Last Thursday morning, the news began to spread of an early morning house fire in a small KY town that had claimed the lives of a mother and eight of her nine children. Only the dad, Chad Watson, and 11-year-old daughter made it out alive, and they had serious injuries.
I didn’t know this family, but we had some mutual friends, and through that family I’ve learned a few details that weren’t in the news stories that flew across the nation.
The fire that morning was so hot that even the firefighters couldn’t get in to try to save the others, but that anguished dad tried three times to get back in and pull more of his family out. Afterward, as he sat with burned lungs and hands waiting for the ambulance to take him away, his brother-in-law arrived at the scene and asked what happened. Chad looked up and said, “I’ve done all I can do. My wife and kids are in the hands of a loving God.”
As the day unfolded and I saw just tiny bits and pieces of the aftermath from our friends’ texts and Facebook updates, my mind was in a state of numbness. I didn’t even know this family, but felt a kinship with them somehow–maybe because they were a large family too. I was struggling to grasp how this man and his girl would ever figure out how to move forward. Then when I heard what he had said there as his family was dying just out of his reach, I was broken.
Then, I was strengthened.
He was faced with what was surely his worst, unthinkable nightmare. And right then, in that very moment, he clung to what he knew to be true of God even when his flesh had to be railing against it. When all he held dear was stripped away in a moment, his faith remained.
What is so compelling about stories of faith in the darkest of moments? Some of the most influential people in my walk with Christ are people I haven’t even met. What made such an impact on me? Their faith shining through in their worst hour.
Elisabeth Elliot. Corrie ten Boom. Joni Eareckson Tada. These are just a few. Each one of them faced very different trials that altered the very course of their life.
When Elisabeth Elliot was asked how she survived the days immediately following the murder of her husband by the Waodoni natives he was trying to reach with the gospel, she answered, “I just did the next thing.” She trusted in the good providence of her God even when it felt bitter, and she simply kept on obeying Him even in those heartbreaking days when it became evident that her Jim wasn’t coming home.
When Corrie ten Boom was speaking after World War 2 about her time in a concentration camp, she saw in the audience a man who had been a guard in the camp. She walked up to him and said, “I forgive you.” She suffered unspeakable horrors in the camp, yet held onto her faith in the Sovereign God she had always trusted, and through His grace, was able to look her captor in the eye and extend that same grace to him.
Joni Eareckson Tada has spent most of her life in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the neck down. When I heard her speak a couple of years ago, she said of her diving accident, “It was a great bruising of a blessing.” She acknowledged the grief and agony of body and soul that this trial brought, but acknowledged that it came from a God whose plans for her are good.
Thursday night, as we drove around Paducah, my thoughts in almost constant prayer for my friends and the others affected by this loss, the Matt Redman song, “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)” came on the radio. As I was quietly singing along, one line jumped out: “Let me be singing when the evening comes.”
So many people face tragedy, and tragedy rarely gives a heads up that it’s on its way. We can begin a day and end it in two very different circumstances. When I hear stories like Chad Watson’s, or Elisabeth Elliot’s or Corrie ten Boom’s or Joni Eareckson Tada’s, I often wonder, “What would I say if it were me? Would I have that faith?”
Here’s what I realized last Thursday night as that song played: every morning when I wake up, I have no idea what will happen by evening. It may be easy to bless the Lord before the trial comes, but I want to be like so many heroes of the faith and bless Him in the moment of trial–no matter what it is.
Chad Watson had no clue when he went to bed Wednesday night what was just around the corner. But God knew. And God never left Him–not for a moment. And God never left his wife or those eight precious children. His plan was most certainly not what any husband or father would ever choose, but Chad knew His God well enough to know that His hands were loving even in that agonizingly bitter moment.
Though I have no idea what may be just around the next corner, I hope my faith will shine through at every moment. And when the day has brought all that God has ordained it should bring my way, let me–like Chad Watson and countless other worshippers–still be singing when the evening comes.