Although I must confess that I was a little skeptical about attending a Christian Women’s conference because I didn’t know what to expect, I was overwhelmed by a general feeling of love and hope in God that I experienced that day. You see, I had been married for about five years, (our daughter Andrea was only 4 years old and my step-son Samir was 11 and lived with us) and I was disillusioned with my marriage.
I remember studying the Bible after the women’s event. I stopped studying a few weeks later, once I realized the seriousness of the lifelong commitment I would need to make to follow Christ. In my own wisdom, I thought that the solution to my problems was to go back to school and prepare to end the marriage as soon as I was ready. Obviously, this is not something a real follower of Christ would do, so I made a conscious decision that the time was not right for me to pursue a relationship with God. My husband studied the Bible briefly, but also decided that it was not for him.
During the same year my husband and I went through a very difficult and humbling period that was a key to helping us see our need for God. In early 1994 (18 years ago), we gave our lives over to Christ and became disciples.
We began the process of learning to imitate Christ’s character as we worked on our marriage, our parenting and loving others. In 1996 (two years later), our son Joshua was born. His birth marked a new beginning for our blended family. I am originally from Ecuador and my husband and his first son are from Brazil. Our children Andrea and Joshua were born in the USA. It felt as if for the first time, our lives were on the right track; not without bumps on the road, but on the right track nonetheless.
We continued to mature in our faith and love for God, and wanted our children to see God’s work in our lives as we desired for God to become real to them. But the truth is that I learned about trusting God through my children. From a very young age, my son had a heart for the poor and needy - or “hungry boys and girls” as he called them. Although he didn’t understand why God would allow little boys and girls to go hungry, he trusted God and prayed every night (without exception) for God to protect them and provide for them. He would say that “even if they died of hunger, it would be better for them because they get to be with Jesus, and that was far better than being here.” Andrea’s faith, love for God and openness with her thoughts and feelings continue to be an example to me.
We loved being parents - and although parenting is not always easy, we wanted to make sure we were raising our children heavenward. We also understood that one of the greatest gifts we could give our children was for them to witness that their parents truly love each other and to provide an environment where they felt free to openly express their thoughts and feelings.
One night, Andrea came into our bedroom and asked if we were having marital problems, because Joshua was concerned that something was going on. I told her that we would talk to them when their Dad came home from teaching that night. We explained that we were working through some things but that we were getting help. We assured them that we loved each other and were committed to our marriage. It was such a lesson for me to watch our children come to us with such openness and to see how they chose to trust us because they knew God was the center of our marriage.
In late 2005, I remember lying down in bed at night (while the kids were sleeping in their bedrooms), talking to my husband and reflecting about life. I felt good about my relationship with God and how much we had grown in our marriage. We both had such special relationships with our children, and I felt so blessed and proud to have such great children. They loved God and had their own faith and convictions. Life was good and I was looking forward to turning 40 the following year. But I do remember feeling a little scared, because life seemed so perfect…
We did everything as a family. When Andrea learned to drive, Marcus sat on the passenger seat and Joshua and I sat on the back seat - holding hands - because we were a little nervous. However, Andrea quickly became more confident about her driving as we gave her every opportunity to practice. She would drive us to church on most Sundays. One particular Sunday in late March we went to church early because we were serving in the children’s ministry. After church, while we were having lunch, I asked my husband to share about the communion message that Sunday because it was about heaven. My husband proceeded to explain that the Bible tells us that heaven is a place of perfect peace and love, with streets of gold …. but that it will be far better than we could even describe or imagine. Interestingly, our children were attentive, smiled, but did not say anything. We went back home that afternoon and a few hours later I asked my daughter Andrea to run an errand for me at the supermarket. She jumped at the opportunity to drive and quickly got ready to go. She left, but had to return home because she had forgotten the ATM card. This time her brother wanted to go with her. I reluctantly let them go but I had no reason to worry. Little did I know that our lives would take a dramatic turn on that typical Sunday afternoon of March 26, 2006. They both died in a single car accident less than 4 miles from our home.
The particulars of the accident are a bit strange but we (and the state police) think Andrea was trying to avoid hitting an animal that crossed in front of the car. The car hit a fire hydrant that launched it into a tree. Joshua (10) died instantly and Andrea (17) died an hour later as she was airlifted to UMASS Medical Hospital in Worcester. The police told us that the impact was so strong and quick that the kids did not feel pain. What was particularly strange was that even though they both were wearing their seat belts, the airbags did not deploy and the ONSTAR satellite service (that would have sent a distress signal to the police and would have attempted to communicate with them) did not work. It had no record of the collision.
Although I still remember some details vividly, there is a lot that I don’t remember. What I do remember is an indescribable pain and initial reaction of disbelief and shock. I just didn’t know what to do with this. I kept thinking about Jeremiah 29:11 and trying to comprehend how that scripture fit with what had just happened. It just didn’t make any sense. I didn’t know what to think or how to act. We quickly got ready and left for the hospital to see Andrea. I remember riding in the police car to the hospital and praying to God - asking him to receive Joshua in his glory, and to protect Andrea. My heart was torn between losing Joshua and being strong for Andrea- but I also began to accept the possibility that she might not make it either. Then, I began to pray to God not to take Andrea unless she was ready. I would accept His will to take them both even though I didn’t understand why it had to be this way.
When we arrived at the hospital, we received the news that Andrea had passed away shortly after she had arrived at the hospital. At that moment, it felt as if a black veil had dropped before me and a deafening silence set in. It was done. God had summoned our children to go home to Him at the right time and according to his good and perfect will.
The Bible teaches that God is sovereign and nothing happens without God’s knowledge; so the timing of our children’s passing was not an accident. The Bible also teaches us that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. Therefore, even if he tried to explain this to me, I’d lack the capacity to comprehend it (Isaiah 55:8). The Bible also teaches us that God is love and He won’t do anything to harm us.
I used to pray every morning for God to protect them and to use their lives for His glory. I didn’t realize that God would answer my prayer in such a way (because it just didn’t make sense and it seems unnatural for a parent to survive their children.) Although half of my heart went with them that day, I find solace in knowing that they loved God and are being honored for their faith and trust in Him. They both made such a positive impact in this world even though they were so young - the type of impact that most of us would like to be able to make during our lifetime. They were remembered by their love, compassion, kindness, generosity and reliance on God. They were mature beyond their years and they loved life.
Over 1,300 people attended the wake and 700 people (teachers, classmates, friends, family and people that we didn’t even know) came to their funeral because they were directly or indirectly impacted by Andrea and Joshua’s lives. Their funeral felt more like a celebration of their lives and not a good-bye. I felt immensely proud of them, especially when people shared about an act of kindness they had done.
I want to show you pictures of them taken three months before the accident. The second picture was taken with their brother, Samir, during our last family vacation a month prior. Every time I see their pictures I see them more radiant, perfect and beautiful. Frankly, I feel honored and blessed that God entrusted Andrea and Joshua to us even if it was only for a short while. They have forever changed my life in such a positive way and I feel that a part of me is already in God’s glory.
During the last 6 years since the accident, I feel that God has taken care of us with gentleness and love and is healing our broken hearts slowly. I have been careful to allow myself to be totally honest with God with what I am thinking and feeling. I knew that at some point I had to allow myself to feel anger - as it is a normal part of the grieving process. I felt a bit nervous because I didn’t want to get stuck in that phase, and God helped me to overcome it very quickly. I also prayed for God to help me surrender to His will and to help me trust Him despite the circumstances.
Initially I found it hard to feel grateful for a brand new day - as I would rather be where my children were. Instead, God has helped me find contentment with my new situation and I believe my life shows a desire to live a life that is pleasing to Him. I have also learned that God choses some to suffer for His glory, which is an honor because only a few are chosen. James 5: 11 and I Peter 4:12-19
How can God be glorified through this?
- By being faithful to Him and trusting Him despite the circumstances
- By showing that He is real in my life – you cannot fake peace
- By daily surrendering to His will and striving to live a purposeful life
- By finding contentment in my new circumstances
- By allowing myself to experience moments of happiness despite the pain
- By sharing with others that God is able to carry us through such an unimaginable pain
The following poem summarizes the message I am trying to convey about the importance of relying on God. This poem was shared with me the year our kids passed away. That friend lost her husband to a heart attack two years later.
Poem: Strong Woman Vs. A Woman of Strength
(Revised from a poem by Luke Easter with Dee Cheecks)
-A strong woman works out every day to keep her body in shape.
-But a woman of strength kneels in prayer to keep her soul in shape.
-A strong woman isn’t afraid of anything.
-But a woman of strength shows courage in the midst of her fear.
-A strong woman won’t let anyone get the best of her.
-But a woman of strength gives the best of her to everyone.
-A strong woman makes mistakes and avoids the same in the future.
-But a woman of strength realizes life’s mistakes can also be God’s blessings and capitalizes on them.
-A strong woman walks sure-footedly.
-But a woman of strength knows that God will catch her when she fails.
-A strong woman wears the look of confidence on her face.
-But a woman of strength wears grace.
-A strong woman has faith that she is strong enough for the journey.
-But a woman of strength has faith that it is in the journey that she will become strong.
I realize that this season of my life has probably shocked you, but it is my desire and hope that you are encouraged as well as challenged to think about your life here on earth as well as eternity. I am certain that women who read this have a story to tell, while others have been untouched by a life changing event. However, none of us know what the future holds, and frankly, I can’t imagine anyone going through something like this, or any difficult situation, without the hope we can have in God and trusting in his promises.
Editor’s Note: Carla, a member of the Boston Church of Christ, is one of my heroes. Her story of faith in the midst of tragedy truly brings glory to God. Carla recently shared her story at a Women’s Day event called “Seasons of the Heart.” Jeanie Shaw