For the last 16 years, I have had the great honor of walking alongside many people as they have experienced deep loss in their lives, helping them navigate these tumultuous waters. This has been possible only because I myself have experienced deep losses, including being widowed at the age of 19 when my husband, Eric, was killed. We had only been married for two and a half months. He was driving to work on his motorcycle when he was hit head-on by a man under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
In an instant, my world turned upside down.
Because he was the victim in a police case, his body was considered evidence and I only had a few minutes to say goodbye before he was taken away. That night, as I was gathering my things to stay with my parents, I found his testimony written out, laying perfectly inside a box I never had opened. Eric’s memorial service was the first time I spoke and asked people to give their lives to Christ and to turn to Him in their sorrow.
Two weeks before Eric died my grandmother, Ernie, died from pancreatic cancer. My family was very close growing up. My extended family lived nearby and we regularly met for holidays, birthdays, and other gatherings. I had a full life of knowing all my relatives and cousins. As a matriarch of the family, my grandmother’s death was very hard on all of us. Just nine months after Eric was killed my cousin, Stephen died in a car accident in which he was the driver under the influence. He left behind his girlfriend, who had serious injuries, and two beautiful girls: one an infant, one a toddler.
It felt like everyone around me was dying. I struggled in my grief, isolation, depression, and suicidal thoughts and attempts. Most of the time I was at home, alone and mourning, but I had pockets of time where God would give me strength to come out of the grief and help others. He used me in my completely broken state to minister to other women going through their own tragedies. The first woman I helped, just two months after my husband died, had also lost her husband in a motorcycle accident. I didn’t understand then why I was the one helping her. God told me it was because I had Him.
These pockets of time are what kept me going. It was as though God was drawing me and telling me, “I have hope, a plan, and a purpose for you.”
The biggest breakthrough for me came the day the Lord led me to forgive the man that killed my husband. It was late at night and I was at home “pleading” my case before God, telling Him what I hated about this man, why I wanted him to die, why it wasn’t fair that he was alive while Eric was dead.
In the middle of my grumblings, the Lord spoke to my spirit and reminded me of the story in the Bible of how Saul became Paul. He questioned me in my hate. “If I, God, who created men in my image can forgive a man that sought to kill my people, can’t you forgive a man who was lost and hurting and killed your husband?” That night God helped me forgive him. His name is also Eric and I have prayed for him ever since.
Getting through that season was nothing short of a miracle.
It is indeed sobering to look back at all the loss and to know where He has led me in my life: to love the brokenhearted and to start a ministry named Joy in the Mourning.
I really believe and trust in the verses in Job 42:2-3 “I know that You can do all things and that no plan of Yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this who conceals My counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”
I realize some people never get past their grief to experience a life of freedom and abundance that God promises and calls us to. I share my story to express my understanding of heartbreak and sorrow, rooted in severe losses and tragedies, and my confidence in the peace, hope, and joy that God can bring in the mourning.
I am not saying that there won’t be hard things in life. There are hard times, there are mournful times, but that is where He can transform ashes into beauty. Where he can use our most painful experiences to bring redemption to others. Where, once we have experienced the comfort only God can give, we can bring comfort to others. Where we can experience joy in the mourning!
Praying peace and comfort to you,
Hear more of Ashley’s story on Living The Reclaimed Life podcast. Episode #42 HERE > On Apple: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/living-the-reclaimed-life/id1554921893?i=1000542682675
On all other platforms > https://thereclaimedlife.buzzsprout.com