Today, I have the privilege of introducing you to a precious young woman I met recently.
Her story is one of tragedy and pain, of grace and triumph.
As you read today, I pray that you will be encouraged by the unrelenting way that our God pursues us.
Jesus said that He came to, “Seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)
In The Message, we read this same idea: “Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life” (Psalm 23:6).
Year after year, God pursued the woman you are about to meet.
Eventually, He caught her and captured her heart!
Maybe today you are (or someone you love is) running from God.
I pray you will be encouraged with the fact that our God will chase after us every day of our lives.
He does not give up on us.
This is Brittney’s story…
My father was a mostly non-practicing Catholic, my mother a non-practicing Methodist. She later converted to Catholicism.
As a child, I was exposed to the Catholic Church for brief periods of time to accomplish specific tasks: baptism, confession and confirmation; however, my family and I were not regular, on-going church attendees.
I was also briefly exposed to the Baptist Church through peers as a teenager, and I experienced much hypocrisy among them.
I didn’t feel a sense of belonging in the Baptist or the Catholic Church cultures, nor did I feel any authenticity to religion.
I began to turn against all religion, specifically Christianity, and all religious people; I completely turned against God.
In 2004, I married my high school sweetheart, Jerry; we were so young.
He was only 20, and I was just 21 when we married. He was a believer, and I was not. (Jerry and Brittney’s Wedding Photo June 10, 2004.)
We did not talk about religion in our home because I would argue with him about his beliefs.
Engaging me in a conversation about God or religion was a fruitless task.
From 2004-2005, Jerry served in an Army National Guard Unit in Iraq while I started nursing school. (He is pictured below.)
After his return, Jerry was very hard-hearted towards others, including me.
He asked for a divorce, and we lived apart for nearly a year.
He seemed to have PTSD but refused help when his mother and I pleaded with him to seek counseling.
At the beginning of 2007, Jerry decided he wanted to reconcile with me.
He wanted to save our marriage and I desired the same.
His heart had softened.
He joined the local police force, a life long dream for him, and we moved back in together.
Life was finally as it should be.
(Jerry is pictured below as a proud police officer.)
In 2008, we had our first child.
Jerry adored her! He was a very protective, attentive, and proud father.
(Jerry, Brittney and their first baby girl pictured below.)
We attended a small church for a few weeks because Jerry wanted our daughter to be dedicated to the Lord.
While I didn’t believe this was significant for her, I conceded to respect his beliefs.
Once that was finished, I insisted we not go back to church.
From 2008-2011 – Life was good!
We paid off our debt and bought our first home. We planned our second child.
Jerry was promoted to the position of a “detective” at the police department, the youngest one on staff.
Although life had settled into a routine, God and church were never in the picture or even discussed.(Jerry with first baby girl. They adored each other!)
In 2011, we had our second daughter.
This was a very happy and satisfying time in my life.
I was in a state of bliss! I had a wonderful husband, two gorgeous little girls, and a beautiful house. I had a great job and my husband was successful as well.
It seemed like life could not get any sweeter. (Our second baby girl is pictured below; she was born on Feb 28, 2011).
“Suddenly” I got the strong urge to find a church.
It was a strange idea that came out of nowhere, but I rationalized that it would be the perfect social outlet for our young family.
I envisioned many church activities, retreats, and social events in my children’s futures. They would have the sense of belonging that had escaped me.
What did it matter that God didn’t exist?
For this reason, I needed to find a church…a BIG church.
I needed the biggest church I could find.
On Wednesday, March 23, 2011, we attended Wednesday night service at Colonial Hills Church in Southaven.
Pastor Rick preached a message that included a warning about “being critical of your spouse.”
After church, I was surprisingly impressed by the worship music and the children’s opportunities.
For the first time in my life, I actually understood a sermon and I felt it was personal and applicable in my daily life.
Jerry was quiet that night.
He didn’t seem to enjoy it. He almost seemed angry.
At my request, he said we could try it again on Sunday.
We never made it to church that Sunday.
On Saturday, March 26, 2011, 3 short weeks after our second daughter was born and 3 days after we attended that church service, Jerry and I got into an argument.
It was a silly squabble over a camera battery and an oil change that was overdue.
I blamed him for breaking the camera and for not taking care of the car.
Regretfully, I was very critical of him on this day in my postpartum state.
We spent most of the day not speaking, and when we did our conversations were riddled with bickering.
That evening, he asked me to talk to him, to reconcile, but my heart was hard and I was stubborn.
I spoke the last words I would ever say to him: “Not right now.”
He went to our bedroom and shut himself in the closet.
He would sometimes retreat here for “quiet time.”
Suddenly, I heard a loud noise echo through the house from our bedroom. I realized the sound was that of a gunshot.
Jerry ended his life that night without warning or discussion.
Our two little girls were sitting with me in the living room just two rooms away when it happened.
I raced to him as I realized the horror of what had just happened. I heard someone scream; it was my three-year-old daughter.
She was screaming because I was screaming.
The sound of her running to me jolted me out of shock enough to intercept her and run to the kitchen to call 911.
As I dialed, the only words out of my unbelieving mouth were: “Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!”
The Police arrived first.
EMS arrived next.
It seemed like an eternity before help was there.
The responders placed us in my 3-year-old’s bedroom to wait while they attempted to resuscitate my husband.
I was in the darkest moment of my entire life; I was in a pit: the pit of hell and darkness.
I knew there was no power on earth that could help me in that moment.
Nothing could reverse what had just happened.
My life, as I knew it, was over.
There was no way Jerry would survive this. I was a nurse…I knew.
My children would no longer have their father.
My daughters’ lives would be changed forever.
Our future would never be the same; it had been utterly destroyed in one fatal second.
I pray to a God I do not know, and I do not think exists.
I ask only one thing: “Help.”
From the depths of my soul, I cry out for help.
Of course, I never expected an answer.
Jerry was taken to the local hospital and pronounced deceased.
I cannot return home; my house is a crime scene.
At the hospital, I am questioned by police, according to protocol, and I go home with my parents.
My children are already there and asleep.
My best friend arrives to comfort me.
I am a breastfeeding mom.
In my shock and through all the tears I cry, I cannot produce milk for my baby. She is asleep for now, but when she awakens I will not have a way to feed her.
This is my only silent worry that night.
This worry becomes my focus, my obsession, for the night.
It is the only thing I can control or provide for her and I feel completely helpless and inadequate.
I worry all night about how I will feed her.
The very next morning, there are cans and cans of infant formula and bottles waiting for me in my parents’ kitchen.
I don’t ask where they came from and I don’t care.
All that matters is they are there and I can feed my baby.
That worry is gone.
My next silent worry is money.
I am on maternity leave and we had only saved enough to replace my income for that time.
Otherwise, we have no savings and now there is not income.
How will I pay my bills?
How will I keep from losing the house?
My stomach is sick with the thought that I will have to return to work; my children need me now more than ever!
The anxiety and worry are immobilizing.
Then, somehow the money starts flowing in.
From the police stations, from the community, from my co-workers…the list goes on and on.
It satisfies each and every need.
No bill goes unpaid.
The worry about money is gone.
The funeral planning begins.
The funeral director gently approaches me with the sad fact that the funeral parlor is too small to host a funeral service for my husband.
Jerry was a well-known, well-respected man.
The funeral director expects a large turn out to his funeral.
He tells me that I need a BIG church.
We don’t belong to a church.
I silently worry about where we will have his service and think over how ironic it is that I was in search of a BIG church just days ago, but with a different purpose in mind.
I mention that we attended Colonial Hills just a few days ago and the police chaplain tells me he is familiar with the staff there.
He speaks privately with them about our need.
Colonial Hills Southaven agrees we can have the funeral in their church.
That worry is gone.
I plan the funeral. I want to bury my husband with the honor that is fit for the way he lived his life.
I pick out the necessities and make plans according to what he would want.
Nothing is lavish, but everything is in perfect honor of his memory.
The bill comes to $12,000.
It is due now.
My heart sinks…I don’t have $12,000, not even on credit, nor does anyone around me.
I silently worry that I am letting down Jerry and disgracing the honor of his memory by being unable to pay for his service.
It’s the last thing I will ever be able to do for him.
It’s important to me to take care of this last thing for the one I loved so deeply.
I call my credit card company, choking back tears, from the parlor of the funeral home.
I beg them to increase my credit line and briefly explain my situation.
The lady on the phone has mercy on me.
She requests an immediate approval to the exact amount needed, and I pay for the services minutes later.
That worry is gone.
(Jerry’s Gravesite is pictured below.)
After the calm settles in the wake of the funeral, I look at my 3-year-old and silently worry about how in the world she is processing all that has happened and changed.
I am still unable to take her home. The house needs repair and the memories are too painful.
Her father is gone and she cries for him sometimes on an hourly basis, with bedtime being the worst. Her toys and clothes are in bags in my parents’ guest room.
Strange relatives she has never met want to hold and comfort her.
Everyone is sad and red-eyed.
She is absolutely terrified to let me out of her sight so she follows me even into the restroom.
Everything that she has ever known is changed and unfamiliar.
(Pictured below are the girls clinging to Brittney, as they did so often after Jerry’s death.)
I silently worry and worry and worry about her and know she needs someone she can talk to…a professional.
Within 30 minutes I get a text message.
It’s a referral from a friend of a friend who recommends a child psychologist who specializes in traumatic grief in children ages birth through 6 years old.
This professional trained with child victims who survived the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
She knows how to deal with loss and grief in children.
She is exactly who I need!
They give me her personal cell phone number.
That worry is gone.
These are only a few of the major needs and provisions that I remember.
These were big, however, even the smallest and seemingly insignificant worries were being taken care of during this time.
All I had to be was a mom.
I didn’t have to worry about where we would sleep, what we would eat, how we would pay, or what would happen tomorrow…all I had to do was be a mother, right here, right now.
That is a blessing that I cannot fully express in words.
Through all this I did not believe in God.
I was not praying.
I would just worry.
I would worry about something sincerely in my heart, and then an amazing provision would come, almost immediately.
It was so surreal that I began to joke with my best friend, a believer, that it was another daily dose of “divine intervention.”
Coincidence could not explain it!
Something else was happening.
It was as if someone could hear my very heart!
Finally, I realized that I needed to talk to someone who knew about God.
I went back to Colonial Hills Church and made an appointment with the first available pastor: Pastor Jack Bailey, the children’s pastor.
We met, and I talked with him for nearly an hour telling him all the things that it seemed like God was doing.
Even now, I didn’t believe in God.
I was looking for some sort of confirmation that what I was experiencing was real.
I don’t remember what Pastor Bailey told me or even what we discussed.
The only thing I remember was something he said during his prayer at the end of the meeting.
He said, “God, in your Word you say you are the husband to the widow…”
“Widow.” I despised that word.
I left, somewhat angry but mostly curious…did the Bible really say that?
How could an invisible being be a husband to me, or any widow for that matter?
The idea seemed so ridiculous I had to look into it for myself.
I went home and Googled, “What does the bible say about God being the husband to the widow.”
I found these verses in Isaiah 54:4-8, which I first read in the NIV:
“Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.
Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth
and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
For your Maker is your husband—
the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of all the earth.
The Lord will call you back
as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—
a wife who married young,
only to be rejected,” says your God.
“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
In a surge of anger
I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord your Redeemer.
The verses cut me to my heart and sent chills down my spine.
It spoke to my situation directly. It spoke to ME directly, in my mental and emotional state.
The Lord was revealing himself to me as my God and my Redeemer. He was making me a promise of restoration.
In that moment, after reading that verse, in light of all that had occurred in my life over the past week or so…I knew there was a God.
My heart was convicted and all doubt was removed.
This moment I refer to as my “Oh, crap!” moment.
That’s because I lived 28 years of my life as an enemy of God and a mocker of His church and people.
After reading this verse and through my experience, I realized that I was wrong all along.
There was no way God could not exist!
I was really, really humbled by this knowledge.
But more than that, I was scared!
An all-powerful, all-knowing God who can hear the very whispers of my heart has existed all along.
He has known my every action, my every thought…things about me no one would ever know because I would never reveal them.
All the good, bad and ugly lay bare before Him.
I wanted to crawl under a rock and hide from Him, but even that would be futile.
All I could do was ask for forgiveness: sincere repentance for my ignorance and blasphemy.
Then I wanted to know more about Him.
Who was God?
Who was Jesus…. why was He a popular religious figure?
What was a “Redeemer” anyway?
What did God mean by everlasting kindness and compassion?
The desire to read the Bible became my most intense passion.
I wanted to know exactly who God was and I wanted to know the truth for myself, not something someone told me to believe.
I wanted to read it and make my own judgment call.
I started in the Gospel of Matthew.
This is where I met Jesus.
Every word I read was like it was leaping off the page.
This was my answer to “What is a Redeemer?”
Every night I read, it was the only thing that brought me peace of mind and comfort, amid the threat of nightmares and flashbacks.
When I finished Matthew, I moved forward to the next book and the next.
Every word made sense!
The scriptures were dripping with truth.
Jesus was revealing himself to me in complete accuracy with the way in which I was experiencing His presence in my life.
Every truth was being confirmed in my daily walk.
I began to pray.
I would pray to the Lord every night.
I would cast every worry on him.
I would question him.
I would thank him.
I would ask him to reveal more about himself to me.
I attended two Sunday services after the burial of my husband.
On the second Sunday, I approached the altar in such tearfulness and brokenness…
I had accepted Jesus as the Son of God, just as his Word says.
I had accepted him as Lord and Savior, as my Redeemer, just as I was experiencing.
I had accepted his offer of salvation and I wanted an everlasting relationship with him.
I didn’t know what to expect from the service invitation, but my salvation had little to do with that moment and everything to do with the events that had led up to it.
I was ready to publicly profess that I belonged to Jesus Christ!
I gave my life to Christ in April 2011 and I was baptized shortly afterwards!
This is the true account of my salvation testimony, but my testimony is not complete.
Jesus is at work in me daily.
He is my peace, my joy, and my salvation!
The Lord Jesus is MY “Redeemer.”
(My girls are now 7 and 4. They are happy, healthy, loved and secure. From the outside, you would never suspect that we have survived such a traumatic loss. 2 Corinthians 12:9 says: But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” They are pictured below.)
Thank you, Brittney, for sharing your amazing journey with us today!
Thank you for allowing us to experience your story along with you.
I believe God has the most incredible plans ahead for your life, your family, your children and your future.
As we close, I just feel compelled to ask – do you personally know the “Redeemer” that has been talked about in this story today?
Just as He pursued Brittney, He pursues you!
Romans 10 explains the way we can respond to His relentless pursuit:
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”
For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him,
for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Today, He invites you to:
- Admit you are a sinner in need of a Savior.
- Believe in your heart that He is Lord.
- Confess with your mouth that you are trusting in Him for salvation.
I’d love to talk to you further about this.
You can contact me here on the website or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(You can also send me a note to encourage Brittney, and I will happily forward it to her~)
Blessings to you,
**And, would you do me a favor — if this article has helped you today — would you share it with someone else?
~ I regularly link to these AMAZING SITES~
© Melanie Redd and Ministry of Hope, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melanie Redd and Ministry of Hope with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.