nancy williams

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Archive for October, 2007

Choosing to believe in the midst of the storm

Watch the news on television, read the papers, connect with the Internet and even gather around the coffee pot at your office and you’re likely to hear about tragedies, all too often occurring in our community, in our church family, even in our own lives. When those times come, we find ourselves struggling with profound questions. Why does God allow “bad things to happen to good people?” and how do we hold on to our faith when our lives turn upside down?

On Dec. 10, 2003, four gun shots met Kent Whitaker and his family at the front door of his Sugar Land home. The first two killed his wife and son and the third missed his heart, leaving him alive. The fourth hit his other son’s arm as that son fought with the intruder. Three days later, his wounded son had become the chief suspect, and within seven months had disappeared under suspicion into the mountains of Mexico. Fifteen months later, he was arrested and charged with masterminding the shootings and arranging his wound to remove suspicion. In March 2007, he was convicted and sentenced to death.

But this is just the surface story. As I have come to meet Kent through a writer’s group, I’ve begun to learn about the powerful stories that are being woven through this tragedy: stories of faith and trust in God’s provision, of courage and forgiveness, of God’s amazing grace and his unfailing love. The television program “48 Hours Mystery!” will air this story on Oct. 20. It’s our prayer that the primary message conveyed will be about the power of God’s love in the life of this father and son.

I asked Kent to share some thoughts about how God will bring good out of even the most extreme tragedies, when we draw close to him and place our life in his hands. Listen with your heart to his story.

“I am amazed at how God has worked through the last four years. In a strange way, my story should encourage everyone who faces hardships, whether they are medical, relational, or financial. Everyone worries about catastrophes, and whether they have what it takes to rebuild should disaster hit. My story is as frightening as they come; it might be the ultimate parental nightmare.

What could be more horrible than having your son kill his mom and little brother, and trying to kill you? And then seven months later suddenly disappear, taking your money and abandoning you to clean up the mess? Only to be arrested, forcing you to endure a media trial (and its associated huge financial drain)? No, hundreds of people have told me that my story makes their troubles pale in comparison. What lessons can we learn?

First, we have the choice of trusting God’s word, or not. When storms come we must choose to believe that he will work even disasters into events that ultimately bless us and bring him glory. He validates that, just as he honored my trust on the night of the shootings.

As I wrestled with my doubts that night, I made the conscious decision to trust him, even though it was inconceivable to me that the murders could ever be worked for good. But I made that choice because the Bible said he would bring good from them, and I wanted to believe it, even as I doubted. It took an act of extreme willpower to make myself trust him through this horror. But that is what he is waiting for: our trusting faith when it doesn’t make sense.

Once I made that decision, he moved. God offered me the power to forgive everyone who was involved in the murders. This may be the biggest lesson of all: People hurt us, but since God commands us to forgive them, he will give us his supernatural power to do it, if we submit ourselves to him. He knows how hard forgiveness can be to give (and accept!), but since it is vital for our own healing, he will do the hard parts for us. When we give him the reins of our life, he will give us supernatural power to do his will. Even forgiving murder.

Looking back, I can see how he worked the murders to good. Because I had already forgiven the faceless stranger who hurt me so badly I was able to forgive my son when he fell under that very suspicion. The seven months we studied and prayed together before he ran to Mexico were crucial in Bart’s eventual healing, but they would have been impossible if I had not already forgiven him. Without it, I would have stayed in my bitterness, hurt, anger and distrust, and Bart would have gone to Mexico without directly witnessing my display of God’s unconditional love. He probably wouldn’t have made the connection with Christ, but would have returned to prison as the same young man who plotted the murders of his family, instead of the new creature he had become.

God took the murders, and used them to save my son. My family will now spend eternity together. Don’t tell me he can’t take everything and work it for good!”

Teach Your Children Well

We tell our children how to behave in church, at school, with friends and on a sports team. We teach them how to tie their shoes, mow the grass and drive a car. We stress the importance of using good manners, obeying authority and dressing properly. When they graduate from school and step out on their own, we wish them luck and assume our work as teachers is complete. And yet…

There are so many other lessons they could benefit from, if we would take time to share our thoughts about life and about God, about love and forgiveness, about faith, acceptance, hope and perseverance. Often times, the best examples to share come from our own life experiences. Yet, we seldom take time to teach our children- both young and older – about the essence of life itself. How to live as God intends. How to experience His grace and the warmth of His love. They could learn so much from our trials and successes, even our failures, if we would take time to share from those life lessons.

When interviewing parents for “Letting Go of Our Adult Children: When What We Do Is Never Enough,” author Arlene Harder talked with Gary Docherty, who shared with her a very special gift, a letter he gave his adult children on Christmas 1990. It is an excellent example of insights we can pass on from our own experiences to future generations. I am sharing excerpts from his passage in her book, with the author’s permission, as a challenge for you to consider what you are passing along to the children in your life, both young and adult.

What I Have Learned in Fifty Years, by Gary Docherty

1. Accept the fact that people are different. Children grow up and develop their own unique personalities… Don’t be surprised when people “act that way;” expect that they will act differently. Try hard to avoid assuming that they have the same outlook on life as you do.

2. It’s hard to change people. People resist change. They may change by following someone’s example, or by seeing some great benefit to their lifestyle. Don’t count on them to change.

3. Don’t tell people “don’t worry.” Worry is natural. Saying “don’t worry” seldom helps. Suggest positive action on something within their control.

4. Try new things. It is easy to get into a rut. Most of us are somewhat fearful of new and different ideas. Overcome fear by discovering your preferred way to explore the unknown: Go it alone, go with your best friend, or go with a group.

5. Never stop learning. A good student has few preconceived ideas, asks good questions, and reaches good conclusions. This is harder than just plain trying new things, but is more rewarding.

6. Pull the weeds. Trying too many things can get you into a different rut. Trim your activities to a comfortable range to foster strong growth. Finish what you start.

7. Find your niche. Each person can find a niche that will put their talents to use in a fulfilling way. What are your talents?

8. See and smell the roses. One day I realized that I had weeded a rose garden so many times that I hardly noticed the roses. Crawling through the bushes on my hands and knees, pulling up each individual weed in my usual style, I broke off a branch. It was a beautiful rose. It took only a minute or so to see that rose, smell that rose, stand up and look at the whole garden, and then get back to work with a new viewpoint. Use little chunks of time to help you keep the daily details in perspective. It only takes a short time to give the child a “swing swung” before they get bored with that. One minute of sock pulling with the dog is plenty. Thirty seconds of petting is about all the typical cat will permit. Ten seconds every day for giving your spouse a welcome-home kiss is loving, and wise, time-management.

My challenge to you: what lessons is God teaching you through your own personal life experiences? How are you passing them along to those you love?