Where is God in the Dark Times?
By Major Toni Halstad
Pendelton, OR Corps – Cascade Division
October 5, 2008, started out like any other day. It was a Sunday. I had put off my usual grocery shopping on Saturday and decided to go after church. While at the grocery store, I had a sudden urgency to use the restroom, which was situated at the front of the store. As I exited the restrooms to resume my shopping, I saw my husband at the front registers, he saw me and came walking toward me. I thought this was odd since he had stayed home. Panic slowly emerged my mind. So, why was he here?
At first, I thought maybe he came to tell me of something else we needed. But the second he got closer and I saw his face, I knew that was not what he was there for.
He asked me to come outside. I asked him “why?” and he said, just come outside. At this point I told him, “You are scaring me – what’s going on?”. He did not respond. As we got outside the store, I saw a policeman standing, waiting for us. My immediate thought went to, “Oh no! Which one of the boys is in trouble?!!”. It was then that DeWayne told me that our 23-year-old son, DeWayne Jr. was “missing” on the Oregon coast. He was swept away by a sneaker wave as he was standing on a jetty taking pictures. The coast guard had searched for 5 hours and could not find him; he was presumed dead. The police officer had been sent to our home to inform us and was kind enough to bring my husband to the store. My husband knew I would not be able to drive home.
I remember collapsing into my husband’s arms and crying hysterically. I remember feeling that this couldn’t be real, that it was all just a bad dream and I would wake up soon. But it was not a dream; suddenly we were faced with the possibility that we would never see our beloved son again.
We were told we needed to be prepared that they may never find his body. I refused to give up hope that maybe he was alive and needing to be rescued. My hopes were dashed three days later. We received word that our son’s body had washed ashore and was found by a couple walking along the beach, about three miles away from where the wave took him.
Now we had confirmation that our son was indeed with Jesus; we would never see his face or hear his voice again on this side of heaven. My whole world caved in on me and for the first time in my Christian walk. I found myself questioning my faith and crying out to God asking “why”. What did I do to deserve this? I had faithfully served God for over 12 years in ministry, and even out of ministry, we were still serving Him. Why OUR son? He loved Jesus, he was a good person and had already faced so much adversity in his life! Our son never let hardship stop him from being the fun, loving, and adventurous young man he was.
The days, weeks, and months that followed were the hardest times of our lives and I just did not know how we would survive it. I felt so numb all the time and just didn’t know what to do. Our lives were forever changed. Shortly after we lost our oldest son, our youngest son decided to move out of the house. Now, not only was I a grieving mother, but I was an empty nester, too. I did not know how to cope and found myself spiraling into depression and despair. The life that I knew and treasured so much was gone, and I would have to discover a “new normal”.
But God is merciful, God is kind and through it all He never let us go. How do I know this? Because it was God who made sure our son’s body was found so that we could have closure. It was God who placed the right people in our lives at the right time to comfort us, to encourage and support us. It was God who led me to a grief support group where I found healing and support. It was God who had us placed in a church family that was there for us. For the first two weeks after we lost our son, someone from church brought us meals, prayed with us and allowed us to cry. God knew what we needed before we even knew it, and He never let us down.
Through God’s divine love and grace shown by the loving support and presence of our family, church family, friends and the support group I attended – the unbearable became just a little more bearable and I sensed a little hope rising within me again.
Looking back, I now know that if I had I not gone through this dark time, I would not be the person I am today. I would not be back into ministry, doing the Lord’s work. I would not have had an opportunity to minister to others that have lost loved ones, with an understanding heart. I would never have had the strength to face each new day if God hadn’t placed His hope deep in my heart.
During this difficult time, my husband and I clung to the passage found in Isaiah 43:1-3:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy one of Israel, your Savior.”
This verse comforted us with a deep assurance that no matter what we faced, no matter how dark the storm was, our God is with us.
Today we find ourselves living in ever changing, uncertain times with the Coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent disruption to our daily lives. People have lost loved ones, many have lost their jobs, and others with compromised immune systems are having to figure out a new normal as they adjust to isolation, dealing with fear for their own health and safety. Words like “quarantine” and “masks” and “social distancing” have become part of our daily vocabulary. We are told that we may never get completely back to normal and life as we know will be different.
As a result, many are losing hope, many are scared for the future and many are asking what is happening to our nation? To our world? Where is God in all this? And why is God allowing this? These were the same questions I struggled with during my dark time. Maybe you are asking the same or similar questions.
I do not know why it was time for our son to be taken to his heavenly home, or why bad things happen to good people. I do not have all the answers. One thing I know for sure is that the God who redeemed us is faithful. God does not promise we will never face dark times… he does promise to be with us, to protect and keep us, to walk through the pain with us, to comfort us and give us the kind of peace that passes all understanding.
Going through a dark time in your life right now? Look up! Trust in the one who knows your name. Lean on Him, He will not let you fall, I promise! And finally, take comfort in the fact that He takes the broken pieces of our lives and uses them for our good and His glory, if we will only let him.