“I don’t understand why this is happening.” That’s been my response during the last few years in regards to my health. Two years ago, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness that I’d never even heard of. I’ve had to wrestle with the fact that the outcomes I expected for my life and body have shifted. There are days where I’m poked by needles so often that I feel like a science experiment. There are weeks where I’m waiting for test results, fighting off a haze of anxiety. The lack of clarity makes it difficult to know what to anticipate or hope for. One of the things I’ve found extremely helpful in this season is to hear how other people process through their loss and grief in life. These fresh perspectives have given my bruised heart exactly what it needs to carry on during difficult times.
I had the privilege of attending a Women’s Heart Engaging Network (WHEN) event this month that accomplished this very thing. We gathered in a beautiful location, ate a delicious brunch, and enjoyed one another’s diverse company. When guest speaker Alice Tang shared the heartbreaking story of her son’s death and how she walked through it relying on God, I knew I needed to pay attention. What could I receive from this woman’s brave journey through loss? Here’s what I’ve been learning from her story.
Everything I’ve been given is a gift and isn’t for me to keep.
This sounds like it might make an inspirational wall hanging, but imagine you’re hearing it after a mother has just told the tragic story of the death of her 32-year old son. I can’t even fathom coming to this place of acceptance after a loss like that. Yet, that’s where Alice Tang landed nine months after her son passed. Faced with what she called the “most tragic day of our lives,” Alice was able to lean into her grief and come out the other side with deep gratitude for the gift she’d been given and a recognition that her son’s life was never hers to keep or control.
I wrestle with this truth for my own life. The ‘letting go’ is so difficult. Who knows what’s on the other side of that? But as I’ve surrendered, gradually, continually, I’ve started to see glimpses of what Alice shared — life as a precious gift, given to me for the time that has been ordained. This process has sparked a new zeal in how I wake up each morning and engage with life. Not in a ‘live like it’s your last moment’ kind of thing (which in reality is exhausting), but more an ‘every day matters’ kind of way.
Trusting God doesn’t just happen, I need to choose it.
From my observations, people who lean into faith instead of away from it during a tragedy seem to come out with an other-worldly trust and reliance on their Creator. But it takes an intentional choice. When the RCMP told Alice that her son was gone, she felt blank, lost, and confused. She struggled to accept the truth, and when she did, she sensed herself coming to a crossroads. She could either choose trust, leaning into the pain with Jesus or run away from it and deal with it in her own way. She chose to lean in.
In my own story, I see repeated patterns where I choose to shut down or retreat when I’m in pain. I’m recognizing that trust is a practice that takes consistent nurturing, and I’ve seen it grow in me because I’ve said ‘yes’ to the process. It grows when I choose to stay present, believing in God’s goodness while waiting for the doctor’s call. It grows when I choose to release my tears of grief instead of retreating inward in anger. It seems impossible some days. But I’ve noticed that when I lean in the way Alice chose to do, I feel more deeply connected to God, myself, and the people around me. I feel truly grounded.
God cares for my future, so I can be at peace now.
Alice’s experience losing her son had her questioning God’s goodness and promise for a future. Yet she relayed instance after instance of God revealing himself through miraculous events after his death. One of the events really stuck with me. Her son’s body was found on a bench by an early morning jogger. He’d gone out jogging the night before and sat on a bench to rest before heading home, where he fell asleep. Sadly, due to complications with a supplement he’d been taking, and his body temperature drastically dropping, his heart stopped overnight.
Alice recalls going back to visit the bench where her son was found. “Even though it was a sunny day, I could feel the chill,” she shared. As she approached the bench she noticed there was a scripture on it, Jeremiah 29:11 — “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
I was stunned.
Alice didn’t think this was a coincidence. Instead, she received it as a sign of hope and clings to it for her family to this day. “Even though we’re not all promised blue skies,” she explains, “there is hope and a future.” Although her journey to peace didn’t happen in that instant, she believes that God cares for her future, which enables her to live with peace now.
We’ll all experience loss in our lives and will need to hear these fresh perspectives from one another. Repeatedly. Life is going to be hard, there’s no getting around that. There will be days where we don’t want to get out of bed, but remembering that every day matters can help reshape our outlook. There will be events that make us want to withdraw from God or people, but taking continual steps towards trust will bring us closer to the love and comfort we need to heal. And there will be seasons where we feel anxious about what’s to come, but opening ourselves to God’s promises, no matter how hard that might feel, can guide our broken hearts to hope again.