We spent this past weekend in Pigeon Forge, TN on a youth retreat with our great friends, Tyson and Renee Griffin. Tyson is the youth pastor at Tunnel Hill First Baptist Church (in Tunnel Hill, GA). Our group consisted of close to 40 people, including about 25 amazing young men and women, a dozen or so wonderful chaperones, and guest speaker Randy Hollingsworth and his family. (Although you likely don't know any of these folks, I wanted to mention them because their great PEOPLE, which is sort of a theme in this post.)
We had a great time there... eating out, hearing Randy and his family lead us in worship, being challenged from the Word, staying up late each night, riding go-carts, slipping away to Starbucks, swimming, and more. But, if you're anything like me, these things always come back to one thing: PEOPLE. It's the PEOPLE we remember most. The things we do come and go, but the bonds that are formed live on and oftentimes grow deeper and stronger.
During the past two months, Nicol and I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love from literally hundreds, maybe thousands, of PEOPLE who have taken the time to write or call us. I have certainly been reminded of this recently, during the past several days, as many very encouraging comments have been posted here on our blog. And I must pause here to give a huge thank you to Angie for making this site available to you at Bring the Rain. What God has been doing in and thru her as she has shared their story is absolutely remarkable. But far more remarkable than that, to us personally at least, has been the way she and Todd and their girls have reached out to us with love, comfort, support, and encouragement. What makes their efforts so special is the fact that in the midst of their own grief they have chosen to carry some of ours. That is divine... a God-thing for sure. Nicol and I have commented on several occasions that we simply can't fathom how they've done it. Their sacrifice has been like a soothing balm for our wounded hearts, a cup of cold water that has helped to quench our thirsty souls. Thanks Todd, Ang, Abby, Ellie, and Kate. You have no idea.
But I can't stop there. Many, many people have helped us during this time. Our parents - who have suffered on two levels in all of this, both as mothers and fathers, and grandmothers and grandfathers - have, not surprisingly, been wonderfully present for us. Our siblings have been incredible, even though they too are sharing in our pain and grief over their own loss in Luke's death. Our friends and neighbors have been there for us in ways that we can't begin to describe. Acquaintances and total strangers have expressed their pain and desire to carry this burden for us. Many have written to let us know that they understand, they "get it"... because they too have lost children. Still others have let us know that even though they can't empathize, they are praying for us and will continue to do so. The list goes on and on and, in reality, these few sentences fail dramatically in my heart's desire to express how much PEOPLE have meant to us as we grieve the loss of our son.
I have been reminded again and again of a couple of verses in Galatians that have taken on entirely new meaning for us - bear one another's burdens ... each one will have to bear his own load (6:2, 5). I know that context is important (in this case, gentle restoration of those stuck in sin, guarding against temptation, pride and self-deception, etc.) but there are a couple of really important thoughts here: when life changes in an instant, we need each other, and yet there is also a sense that only the individual can carry his or her portion.
These things that we face are too much for anyone to bear. We can't do it alone. The only way to survive is with one another... and I mean that literally. There are days when the one thing Nicol and I want to do is get thru it. And the reason we are able to do that is because of God's miraculous and gracious provision of allowing others to bear our burden. We have had our strength renewed time after time as He divides the load and gives out bits and pieces here and there, among his PEOPLE, so that we are able to keep going, to make it thru this storm. We have been so touched by this reality because many of you have written and told us that you have prayed that God would allow you to share in our loss. Please know that He has answered those prayers!
The other side of this coin, though, is that we do have to carry what the Lord gives us. There's no getting away from it... especially something as painful as losing a child. As much as we have been encouraged by others in their concern for us, the load is still there. There's no escape, no easy ways out. I remember in those early days, climbing into bed or getting into the shower was the last thing I wanted to do. I didn't want to be alone. I wanted to be surrounded by others. I needed to be surrounded by others. I wanted to be distracted with noise and conversation and laughter and splashing kids in swimming pools and lawnmowers and music and... all the things PEOPLE do. I needed the hugs and gentle touches of friends and loved ones, the comfort of a home cooked meal, thoughtfully prepared and brought to us, the you-don't-have-to-say-a-word looks that communicated deep concern, the... all the things PEOPLE do in situations like this.
And yet the quiet and alone moments still came. They had to. It's just the way life is. And while those moments have been a natural and necessary part of the healing, it was in them that the full brunt of our load would hit us like a train. It was then that we were faced with the severity of the struggle we were facing. It was then that we would weep and cry and wail and hold each other and ask why this had to happen and wonder how can we possibly keep going. It was then that God would whisper peace to us. It was then that we sensed the power and hope of the risen Christ. It was then that our daughter would do something wonderful and cute and make us laugh. It was there that life began anew. It was there that healing had begun. It was there that we looked forward to all the PEOPLE who would come to visit us, pick up the load again, and help us get thru another day.
I can tell you in all honestly that I don't know how - or if - we would be standing without the love so many people have shown us. It began immediately, in the very moments after Luke died, and has continued to this very day. Only in eternity will we know the extent to which we have been sustained by it. Many thanks and blessings to all who have helped us carry this load. You are loved and we are deeply grateful.
By the way, the picture up above is of Summer with her good buddy Ty (Tyson and Renee's oldest boy) at Cracker Barrel in Pigeon Forge last Saturday night. She was trying to teach him how to master the little game he's looking at. :-)