Now from the experience of being in the court room in front of an earthly judge, there are significant points to be considered, which I will do the best I can to describe. However, I am sure my words will fall far short of what they should be relating to God and his mercy and justice.

Entering the courtroom is an overwhelming experience. There is a great separation between the parties.   Not so much in physical distance, but rather emotionally.  The aisle separating the two sides is a great chasm, filled with fear and pain.

Knowing the person responsible for Charity’s death was just a few feet away created an overwhelming feeling. Not one of anger, but rather confusion.  My mind was simply unable to really grasp the totality of the whole experience.  There was so much going on: Reporters, attorneys, cameras, crying, and sorrow.

Everyone wonders what’s going to happen. What will be the plea? What kind of sentencing? Is she really sorry? How will I respond?

Some similarities between the earthly courtroom and the final judgment:

First, there is the judge. His sentence on earth is for the most part final, except if someone decides to appeal. With God there is no appeal. His decision is absolute and final; no one can challenge his wisdom or question his fairness.  Then there is the guilty party.  Before God I am the guilty one. Now I await the sentencing with great fear and trembling. but just as the judge of heaven and earth proclaims the sentence (eternal damnation) another one steps in and proclaims that he will take the punishment in my stead.

With that I begin to feel some relief.  Who could this be that would take my punishment and be qualified to do so other than one who is both God and man?  My Savior Christ Jesus! Christ Jesus, I say, Son of God and Son of man, the only one qualified to stand in my stead and make the payment for my debt.  What a savior we have!

Now touching the earthly judgment. A plea has been entered or a jury has issued their verdict: “Guilty!”   No gray areas, no more discussion, the decision has been made: Guilty!  Now where do we go from here?  There is none to take the punishment for the guilty party. The earthly judge will proclaim his sentence and the punishment will be implemented.  Here I want to be extremely careful, for I do not in any way want to compare myself to Christ Jesus. But standing between the earthly judge and the guilty party, we received permission of the judge to speak.

We looked in the direction of the one whom the Lord used to take our daughter to heaven as she wept and cried out in pain and sorrow.  In such a setting, we spoke the words, “We forgive you,” which have such a significance it’s hard to describe.

I ask myself the question. How would I respond if I did not see repentance, but a person who actually was blaming me for the situation?  I know from a human perspective I would not have been able to say those three precious words, “We forgive you.”   Now this is the amazing part of God; he forgave us while we were yet sinners living in enmity against him. Imagine that!  Someone who has wronged you so deeply and yet that very person totally and unconditionally forgives.  Moreover, the person pays the debt and sets us free!

Certainly a significant element of forgiveness is repentance. God calls us to live peaceably with all men as best we can. But what if there is no evidence of repentance?  In this case I believe that this is one reason why God doesn’t expect us to forget, but to forgive.

I can honestly say that in my personal experience, love for my neighbor did not come automatically regarding the loss of my daughter.

Distractions or plunging into my work are coping methods that I have seemed to have fallen into.  It’s kind of a mixed feeling, I know that work is not and will never be a true comfort, but it does help distract my mind from the pain of my loss.  Nevertheless, there are times when I simply cannot control the tears.   When this comes upon me, it is an absolute horrific experience that words cannot explain.

The fact is that I miss Charity so much that no matter how much I try, the pain simply overwhelms me at times. I know that these words are not too encouraging to someone who is going through grief, but it’s reality.  There will be times where the road is so dark and the pain so intense that you will literally feel physically sick and totally exhausted. Even in this state we know that the Lord will not leave his people alone, and that as we read in Isaiah, a bruised reed he will not break.  I wish that I knew of or could offer a plan to avoid this pain, such as start here at point “a” and proceed to point “b” and everything will be ok. Don’t expect that to happen. As I am writing this, I am not only specifically giving this advice to my readers, but more so for me.

There is no clear path, but I know my redeemer lives and that I shall see God in my flesh at the last day.  Glory be that he alone has conquered death and the grave!  It’s ok to miss our loved one!

Trusting only in God!  One example that comes to mind is Joseph and his life. Just think of the fact that if there is anyone on this earth that you should be able to trust, you would think that it would be your own brothers, but what did they do?  They sold him as a slave.  Now I am sure Joseph never forgot what his brothers did to him, but I am also very sure he did not live with bitterness in his heart, but as we know from the Bible he loved his brothers and had pity on them in their need during the years of famine.

One can also think of the events in Joseph’s life when he was put into prison with the baker and the butler.  Think about the fact that Joseph saw them in distress and acknowledged their pain. Furthermore, he stated that the interpretation of dreams belonged to God. He even told them what their dreams meant. Granted, the interpretation of the one was not very good. But the interpretation of the other relieved him of his pain, and he was soon restored to the place as Pharaoh’s butler.  Joseph simply asked him to remember him.  But the scripture tells us that he forgot him. If Joseph would have put his trust in the butler, believe me, he would have been extremely let down.  Nevertheless, in God’s timing the butler told Pharaoh of Joseph and we all know the story from there.

Eventually the brothers who did him wrong looked to Joseph for mercy and their daily bread. Did Joseph refuse them food or hate them? No, he showed mercy.  If my brothers did to me what Joseph’s brothers did to him, by nature I would not be very loving towards them. But God is able to work in our hearts to love and not hate, as God is love. My main point in telling this story of Joseph is to stress that we do not put our trust in man.  Every person, or for that matter, everything except God will fail us. Furthermore, think of Joseph as he went through these many trials. He had no idea what the outcome would be either from an earthly or heavenly point of view, but God worked it for the good on his chosen ones. Even more is the fact that God in his mercy gave us his word and told us of his workings in Joseph’s life so that we could be comforted in our affliction.

Now even more incredible is the fact that God controls all things for the salvation of his church everything, even the death of our beloved Charity. The refrain in the old hymn, “Trust and Obey,” written by John H. Sammis, puts it so simply: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

For me a significant point was one day going to the grave site and weeping bitterly, but then “talking” to Charity and telling her that dad loves her so much and I will never ever forget her. But I have to move on or this pain is going to kill me. I think that at a certain level I was saying goodbye and asking her if that was ok with her.  This was not a planned event; I only intended to visit the grave site. So, with that I considered the words of David found in 2 Samuel 12:23: “But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me,” and applied them to myself, realizing that in these words David spoke of the resurrection.  Please don’t misunderstand me, I am not at all saying that at this point my pain was gone. Not at all. But I am simply acknowledging this point in my journey as a stepping stone on the path of healing.

In closing I will simply leave you with a quotation from Charity’s journal that we found under her bed as we were cleaning out her room: 

“But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God (Mark 10:14).

Whenever a door is closed, God opens a window.  Whenever I need him, no matter where I am, He always finds me.  And I pray if I have a problem and He answers my prayer.  Do you know why?  Do you?  Because I am His child, and He loves me, and I love Him.  You should do the same.  Because no matter what bad things you’ve done, you can be forgiven.  And that’s the truth.”

*Tim is a member of Grandville Protestant Reformed Church in Grandville, MI

On August 2, 2007, the Lord took unto himself our beloved daughter Charity Hope Rus in an auto accident.   After Charity’s death I started to write down some of my thoughts, feelings, and experiences, into what I now would call my reflections on various events that unfolded before and after her death.

It took me over two years to complete this work.

Often, I would simply capture an event, thought, or feeling, and write it down on a piece of paper, coming back weeks or sometimes months later to fill in the details.

It is my prayer that God may use these reflections to help others who may be struggling with some great affliction, and that His name may be glorified.

This title is of great significance to me, as these were the last words I spoke to my beloved daughter Charity Hope Rus, whom the Lord took from my wife’s arms into His Fatherly arms on August 2, 2007.  I am not a professional writer nor do I profess to be a biblical theologian; however, the Lord has laid it upon my heart to capture on paper some of the events surrounding His work as they relate to the calling of our 11-year-old daughter unto Himself.

I will be writing from a very personal point of view as to the works of God and his sovereign plan for each of us as it relates to the salvation of his people in Christ Jesus.

I thank God for his word, for it is a light unto our path and a lamp unto our pathway.

The primary purposes for writing are for the edification of his church and as a thread of hope for those who are walking through the valley of the shadow of death, or for that matter, any fiery trial.  However, it will certainly be written in the context of the valley of death.

I would only hope that God would use these words to glorify his name and encourage Christians within their station in life. God is a God that is in control of all events and our only comfort is that we belong to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ.  With that I think of Matthew 11:28–30: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  I think of the fact that my yoke is easy and my burden is light.  How can this possibly be?

Sometimes God speaks to us in a still small voice, yet other times he sees fit to speak in such a way that we need to place our hands over our mouth and simply be still and know that he is God.  I hope to put into words a few thoughts regarding God’s hand as it relates to finding rest for our souls as we pass through the valley of tears and take up an “easy yoke.” I can write this only from a father’s and husband’s point of view, as this is where I have found myself in God’s plan.

It’s difficult to know where to start. However, I think a brief description of our family is a good place. My wife and I have been married for thirty seven years. During this time, we have been blessed with five children: one son, the oldest, and four daughters. One thing that is interesting is how so many people would comment, after hearing we have four girls and one son, “Oh, so your son is the youngest?”  The natural assumption is that we kept trying to have a son, and only after four daughters did we achieve this goal.  Most people are surprised to learn that our son is the oldest. The purpose of making this observation is to emphasize that God determines the sex, the number, and the order of children we have.

Some couples may never have children, which is itself a calling to wait upon the Lord’s will in this situation as well.

With that said, I firmly believe that we need to know who we are in relation to God and truly to understand his sovereignty.

Knowing our relationship to God begins with the knowledge that the wages of sin is death—not only physical death, but also spiritual death. This goes way back to the beginning when God stated, “The day thou eatest thereof ye shall die.”  Now what did the devil say about this statement? “Thou shalt not surely die.”  This simple statement from the devil clearly demonstrates the fact that his primary goal is the spiritual and physical death of mankind.

What’s amazing is that by nature man does not even realize that he is dead in his sins and that the chains of sin bind him so tightly that no man can break those chains.  Being a visual kind of person, the first thing that comes to my mind is how God broke the chains that bound the apostle Paul while he was in prison.

Only with this knowledge of self are we able to begin to understand God in the proper perspective. Knowing that of ourselves we only deserve God’s punishment helps to see through the darkness into God’s wonderful power and his work of salvation. The reality of death is incredible! The absolute finality is unquestionable!  You can plead, cry, beg, rend your clothes, shed a river of tears, and even cast your self upon the dead; however, a dead person is simply unable to respond.

This is such an incredible picture of us in our sin that no one with a reasonable mind could deny this truth. This is in fact a truth that the Bible clearly teaches; man has no part of his salvation, but it is of God and God alone who is able to make the deaf to hear and the blind to see and to raise us up at the last day. With this knowledge of self we understand that we are only stewards of everything God gives to us. This includes EVERYTHING: our lives, money, houses, cars, bank accounts, children and even our own bodies. If we really believe that we are stewards, then what can be taken away from us that is not really God’s?  If we understand our nature and that we are only stewards, we will have a humble spirit; only then are we able to take Christ’s yoke and experience it to be light!

I think that only with this knowledge of self (that God must work in us) can we begin to heal from the loss of a child.   Where do I begin to describe some of God’s works in our lives with his incredible timing and perfection?  We are bound by time; there are seasons in our lives for various events: births, deaths, graduations, weddings, but there is sadness too, as we experienced on August 2, 2007. Not only was God preparing our family and our church, but he was also preparing Charity for heaven, her eternal home.

There were several events that we look back on now that helped us to see God’s sovereign plan.

I bought a motorcycle that Sharon and I did not see eye to eye on. Charity knew this fact.  One Saturday when Sharon was not at home Charity came up to me in the garage and said to me, “Dad, Dad, take me for a ride on the motorcycle.”   In my younger days, I would have done one of two things. I would have said to Charity either, “Ok let’s go,” or simply, “No”. I thought about that for a moment though, and realized that within just a few short years Charity would be a teenager, and how important it is that she knows that mom and dad stand together on issues, so I paused for a moment and told her that mom and dad do not see eye to eye on this and that if anything would ever happen to her on this motorcycle, mom and dad could never forgive ourselves.  With that statement, Charity did not say a word but simply wrapped her arms around me and went into the house without complaining.

Now I thank God for that moment. Why?  As a parent you want your children to know not only that you love them, but also that they feel secure in that love.  It also speaks of how we need to know that we too are secure in our heavenly Father’s arms.  What a wonderful place of security…in my Father’s arms, under the shadow of his wing.

Lord’s Day #1 of the Heidelberg Catechism states it so clearly that my only comfort in life and in death is to know that I belong to my faithful Savior. I can tell you experientially that that is the absolute truth!

There is nothing in this world that will bring peace, for it is all vanity and vexation of spirit.

Another example that shows that God was preparing Charity and our family was the songs that she loved to sing. Two weeks prior to the accident, Charity continually sang a song with the main lyrics being, “God, You are my God.” Charity continually sang this song, even to the point that I asked her once to sing something different; nevertheless, God put it in her heart and on her lips to make this testimony of her faith and as a gift from God to us. What a blessing! What a joy!  Wednesday night, the night before she died, Charity decided to make supper for Sharon and me. I was lying on the couch in the living room and Sharon was in the den. Several times I would stomp my foot on the floor to make Charity think I was getting up to go into the kitchen, and she would quickly say, “Not yet, Dad.”

Then she finally proclaimed that supper was ready. So Sharon and I went into the kitchen and Charity had supper all prepared. Three place settings, napkins, and even two lit candles. Looking back, I am simply amazed at God’s timing in this. What man could plan this?  God was speaking to us.

How could we have known that God was going to take Charity home to glory? But in his mercy, he gave us such a wonderful gift—father, mother, and daughter enjoying their last meal together prepared by the one who only had some 18 hours to live.

I am so amazed at this gift from God that I simply cannot find words to describe it.

Another wonder of God is that I had been working with Charity concerned her saying her night time prayers.   She often would call me at work, and that night she must have called two or three times just to say, in her excited way, “Hi, Dad”.  The last time she called me was around 11PM. We talked for awhile and then I asked her if she had said her prayers. She replied, “Oh, I already did that, Dad.”  With that I said, “I love you, bye,” and those were the last words she spoke to me, as not only was she preparing for a night of restful sleep, but God was also preparing her for eternal rest in the morning.

I am also amazed at the fact that God worked in me to ask her about her prayers and to have the last words I would speak to her be, “I love you!”  No man could plan this!  I have never been one to memorize scripture very much.  However, God moved me to rememorize Psalm 23 just a couple of weeks before Charity was taken from us. So with those final words, Charity and I said good bye. I thank God so much for his mercy in giving to me those lasting memories.  I would want to encourage parents to love their children while they have them, and let them know that they are loved not only by their parents, but most importantly by God, the creator of heaven and earth.

I think that at this point it is a good time to talk about the family and the covenant. The Bible reveals to us the beautiful relationship between Christ and his church, which helps us to pattern our own marriages this way. Within a strong Christian marriage, children are then able to grow up spiritually minded and are assured that all their needs are taken care of by their parents.

Wednesday night, August 1, I came home from work very tired and fell asleep quickly.  The next morning, I woke up around 11:15AM and made a pot of coffee and just sat in my chair, when the phone rang. Alisha, our second to the youngest daughter, answered it, and someone on the other end asked to speak with Timmy. Alisha handed me the phone and had a funny look on her face; who would be asking for Timmy?

No one ever calls me Timmy.  So I answered the phone, and the voice on the other end said that my wife had been in an accident and gave the location.

I asked if anyone was hurt, to which he replied that one of the girls was. At this point I put my shoes on.  I did not even have my hair combed yet and told Alisha the news. I quickly looked at the caller ID and gave the guy a call back just to confirm the location. Alisha and I hit the road.  I remember my body shaking and my telling Alisha that I hoped no one is hurt and praying to God that everyone was ok.  In some ways, it seemed to take a long time to get to the accident scene, and yet in another way it went very fast.

Webster describes grief as “emotional suffering caused by or as if by bereavement. Disaster.”   Personally, I feel these words fall far short of what grief really is.   From my perspective grief is so much more. You simply can not put it into words. No one can accurately describe grief, in part because each person’s grief is unique unto himself. My grief is very different from my wife’s grief.  Nevertheless, there are some common experiences. We should never compare our grief with that of others, as on each journey a person must walk his or her own path—not totally alone, for God is with his children through the valley of the shadow of death—but it is a very personal experience that you must travel alone with God.  No one can take the journey for you and you can’t go around, under, or over it; but you must pass through it.   What is passing through grief?

I will share with you my experience and leave it at that. I liken grief to a tsunami. You don’t see it coming, and it hits you with such force that it is total and absolute devastation, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Yes, spiritually!  Some may say that a Christian should be strong and never devastated spiritually, but I tell you Christ himself was devastated in the garden when he poured out bloody sweat and cried out to his Father, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Not only do you have the initial devastation, but there are also so many after-shocks.  Moreover, grief is such a mind-numbing experience; it hits you at so many different levels and is so multifaceted that you simply can not explain it.

After the tsunami of grief rolls over you, be assured that you will never be the same person you were. The loss of a child changes you forever. I am not at all saying that this change is negative, but rather a humbling experience that affects a person at all levels. Personally, I have found it to be that the day we lost our daughter has become a reference point for current events. God has and continues to supply grace sufficient for the day, with this knowledge I know that should other trials fall upon me, God will supply the measure of grace I need for that day. Just think of the apostle Paul, how he so desired to have the thorn in his flesh removed, but God would not remove it even after Paul prayed three times, but rather taught him that his grace is sufficient.

As I am writing this, the word loss strikes me hard.  I remember the strong feeling that Charity was simply lost and I needed to go and find her, call the police, or start searching the neighborhood.  She must be somewhere or she would be home by now.  She needs me to help her find her way home!  Once I literally went into the back yard to call out her name and look behind the barn trying to find her. This is such an empty feeling that words fail me.  Nevertheless, the fact is that we ourselves are lost; Charity is not lost for she is in our Father’s house of many mansions, secure in the arms of her Savior, Jesus Christ.  She no longer needs to be held in my arms, arms that are limited.

Coming to this understanding is difficult. Notice I said “is”, not “was.” For the fact is that I “was” lost; not Charity and desperately in need of the great Shepherd of the sheep to save me!  Here again is a wonderful truth concerning our Lord and Savior; he seeks the lost sheep and will never give up, even to the point of leaving the 99 to search for the one that is lost. Praise God for his marvelous desire to find the one lost sheep. With that I would so encourage you never to give up.  God will absolutely save all of his sheep. Not one will fall prey to the wolves and perish eternally.

For me, forgiveness has a whole new meaning. First, I do not believe forgiveness is forgetting. God made us with a memory that simply is part of who we are as God’s creatures. However, since forgiveness is not forgetting, what is it?

I believe that it is, in a negative sense, not living with bitterness, hatred, or wishing a person harm. In addition, it is not simply the lack of wishing someone harm and therefore feeling natural about a person. It is, in the positive sense, actually desiring the well-being of the person who has offended us both physically and spiritually. Probably the best example that comes to mind is how the Lord summarizes the law in the second table. We are to love God and our neighbor. We are called not to hate but to love.  Now we must remember that there is no true love apart from God, for as the scriptures states, “God is love.”  Once again we need to go back to the reality of who we are in relationship to God and remember that God loved us while we were yet sinners.

We did nothing to deserve this love, but it is only of God’s mercy and grace. What is so amazing about God’s love and forgiveness is that he loved us and forgave us while we were yet sinners. Nothing we have done contributes to our salvation. This truth is so amazing when I think about standing before the judge of heaven and earth.

To be continued…

*Tim is a member of Grandville Protestant Reformed church in Grandville, MI

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