Answering More of Your Questions on Life, Death, Grief and Loss (Part 1)

Last Sunday I invited Amanda’s family to join me on stage and answer questions about life, death, grief and loss. It was an incredibly healing time for all of us. We laughed, cried, and processed in real time. It’s always been a value in our church to be authentic and real about where you’re at and how Jesus is walking you in next steps and I believe that applies from the top/down of leadership. Thank you for letting us be real with you!

[You can watch the 9:15 and 11:15 services on Resonate's website.]

Unfortunately time constraints didn’t allow us to answer every question that was texted in but I decided to take the best 5 questions we didn’t answer and give my best explanations right here on the blog. I hope this helps to provide healing and hope in your situation.

1. Can you talk about the phrase, "Nothing is Wasted." In loss, sometimes it feels like everything was wasted.

This is a question we get often. The phrase Nothing is Wasted came from a song by Elevation Worship (I’ll share the full story behind why this song was so impactful for us in the book I’m writing) and the scripture Romans 8:28 which says, “And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love him and who’ve been called according to His purpose.” If you have a relationship with Jesus this is a promise for you! There are a couple things I want to point out about this passage. One, the writer doesn’t say all things are good. Not everything that happens to us in life is good. Frankly, some things suck. Sometimes we experience pressure, heartache, loss, grief, tragedy, trauma, injury, and turmoil. But the writer says God works all things TOGETHER for good, meaning He works both the good and the bad turns them into Good.

It’s kind of like baking a cake. When you bake a cake you mix ingredients that are both sweet and bitter to make something tasty and beautiful. I would eat chocolate icing and sugar by themselves any day! Raw eggs, salt, baking soda, and flour, on the other hand, not a chance. But a great baker mixes all ingredients into a savory cake! God does this with our lives! He takes both the good and the bad, both the triumphant and the tragic, both the promotion and the termination, both the healthy times and the times riddled with sickness, and He works them ALL TOGETHER into something beautiful. In your good times and your bad times He’s mixing the ingredients for greater good in your life!

For much of Amanda’s life her heart’s cry was to be called by God for a great purpose. I think if we all took inventory of our lives we’d say that’s what we want most. We want to make a difference. We want to live lives of significance. Amanda impacted everyone she came in contact with during her lifetime. God didn’t cause evil to steal, kill, and destroy Amanda’s life, but He’s now using it. Because of Amanda’s death, exponentially more people are being impacted in their walk with Jesus than she ever possibly would have impacted in her lifetime. God is using both the good (her life) and the bad (her death) to bring about even greater good.

As I type out these very words I’m sitting in a Starbucks at the corner of a table with my headphones in. A guy just walked up to me randomly and inquired, “Are you Davey Blackburn?” I’m always a little thrown when I’m in public and someone recognizes me, but something about this guy’s countenance and the fact that he was wearing a SCORE International Ministry shirt helped me know he was a friendly. ;-)

I put my headphones down and nodded to him. “Man this is crazy. I was just thinking about you this morning and talking with my wife about what an impact you and Amanda’s story has had in our lives and in our family. I can’t believe I just ran into you."

This guy is one of tens of (if not hundreds of) thousands who are being impacted by Amanda’s life, death and the family’s testimony. Now I know most people who experience tragedy and loss don’t have their story plastered all over national news networks and people all over the world following it, and frankly I don’t know why God has chosen to use our story in such a global way. In fact there are people all over the world who experience the same level of tragedy, have the same degree of faith, but aren’t seeing the fruit of “Nothing is Wasted” in their present context. But this promise is still true of them. If you’re a follower of Jesus this promise is true for you. Honestly, none of us will see the full extent of “Nothing is Wasted” in our losses until we stand in front of Jesus and He reveals to us his master plan. But I can give testimony to this, He will do something greater both in you and through you than He ever could have done had you not experienced this loss.

That is the meaning behind Nothing is Wasted. Although it looks like there is much that is wasted from our earthly perspective - Amanda had so much more life to live, Weston no longer has mom, she and I were supposed to grow old together (I could list out hundreds more) - from God’s perspective He isn’t wasting any of this. He’s working, He’s moving, He’s stirring behind the scenes to mix all these ingredients into something beautiful that will impact thousands.

2. How will you handle explaining to Weston once he's old enough, why his mom is with God at such an early age? How do you talk to young children that may have lost a parent early in their life?

Wow. This is a great question and extremely tough to wrestle with. Believe me, I think about this on a daily basis. To be honest with you, I don’t know. The thought of these conversations terrify me. My greatest prayer is that as Weston begins to learn more about his mom’s story, he doesn’t grow angry and resentful toward God, but instead it causes him to say, “Wow, Jesus. You’re so good that you would use this crappy circumstance in my life to affect change for the better in so many others!”

Now, how do I get him there? I don’t know. One thing I’m learning about parenting is that you can do everything “right” and still have your kid go off the deep-end. And you can do everything “wrong” and your kid turn out to be this incredible world-changer! I understand that ultimately the way Weston processes this will be solely contingent on the grace of God and his receptivity to this grace. Weston belongs to Jesus and is mine to steward for a season.

So in the spirit of stewarding I’m trying to do everything I can right now to foster a biblical worldview in his little heart and mind. He is at an age where he is soaking everything in and learning so much! This is a critical age in his life for me to plant seeds of God’s goodness and grace in his heart. Every night that my schedule allows me to tuck him into bed we sing about Jesus together, we read a Bible story, and we pray. We pray this every literally every time:

Dear Jesus. Thank you so much for today and for all the people we got to spend time with today (and then I prompt Weston to pray for each person he hung out with that day, and lately he has initiated praying for Nemo and Dory). Thank you, Jesus, for mommy. Please give her a big hug and and kiss for us. (Then I tell him to give me his mommy kiss. He plants a huge, slobbery kiss on my lips.) Tell her we miss her so much and we can’t wait to see her again someday. And thank you, Jesus for Weston. Please give him a good night sleep and help him to have sweet dreams. Please help him to fall in love with You, Jesus. Please grow him up to be a big strong courageous warrior for you, and if he ever has any doubts or any fears, help him to trust in You all the days of his life. Amen.

All I’m doing here is shaping his worldview. I’m trying to help him understand that in Christ we will see mommy again, that he can look forward to that day, that, yes, we grieve but we don’t grieve as those who have no hope. I’m trying to help him see that falling in love with Jesus is the most important thing for his life and that Jesus wants to use him in a powerful, world-changing way. I’m trying to help him see that he can trust Jesus when he gets scared, discouraged, doubtful, or worried.

Now, as he grows older, he’s going to start having questions that go a little bit more in depth into the situations surrounding Amanda’s death. Amber (Amanda’s sister) has a 5 year old who is already asking these questions. We were in the car the other day laughing, singing, driving down the road and out of the blue Audrey says, “Uncle Davey, how did Aunt Amanda die?"

We’ve taken the approach that we will be honest and informative with all of the kids in so much as is appropriate. At 5 years old she isn’t ready to handle all the details because she’s not able to process them to the fullest extent without living in fear. So I simply answered her, “Sweetheart, we’ll talk about that when you get a little bit older. All you need to know is that she hurt her head really badly."

As Weston gets older and we begin having these conversations I’ll take the same approach. Up to this point in this whole ordeal Jesus has given me grace in the moment to step into what I need to step into with my church, with the media, with processing grief for myself and I trust when the times come that Weston and I have these conversations, Jesus will give me words to say. Most importantly I’m going to be present with Weston to process it with him and help Him understand how to process it Biblically. I guess this is part of the story that is yet to be written. I’m glad I serve the master author, Jesus.

3. What about kids/teens going to heaven? Is there a certain age they should accept Jesus as their savior in order to get to Heaven, should they lose their life before they're an adult?

This is a really good question. I’m not going to try to answer this question in this particular post because I believe it would be too lengthy. I’ll do a separate post about this at length at a later date. Stay tuned.

Stay tuned for questions 4 & 5 later this week!