“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James 1:2-3
Throughout my life, my family experienced many seasons of hardship. It became our motto that the current trial would be another opportunity to be used for His glory. Unemployment? He used that season. Cancer diagnosis? He used that season. Growing up my parents did an incredible job at teaching us to turn to God in seasons of trial. But, there came a point when I remember I grew weary with trials and became angry with God.
February 2018, I woke up to the scariest news. My mom found my dad downstairs after he had not come to bed that night. It was determined that he had a stroke. He was taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital. I was in my last year of college in Ellensburg. My family lived three hours away near Portland. I felt helpless. We were completely unaware of the journey this tragedy would take our family on during the next four years. Ultimately, the stroke had left my dad unable to talk, walk, or take care of himself. He spent four months in the hospital. The doctors told us we should essentially give up on him. However, we knew we had a God more powerful than any doctor’s pessimistic outlook.
In June, my dad was moved to an adult foster care home with some of the best care around. The caretakers became like family, telling us that they truly believed this home was not where dad was going to be forever. In the meantime, they felt a spiritual call to care for him.
The years that followed were filled with good moments, but also tears, frustration, and questioning God. Hundreds of people joined our family as we prayed for dad. Why was God not bringing the healing? My dad had been a missionary, pastor, mentor, why him? As a family we had already experienced so much. Why were we yet again chosen for a season of incredible hardship?
When the pandemic hit in 2020, it added another layer of difficulty. Minimal visits and being masked, all affected my dad who was used to seeing members of our family on a daily basis. He relied on watching us speak to keep some engagement in conversation. Whenever we could, we would sit with him outside during our visits. We tried to keep the positive experiences happening, even in a time of strict guidelines. It was difficult not being able to physically touch and interact with him.
By Thanksgiving of 2021, we were finally able to have Dad present at a family function without caretakers to watch everything. We were determined to get dad into a brighter mood since he would sometimes have emotionally down days. When it came time to leave, I told my mom to go ahead and break the rules and just give him a kiss since his caretakers had not yet come. We hugged him goodbye. The next morning, we got an urgent call to come to the foster home. Within about 10 minutes of our arrival, he was gone. Having had no true medical issues since the stroke, it was extremely unexpected. My dad’s heart just stopped. Once again we were ushered into a season of hardship.
This last year has been the hardest season I have ever walked through. Grief and it’s impact shows itself unexpectedly and at inopportune times. I’ve found it difficult to worship, hear my friends talk about their fathers, and go to weddings. I was so angry at God for taking my best friend from me. What did our family do to deserve what had seemed like never ending trials?
I could have gone completely downhill, living in bitterness and grief without letting God in. “Consider it pure joy” was the part of James 1:2, I questioned the most, experiencing a place of so much pain. But God works so beautifully through grief. Instead of turning away, our family pressed in like we always do. And when we press in, God feels so present. I learned that He walks and sits and cries with me in my grief. He is not some big being watching me suffer from afar, but the loving Father we need that holds us when we cannot pick ourselves up.
I am so thankful for my Stone family who has continued to walk with me through my journey of grief. It isn’t something that goes away, but it is something we grow in. My dad’s life verse, Philippians 2:13, has become something I want to live by because of the impact his life had on me. I want to be remembered as someone that served and cared so deeply for others. And lastly, I want to see how God chooses to use this trial for His glory, trusting Him in every step along the way.