As a young child one of my favorite television shows was Little House on the Prairie. I loved everything about it and knew that was exactly the kind of life I wanted. It just seemed so perfect! The family who had it all together. The family that went through some tough times, but always had a happy ending.
My parents divorced when I was four and as a child that was hard to understand. Both remarried and I lived with my dad and step-mom. We were a blended family. There were three of us and three of them. We were often referred to as The Rader Bunch. (Taking after the Brady Bunch, another favorite show of mine) We all grew up in a Christian home and went to church on Sunday. My faith grew and I was baptized as a teenager. I loved God and I always wanted to please him. In fact, there was a time in my life where I wanted to be a nun, but God had other plans for me.
As my life progressed, I became a kindergarten teacher, married my sweet husband, and had two children. My boys were everything to me. My life was now perfect. I had everything that I always wanted. We attended church and I loved watching my young boys sing their Jesus songs and dance in the family room. Little did we know that as our boys grew into teenagers we would experience the toughest times in our lives. My faith would be tested and I would have to make a choice. Do I give up or do I continue my journey of faith?
My oldest son Stephen had many challenges in life. He was diagnosed with both ADHD and Bi-Polar Disorder. We struggled for a long time trying to find and keep him on medication that could help him. My husband Steve and I were doing what any good parents would do. We were doing everything to help our son. We had good moments and bad moments. Moments that definitely tested my faith. Where was God in all of this? Why did my son have to struggle like this? It just wasn’t fair. This wasn’t the “Little House on the Prairie” feel-good life that I wanted to live.
Three years ago, on July 7, 2017 my oldest son Stephen got up, made himself breakfast, and took his coffee outside to sit on our swing in the side-yard. I told him I would be out soon to take him to therapy. I was too late. Stephen had overdosed on a drug called Fentanyl. My husband gave him CPR and I called 911. I remember pulling the blueberries out of his mouth because it seemed like he was choking. I remember neighbors praying in our driveway. Through all of this, I was hopeful that he would be ok. But on July 8, 2017, we took him off of life support and I watched my son’s breathing get slower and slower. He took his last breath at 11:43 pm. Because he signed up to be an organ donor, he became a giver of life and two men each received one of his kidneys. The moment I found out he was a match, there was an unexplainable peace that filled my body from head to toe. I was so proud of him. My son, forever twenty.
I was broken. The world I once knew was gone. How could I go on? I knew my only chance was to cry out to God for help. As I read my Bible, there were so many scriptures that spoke to me. I constantly prayed Psalm 5 and 6.
Have compassion on me, Lord, for I am weak. Heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
Psalm 6:2 (NLT)
I prayed, “Tell me clearly what to do, Lord, and show me which way to turn. I am worn out from sobbing. Every night tears drench my bed; my pillow is wet from weeping. My vision is blurred by grief.” I couldn’t believe I was actually living this nightmare. Losing a child is a gut-wrenching pain and I felt empty inside and alone. I was shocked, numb, and confused.
A few months later, I couldn’t sleep because the word HUGS was on my mind. I knew Stephen gave the best HUGS, but I couldn’t help but feel there was more to this. I felt like the Holy Spirit was leading me towards something. I couldn’t get my mind off of it. I kept asking God, “What do you want from me? What do you want me to do with this HUGS thing?” Soon after, I got my answer. I was suffering and God poured his love into my heart. I would start an after-school club called HUGS 4 LIFE (Help Us Get Strong, with the 4 standing for the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual part of a human being). I would give these children a safe place to share their feelings and support one another. My purpose as a teacher had come full circle.
God also reminded me of the last gift Stephen gave… a Yankee candle. I found this in his closet the day after he died. It was meant to be for his brother, whose birthday was July 9th. I felt led to make memorial candles for parents who have lost a child. I would deliver them and sit with them and acknowledge their pain. I would let them know that they were not alone. God didn’t give up on me and I was living out 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NLT):
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.
God poured his love into me so I could pour it into others. I am so very grateful for that. In addition, 2 Corinthians 4:6 (NLT) tells us
For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.
My next challenge… How was I going to pay for these candles? It turned out that God made a way. I started to receive donations from school, community members, and friends. At just the right time, I received enough money to buy the candles and make the personalized labels for each family.
God continues to bless this ministry and for that I am thankful. Stephen lives on through me and my faith continues to grow. I have weak moments, as we all do, but God continues to send me kisses from Heaven, which I know are for me and my husband. I hold on tightly to those. One scripture that really stands out to me is Psalm 18:33 (NLT);
He makes me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights.
Put your faith in God and he will keep you from stumbling. In order to survive this pain, you must give it all to God. Sometimes as I am walking or sitting quietly, the wind will gently blow my way and I am reminded of Psalm 104:4 (NLT)… The winds are your messengers; flames of fire are your servants. I hear a soft whisper in my heart… “I’m okay mom. I love you and I’ll see you soon. Keep doing what you’re doing.”
This world is not our home. We were meant for so much more and I look forward to the day when I see Stephen again face to face and God says,
“Well done, my good and faithful servant! You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together! “
Matthew 25:23 (NLT)
I choose to put my faith in God alone as I endure the pain and suffering of this world’s circumstances. Until then, I am still not all I should be. But I am focusing all my energies on this one thing:
“Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
Philippians 3:13-14 (NLT)
Forgetting the past doesn’t mean that I need to forget about Stephen. I will never forget about my son. I believe God had more for Stephen then this world could give him. And, at the same time, I believe that God may have rescued my son. Stephen was a gift from God and God took him home.
I do not control the circumstances of this world. I have to let go and let God be in charge. Not me. He taught me that. My life will never be what I envisioned it as a child. God has chosen a different path for me and I will continue to serve and trust in him. I have been knocked down but I am a survivor and I will not give up. My journey of faith continues and with all of my strength… I press forward.