God desires you to…

accept Him as your Savior,

be committed to Him as LORD,

dare to step out in faith,

trust Him when facing impossible circumstances,

have hope in Him in the midst of tragedy,

honor His name in the face of adversity,

obey His Word in spite of ridicule,

stand as a bold witness for Jesus Christ and the Bible,

be sensitive to the leading of His Spirit,

persevere in faith and determination until His purpose is fulfilled, and

remain faithful until He returns.

– Bill Rudge

Finding Hope in the Midst of Tragedy

By BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

This has been a very sad and difficult week for the community that I live in. This past Sunday (February 10th), four high school students from our school district were in a severe accident. The accident led to the tragic death of two of the students. As I write this blog, the other two students are in the hospital dealing with a range of injuries. This tragic event has impacted me personally as my family knew these girls and, being the high school girls’ soccer coach, I use to coach one of the girls who died. In simplistic terms, this has been an emotionally difficult situation to deal with as it has brought me face to face with the reality that no one is immune from the tragedies of life. But despite this reality, it is in these moments where we learn the most valuable life lessons. For instance, I was reminded of the importance of community. As I spent time at the school on Monday talking with faculty and students, I was encouraged and comforted to see everyone come together as one. Despite our differences, there was singularity in purpose. A powerful reminder that not only do we need the support and love of others, but we also need to return that same love and support. We need to bear each other’s burdens. I hope and pray that you have others in your life that are helping you bear your burdens, and in return you are coming alongside them to bear theirs.

Along with the idea of community, this situation has reminded me of the importance of being intentional with my loved ones: to never walk away angry, or let the sun go down without letting them know how much I love them. I need to live each moment with appreciation for the time that I have with my family and friends. Life can truly change in a moment, so we all need to let others know, through both our words and actions, how much they mean to us.

A final impression that I have gained from this tragedy is how important it is to live our lives with purpose. As I stood watching the students flow into the room that was set up at the school for them to come and grieve, I was overwhelmed to hear their stories about how their lives were enriched by knowing the girls who had died. One particular staff member told me that when they first moved here, her daughters had a hard time adjusting to their new surroundings, but that the transition was made easier because one of the girls who had died introduced herself to her daughters and made them feel valued and accepted. This is a great reminder how just a simple word and action can make the difference in the lives of others. While our school has lost two remarkable young ladies, their memories will live on through those they impacted. Their lives were taken from us way too early but they leave a legacy that will continue for years to come.

In the uncertainty of this tragedy, I do see God actively involved. From the love and support of surrounding communities to the unity displayed by our faculty and students, I see God working in and through each one of us. As in any tragedy, the WHY will continue to knock us off our feet, but it is the WHO that will enable us to stand back up. Though our faith in Jesus Christ is shaken, it will not be destroyed.  His loving arms are embracing our community and bringing comfort and hope in our time of pain and sorrow.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).

Purpose in the Midst of the Unknown

by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

One of the greatest questions that you will ask in life is, “Why am I here?” In other words, “What is the purpose of my life?” As Christians, we know that we have an eternal purpose. We have been given the task by Jesus to be His ambassadors here on earth (2 Corinthians 5:20) – a task that calls us to be His representatives in sharing with others the truth of who He is and why He came. Despite our acknowledgment of this divine purpose, we often find ourselves facing challenges and trials that cause us to question why God is allowing us to go through them. Surely an all-powerful and all-loving God could bring about His plan in a different way, so “why” would He allow this to happen?

This very question was at the center of a conversation that I recently had with my 14-year old daughter, Moriah. She was going through a difficult time in her life. Besides having to deal with a concussion that prevented her from completing her first year of soccer at her school, she was also about to undergo a third surgery on her left ankle. For the past three+ years she had struggled with chronic pain and lack of mobility in her left ankle, which not only limited her physical activity but also impacted daily activities. Now she was weeks away from another surgery where she would be receiving a full bone fusion that would bring with it a long recovery process. Not knowing the final outcome of this procedure is why she chose to play soccer. Since running caused excruciating pain, she decided to play goalie. After weeks of hard training she was ready to play in her first game. But in the process of making a diving save, she hit her head on the ground and not only missed the next game, but the rest of the season. Although my daughter is not one who complains, the emotions of all of this eventually came weighing down on her. In a moment of exhaustion, she asked “why would God let this happen?”

As her father, I tried to reiterate to her that sometimes we do not always know specifically why, but this does not mean there is not a purpose. I shared with her how God could use these challenges in her life to help her grow in her faith and allow her to encourage others going through similar situations. These were the same words that my dad shared with me when I faced a similar ankle surgery around the same age. Remembering how I responded, I figured these words would also make sense to her sometime in the future. However, God showed me that He was working much faster in my daughter’s life than He did in my life.

A few days after my daughter and I had talked, my wife was emptying our trash. In my daughter’s trashcan, my wife found the rough draft of a letter that Moriah had written to Ryan Shazier. For those who do not know him, Ryan plays football for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and recently suffered a severe back injury. Below is just an excerpt of what my daughter wrote to Ryan:

Dear Ryan Shazier,

I wanted to let you know that I am praying for you every day and supporting you too. I know how it feels to go through a difficult time. I am going to be having a third ankle surgery because of a birth defect. It causes me to have a lot of pain when I do physical activity. So I have to pretty much rest and ice my ankle every night…  Sometimes we don’t know why God has us go through difficult times. My favorite singer, Tauren Wells, had helped me to understand more why God has me going through all of this. His song “God’s Not Done With You” reminds us though you might be going through something difficult God has a plan for us and he will use it to bless us and others…  Even though no one knows why you had to be the one to hurt your back, God knows and He will use it for the plans He has for you!  I will continue to pray for you and I hope you feel better soon!       

We will experience difficulties in our lives, but as we go through them, may we never forget that we serve a faithful God. A God who has a purpose in all that we face.

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me (Psalm 57:1, 2).