We were pastors of a church in Boise, Idaho, and the night before we’d hosted a big New Year’s Eve celebration with our congregation which lasted into the wee hours. We’d had a great time with our church family, playing games, eating, fellowshipping, praying in the New Year together.
It was about 2:00 am by the time the last people went home, and as the pastors, of course, we were the last ones to leave.
Then, early on New Year’s Day morning, we’d received an emergency call from one of our members, and Brent had gotten up to go be with them, running on about 3 hours of sleep.
That day I had managed to get a nap in, but Brent didn’t. He and our sons, ages 12 and 13, avidly watched every last college bowl game and even played their own football game in the park with the neighbourhood kids. Which was why, by 9:30, Brent could hardly keep his eyes open. With a smile, he leaned over to give me a kiss and headed for bed.
“I love you,” he said over the noise of the TV show I was watching.
“I love you too,” I said, glancing up from my cross-stitch project to smile at him as he walked toward the hallway. It was the last thing we would ever say to each other on this earth. (Side note: I’m sure thankful that’s the last thing I said to him! It left me with no regrets. I know that you and I don’t know each other very well yet, but take my word for it -- take time every day to tell people you love them. You never know if it may be the last time you get to say anything to them.)
About an hour later when I went to bed, I found that Brent had stopped breathing. I called 911, but they were never able to revive him, and he was pronounced dead at the hospital.
YEAH, I HAD QUESTIONS
As you can probably guess, my life changed drastically after that night. I ended up taking over the church as Senior Pastor, and raising our sons through their teenage years as a single mom – two things I had never expected to do!
And as you can also probably guess, I had questions
“Why God, why? How did my big, strong, healthy 37-year-old husband, who hadn’t been sick at all, just suddenly go to bed one night and end up in heaven?”
“Why didn’t You tell me? I was right in the next room watching TELEVISION for crying out loud – why didn’t You notify me so I could help him!”
“How could You let this happen?? What about divine health? What about Your protection? What about satisfying us with long life??”
For a few weeks after Brent died, minister friends came to preach in the church for me since I wasn’t quite ready to take over the pulpit full time yet. Inevitably they would end up praying for me at the end of the service, and I would bask (sometimes for up to an hour) in the presence of the Lord while everyone else went home.
So every time, after a while of basking, I would say, “Father, as long as we’re here in this lovely quiet place together, is there anything you’d like to tell me about WHAT IN THE WORLD HAPPENED??”
And every time, He patiently gave me the same answer: “Can you trust Me?”
Well, I might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I quickly deduced that it didn’t seem like a good time to stop trusting God! I know there are those who do, some who even get mad at God, but I needed Him more than ever right then, and running away from Him didn’t seem as smart as running toward Him.
So I always said, “Yes, Lord,” and finally, after about the 8th time we had this conversation, I told Him, “I’ll stop asking that, Lord. I still have questions, but yes, I can trust You.”
Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” Every day I learned what it meant to trust Him with ALL my heart, even if I didn’t understand things. I knew that without Him I’d never be able to pastor a church or raise teenage boys or get over losing my husband, so I chose to trust.
HOW ABOUT YOU?
Have things happened in your life that you have no answers for? Has your very foundation been shaken by death, illness, broken relationships, financial disaster, bitter disappointments or other life-altering circumstances? Have you been blindsided by something you never expected to face?
Are you having trouble moving past it, or seriously doubting your faith in God?
Have you asked (or wanted to ask) “Why God, why?”
First, let me say – I’m so sorry for what you’ve gone through. Life can be hard and full of pain sometimes. I wish there was a way to avoid it all together, but unfortunately, there isn’t. We live on an earth with a curse, and things happen.
Please know that there is One who loves you, who understands your pain and fear -- One who has a way to bring you through it and heal your broken heart.
Second, I believe you can have peace and a brighter tomorrow. Our Heavenly Father is faithful and He loves you so much. He’s made a way out for you. He doesn’t want you stuck in the land of hurt -- He wants to heal your anger, your disappointment, your broken heart and help you embrace your bright future.
GO AHEAD AND ASK
Have you ever seen the old movie “Sleepless in Seattle?” At the very beginning, Tom Hanks, whose wife has just died, is standing in a cemetery with his young son, Jonah.
He tells Jonah, “Mommy got sick. It happened just like that. There’s nothing anybody could do. It isn’t fair. There’s no reason. But if we start asking why, we’ll go crazy.”
I just want to say right up front -- I’m different than Tom’s character in that movie. I have questions, and I think they should be asked! My husband died suddenly in his bed at age 37 without warning! There’s room for questions in an event like that! I’m sure you have some questions too.
Maybe people have told you “Don’t question God.” Have you ever heard that? Well, I think -- if you’ll excuse me for saying so – that is a bunch of hooey!
Let’s face it – you’re asking the questions anyway. In your heart and your head, you’ve already asked, “Why God, why?” He knows what you’re thinking, even when you don’t want to tell Him (Luke 5:22, 24:38). So why hide those questions from Him? He can take it. You aren’t asking anything He hasn’t heard before.
Besides all that, God is your Father. He loves you! He already knows everything that has happened in your life, and best of all, everything that will happen, so who better to talk with when something hard happens?
I think we should ask God all the questions we want. In fact, I think He’s the first one we should ask! So go ahead. Be honest about it. Ask every scary, ugly, angry question that’s already passed through your mind. You might even want to write your questions down and date them, maybe in a private journal or on a calendar.
Here comes the crucial part of asking God all the questions you want. Once you’ve asked them, put them on the back burner.
For example, if you’re making homemade stew, at first you put your pot on the front burner while you’re browning the meat or adding the chopped veggies and spices to it. But once all the ingredients are in the pot, you put it on the back burner to simmer for a good long while, setting the timer and forgetting about it except maybe to stir it once in a while.
That’s what you need to do with your questions. Picture yourself asking them, putting them into a big pot, and pushing it to the back burner.
You might tell God something like, “Father, these are my questions. Now I’m going to put them on the back burner of my life and keep on ‘cooking’ with You on the front burners. I’m going to keep reading your Word, keep believing You, keep loving You, keep seeking Your will and obeying what You tell me to do. I’m going to keep on trusting You.”
When you do this, it keeps your heart and mind on God’s truths and His good plan for your life, rather than stopping here at the point of your hurt and making a camp.
God is your help, and as you push your questions to the back burner, He is working on things right now on your behalf. Your part is to keep your life going on the front burner. Don’t make a camp in the land of hurts and questions.
KEEP GOING THROUGH!
One of my favourite verses is Psalm 23:4 – “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff they comfort me.”
That verse lets me know that first of all, there is a valley of shadow. Stuff is going to happen in this life. I wish I could wrap you in cotton and insulate you from life so that bad things wouldn’t happen to you, but I can’t. And besides, that’s no kind of life. A real life has challenges and risks to it.
But the key word in that verse is THROUGH. Keep walking through the valley of shadow, don’t make a camp there! It’s not a place you want to stay. Keep going until you come out the other side.
And you can.
We’ve all met people who’ve made a camp in the land of pain, sadness, regret, disappointment, or confusion. They’ve allowed a set of circumstances or a traumatic event to stop them in their tracks, letting that horrible event or events define their lives.
Maybe they had a loved one or best friend who died, and they can’t get past it. Maybe someone did them wrong, even a long time ago, and every time you talk to them, they’re still rehearsing it, blaming all their troubles on that horrible thing that happened.
Maybe you're stuck in a camp like that yourself.
In order to break down the camp of pain and disappointment so you can keep going through the valley, you’re going to have to trust God. “Fear no evil” because “He is with you.” This is no time to get mad at God – He’s your help!
Instead, ask Him all your questions, and then put that pot on the back burner, determining to trust Him and walk forward until one day you find yourself out of the valley of pain and sadness, just like my sons and I did.
Now it’s been over 20 years, and we can testify that God has gone on to work His plan and purpose in our lives, and it’s turned out wayyyyyy better than anything we could have imagined or worked out! All three of us are serving God with all our hearts and working in the ministry.
God has been so faithful to help us continue in His plan for our lives, in spite of what we lost.
God is a good planner, and He sticks with a plan – nothing derails Him!
Romans 11:29 in the Message Bible says, “God's gifts and God's call are under full warranty—never cancelled, never rescinded.” Never! His call on your life, His plan for you, is still the same, even after something happens, even if you have questions. It might not look like you expected, but it can be even better if you keep believing Him, just as it has been for us.
Thank you, Kay Magnate for this opportunity to share my testimony. God bless you.
Karen Jensen Salisbury has been in ministry for over 30 years and a writer for over 40. She and her first husband, Brent, travelled as itinerant ministers, and also pioneered two churches in the Northwest.
In 1997, upon Brent’s unexpected death, she became Senior Pastor of their church in Boise, Idaho. She raised their sons, Josh and Ryan, through their teenage years into young men on fire for God.
Karen was an instructor at Rhema Bible Training College in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma from 2005 to 2014. In March of 2014, she married businessman Bob Salisbury, and they live in Minneapolis. Now in addition to writing books, Karen travels across the U.S. and overseas, sharing what she has learned about the faithfulness of God through good times and bad.
Her teachings and writings have influenced the lives of hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. Her humour, her never-give-up attitude, her love for God and her strong stand on His Word will bless and inspire you.
KAREN JENSEN SALISBURY
#KarenJensenSalisbury #Author #Speaker #Minnetonka #Minnesota #BrokenArrow #Oklahoma #SuperBowl #UnitedStates #Pastor #Testimony #KayMagnate #Kingsolomonsmine #Blog #Blogger #Influencer #Influence #Motivation #Inspiration