She wanted to meet at Sky Car Wash. I had never conducted an interview at a car wash before, but when Rachel Brown said it was because she was a “consummate multi-tasker,” I knew I was going to love her. Being one of those efficiency-seeking ladies myself, I arrived early to check emails and make to-do lists while waiting for her to arrive. Right on time, Rachel rushes through the door. With face aglow and a contagious smile, I instantly know I’m in the presence of someone special. Thrilled by this opportunity, I simply cannot wait to learn from her, as she exudes the impression that she has life all figured out. As I study her face and we begin our talk, I realize that to look at her beauty, confidence and joy, an outsider may assume life has been easy on Rachel. But as I will soon learn, that’s just not the case. This girl has a story.
Have you ever, dear reader, experienced a time in your life that just didn’t make sense? Maybe you are going through something right now. You did everything right to get the much needed promotion- the late nights, relentless traveling, and efforts to impress the right people, but they gave it to someone else. Standing at the altar, you vowed to love and support them forever, but now they’ve broken their promise and left you for another. You eat healthy, work out every day, take your vitamins, but the doctor still gives you the devastating report. Why does this happen? You may be thinking, God, where are you, as it feels like He has left you alone. Faith is questioned. Trust is waning. You’re left wondering if God even loves you or more sadly, whether there is a God after all. When these times come along, my friend, when the pain is so great and life doesn’t make sense, what do we do?
Rachel grew up in Florence, Alabama where she lived with her parents and one sister. Her childhood was a normal one. Both parents were teachers and her free time was spent singing and dancing. In 1994, at the age of 17, Rachel began attending North Alabama University. One day, she noticed a good-looking guy driving through the campus parking lot. What caught her attention was his brand new car and personalized license plate. “I’d never seen anyone with a personalized license plate before,” she giggles. The owner of the car was Todd Foust. He was athletic, loved God, and came from a great family. Rachel was smitten. It wasn’t long before they were dating, spending all their college years together and having a ball. He was popular, the president of his fraternity, and the picture of health, while she was outgoing, beautiful and accomplished, even competing in the Miss Alabama Pageant. By all accounts, they were the perfect match. “We grew up together,” Rachel remembers, as they adored each other as both partners and friends.
The two got married after college graduation and both attended graduate school at Alabama. Todd landed a job as a pharmaceutical representative at Eli Lily & Co., and Rachel soon followed at the same firm. With marriage and work fulfilling, the years passed by, and they were thrilled by the life they had ahead of them. One afternoon, Todd went to play basketball with some friends, as he did quite often. Rachel received a call that Todd had been hurt in the game and she needed to come to the court. Having been told that he may have broken his leg, Rachel was concerned and hurried to be with him. But when she arrived, she saw a very different scene than she was expecting. Todd lay motionless on the ground while a doctor performed CPR. “He was blue,” Rachel says. She remembers helplessly standing over her husband’s lifeless body in disbelief over what was happening. After he was rushed to the hospital, Rachel learned that Todd had suffered an aneurism and his fall to the ground had severed his spinal cord, killing him instantly. He and Rachel were married only four years, and Todd Foust was dead at the age of 27.
Dear reader, do you hear of stories that make you question things? A young, healthy man dies suddenly on a basketball court. A tornado rips through a small town and leaves nothing but destruction. A drunk driver senselessly kills a mother of four. Life can be so confusing sometimes, can’t it? And if we believe in God, we can wonder where He is in all this. What do we do with these feelings? And what do we do when we are the ones suffering deeply? 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says,
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.”
Do you believe that God is there to provide you with comfort? It is easy to question and be angry when life doesn’t make sense, but it is in these times that we must remember who we are as God’s children. He is our loving Father who wants to help us in our pain. He promises,
“I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” (Isaiah 46:4)
As weeks turned into months after Todd’s death, Rachel tried to move on. Holding it together during the daytime, her evenings were spent in great loneliness and pain. Sitting at home in the same chair every night, she would cry, clinging to her little dog, Bailey, and listen to worship music. Where does she go from here? How can she move on? Rachel knew, even in her grief, that she had a choice. “I decided to make Todd’s death worth something,” she explains. She had lost her husband and what she thought had been her future, but somehow Rachel still believed that God loved her and that He had a plan for her life.
A year and a half went by. One afternoon, when Rachel was near her family home, she saw a man driving. Thirty-five years old, handsome, and single, Blair Faulkner was well-known in town. “I have a thing about guys driving by in cars,” she jokes. She knew about Blair because his parents and her late husband, Todd’s parents, were best friends. Hmmm, she thought, he’s pretty cute…maybe I could date him. As it turns out, her mother, who just happened to work with Blair’s mother, had already thought of it. Well, two weeks later they were dating. She called it love at first sight and was thrilled to have found true love again.
Blair lived an exciting life as a pilot and opened her eyes to a new world. His job was flying a gospel preacher around in a private jet. The two had similar interests and desires, and they shared the same faith and plans for the future. Rachel and Blair were married in the summer of 2003 and then moved to New Orleans. “I felt such redemption after all I had been through,” Rachel remembers. A year into the marriage, Blair went to Afghanistan for four months to serve his country as a bomber pilot, and Rachel continued at home as a pharmaceutical rep. Not long after and to their delight, Rachel became pregnant with their first child, Davis, and two years later, their daughter, Campbell, was born. By all counts, the family that she thought may never be.
By this time, Blair had landed a full-time teaching job flying T-38s in Columbus, MS. Adored by his students, Blair won the “Instructor of the Month” award almost every single time. Rachel remembers life being so fun, with their new little family and her husband loving his job. You would think that having Blair flying all the time would make her nervous, but she remembers often saying to him, “You’re not gonna die in that jet. God would never allow me to lose another husband.” It was the type of joke she would never tell again. On April 23, 2008, Rachel received a call from the chaplain that she needed to come to the base. When she arrived, the base commander was waiting for her in dress uniform, which she knew meant something bad had happened. Blair had been killed with a student he was teaching. Their plane had flipped and although they both ejected, it was too low for survival. Blair was only 39 years old, and Rachel was widowed again at the age of 31.
Dear reader, are you grieving today? Grieving the loss of a loved one, the loss of a dream, a friendship, a marriage? Has your life taken a distressing turn as you’ve lost your job, have a child in trouble, or are suffering the betrayal of a friend? Are you aching from the sadness and suffering in your past? Does it feel like you’re trapped in the torment that won’t release its grip on your heart? My friend, you have a Father who wants to help you. You are not alone. Call on Him for strength. Psalm 118:5 reads,
“In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and He answered by setting me free.”
This freedom is available to you, too. On the other side of the pain, there can be peace. No matter how low we feel today, with God there is the promise of hope. In his moving book, Markings on the Windowsill, Ron Greer writes,
“As Christians, we grieve as those with hope. We grieve with the faith and the hope that we are supported by the grace of a deeply loving God-the God who is the rock at the bottom. We sink into the sadness and the despair knowing the grounding is there; that no matter how dark the valley, God is with us.”
With children so young, Rachel decided to move closer to her parents and settled in Huntsville, Alabama. Starting over, yet again, without her husband, without the father of her children, was a challenge to put it mildly. Would her kids be ok without their dad? Would she be able to raise them alone? How could something so tragic have happened to her…again? At this time, Rachel remembers that she had a choice. She could let this reality take her down and embrace bitterness, despair and helplessness, or she could go on believing that she had a Father who would love and support her through the pain. Rachel chose to move forward with God. She felt His presence and even grew in her faith, surrounding herself with believers who could remind her of His goodness. “Life is precious,” Rachel says, “I know that this world is temporary.” She began speaking to groups about her life experience. “To lose two husbands,” Rachel explains, “it’s like one in a million. People want to know, how did I survive this?” And Rachel wanted to tell them. “I’m like the wreck on the side of the road…you gotta look.” So what did Rachel Faulkner do when everybody was looking? She chose to show them Jesus and His love, and that even in the midst of deep pain and suffering, God is there. “He is still good,” she assures me and has framed her life around Genesis 50:20,
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
She went to counseling and poured through her feelings. Many years were spent tackling her emotions and learning to receive God’s grace. She began a women’s group with some friends called Be Still, where they provide encouraging messages of Jesus at each session. This group continues today, meeting all over the south and has transformed hundreds of women’s lives. Rachel says this has been an emotional healing journey for her, and she has felt Christ’s presence guiding her through.
Dear reader, are you in need of emotional healing? Do you need to receive God’s grace? Isaiah 40:11 says,
“He tends His flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart.”
Do you know that you have a Shepherd who wants to carry you close to Him? Do you have any idea how special you are to your Savior? He is not indifferent to your struggles. His desire is to help you through them, and He may already have a plan for your pain. Although He did not cause it, He just might use it for good. When we know these truths, it can make all the difference in difficult times. Ron Greer writes,
“The Christian faith consistently points to a God who would not cause pain for anyone, but who is there to bring growth and new life out of the pain that does come. It is very much God’s style to bring resurrections out of life’s crucifixions.”
Meanwhile, a man named Rod Brown lived in Atlanta, Georgia. At the age of 45, Rod was quite accomplished. Having landed a job at Chick-fil-A in his 20s, Rod soon climbed the ladder eventually working for Chick-fil-A corporate. Although He had grown up in the church, Rod describes his faith back then as “keeping God in a box.” When he met some men at work who seemed to have a very different relationship with God, his eyes were opened to a new view. “God was bigger than I thought,” Rod remembers. He joined a new church and grew in his faith, pursuing a life with Jesus like never before. Due to the difficult relationship he had had with his father as a child, Rod believed that God was just “this guy around the corner waiting for me to screw up.” Later, he learned that God had a plan for him and loved him enough to sacrifice His beloved Son. This, for Rod, was life-changing. Through this experience of growth, Rod felt a call into Christian service. He had heard about an amazing ministry at North Point Community Churches and met with the Senior Pastor, Andy Stanley. With a willingness to do anything to be a part of something so special and groundbreaking, he took a role leading Singles and Small Groups. Sixteen years later, Rod is still serving at North Point in Strategic Partner Group Planning. He spends his time evaluating, encouraging, and coaching pastors and leaders in partner churches around the world.
Although Rod was quite fulfilled in his career, one thing was missing. He desired a family. Dating women on and off, he never seemed to find the partner he desired. His friends had no explanation to why Rod had yet to find true love. He seemed to have all that a woman would want. A close friend describes him as, “real, invested, transparent, loyal and accepting.” After many a relationship ended, Rod would find himself in a low place. Helplessness would set in as he wondered if God would ever fulfill this great desire. He wanted a woman with spiritual maturity, a kind heart and a love for Christ, but he still had not met the one he could spend his life with. In these times, Rod had a choice. “I came back over and over to the fact of how much God loves me,” Rod remembers,” I would picture Him sitting in front of me with His arms open, helping me walk through this.” Continuing to hope and pray for a wife and children, Rod chose to give his life away to the needs of others and embrace gratitude. “Life was richer than I ever imagined,” he says, “Yes, I desired a family, but I was still happy.”
Do you grieve the loss of a dream, my friend? Do you have unmet desires that permeate your thoughts and steal your joy? God understands and wants to encourage you. Embracing His grace and mercy, while being grateful can make all the difference. Choosing to focus on His love and provision will sustain you during the uncertainty and disappointment. Psalm 16:7-9 says,
“I will praise the Lord who counsels me…I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore, my heart is glad…my body also will rest secure.”
As was often the case, Rod was set up on a blind date through mutual friends. Due to the disappointments of his past, Rod knew not to get his hopes up. In the typical communication prior to their meeting, his date wanted him to learn some things about her beforehand, which he thought unusual. She warned him, “I’ve been married twice and have two kids, so I understand if you’re not interested. You really need to know my story before we meet.” Quite surprised to learn that his blind date, a woman named Rachel Faulkner, had been through quite a difficult journey, he still wanted to be introduced. They met for the first time at Piedmont Park in Atlanta when Rachel was in town for a conference. Six hours later, they were still entrenched in conversation and enjoying each other’s company. “Neither one of us wanted to leave,” Rachel remembers, “He was the most interesting man I’d ever met. Mysterious, in the coolest way… he just walked in complete freedom.” Rod loved Rachel’s heart and her humility, and was so attracted to her selflessness and obvious commitment to helping other people. It was a connection on so many levels.
After weeks of talking, dating, and traveling to see each other, Rod finally asked Rachel if he could kiss her. “I have a lot to protect,” Rachel hesitantly responded, “If you’re not interested in being a husband and a father, we probably shouldn’t move forward.” Believing that God had called him to be just that, Rod told her he was ready and replied, “I’m not running.” And yes, he kissed her. And yes, Rachel let him. It was in that moment that their life together began. Two people brought together by God. Both had experienced grief. Both had clung to their faith, believing in the matchless love of their Heavenly Father. And now there was hope and a future. Nine months after their first meeting, on June 28,2013, Rachel, Davis and Campbell walked down the aisle to Gungor’s song, You Make Beautiful Things Out of the Dust. Waiting on the other end, was Rod, her new husband and their new dad. Barely a dry eye in the crowd, all who were present knew the incredible journey these two had been through to find each other.
Today, Rachel is blessed to have such a loving man and devoted father to her children. They call him “Daddy,” and Rod says “the sweetest time of the day” is putting his kids to bed. Rod is overwhelmed to have such a supportive, encouraging partner in his life now. He so admires Rachel’s love for Jesus and her desire to help others experience Him the way she does. “Jesus fulfills her needs,” Rod says, “and I love that.”
I don’t know about you, but I will always remember the story of Rachel and Rod. Never did she imagine to be widowed twice and married three times. Never did he expect to find true love so much later in life and gain a wife and kids overnight. But never did either abandon their faith or doubt the love of their Heavenly Father. This certainly inspires me to do the same. When you experience tragedy, disappointment, betrayal, or great loss, I hope you will remember what God has planned for those who love Him. He treasures you and desires to comfort you when the storms of life pass through. You may not be able to change the past, but remember that God is in control of your future. Through His Son, Jesus Christ, there is hope and a soft place for your wounded soul, as He desires to provide your healing and restoration. Remember, this is not our Home. Your Home, dear child of God, is waiting for you in Heaven. This world has trouble and even though life doesn’t always make sense, there will come a day when…
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.“(Revelation 21:4)
But until then, my friend, choose to believe and to trust in the One who loves you. Seek His comfort in the uncertainty, the disappointments and the pain. Call on Him. He is always there waiting, as Rod says, with arms wide open.
Ron Greer and his wife lost their two-year-old son Eric in an automobile accident many years ago. In his book, Markings on the Windowsill, Greer draws on his experiences as a father and pastoral counselor to offer hope, help and healing to people who are grieving.