from several months before, went on and on about what a great mother my sister is. It described several specific instances where my mom noticed this about my sister. My sister cried as she read it and said it felt like God was whispering, “You see, I love you. You were a wonderful mother.”
4. God taught me a “Ministry of Presence”. (Proverbs 25:20; Gal. 6:2)
Early on, words consistently failed to give me comfort or allow me to express the magnitude of my grief. However, I remember how powerful it that people came alongside our family to grieve. These friends had taken time out of their busy lives to simply be with me. And years later, my brother-in-law told me that the one thing that meant the most to him during our time together was that I was present and by his side during the most difficult days. My words weren’t needed.
5. God gave me a heart for others who have been through similar tragedies. (2 Corinthians 1:4; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
Since Kara’s death, God has used my experience with tragedy to comfort others experiencing trauma. I now feel a special calling to be there for others during hard times and am equipped to navigate the difficulties that come when tragedy strikes.
God never gave us a clear “why” behind this tragedy but were constantly reminded of God’s presence throughout it. We still treasure the many passages of scripture that God used to comfort us during this time.
The following year, on Easter, my sister gave birth to another baby girl. Although we will always miss Kara, we treasure her sister. When we look into her eyes, we are reminded of both the intense pain of the past and of an amazing hope for the future. God is good—even when life (and death) doesn’t make sense.
- Jeff K.