Carried through the Valley of Death

The Lord carries me.

Those are simple words, but so true in my case. I have experienced a loss of such magnitude that I cannot, being just a man, carry the weight of it. So, Christ the Lord carries it and graciously allows me to live the life He has given to me.

In December,1998, eleven days before Christmas, precisely eight years and six months ago, my 18-year-old daughter, Mary Dee, was murdered by an ex-boyfriend in Shreveport, Louisiana. The boy, also age 18, killed himself in a murder-suicide that was front page news in the Shreveport Times. Mary Dee lived in a Shreveport apartment with her mother, my ex-wife, and I lived in Dallas with my wife and 5-year-old daughter, Sarah.

The news was completely and absolutely devastating. How could this be real? In the moment I was told of these events, I was so stunned that it seemed the air had been drained from the room. I felt I would die! I wanted to die to escape the unbearable pain of it.

I believe in my heart that the death of a child is the heaviest burden a person can be forced to carry. I also believe that murder—with its evil intent and its theft of a person’s very existence—makes the death of your child unbearable. That my child had been killed, murdered, was so far beyond my capacity to “handle it” that I was utterly crushed and left feeling …empty.

Most difficult of all was explaining to our 5-year-old princess, Sarah, about death, murder, and why she couldn’t spend time with her sister ever again in this world. I was dying inside, so how could I help her understand? The world around me did not seem real. I was dazed and in misery every moment.

Eight years have passed since Mary Dee’s death in such a tragic way. Recently, a Christian friend asked me, “Charlie, how do you live with that?” The answer I gave was simple: “Jesus Christ, Our Lord, carries the pain, the anguish, the emptiness…for me. I cannot carry it, so the Savior carries me, through life.”

My friend wanted to know more, so we talked. I told her several things that made it clear to me that I am in God’s hands, that my life is in Him, and that He is in me—the mystery of the ages.

I had prayed for answers to some unanswerable questions:

Why had my daughter been killed?

Why did that beautiful young woman have to experience such an end? Why did she have to miss the rest of her earthly life?

The answer to my prayer questions came in a voice, clear and unmistakable, that whispered in my soul:

“She is with Me.”

These four words, God’s comforting message to a man who was dying in mournful sorrow, brought a wave of relief, assurance, comfort, and grace. The calming relief that my daughter, who was a Christian believer, was in God’s care was one step toward my own recovery. More steps were ahead.

The murder of my daughter caused me to question my own existence, or more accurately, my right to continue living in a world that had been denied her. It was not my pain that I felt, but the pain of her loss, the horror of those final moments at the hands of her murderer, of the world being denied her presence. What right did I have to continue living? What justice could possibly allow that young and vibrant person to be taken, and yet allow me, an aging and well traveled older person, to remain? It made no sense to me; my life was of no value in the shadow of her death.

One sleepless night, many weeks after the murder as I struggled to find some sense or perspective for “handling” this nightmare, I found myself in the black stillness of the long night asking God another unanswerable question: “Why did you allow her to be taken and leave me to suffer in this way?”

Then, in the deepest part of me, our Creator gave answer:

“I am not finished with you.”

This brief and awe-inspiring message gave context to my remaining journey. I slept afterwards, for the first time since the news of Mary Dee’s death. I had God’s peace that allowed my weary soul to…rest.

With those two pieces of the mystery (“She is with Me” and “I am not finished with you”) so clearly anchored in my heart and in my mind, I began to sense the immense burden being lifted from me. In my prayers, however, there remained one last question that plagued my sleepless nights: What would Mary Dee want me to do with my life? How was I to continue?

It was hard for me to imagine my life being productive, or happy, or “normal” in any way in the long and dark nights when I agonized over these things. The answer for me, this time, came not in a gentle voice but in the form of a magnificent dream.

It happened one night in a foreign country where I was working as a consultant for an oil company. In order to meditate and build up physical fatigue before bedtime, I took a long walk. That night I found deep sleep after many weeks of nightlong prayers. When I slept, I dreamed….

In my dream, I was helping some friends remodel their home, doing carpentry atop a ladder leaning against the side of the house which was situated beside a lake. On the edge of the lake were children, playing and running and singing and chasing one another in joyful playtime. As the sun was sinking low on the horizon, the children began to return to the house, boys and girls, all quite young. Finally, there was one child left, a girl of about six, taking steps toward me.

The sight of Mary Dee enthralled me as she walked slowly toward me. With each step, she aged and her clothing changed—a dress, then jeans, then shorts, then a baseball cap—and she grew and matured from a first-grader to the high school graduate she was at the time of her death. At last, she stood right in front of me at the base of the ladder, which I had descended unconsciously.

There she was—her hair in a pony tail, pulled through a gap at the back of the baseball cap which carried a logo for Florida State (a cap she loved and wore often in her teen years). She faced me and my heart raced with joy. She leaned close and whispered,

“Live your life, Dad.”

Then Mary Dee hugged me, her arms around me, holding tightly.

I awakened in the peaceful grasp of her embrace, my mind repeating her message—“Live your life, Dad.” .

I believe God sent that dream, that embrace, that message of hope. Though my grief continues, and always will, the mourning that was so crushing has subsided. I work with other families who have been forced to face the violent deaths of their children, and I share with them what I can of my own journey through the valley of the shadow of death.

Knowing that Mary Dee is in God’s loving care (“She is with Me”) and knowing God has use for me in this world (“I am not finished with you”) and that Mary Dee would hope for me a worthwhile life (“Live your life, Dad”), I’m being carried by the Lord’s mercy, through unbearable territory. It is He who does the carrying; I am the one being carried.

My life verse is now from the words of our Lord Jesus as recorded in John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Charlie Haddox is a long-time management consultant, family man, Bible teacher and a deacon at First Baptist Church of McKinney, TX. The organization that supported him in crisis, and which he attends to help others, is called Victims Outreach and is specialized in helping those who remain when a person is murdered.

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Reprint please credit to Challenger, 20071012 2007. CCMUSA.