Hope Even In Sorrow

by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

On September 14, 2015 our family awoke to the sad reality that our grandmother was nearing the end of her life – the last living member of a whole generation. In a few days my mother would lose her mother; my sister and I would not have a grandmother; my children, nieces and nephew would be without a great grandmother.

My wife and I took our five oldest children to see her in the nursing home. We knew this would be our last time to say, “I love you,” to the woman we affectionately called Grandma B. Although in extreme pain, she made every effort to open her eyes for each of my children and even tried to kiss one of my daughter’s hands. As each of us said our final goodbye, tears rolled down our faces. I wished I could take away the pain and hurt my children were experiencing.

As much as I want to shelter my children, the realities of living confront us with pain, suffering and death. While my grandmother’s circumstance reminded me of this, it was a reminder that I could help my children face this with HOPE, explaining that although physical death is a consequence of sin, it is not the final destiny for those who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Indeed, beyond the pain and suffering and coming death of Grandma B, God has prepared a place; not just for her, but for all who have asked Jesus to forgive their sins. So, while it was natural for us to feel sad and cry, we were not without HOPE.

Paul told the believers in Thessalonica:

Dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died (1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14).

While we mourned as Grandma B approached her final breath, we rejoiced that our children were blessed to know their great grandma and that we had many wonderful memories with her, knowing that one day we will be with her again – without the pain and suffering.

I held her hand and reminded my grandmother of this promise. I told her of what awaited those who have placed their faith in Jesus (Revelation 21-22) and reminded her this was not the final goodbye but that one day she would be reunited with her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Despite the pain she was in, I can still see the smile on her face as I spoke those words. That is the facial expression I look forward to one day seeing when I also enter into the presence of my Lord and Savior.

My prayer is that when death closes in, you, too, can have a smile on your face because you know that this life is not your final goodbye. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

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).