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December 8, 2010

Column #1,528

Christmas Can Be Lonely

By Mike McManus

                ROME, Georgia -- Christmas is a joyous season, but not for everyone.  It is lonely for people who lost a spouse to death, and worse, if one has lost a child. No one expects their child to die before them.

                Normally, this pain is held tightly within.  However, last week at a conference at the WinShape Center, Ron Deal, a noted author of books on stepfamilies, openly shared his grief.

                After coming home from a movie, Ron and his wife found their son, Connor, 12, was quite sick.  Ron took him to a Walk-in Clinic which diagnosed croup, and gave him antibiotics. The next morning Connor’s temperature was 104º and he could barely stand. “Mom, I think I am going to die,” he said.

                A doctor said he had double pneumonia, and was put on a respirator which the boy kept pulling off.  In the dead of night they drove to a hospital in Dallas. He began to respond before being hit with a septic infection, and died two hours later.

                “That was 653 days ago,” Ron told us. “The valley of the shadow of death is a very dark place. As a counselor who’s worked with families for years, I was inadequate. My whole life is BEFORE and AFTER. Before, I thought church was a place for hurting people.  After my experience, I see most people running from death. It scares people.

                “I never prayed for daily bread.  I prayed for early retirement.  Today I pray for daily survival, every single day. …I had my plans, my goals. Never once did I think this would happen. Kids graduate, get married and we have our first grandchildren.

                “AFTER, I don’t have any expectations. My youngest son noted 35,000 people were praying for Connor, and asked me, `With so many praying, why didn’t God save him?’

                “It’s a good question,” Ron replied, “I’ll get back to you. I don’t know.”

                “BEFORE I thought a bad day was a flight delay, a flat tire.  My definitions have been recalibrated.  I have had days digging my fingers into the grave saying, “I want my son back.”

                “BEFORE Sunday was a family day, a day for church. AFTER it is the worst hour of the week. How can I sing and celebrate? How do we overcome the chasm of sorrow? There are two different universes. BEFORE I weighed 15 pounds more, had no gray hair, no bald spot.  BEFORE I thought faith was the antidote, that we can choose to be OK.”

                Now Ron’s life seems to be on two tracks: “One is hope and the other is sorrow upon sorrow. One is called trust and the other is agony. One does not negate the other.”

                Ron turned to the Book of Job, a righteous man who suffered great losses, for insight. His ten children were in a house that collapsed. Job is covered with sores and his wife says, “Curse God and die.”  He replies, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

                Finally, however, in Chapter 31 he says, “Let God weigh me in honest scales and he will know I am blameless…Let the Almighty answer me.”

                God responds in Chapters 38-41, “I will question you and you will answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? …Have you given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place?”

                Job finally replies, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand.” Interestingly, God restores Job’s wealth and gives him ten more children.

                However, Ron, unsure what Job learned from his tragedy, says, “I need to know.”

                He then told of Pam Coburn, who lost a son 11 years ago, who has turned her grief into rescuing children from being sold into slavery in Cambodia and in Ghana.  She invited Ron’s wife to Ghana, where she confronted a slave master and met a woman who sold her own children. His wife rescued two of those kids, and told them, “You are safe now.”

                The boys, aged 6 and 8, named themselves, Gideon and Vincent.  Two girls who had been raped before being rescued, called themselves, “God’s Asking” and “God’s Way.”

Ron’s wife took shirts with Connor’s name to an orphanage, and sent back pictures of kids wearing their new Connor shirts.

Suddenly, Ron had a new insight, “When we do things in Jesus’ name, don’t you think the Father loves it. I know He does.  Before, I did not. Now I do.”

Ron got hope from his wife’s service. The only answer to tragedy is to love others as Jesus loved us.

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