“Stories of Resilience, Part Two“
One of the amazing blessings of working for a church is that I get to hear wonderful stories of how families and individuals work with God as they rebuild their lives following devastating circumstances. Last week, I shared the story of my friend whose mother went to great lengths to find help for her daughter. This week I’d like to share a different type of story.
Julie & Glenn are every bit as faithful and devoted as parents as my friend’s mother was. In December of 2003, their youngest child, 6½ month old Ian, showed symptoms of influenza. Within 30 hours of his first symptoms, Julie and Glenn had taken Ian to his regular pediatrician and then to Urgent Care. They requested prayers from family and friends. In spite of their best efforts and the efforts of hospital doctors and staff, Ian died on December 17, 2003, from complications due to Influenza A.
Hospital staff at first left the parents alone to say goodbye to their baby. Julie’s biggest heartbreak in that moment was that her baby would be all alone in Heaven. She prayed and cried out to God to not let her baby boy be all alone. Then a nurse came back and insisted that Julie take a walk outside. It took several minutes for Julie to be convinced this would be okay. Julie’s sister walked with her.
Even before they got outside, they noticed a strange glow coming through a window of the hospital. They stepped outside to find a beautiful, complete double rainbow high in the sky. It was December. There had been no rain. And yet here was a double rainbow. At the same time, in the parking lot of the hospital, one of Julie’s friends had arrived to be with her. She too saw the double rainbow and took a picture, unaware of the significance to Julie.
For Julie, this was a clear and beautiful answer to her broken mother heart. God was reminding her that her baby boy was in no way alone. Ian was now in God’s presence.
When Julie and Glenn were finally finished saying their goodbyes, they drove away from the hospital. At the very first stop light Glenn spoke up. His thoughts were with the two older boys waiting for them at home. “Our boys have lost their baby brother. They cannot lose their family too.” He went on to quote statistics to Julie about how many marriages fall apart after the loss of a child.
From that moment on Glenn and Julie were intentional about their marriage even as they grieved. Julie is expressive in her grief. Glenn is more reserved. Glenn quietly experienced deep pain. Julie openly expressed her pain as anger. Even though they experienced grief differently, they worked to understand and respect each other’s unique journey. They did the same with their boys.
I am often asked in grief support groups how people without faith are able to survive. That’s easy. They do. They survive. Our neighbors and coworkers and friends without faith manage to go on even after devastating losses. That’s resilience. God programmed all of us to be resilient whether we have faith in Him or not. The difference I have observed over the years is the difference between simply surviving and the ability to thrive again. When we work together with God, we are able to do more than rebuild. We are able to rebuild with new hope, new joy, and a peace that passes all understanding. That’s what Glenn and Julie did.
Grief can leave us feeling drained and exhausted. At the same time, it can give us the kind of energy that leads us to feel like we just have to do something. Anything. And that’s what happened with Glenn and Julie. After much prayer, they decided to create a foundation in honor of Ian. The purpose of their foundation is to educate and provide flu vaccines. Remember that double rainbow in answer to Julie’s prayers? They named their foundation Ian’s Rainbow Flu Foundation. To learn more about Ian’s story and the foundation you can visit their website at www.iansrainbow.org. (And watch for more information about the upcoming Ian’s Rainbow Virtual Flu Walk and Drive-Thru Flu Shot Clinic on October 10, 2020.) That picture Julie’s friend took of the double rainbow is on the home page. Julie tells me through the foundation they are able to provide more than 400 flu shots per year. They have done more than simply survive. They turned their grief into helping. They are working to help other families.
In the book of Isaiah, the prophet notes that God promises to “comfort those who mourn … to give them … the oil of gladness instead of mourning.” (Isaiah 61:3 NRSV) By helping others, Julie and Glenn model for the rest of us how God can do just that, turn our mourning into gladness.
Blessings & Healing,
There are four resilience practices outlined in this APA article: https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience
- Build Your Connections
- Foster Wellness
- Find Purpose
- Embrace Healthy Thoughts
Our questions this week are going to focus on building on these practices and strengthening our resiliency muscle!
- Can you think of a time when you hurt really bad and somehow God let you know that you were going to get through that tough time? How did God “speak” to you? Through a sign like the rainbow? Or maybe through the gentle words of a family member or a friend? If you don’t have one of these experiences, maybe someone else in your family does. Ask family members for their stories.
- Can you think of a time when you were tempted to focus only on the bad things going on around you instead of looking at the good things God was doing for you? Right now, try to find something in your house that will remind you that God cares about you and you can focus on Him. It might be a picture or a stuffed animal or something given to you by someone who cares about you. Place that item close to your bed so you can be reminded every day that God is with you.
- Think of someone else in your world right now that might be going through a tough time. Maybe a teacher stressed out about getting the school year started. Maybe a friend who has been sick this summer. What are some kind words you could send to them? Take some time to send a text message, email or a card. By reaching out to someone else, you are making a connection and you are finding a purpose for yourself. Both of these are resilience practices.