Today I woke up early, rolled over, and came face to face with my youngest son, Decker, who had climbed into bed with me. He grinned and did something silly to make me laugh and I thought about how blessed I was to enjoy that little moment with him, then in an instant, it hit me as it does at some point every day…Ryan is gone. Today is his first heavenly birthday, as it has been exactly one year since he was killed while serving in Afghanistan. Memories of last year on this day came washing over me as tears rolled down my cheeks.
“Sin has lost it’s power
Death has lost it’s sting
From the grave You’ve risen
Into marvelous light I’m running
Out of darkness, out of shame
By the cross You are the truth
You are the life, You are the way”
Although I physically ached for Ryan and the devastation of his death, I loudly sang these words with my arms lifted high, clinging to the promise that they held in Christ for him and all of us. I later told my husband about singing this song repeatedly and he asked me if the words seemed to mock the sting of death that I so freshly felt, but they did not–they gave me hope. Over and over again, I held tight to the promises that those words held. For here on earth, sin had seemingly triumphed when an evil man killed my cousin and two other heroes that day, but the power of sin over Ryan was lost for his life belonged to the Lord, and I knew that very day he was in Heaven living life eternally. Death had lost it’s sting years before when Ryan gave his life to Christ.
Since Ryan’s death, this past year I have witnessed the amazing power of God work through his loss to bring forth life and so much love. Genesis 50:19-20 (NIV) says “…Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” In this verse, the ruler Joseph is addressing his brothers who plotted evil against him, but God used those horrible circumstances for good. I can clearly see the Lord doing the same thing through the tragedy of Ryan’s death. Satan wanted to use his death and the deaths of others to destroy lives and tear apart families, but because Ryan loved the Lord, his life is still a witness even in his earthly death. This year I have been so blessed to get to know my sweet cousin, Ryan’s sister, Jean better than ever before. She is four years younger than me, so I really never got the chance to know her as an adult until recently. She has sweetly shared her heart and her prayer requests with me on many occasions. This week in texts, she was updating me on all that God has been doing in her life and the lives of her family–all I can say is that God has been working miracles, truly miracles. It is not just his family either, God has used Ryan to touch the lives of people who never have even met him. “…you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”
Through Jean, I have also been able to witness the spiritual growth of her mom in particular. Recently this was evidenced in a beautiful post by my Aunt Carolyn titled “On Forgiveness”:
“Friends – The July 8th edition of Time Magazine included an article titled “Green on Blue” by journalist Nick McDonell. It is about the event nearly a year ago. It is mostly McDonnell surmising the motivations behind why the Afghan police officer turned on his allies. I can’t imagine how the author would know with any accuracy as he did not interview him. My belief is there was a fair amount of poetic license exercised. I can also tell you there was factual inaccuracy regarding recounting of the event. But all that is neither here nor there as far as I’m concerned.
Here is what is important to me. The article put a face and name to the man who took my son’s life. Abdul Razaq. Imagine looking into the face of your son’s killer…even if it is just a picture. Chilling. It made someone who used to be abstract all too real. My stomach churned. Tears poured. And I was back to the day it happened. The wound re-opened. How was I to move ahead again?
I went to church, and as it happens, the sermon had to do with loving your neighbor and turning the other cheek. Ha! Sure. Maybe if your neighbor commits an indiscretion other than murder, least of all murder of your child! How in the world am I to forgive this? After the service I approached the pastor and I told him of my situation. I told him I was struggling with the message in his sermon of forgiveness and asked him for counsel. He said, “Pray to God for guidance.” Well, that was simple advice, but would I get my answer?
I prayed. I prayed a lot. I mean I prayed a whole lot! I asked God, please show me the way to forgiveness. If that is Your will, please show me how. It may be hard to believe, and though surely he wasn’t looking for forgiveness, I have forgiven this man, Abdul Razaq, killer of my sweet son, Ryan. You may find this hard to believe. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being preachy; I
don’t expect anyone else to follow this path. Each must find their own way. I needed to do this. It was the right thing for me. My answer was provided to me in Romans 12:9-21 but especially 17-21 below.
“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceable with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for in doing so you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
As to justice, well, that is something for God and others to determine. Forgiveness from me was between God and me. The rest will be taken care of in time.”
This morning the thought of “celebrating” Ryan’s first heavenly birthday was difficult to imagine. However, the more I thought and prayed about it, I had to celebrate…I needed to celebrate all the good that God was bringing out of the evil that Satan intended. I needed to celebrate that Christ had indeed won the victory over sin and death and that he is using Ryan’s death to draw people to Himself so that they too can live in eternity with Christ and embrace Ryan in heaven one day. So, through tears and the hugs of my children, we are celebrating Ryan’s first heavenly birthday together. There is not a day when I won’t miss him. I will still cry that he is gone forever from this earth, but I will still cling to the hope in the Lord and keep watching as God transforms others through Ryan’s ultimate sacrifice.
Ryan’s niece Jayla, told me one day that she likes to pretend that Ryan is still alive fighting bad guys. I told her that I like to do the same thing as it always brought me comfort knowing that he would be there to protect me. I would like to think that Ryan is watching us from Heaven and that he would also say to us “…Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
I love you Ryan and I will always miss you, but I can’t wait to see you in Heaven one day!