Monday, April 23, 2012

My testimony

I was asked to speak at our Senior Adult Luncheon at church last Wednesday. I wrote the following and pretty much just read it verbatim. I broke down crying several times, but I wasn't the only one. Guess I should have put Kleenex boxes on all the tables.

Good Afternoon. My name is Angie Cherney. My husband and I have been members of Bethel for over 19yrs. We have seven children. Our oldest would be turning 17 on May 2nd if he were here. He died as a result of a car accident eight and a half months ago on July 29, 2011. The rest of the children are ages 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13.

I became a Christian about 20yrs. ago right here at Bethel through the invitation of the gospel presented by Pastor Dave. At the time, I was a college student and my life was a mess. I had moved to Mankato in the fall of 1989 because I was “in love” with a guy I had met over the summer. However, shortly after moving here, my relationship and my life fell apart. I was an incredibly insecure young woman. I was, as the song goes, “looking for love in all the wrong places.” I had grown up in a dysfunctional family. My father was an alcoholic, my parents divorced when I was in elementary school, and then my dad died when I was 12yrs. old. Although I grew up in a church, I did not know Jesus. I was taught that if I was a good girl and if I didn't commit any major sins, then I was probably going to get into heaven. But I had no assurance of that, and certainly no understanding of what real love was.

At age 23, I accepted Christ and finally had a peace in my heart that I had never known before. But the habits of my old life did not magically disappear after accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I, like all new Christians, had a lot to learn. Thankfully, God placed into my life a wonderful man named Tim who became my husband. Most importantly, he loved the Lord. I also met a dear woman who became my sister-in-Christ and mentor in life. She introduced me to Precepts bible study which, for me, would prove to be one of the most important decisions of my life, next to accepting Christ. Precepts took me deep into the Word of God and taught me that the way to know God, was to study His word.

My husband and I have been incredibly blessed the past 18yrs. Because of my sinful past, I was told by two different doctors that I would not be able to have children. But God, in His mercy, gave us seven amazing blessings. I grew in my relationship with the Lord, and my husband has grown in his. I learned that my sense of security and self worth comes from God, and that He is trustworthy, that He is who He says He is. Until the loss of our son eight months ago, I had what I thought was a strong, active faith. In fact, just the night before Matt died, I had told a friend, “God is my all in all.” Little did I know how my passive faith would, in a matter of hours, be moved to active.

As I look back to the day that Matt died, I will forever be thankful for God's word, for having hidden His word in my heart. Because, as I stood in St. Mary's hospital looking at my son's lifeless body, those precious words of God are what came into my mind and out of my mouth. I said as Job said, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” I knew I had a choice. I could choose to become a bitter old woman because of this and turn from God, or I could choose to trust God and trust that He would somehow pick up the broken, shattered pieces of my heart and my life and that of my family's. I also knew from Job's response that I, too, needed to say, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD."

God immediately answered so many prayers and showed us in so many ways how close He was and how much He loved us. One of the things we struggled with was how it could have happened. Matt was such a cautious driver. In fact, we often chided him on being too careful. We just couldn't understand how he would have ended up in the wrong lane. Ultimately, God revealed to us how the accident happened. We knew that Matt had a Gator-aid bottle with him in the van as he was driving to work. Unfortunately, it was not in it's usual place in the cooler. In the rush of the morning and, at the last minute, the cooler had been tossed into the back of the van without Matt putting his lunch into it. It ended up that, as he went down a hill on Hwy 22, his Gator-aid bottle rolled under his feet and when he went to retrieve it, he took his eyes off the road and veered into oncoming traffic, colliding with a semi. He died while en route of the life flight helicopter to St. Mary's in Rochester. So, for us, it was a blessing to be able to know what happened, because God didn't have to tell us, but He did in our case.

The Lord also provided an amazing support system for us. Our church family, our neighbors, and our homeschooling community provided meals for us until mid-October. It was an incredible blessing. We received at least 8 offers of vehicles to use until we could purchase another van. Tim's work also told him to take off as much time as he needed. The entire cost of the funeral was paid for, as well. The children and Tim and I were able to go to Hearts of Hope, a grief camp, at the beginning of November, too, through the provision of Children's Grief Connection in partnership with Minnesota funeral homes. It was a helpful experience for all of us. We also set up a scholarship in Matt's name through the BPA club at East High School. Matt was incredibly gifted when it came to computers and he earned first place in PC Troubleshooting and Repair and fifth place in Java Programming through the Business Professionals of America's regional competition and was able to go to state. It was important for us to commemorate his achievements with a scholarship. The owner of FPX, where Tim works, gave a considerably generous donation of $10,000 towards the scholarship in Matt's name.

Our daughter Abby's 13th birthday was just two days after the funeral. It was incredibly conflicting, celebrating the life of one of my children while grieving the death of another. Grief and joy intermingled. It was also the week of FCA camp. (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) We had heeded the wise advice from Pastor Dave and kept whatever things were on the calendar for the sake of the children and trying to keep some sense of routine and normalcy for them. But it required us to drive through Waseca, which we were not looking forward to. It was while traveling through Waseca on the way to Rochester 6 days earlier when we received the news that Matt did not make it. God, however, ministered to us so intimately. Just as we arrived in Waseca on the way to FCA camp, Tim turned on the radio and the song playing was Matt Redmond's “You Never Let Go.” It was the same song we had chosen for Matt's funeral. It is a song that has ministered to us greatly.

God has continued to show us His presence in the midst of our suffering. So many people are covering us in prayer. There have been days where I contemplated how to end my life, even the lives of my family, because the pain of losing my son is so great. But I am convinced that the prayers offered up on our behalf are what sustains my family and I and keeps us going forward.

My sentiments are summed up perfectly by Isabel Fleece, in her book Not by Accident. The author says, “I am amazed that the human frame, frail as it is, can survive such a blast.” Yet, as I look at the wreckage that grief leaves behind, I am comforted in knowing that God's name is “Jehovah rapha,” the God who heals. Psalm 147:3 says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 34:18 “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Deut. 31:8 “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Rev. 21:4 “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” I have relied tremendously upon God's truth, both in scripture and in song. A friend gave me the devotional book Streams in the Desert, which has also been deeply comforting. I continually remind myself that circumstances do not dictate God's character. Matt's death was not a surprise to God. He had, as Psalm 139 says, ordained all of Matthew's days before one of them came to be. Now, I certainly wish they had been longer. Much longer. But God is sovereign and I must, as His child, trust Him.

I was involved in a bible study on the life of Daniel when Matt died. Talk about feeling like being thrown into the fiery furnace. But one thing I have learned is that God is with me in the fire. He didn't remove the fire, but He is there with me in it and will deliver me through it as he did Daniel. A quote from my Daniel study book says, “Oh, how Satan wants the people of God to think God has abandoned them!” I can think of no other situation where this would apply so well.

My Daniel bible study ended and in the fall I joined a Precepts study here at church. It was titled, “Wrestling with God,” followed by the study “Keeping Your Focus When Your Dreams Are Shattered.” I don't believe in coincidences. That was a God-cidence. The current study I am in is on Nehemiah and titled, “Rebuilding, Revival and Restoration of the People of God.”

Tim and I have also seen God's provision through GriefShare. GriefShare is a Christian support group for those who have experienced the death of a loved one. We have gained so much comfort and wisdom through GriefShare. We know that we are not alone in our loss. We know that grief cannot become our identity. We are reminded of the truth that this is not the rest of the story. God's story is a life, death, LIFE story. One of the most helpful things, for me, is to remember this. Matt is not dead. He is alive. He lives in heaven and is very much alive. This world is not our home. If grief has given me anything, it is that I now genuinely long for heaven. The words of the Apostle Paul have taken on new meaning to me. Paul says in 2 Cor. 5:1-9 “For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight— we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”

In the meantime, we are called to persevere and walk by faith, patiently enduring. Some days it's easier said than done. However, 1 Thessalonians 4:13 gives us hope, as well. “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.” Tim and I are eternally grateful for the hope we have in Christ. I have been burdened for others who are grieving. As a result, Tim has helped me set up an internet message board, a place where the bereaved can find hope and encouragement in their season of sorrow. I hope to have the website up and running at the end of July.

In closing, I'd like to leave you with the following poem:

 "O think!
 To step on shore,
And that shore heaven!
To take hold of a Hand,
And that God's hand!
To breathe a new air,
And feel it celestial air.
To feel invigorated,
And to know it immortality!
O think!
To pass from the storm and the tempest
To one unbroken calm!
To wake up,
And find it GLORY."

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