Who doesn’t remember the scene in Groundhog Day where the mechanical clock radio rolls the digits to 6:00 am, begins playing I Got You, Babe by Sonny and Cher, and Bill Murray finds himself living the same day again?
For the past 20 years, I find myself caught in a similar suspension of time and place; a cycle of sadness, over which I seem to have little control. As the leaves begin to change color, and the sun heads south for the winter, my emotions embark on an all too familiar journey. My heart becomes heavy. My memories blur with tears. My focus seems fixed on one sad story. My sixteen year old son, Scott, is dead.
Scott’s sixteenth birthday, November 23, 1995, was the last birthday we celebrated with him. A few days later, Scott and Tony brought home our family Christmas tree. We waited another week for Amy to return home from her first semester at college, as Scott declared, “We are never going to decorate our Christmas tree until we are all together.” Little did we know that Christmas 1995 would be the last time we were all together.
Exactly six weeks after Christmas, Scott was fatally injured in an accident in the woodshop at Immanuel High School. After thirty hours on life support, Scott was declared brain dead.
Every year since the year of lasts, my mother’s heart seems overtaken ~ from November to February ~ by some mechanical response that sets in motion a deep sorrow. The earth seems to join in my pain as the sky grays, the air chills, and the nights become long. I tell myself that I am not going to fall under its control, yet here I am twenty years later, still having memories turn to tears.
How very tragic if this was the end of my story. How sad if there was no hope of redeeming the future. God is the God who restores; the God who redeems the future by bringing value to our losses. One of the many verses which became real to me as I began my journey of grief is found in the Wisdom Literature. It states, Many are the plans in a man’s heart; but the Lord’s purposes prevail.
On Sunday past, I was challenged by the pastor to answer the question, What story is your life telling? As I reflected upon my story over the past week, here are my thoughts in answer to that challenge, as I attempt to flesh out the words of old, the Lord’s purposes prevail.
The day of Scott’s accident in 1996, lives were changed for eternity. Scott’s split-second decision to use a rasp file on his table top spinning on the lathe became his last decision. The reality of death became forefront in the minds of his classmates. The certainty of where they would spend eternity became a question that begged an answer.
Luke Thomas, one of Scott’s classmates shared at the time, “Lives were changed because of the way Scott Redfern lived and died.” And that is a redemptive facet of my story.
Our family struggled to understand this journey of grief. We sought out grief counseling. We became trained in death and grief studies. But most of all, we looked to the Lord to renew His joy in our hearts. Out of our own griefwork was born a desire to give back to others who experience loss. That desire grew into a reality with establishing New Path Center (NPC), a nonprofit that exists to help others discover pathways through difficult times. God has graced hundreds with His hope and peace through the ministry of NPC, and this is the transformative theme of this story.
After 30 hours on life support, we gathered around Scott’s body to say goodbye. Kept “alive” with machines to provide the gift of life through organ donation meant we hugged a boy who looked like he was sleeping. That’s the hideous reality of brain death.
Yet, as if this story needed another wonderful feature, in August 2015, after almost 20 years, we have had the remarkable experience of meeting a young woman who received Scott’s gift of life. In finding her, we found an entire family who has carried deep gratitude for Scott in their hearts for decades. We have been invited to share the story of our journey, and to hear their story. We have found great joy in knowing the immense value of our loss in their lives as we have received their thankfulness for giving life to their only daughter, only sister. And we rejoice in the restorative aspect of the story.
I am grateful for the challenge to look at this story of my life. The pain of losing Scott will always be a part of my story. But what a wonderful experience to look at my story through a lens that sees the purposes of God prevail.
As this season brings the opportunity to reflect on the best and the worst that life has brought, I challenge you to consider, what story is your life telling? If you are like me, many are the plans in your heart. Many are the hopes and dreams of your future. But when these plans, hopes, and dreams do not come to pass, what a comfort to know that the Lord’s purposes prevail; purposes that redeem and transform, and restore the joy of the Lord.
My heart still feels an immense Scott-shaped hole this Christmas. The deep sadness I felt in 1996 has changed. It is hard to describe, but today it is a sadness bathed in hope. Hope that comes with the birth of the Babe of Bethlehem who truly injects His joy into my story.
Special thanks to Jeff Doolittle at The Well Kingsburg for his powerful sermon, Christ is Now Here