Grief, God and Love – Leonie’s Story
I grew up in Nelson, New Zealand, the eldest of 11 children. I am sure that the role of eldest child helped shaped my purposeful and practical approach to life and I have never been afraid to speak my mind. My first job was working for New Zealand Telecom as a switchboard operator and so I guess you could say that I have been involved in connecting and communicating with people my whole life.
My mother was a committed Catholic and attending church was a significant part of family life but it wasn’t until I was having treatment for cervical cancer at the age of 30 that my personal relationship with God really came alive. By this time I was married to my husband Peter and we were the proud and busy parents of six boys. Our life was full but our growing awareness of God and his purpose in our life saw the focus of our life alter as we became more heavily involved in our local church. We began ‘on-the-job’ training and study and served as volunteer pastors and leaders until eventually we went into full time ministry. In 1988 we relocated to Melbourne Australia and began pastoring a church.
Even as a young woman I had always taken time out of my day to ‘chat’ with God, to share my thoughts, fears and dreams with Him and I expected that he would speak back to me, not audibly, but in my heart. This aspect of my relationship with God became increasingly important as the responsibilities and challenges of my life continued to expand. I expected that we would connect and communicate, father to daughter, friend to friend.
Our move as a family from New Zealand to Australia, our decision to begin full time ministry, our approach to parenting and marriage, all of these decisions were shaped by talking to God and listening to his direction. Little did I realize that the biggest challenges of our life were still ahead of us? The voice and presence of God would become the anchor of my soul through the worst storms of my life.
In 1995 we received the call that every parent fears, our third son Shane, was dead. A treasured son, brother, husband and friend, his life was so full of potential and promise and now he was gone. Snatched away from us in a freak climbing accident. I was distraught. I felt as though my heart had been ripped out of my chest. The grief and despair was like nothing I had ever experienced before. At first I tried to make sense of what had happened, to try and understand the bigger plan, the spiritual perspective. I thought if I could at least understand something about why this had happened it might make my grief easier to bear. But that understanding didn’t come. The weight of my grief, confusion and anger was suffocating and there were no answers.
A few months after Shane’s death my husband and I attended a Christian conference. At the end of the meeting I went forward for prayer. I lay on the floor crying and overwhelmed by the presence of God. As I prayed I ‘saw’ the hand of God reach into my heart and remove ‘grief’ from within me. The transformation was astonishing. For the first time in months I experienced joy and that joy remained.
When I said, “My foot is slipping,”
Your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
When anxiety was great within me,
Your consolation brought me joy.
I treasure the words that God spoke to me that night. I did not understand why Shane had died but that word from God reminded me of his constant healing presence.
On Australia Day 2002 Peter and I had just returned home after officiating at a wedding to discover that our son Chris had ben involved in an accident on his motorbike and was not expected to live. Again I cried out to God that he would speak to me in the midst of our fear and sadness. As I read His word and prayed God brought this verse to my attention.
‘I will not die but live, to tell what the Lord has done.
Despite a harrowing and extended stay in hospital, Chris defied all medical predictions and made a full recovery. God’s word was my comfort and strength again.
Our world was rocked again however in 2007 when my husband Peter was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx. A non-smoker and non-drinker this diagnosis took us totally by surprise. Despite much prayer and intercession, Peter had a total laryngectomy in November 2007. His voice box was removed and he began learning how to speak again using a silicon valve. I clung to this promise from God.
‘I know that plans I have for you,
Plans for good and not for disaster,
To give you a future and a hope’.
Peter came home from hospital the week before Christmas and we began to make the adjustments needed to live with Peter’s permanent tracheotomy. On 31 December 2007 the unthinkable happened. Our fourth son Gerrard was killed in a freak road accident. Time stood still again. All I could hear myself saying was ‘not again, not again’. I almost felt like I was outside my body for a time. When I cried out ‘God how could this happen again?’ He spoke to me from Isaiah 57.
‘Good people often die before their time,
People don’t understand that God is protecting them
From the evil to come’.
I have known great sadness and loss in my life and there is much about life that I do not understand but I am confident of this; God is good and God is love. I trust His word and I trust Him.
“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer.
Before your face questions die away.
What other answer would suffice?”