Faith Testimony: Through Christ Who Strengthens Me – By Barbara Lavalley

When my first daughter, Cassandra, was stillborn in 1986, some people asked me, “How can you believe in God?” My answer was, “How can I not?” I reached deep into my heart and remembered the times he had not let me down. I remembered the times he had remained by my side when I was more interested in my own will than his. Too many times, I had seen God’s hand and felt his presence in my life. I could say, without a doubt, that God was there. However, since the loss of my seven-year-old daughter, I have found that he is with me more than I ever imagined possible.

Rachel died very unexpectedly on January 13, 1996. She went to bed with a little cold, but an acute and lethal viral infection closed off all her air passages. I have never known, and hope to never know again, such despair as I experienced at the loss of Rachel. I was sure it was not something I could live through. I knew I couldn’t. But “through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4: 13 ), I am still here. Each morning when I wake up and realize all over again the reality of her not being here, I can only turn to God. I cannot do it alone. When the hole in my heart gapes ever wider, he fills it with his grace. When I am not functioning and ready to give up, and my heart feels dead in my chest, the Lord fills me with the love of the Holy Spirit, and with the love of my family and friends.

A SPECIAL MOMENT – Even on the night Rachel died, I could see God at work. He worked through the small voice of my five-year-old son. While we were getting ready for bed that night, he asked unexpectedly, “What would you do if one of us died?” I was speechless. He said, “Never mind.” But I could not let it go. For some reason, he had said it, and so we talked about it. As I put Rachel to bed, the subject was still on my mind. Rachel and I talked about dying, and how we would always be together, no matter where we were. We talked about our love for one another and the special things we liked about one another. Without knowing it, we were saying good-bye. I will never forget the things we said to each other that night. Our last words were, “I love you.” I stayed beside her, and she fell asleep with her head on my heart. I remember thinking, “Lord, never let me forget this moment.”

How could I be angry with a God who allowed me such a moment and such memories? I could have rushed her to bed, busy with other things. But that evening was special I knew it even before she died later that night.

I don’t know what my life would have been like this past year if I had chosen to turn away from God. I could have chosen bitterness and despair, but I’ve realized that it is a choice. When I wake up each day, I can choose to lie face down on the floor and refuse to start the day, but I have learned that if I fall to my knees first and pray, I gain the strength for one more day. If during the day I feel like repeatedly banging my head against a wall, I pray. I know that in the beginning, when I could not even pray, that people were praying for me. God was here for me even then. I have not felt, for even one day, that God was not comforting me in some way.

GOD CARES ABOUT OUR NEEDS – In my grief, Rachel came to me one evening, holding someone’s hand, and said, “Mama, I’m with God.” I knew in that moment that God cares about even the least of us. He cares about our individual needs. My need was to know where my daughter was, and that she was not afraid. I knew that when she died in my arms, she awoke in God’s. I did not see God, but he allowed me to see Rachel. This gave me the hope I needed to survive, and to be a useful person on this earth until the time when we will be together again-not only with Rachel and Cassandra, but with a God who cares so much for us.

God has taken a very active part in our lives. After Rachel died, I was concerned about the reactions of the children in her second-grade class. I was inspired to take Rachel’s stuffed animals and give them to each child directly after the funeral. I asked them to please love them for Rachel so they would have something to hold onto that would comfort them.

When we were struggling to decide whether to stay in our home after Rachel’s death, I took it to God in prayer. We could not make a decision-it was too heart-wrenching to move. I said, “Lord, if it is your will that we move, please let our house sell within a month, or not at all.” I heard him say, “I don’t need even a week.” Our house sold the first day it was on the market.

A LOVE STRONGER THAN DEATH – When I’ve wanted my way-to have Rachel back-God is still there, and I feel that he cries with me. His love is big enough to stretch around all of my hurt. When my younger son comes to me with his aching heart, God stretches his arms wider, and even wider still for my nineteen year old and my husband. We have found his love to be bigger-and stronger-than death.

My life will never be the same. Even though I know it will always be a struggle, my hope is in a God who never changes, a God who is there for us in the good times and the bad. If I believe in God’s love in the good times, how can I not believe in his love during the difficulties? I may not understand why, but every day he gives me courage when I am afraid, and comfort when I am in despair. He helps me to continue to be a useful person, and my faith in a caring God is renewed.

That he could have chosen to change the outcome doesn’t matter to me anymore; that he has not left me during this time is where I have found my faith. If we let him, he will carry our pain. If we let him, he will strengthen us in all things .•