September 11, 2011 is a day that has come to represent loss for many in the United States. For me, September 19, 1980 is forever etched in my mind as the day that defines loss—the moment in time when my daughter Amanda Rae Asche was born and then died. Indescribable joy and cruel pain all mixed together within the span of a few short hours. I was witnessing God’s marvelous creation alive before my very eyes and then seeing the forces of sin and death destroy life. The reality of what Eve’s rebellion and ultimately my rebellion has wreaked on our world came crashing in on my life.
In the months before Amanda was born, I had been attending a Bible Study, and I had grown in my understanding of the faith into which I had been baptized and confirmed. As the baby’s due date approached, I had told the ladies in the study group that I would probably not be attending any longer because when my baby was born I would be very busy. I felt I had what I needed from the Word and could move on to the real business of raising a family.
But now, the reality of my daughter’s death and my inability to understand what was happening in my life drove me to God’s Word for answers. I searched through my white leather Revised Standard Bible that served as a decoration on my coffee table, desperately seeking an answer to the pain that threatened to overwhelm me. I found God’s promise to me in 1 Peter 5:10, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, and establish you” (ESV). I was amazed! God already knew that I would suffer in this world? This pain I was going through was not a surprise to him? He said, “After you have suffered,” not “IF you have suffered.”
Much later I would find out that Paul was writing to believers facing persecution, encouraging them to pray and trust God’s love for them now with the assurance that they would find relief from persecution one day. However, submerged in my sea of pain, it was enough for me to know that God was aware of what was happening in this painful world I lived in and that somehow he would restore me.
As time went on I learned that life consists of peace and joy, pain and suffering, all mixed together. It was exemplified for me by an empty nursery and the body of Christ surrounding me with love and support. The pain of loss brought me to my knees while restoring my soul. I experienced the excruciating pain of putting flowers on a small lonely grave on the windswept North Dakota prairie. Then one year later there came indescribable wonder and joy at the birth of another beautiful daughter to fill my aching arms and drive a song deep into my hurting heart.
God continued to work the mystery of his love in me through my losses in the days and years to come, bringing joy and peace in the midst of pain. There was a season when I wept over a wayward child far from home while darkness descended, as I stood at my kitchen window looking at the lights of the city in the distance. I felt the unfathomable pain of knowing that I was powerless to protect my child from the evil one. Then I knew the slow dawning of the morning with victory in song and dance as I was reminded that Jesus Christ has triumphed over sin and evil. I was reminded that the precious seed of his Word, faithfully planted in the fertile soil of a young child, would sprout and grow in its appointed time. I learned painfully and slowly that the joy in my heart could not be touched by sorrow as I saw God’s promises steadily become stronger in my child’s life, choking out the cruel weeds of deception.
I was to experience the same pattern of Jesus’ suffering on the cruel, cruel cross as my crumpled relationships revealed sin in my heart and left me desperate and lonely. I would once again know the reality of Jesus rising to new life on Resurrection Day and the forgiveness of my sins, birthing a passion in my heart to reach those who are lost and without a shepherd. The pain and suffering of brokenness helped me to understand God’s perfect plan for the redemption of what sin has damaged in this world. My soul has been resurrected with freedom from the lies of sin and has found the joy of my salvation through Jesus Christ.
Recently I attended a Women’s Retreat at Inspiration Point Bible Camp. At the end of the weekend, we were encouraged to take home with us a paper leaf with a verse printed on it from a paper tree on the wall. I managed to pluck a verse that promises, “In this world you will have tribulation.” I grumbled to my friend that I could have done better with a fortune cookie and complained that I never get the verse about God giving me “hope and a future.” (Not to worry, God and my friend understand my strange sense of humor.) My friend pointed out that there is more to that verse, and there is. “These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, KJV).
Almost 35 years have passed since Amanda was born. The memory of the loss I sustained that day can still stop my world and drive me to my knees. I know the story is not over yet. My sin and the sin of those around me continue to cause loss and pain. However I can say with assurance that God has overcome this world that I live in through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Every loss that I have experienced since the day that Amanda died reminds me that sin and death seek to destroy what God has created. However, God himself has restored my soul. He has confirmed me on the firm foundation of what Jesus Christ has suffered, and he has established me by the power of his Word. The pain of loss has not destroyed me, but has driven me to the promises of God and planted a joy in my heart that cannot be touched by the evil in this world.
Kay Asche is the secretary to the president of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren and a student at Lutheran Brethren Seminary in Fergus Falls, MN.