There was a time when I was blogging/writing about the most painful part of our story, but I haven't done it in so long that I'm not even sure where to start. But here goes...
One of my favorite verses is Lamentations 3:22-23, "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to and end. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness."
Everything I'm about to write is about Him. It should all point to Him. This is the story He chose to write for us. Some parts are wonderful, some painful, but every part is from the Lord. And, I'm so thankful that He has given us grace to accept each part and believe that He is good and loving toward all He has made.
I grew up in a loving, Christian home with pretty much a picture perfect childhood. When I was old enough to understand the gospel, my "understanding" was very much slanted toward legalism. I thought that if I was going to have a relationship with Jesus then I must DO a, b and c. It all depended on me. And, for me, a, b and c meant reading my bible, praying everyday and sharing my faith with others. I had to be pretty close to perfect. This always left me frustrated and defeated, and I thought the Christian life was just full of do's and don'ts.
My senior year of high school, God finally brought me to a place of surrender. I wanted to know Him. So I went off to college, very hungry to grow as a believer. I knew I was a sinner and needed a Savior, and I began to pray that the Lord would show me what that should "look like" in my everyday life. In college, I met so many other believers that were eager to grow in their faith too, and it was such an encouraging four years, as God began to expand my view of him and show me my purpose in life… to know Him and make Him known.
I met my husband in college, and the first few years of marriage God began to set us free from so much legalism that we had both grown up believing. He introduced us to grace… that it didn't start with us. Everything starts with God. We didn't have to DO anything for our salvation except trust in the finished work of Jesus on the cross! We began to grow in the FREEDOM of the gospel, and it was nothing we could ever earn or measure up to. Because you know what? Perfect people don't need Jesus. They are their own Savior. So this set us on a path of wanting to obey what God had called us to do… but not out of duty. It was finally flowing out of gratitude for what He did for us on the cross, and this made all the difference! God used those years of college and first few years of marriage to lay a strong foundation for us. And, we would need it more than ever in the years to come.
By 2007, God had blessed us with four children. There is nothing like parenthood to show you your need for Jesus! Those years were full of more mercy, grace and forgiveness for all of us. We were living in Illinois, but a job change was bringing us back to Alabama. The kids and I were staying with my parents, and Billy was on his way back to Illinois to take care of moving details. This was July 2008, and our summer had been full of swimming, vacation, catching up with old friends, etc. Our children were 6, 4, 2 and 7 months.
On July 1, our four-year-old daughter, Alaina, came and woke me up around 5:00 am, saying she had thrown up in her bed. She had slept all night and had an empty stomach so there wasn't much, and I didn't think much more about it. She continued to throw up throughout the morning and finally slept most of the afternoon. She got up and walked around some and talked off and on, so I never thought she had anything other than a stomach virus. She slept with me that night and moved and talked in her sleep some.
In the middle of the night, I woke up and couldn't go back to sleep, so I went to the couch. I woke up the next morning and walked back to the bedroom to check on her, and she had fallen off the bed. I immediately had this panicked feeling and went over to get her up. The moment I touched her, I knew something wasn't right. I turned her over and saw her face first and knew she wasn't breathing. We called 911 and did CPR until the paramedics arrived, but I knew that unless God performed a miracle, she was gone.
I went outside and waited. My dad walked outside and looked at me, and I knew. We all fell apart. We were in complete shock and disbelief. I had to tell my husband over the phone that his daughter was gone, and he was 12 hours away. But, even in that moment, I knew God loved me and was with me and would get us through the nightmare. All those years leading up to that moment, God had given us that foundation. Remember that verse? His love for me would never cease. His mercy for me would never come to an end. His faithfulness to me would be great. Those were promises I could trust in the days, weeks and months to come.
Another verse that meant so much to me during that first year of grieving was from Isaiah… "I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them. I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth; these ARE the things I will do. I will not forsake them." That was the personal and all-loving God I had come to know. I tried to be as honest as I could with Him. I asked why. I didn't understand. I told him I was at rock bottom. All of a sudden I had so much fear. He took all of that and loved me through it.
He carried us during those completely dark days. When I think back on the first few days, I can still just hear the weeping. My eyes burn when I think back and remember how hard those days were. My close friends went with us the the funeral home and I fell apart when we walked up to the door. With everything in me I didn't want to go in. I remember when the man opened a door and showed us a small white casket. Rock bottom. I felt like I was watching a movie. "I will lead the blind by ways they have not known”... He did. God gave us grace and strength to pick out a casket, plan a funeral and celebrate Alaina's precious life. We worshiped that day. We prayed and sang, "You give and take away, you give and take away, my heart will choose to say, Lord, blessed be your name."
Her death is still somewhat of a medical mystery. We learned from the autopsy that she had viral meningitis, but this form of meningitis is usually not fatal. We will never have all the answers this side of heaven, but we've accepted that.
I would change that part of our story in a heartbeat if I could. But, what I'm completely humbled and thankful for are the things God taught us through it and how he changed me. He softened me. He made my heart much more compassionate. He opened my eyes to the needs of the world and to see hurting people. He made me a better mother. He deepened my longing for heaven and helped me recognize what's eternal and what to let go of because it doesn't matter. He showed me his love and that He would fulfill his promises from his Word. This was huge: He showed me that my greatest need was not to have my daughter back. My greatest need was to KNOW Him… and He had provided a way for me to know Him though Jesus, and that could never be taken from me. I cannot believe that was six years ago. We will never be the same, and that's a good thing.
About three years ago, we started the process of adopting a child form Ethiopia. God had used those years after Alaina's death to show us more of His heart. All the verses in the bible about showing mercy, loving the orphan, the needy, just jumped off the page to me. I realized that every believer is called to live a life of mercy. So a piece of that calling for our family would be to adopt. We felt so clearly led by the Lord to go to Africa.
On February 15, 2014, we brought home a little boy named Gideon. What a gift he has been to our family! Adoption isn't easy. We have had hard and challenging days since coming home, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. God ALWAYS uses the hard to show us our need for Him. I read recently that hard isn't the absence of His goodness. Yes! It is IN the hard that we see His goodness the most!
I don't know what the rest of our story will be. Katie Davis said in her book (Kisses from Katie), "When I look at my life and the miracles I see and what I know, I can trust him for what I don't know… because of what I've seen, I can trust him when I can't see." Yes, I can trust God for whatever He has for us because "His mercies NEVER come to an end!"
"Because He lives, I can face tomorrow, because He lives, all fear is gone; because I know He holds the future, and life is worth the living just because He lives."