God Stopped for Her
The closest communion with God comes, I believe, through the sacrament of tears. Just as grapes are crushed to make wine and grain to make bread, so the elements of this sacrament come from the crushing experiences of life. ~ Ken Gire, Windows of the Soul
Aaron was Gail’s only son, the older brother to two adoring sisters. Growing up an athletic middle child with two sisters herself, Gail had always wanted a son. From the moment Aaron made his first cry, he and his mom had a special bond. When he went away to college 570 miles from home, part of Gail’s heart went with him. Her greatest fear was that something would happen to one of her three children.
One hot summer day in June, Aaron’s friend Tyler invited him to go rafting down the James River in their college town of Lynchburg, Virginia. The James was swollen due to heavy rains, and it promised to be an exhilarating ride. They each had their own small raft but vowed to stay close together. Tyler held on tight as he maneuvered the rapids and made it to calm waters. Then he stopped to watch Aaron do the same. Aaron also held on tight, but his raft flipped over and he went under. Tyler waited for Aaron to resurface from the angry waters, but he never did.
The next four days were the worst story Gail could ever have imagined. She and several family members drove from Rhode Island to Lynchburg. She held Aaron’s picture to her chest and kept repeating a promise from the psalms:
‘Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges My name’. — Psalm 91:14
When they arrived at the spot on the river where the boats had flipped, rescue workers surrounded them. Search dogs barked. Low-flying helicopters whirled. Police officers marked off the area with yellow tape. A CSI crew with block letters on their black jackets scoured the scene. But even in the midst of all this, Gail felt an indescribable and undeniable peace.
The dogs picked up Aaron’s scent along the bank, but that was all… just the scent. After four days, the rescue workers made the tough decision to call off the search. “We may never find his body,” one said. “He may have been swept out to the bay.”
“But this is my baby!” Gail cried. “You’ve got to find him! I will not go home without him!”
Gail thought of the words she’d seen in Aaron’s devotion book that still lay on his nightstand. The pages were open to June 30, the day of the accident:
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire. — Psalm 40:2
As Gail drove from her hotel back to Aaron’s apartment the next morning, a song played on the car radio. “Go rest high on that mountain,” Vince Gill sang. “Son, your work on earth is done.” Stunned, Gail looked at the clock. It read 11:30.
Moments later, a rescue worker called and asked Gail and her family to meet them at the fire station. When the ambulance turned the corner and came into view, she knew.
One of the men knelt down in front of Gail. “Gail,” he began with tears in his eyes and a comforting soft smile on his face, “we found your boy.”
“Can I see him?” she asked.
“No, Gail, you can’t.”
“What time did you find him?” she asked with trembling lips. “Eleven thirty a.m.,” he replied.
And Gail remembered the song.
When I first met Gail, I was struck by her bubbly personality and effervescent joy. Her dancing blue eyes. Her wide, inviting smile. Her ready laugh. She’s the kind of person you just want to be around in hopes that whatever she’s got will rub off on you. When she told me her story, I struggled to reconcile the peace I saw on her face and the worst possible chapter any parent could experience. I thought of my own son, born the same year as Gail’s.
But Aaron’s homegoing wasn’t the end of her story; it was only the beginning. Gail told me account after account of how God had used her story to help others going through similar experiences. She is a living example of how our worst chapters can become our greatest victories, but she didn’t start out that way.
After Aaron’s funeral, Gail went to bed and thought she’d never get up. Just a few months earlier, when discussing a New Year’s weekend trip to New York, Aaron had told her, “Mom, if anything ever happens to me, I will go to Heaven. I’ll be fine.”
“Son, if something happened to you, and you went to Heaven, you might as well take me with you,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to live after that.”
Gail wasn’t kidding. She meant it. “God,” she cried, “I’ve prayed for Aaron his entire life, and this is what I get?” Confused. Angry. Lost. Empty. Impotent. And even though she still had a loving husband and two adoring daughters, Gail couldn’t get up the energy it took to live. She lost vision for her future, because she had no hope that life could be different than it was at that moment. She stopped going to church and her Bible stayed shut.
Three months later, Gail’s daughter, Jacqueline, asked her to attend a Beth Moore conference with her. “Oh, heck no,” was Gail’s quick reply.
“Mom, you need to go. I need to go. We need this.”
So, Gail agreed to go along. She told Jacqueline and God, “I’ll go, but I’m not going to listen.”
At the conference, after the lunch break, the usually perky Beth came out on stage looking solemn. “I was on my knees praying during the break,” Beth began, “and God put it on my heart that there is a woman here that lost her son this summer. I want to tell you, it’s okay to be angry.”
Gail doesn’t remember the rest of what Beth said, because her mind began to spin.
She knew that God had stopped for her. Loved her. Remembered her. And at that very moment, God was wooing her back. She was going to be okay.
“Yes, I grieved,” Gail shared. “Even though I saw God’s fingerprints throughout the entire ordeal, even though I sensed His presence surrounding our family and friends, I was still mad at Him. But God stayed right there with me. He didn’t give up on me, but lovingly wooed me, pursued me, and loved me back to life. He pulled me from the muck and mire. Healing has been a process. Eventually, I knew I had to let go and take hold of the promises of God as never before. I still miss Aaron. What gets me through is the knowledge that I will see Aaron again. Perhaps one of the biggest steps in the healing process was when I turned around and used my story to help someone who was going through a similar situation.”
Excerpted with permission from When You Don’t Like Your Story by Sharon Jaynes, copyright Sharon Jaynes.
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Healing isn’t immediate, is it? It takes time. It’s a process. Sometimes it’s one step forward, two steps back. But the healing God brings us through is a blessing and a gift that we’re meant to share with others. Few things are as powerful as the story of someone who has survived what we’re in the middle of, right? Share your story, friends. We need you! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full