One day life happened. And it happened really hard. And it hurt really bad. And I thought I would die. I certainly wanted to.
On June 27, 2009, my rock-solid husband of 25 years and the father of our three boys (ages 14, 19 and 20 at the time) took his own life. It was a complete and utter shock, not only to his family, but to all who knew him.
He was a good man, the best of men. He loved Jesus with His whole heart. He adored his boys. He was beyond a loving husband. He served others compassionately. He served in his church faithfully and in positions of leadership. He was a trustworthy friend. He was a dedicated and incredibly hard worker, and he was a man of deep integrity.
And yet, he took his life.
Hindsight is 20/20 (especially after three years) and we now understand the deep depression he slid into upon being laid off from his job of 23 years. Although we were aware of the difficult time he was having at the time, it was “him,” and everyone knew that he would pull out of it. He would be the rock he always was. He would know what to do. He would do it. That’s who he was. That’s what he did.
But he wasn’t. And he didn’t. And after his suicide, I wanted to die too. And on many, many days following his death, my greatest accomplishment was getting out of bed in the morning. And breathing.
And yet, even in the midst of such incredible pain and heartbreak, I felt God. I knew He was always there. It was surreal and supernatural because in some ways, it made no sense at all. I was in the greatest pain of my life–the deepest canyon of my existence—and somehow, more than ever before, I knew God was with me. I knew and felt He loved me. And I knew and felt He hadn’t forsaken me or my boys. In the midst of—and in spite of—all that pain, I was covered in God’s comfort and compassion.
And through the various stages of grief—which, by the way, do not happen in nice, neat stepping stones from one to another, despite what many contend. They circle around and back and forth and through and under and over and I was often surprised to find myself back in a stage I thought I had lived (survived?) through once already. But I digress. Like pain.
But here’s the thing. During that time, God showed up in hundred different ways on any given day saying to me, “I’m here. I know. I love you. Trust me.”
He showed up in the love of the many, many friends who immediately surrounded the boys and I. He showed up every time they brought a meal (for months afterwards), cleaned our home, shopped for groceries, worked in our yard, called to talk, stopped by to visit, sat beside me through difficult meetings and tasks, gave of their time and resources to provide council for next steps, and when all of them—those I knew and those I didn’t–helped provide a college fund for my three boys.
To use the old cliché, all of these people were, without a doubt, “Jesus with skin on” when Jesus was needed most.
And in great part because of them, I survived. I knew God loved me. I knew He was there, watching out for the boys and I. And I grasped a whole other reason why Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves. So that we can be Jesus with skin on when someone desperately needs Him there…physically there.
All this to say, I hope you and I don’t miss it. Our opportunity to be Jesus with skin on to someone in need. To help them believe that they matter to God, that He hasn’t forgotten them, that He hasn’t looked away, that He loves them even though it looks like He’s forsaken them, that He’s still got everything under control. That they can still trust Him. That He knows. He hears. He cares. He loves.
Jesus with skin on. Because life is going to happen. And when it happens hard, someone will need to know that Jesus is in that too.