You might know this story if you’ve been around West for a while. Please bear with me. If you haven’t, I promise, it is a story that offers transformation for us all.
Fifteen years ago, a family at Williamson’s Chapel (where I was the associate pastor before launching West) was going through a tragic chapter of their lives. Their 3-year-old, born with a massive heart defect, was fighting for her life. Repeatedly and for months at a time, she was hospitalized. Many heart surgeries, treatments, etc. trying to give her a fighting chance at life. Early on, they were at Duke, but the last one at CMC.
Can you imagine being almost 3 hours from home with your infant in ICU, fighting for her life?
For a while, it seemed as if as was well, or as well as it could be. They were able to bring her to church, we had the privilege of baptizing her.
Soon after her baptism, she faced another corrective heart surgery, but hopefully, it would be one of the last.
Recovery this time, however, was not as smooth. I truly can’t remember the details, but I know that for months she battled for her life . . . having ECMO (this is when your blood is pumped outside of your body to a heart-lung machine that removes carbon dioxide and sends oxygen-filled blood back to tissues in the body), and many other measures trying to help her recover.
Despite all medical efforts, her little body was just unable to heal physically; thus, her healing was achieved in a different way.
There is no seminary class that prepares any pastor for how to walk with a family through a situation such as this. My heart ached for this family. Faith, the little girl, would permeate my dreams.
When it came time to celebrate her life, we had the graveside privately before the celebration of life service. Her parents wanted the day to end as celebratory as possible, knowing that she was indeed now whole in God. They felt that a burial after the service would just cause things to end on an even sadder note.
There aren’t any magic preacher words to say in times like this. All we know to do is be mindful in sharing that God is one of hope and wholeness and grieves with us when we grieve. God also offers us peace and perseverance that carries us in and through the darkest things. Death is not the last thing. Resurrection is.
As we walked out the doors of Williamson’s Chapel that afternoon, the mom smiled and said, “Look! The sky is pink!”
With tears in her eyes, she shared that pink was Faith’s favorite color, and one of their special things together was to experience the pink sunsets over the lake.
“I believe and feel with absolute certainty that this sunset is Faith sharing with me that all is well!”
The family’s strength was undeniable.
Yet, they had to choose to have that strength at some point.
Last night I noticed the sky was pink before the sunset. I remembered this family, that tiny little girl fighting for her life, and ultimately their relentless hold on positivity even in the worst things.
We choose. We choose how to think.