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Some of the most moving faith stories have occurred in the shadow of great loss. Jerry Sittser, Lisa Beamer, and Gracia Burnham share their profound experiences with God in the face of the most painful circumstances.
Some of the most moving faith stories have occurred in the shadow of great loss. Jerry Sittser, Lisa Beamer, and Gracia Burnham share their experiences with God in the face of painful circumstances.
Bob: For most of us, times of accelerated spiritual growth in our lives correlate to times when we have been the valley—like Lisa Beamer whose husband Todd was one of the passengers onboard Flight 93 on September 11th.
Lisa: His faith kept him strong and courageous and focused until the end. I know that he was going to do anything he could do to come home to us.
Bob: Or like Gracia Burnham who, with her husband Martin, was serving as a missionary in the Philippians before the two of them were abducted.
Gracia: I looked over at him, and he was bleeding from his chest. I knew from experience that leg wounds heal—but chest wounds don’t.
Bob: Or like Jerry Sittser who in one moment was in a car wreck where he lost his wife, his mother, and his daughter.
Jerry: I got the kids out who were mobile and then went back to try to attend to Lynda. I got a pulse but knew she wasn’t going to live. Her injuries were just too severe.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, December 28th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We all wonder in the midst of tragedy, “Where is God?” The Bible tells us where He is—He’s walking the journey with us. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition.
One of the great privileges you and I have had over the 25-plus years that we’ve been doing this is that we’ve been invited into some dark places with folks who have taken us there—
—not simply to wallow in darkness but instead to say, “In the midst of darkness, God can show up and bring light.”
Dennis: That’s right, Bob. In fact, I would hope FamilyLife Today has been a light to others who’ve been in some dark places along the way as we tell stories and as we point people back to the Scriptures.
I’d just like to turn to you as a listener and say, “If you’ve benefitted from our broadcast, if you like the fact that we’re one of your trusted sources of truth from the Bible on marriage and family and issues you are facing, then, I’d like to encourage you to stand with us here at year-end.” We are in need of fulfilling a match that still is unmet—and when you give, you make possible equipping parents in their assignment of raising the next generation.
Bob: In fact, what happens here in the closing minutes of 2017 will determine just how much ministry we can do in the year ahead.
That’s the reason we are asking listeners if God has used FamilyLife® in your life, in your marriage, your family this year—if you’d like to see this message reaching more people next year, then join us and make a donation here at year-end.
Dennis: I don’t know what you are capable of doing, but if you are capable of giving the widow’s mite—just a little bit—then, you know what? Join with us. We’ll take it and use it—it’s not going to stick to our fingers. If you are capable of really helping us with a generous gift as well, we’ll take that and plow it into human hearts all across the country and around the world.
Bob: Thank you for extending the reach of this ministry—
Dennis: I agree.
Bob: —with your donations in the past. And we hope that we can continue to reach out to more people in 2018. If you’d like to help us with a year-end donation, it’s easy to do. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and donate online. You can call to donate at 1-800-FL-TODAY—or you can mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at—
—P.O. Box 7111, Little Rock, Arkansas; our zip code is 72223. As long as it’s postmarked before the end of the year then we’ll have the opportunity for those funds to be matched through that matching gift challenge.
We want to spend some time today talking about how God meets us in the midst of suffering.
Dennis: That’s right, Bob. One of the most profound stories, I think, we’ve ever told here on FamilyLife Today was told by Dr. Jerry Sittser who is a professor at Whitworth University who was on a road trip with his four children, his wife, and his mom to minister to Native Americans—and on his way home, there was a tragic accident.
Jerry: On a lonely stretch of highway, I noticed a car coming on at a really rapid rate of speed. Without any warning, he just drove right into me at 85 miles an hour. In fact, it was so head-on that his car cartwheeled over ours.
So, it was—it was awful.
In the wake of that accident, as soon as I could collect myself, I looked around and knew that it was really bad. My mother who was sitting way in the back was seriously injured; and I could tell Lynda, my wife, was catastrophically injured, too. My four year old—I could tell was dead. She was—it had broken her neck. I tried to get a pulse, did mouth-to-mouth, but it was hopeless. My other kids were dazed, crying, screaming—it was just chaotic. All the windows were broken on the car.
I got the kids out who were mobile and then went back to try to attend to Lynda. I got a pulse but knew she wasn’t going to live.
Her injuries were just too severe. As I said, I did mouth-to-mouth on Diana Jane on the ground—but she was gone.
Then, something really beautiful happened. You know you find these flowers in the midst of ashes almost right away. Some guy got out of the car and went over to my mother and reached out to her through the broken window and held her hand and stroked her arm until she died. That is a beautiful act of grace to me. It was very courageous of him in the midst of that chaos and that violence to breakthrough that with love and mercy. I wish I knew who that man was. I’d like to thank him.
After about an hour, Catherine, David, John, and I were all put in the same emergency vehicle and then were transported another hour up to Coeur d'Alene for emergency care. That one hour was probably the most significant hour I’ve ever had in my life.
It really was a turning point for me. It was like a wormhole from one reality to another. Honestly, that is the most accurate way I could describe it. Time ceased to have meaning. It could have been ten years. That is frozen in my memory—that period of time. It was probably the most rational moment I’ve ever had in my life.
It was quiet. John was sedated. The other kids were whimpering, but it was quiet. The emergency personnel didn’t say anything, and I had one hour to just be. I thought about the accident. I thought about the scene. I knew what had happened, and I thought about what would be as a result. I considered the task set before me. I really was—I was—I had a burden that was placed on my shoulders and—in a sense—a divine mandate that said, “You draw a line in the sand right now and decide what you want to be”—
—“and what you want to come from this experience.” And I did.
I said, “I want the bleeding to stop right here. This is it. I don’t want to do things that are going to set in motion more and more pain and more and more bleeding that could go on for generations.” I made the basic decision right there and then that I was going to somehow—by the grace of God—respond and live this story out in a way that was going to be redemptive. And redemption was really the key term that just kept coming back to me—redemption. This is not the final word.
Bob: Well, again, that’s Dr. Jerry Sittser sharing with us about the tragedy in his life and his family.
Dennis: You know as he was talking, I was just thinking again of the quote, “The doors of opportunity swing on the little hinges of obedience.” What Jerry Sittser chose to do in that moment was believe—
—that God is the God of Redemption, and He was going to use it for His purposes, His glory. It didn’t mean it would be easy, but it did mean that there was a bigger story taking place.
You have to believe, right now, we’re talking to listeners who are in the middle of their own story and may need to be reminded that God is the God of Redemption. Will you trust Him? Will you obey with what He asks you to do?
Bob: One of the people we had an opportunity to visit with was the widow of Todd Beamer—his wife, Lisa. Todd was onboard Flight 93—the flight that did not make its target—the flight that went down in a field in Pennsylvania. Todd had called and talked to an operator and asked her to relay a message to his wife. Then, he had marshalled his fellow passengers together and they stormed the cockpit. Everybody knew that it was Todd Beamer who had said, “Let’s roll.”
We talked with Lisa Beamer as she shared her reflections on that day.
Lisa: I saw the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania, and when I saw that flight, I got a bad feeling just because I knew that that was the direction his plane would have been travelling. The time was about right from when I thought his flight would have taken off. A few minutes later, they came back on and said it was a Newark to San Francisco United flight. When they said that, I instantly knew that that was his flight. So, it was at that moment on TV, that I knew the fate of Todd—and I had an instant picture of what our family was facing.
Dennis: One of the things Lisa—that you wrote about in your book that I smiled as I read about it and I wept—were the gifts that people sent you after this occurred.
Lisa: Throughout the fall, I transformed the dining room—or the dining room was transformed into—an assortment of things that had been sent from people across America—literally across the world—
—mementos of Flight 93, hats, mugs, “Let’s Roll”-this and “Let’s Roll”-that. [Laughter] People really attached themselves to that phrase.
Bob: Of course, we know that phrase because of the phone call that Todd was able to make. When were you aware—how did you find out that that call had been made?
Lisa: It was the Friday after September 11th. So, I guess it was the 15th. United Airlines called me and let me know that there had been a phone call made, and that the FBI had cleared the information in the phone call that I was able to receive it at that point. He gave me the number of Lisa Jefferson who was the operator who Todd spoke to from the air phone, and I was able to speak with her on Saturday morning and get her feelings and thoughts about what they had talked about.
It was a blessing to get that. I never expected to have any more information or knowledge of what had happened to Todd in those last minutes.
If anything could be great at that point—that was great.
Bob: When she told you that the two of them had said The Lord’s Prayer together, that he’d recited Psalm 23, and that what she’d heard at the end was that phrase, “Let’s roll,” it had to be part of you just smiling knowing that’s Todd—and another part of you missing him at the same time.
Lisa: Yes. You know since I have those days of not knowing what had happened—we had a lot of people saying, “Did you get a phone call? Did you hear from Todd? What happened?” All I could say is “I don’t know what happened. I’m not—I don’t think we’ll ever know, but I do know that Todd—his faith kept him strong and courageous and focused until the end. I know that he was going to do anything he could do to come home to us—and I know that we were at the forefront of his mind.”
When I got the details of the phone call, it confirmed all those elements that had—obviously, it was his faith that was holding him steady.
The actions that he took in those last 15 minutes were just a tribute to a person that he was.
Bob: On occasion, as you just in your mind play through things like this, I’ve thought, “One of the hardest things that I would think of experiencing, if I were in your shoes, would be that day when David come to you—or climb up in your lap—and just say, ‘I miss Daddy;’ and it would just touch something right inside of you saying, ‘I miss Daddy too.’” I’m sure the two of you have just wept together over that.
Lisa: Yes, especially as David gets a little older, he’s starting to internalize it more and realize all the things that Todd’s not going to be here for. He was at swimming lessons recently, and we were driving home, and he was quiet. Then, he just said, “I wish Daddy could be here at my swimming lessons.” I said, “I do too, David.” Those are the hardest times, definitely.
You know I didn’t know how God was going to use that—
—for a bigger perspective on faith and how it really looks when it’s put into action every day. In the case of Todd, that’s how it started out. I didn’t know that from there He was also going to be using me and my story from here on out—and I certainly don’t know what He has for the future—but if I’ve learned anything since September 11th, it’s just really that what we’re called to do is live on faith moment by moment.
The way I live my life, usually, is to kind of have things orchestrated and planned; but there is nothing about the events of the last year that I know anything about or that I can prepare for or anticipate.
I’ve really been impressed all the more that when we just sit back and say, “God, I’m Your vessel. Use me. I’m here to really obey and to share what You have me to share with whoever I’m going to bump shoulders with today,”—it’s a really peaceful life. I—quite frankly—haven’t had more peace—
—in my heart and in my soul in the last year than I’ve ever had in my whole life because I have a much stronger sense that—really—God is in control. And when we fall in line with His plans—that’s the best place to be.
Bob: Again, we’ve been listening to Lisa Beamer reflecting on the events of 9/11 and the death of her husband, Todd. We often think to ourselves, “I don’t know how I would handle something like that.” Lisa reminds us—in the moment—God gives grace for us to walk by faith; doesn’t He?
Dennis: He does. He also promises us in Romans, chapter 5, that suffering can produce endurance. If we allow God to do His work in our souls, endurance produces character—and ultimately—character produces hope. That’s what we heard in her voice—a suffering that was unthinkable—
—that had been processed by her—I’m sure—not perfectly. Nonetheless, she talked about her faith growing through this trial—through this deep, dark valley.
Bob: There is one other widow we want to hear from today. Gracia Burnham and her husband Martin were missionaries in the Philippines when they were kidnapped by a terrorist group—and ultimately, it was their rescue—
Bob: —that led to Martin’s death. Gracia reflected on her last day with her husband.
Gracia: We were looking for the elusive village—the village where there was—the second ransom was there—they were going to turn us over to civilians, and this was all going to going to be over—but we were actually kind of lost. Our guide didn’t exactly know where we were. One night we were going to cross a logging road to get to this—
—village that we thought was over there—and I said to my guard, “Could you go tell them not to cross this road? I don’t have a good feeling about this. Someone is going to see our tracks and follow us.”
Of course, they didn’t pay any attention to me—and as the sun went down, when no one could see us, we crossed the road, hiked all night. But there were three kind of rules with this war. One was we never fought in the rain, we never fought after dark, and they never pursued us. We would have our gun battle. Then, we would go our way—and they would go theirs.
Well, it cloudy up to rain that day. So, we put our hammocks up, we put our little plastic shelters over the hammocks to keep the rain off, and we laid down for a rest. We didn’t know that that morning they’d seen our footprints and had been following us all day.
The soldiers came over the hill and opened fire on our camp.
I knew what to do right away—I dropped—but even before I got to the ground, I’d been shot in the leg. There was enough rain already that I kind of just slid down the hill and came to rest beside Martin. I looked over at him, and he was bleeding from his chest—I knew from experience that leg wounds heal—but chest wounds don’t.
Dennis: You didn’t have any words with him then.
Gracia: No, I didn’t say anything to him.
Bob: The two of you had had a conversation—what?—the night before as you’d gone to sleep.
Gracia: No, just minutes before—when we were sitting down in our hammock to have our rest, Martin had said to me, “Gracia, I don’t know why this has happened to us but Psalm 100 has been”—
—“just running through my head all day, especially the verse that says, ‘Serve the Lord with gladness.’” He said, “This may not seem like serving the Lord, but let’s just choose to serve Him with gladness.” Those are the last words he ever said—well, we prayed together and laid down.
When I didn’t hear the languages of the Abu Sayyaf coming from the river, I started moving my hands just very slowly so someone would know I was alive. I didn’t want them to be startled and shoot me. Some soldiers saw me right away and came down the hill and started dragging me up to the ridge. As they drug me up the hill, I looked back at Martin; and he was white—and that’s when I knew he was dead.
You know the Lord gave me real grace right then.
We had been praying that we would get out of there—and to be quite honest, we didn’t care how anymore—we had just had it. And right in that moment, I thought, “This is God’s answer. Martin’s with Him, and they’re going to take care of me.” I just had a real peace—and you know what? That peace has never left me. I have a real peace in my heart that “This is God’s plan. It is not how I would have planned it—but you know what? God is God—and I’m not the one that does the choosing. He’s the one that does the choosing—and I trust Him—and I trust that He is good.
Bob: Again, that’s Gracia Burnham talking about the death of her husband and the—
—faith that God has given her to walk through the valley of the shadow of death and to cling to Him.
Dennis: I’ve been spending a lot of time in recent weeks in the Psalms. It is amazing how many times the psalmist moves from wondering where God is—why God’s silent—and then how the psalmist moves to finding God as his refuge—his source of strength—just as Gracia so eloquently took us into a spot that is unimaginable and yet demonstrates such a real faith—
Dennis: —in such an ordeal. I just want to encourage a listener—regardless of where you are in the journey—what you’re facing—what you’ve been through—it may have lasted longer than a year. Let God be your refuge—turn to Him—get in the Book—start reading the Psalms, and cry out to Him.
There is no reason to be ashamed. There’s no reason to lose hope. God is there, and He is there to allow us to rest in Him and find hope.
Bob: If you’re in a situation today where you need help and hope, we’re here at FamilyLife with that goal in mind. We want to provide ongoing practical biblical help and hope for marriages and families throughout the year. We’re here for you because friends who are listeners to this program have made this ministry possible.
Your donations to FamilyLife Today make it possible for us to provide ongoing help and hope to more people—more regularly—and we’re grateful for those of you who throughout 2017 have joined with us—helped support this ministry with your financial contributions and your prayers.
Here in the final hours of the year we’d like to ask you to join with us and continue to make this ministry possible in the New Year. Help us end this year strong and help us head in to 2018 fully ready to do what we believe God’s calling us to do—to effectively develop godly marriages and families.
If you’d like to help with a year-end contribution, you can do it easily online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Again, as you make a donation today, you still have matching funds available, so your donation is going to be effectively doubled because of the matching gift opportunity that’s been made available to us.
You can also donate by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY. We’ve got folks standing by during the day to take your call—1-800-358-6329—or you can write a check and mail it to us. As long as your envelope is postmarked before the end of the year, your donation will qualify for a 2017 tax deduction.
Our mailing address is FamilyLife Today at P.O. Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
We hope you can join us back again tomorrow when we’re going to continue to hear from people who found that in the valley of the shadow of death, God was with them; and His rod and staff did—indeed—comfort them. We’ll hear that tomorrow. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® ministry.
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