3 A.M. I bolted upright in bed, wide awake in the darkness, but for the glowing clock numerals. My heart raced. I just had a dream like no other before or since--a gift from God. The dream answered the deepest prayer of my life. “Father, please, I need to know, why did you take my son?”
In the dream God entered a red earthen room and moved from the door to the table. He sat at a crude wooden-plank table while I served Him coffee. Mr. Coffee is His brand. (Just saying, in case you get the chance to serve Him and want to make a good impression.)
I thanked Him for coming to give me the solace I craved. I repeated the lie that neither of us believed, “I will never ask you for anything again.” I asked Him how he could afford this time with me when He had a busy universe to run. Matter of factly, He explained that He could do more than one thing at a time. Remember, He is God. And I am not. (I think He’s been asked that one before.)
God WANTS to spend hours with us. His attention is free for the asking. It’s called prayer and we're invited to spend all the time we like with Him.
Losing your child is horrific. I have nothing to compare it with although I’ve lived with this for thirty years. Travis' death wrenched my heart from my body as if I'd been hit by a passing train leaving me empty and heaving beside the tracks. No one can genuinely understand this pain without experiencing it. I don’t often mention to others what it’s like. Speaking of that day is like vomiting in my own lap. But my awareness never leaves.
Travis committed suicide at the age of 19. Friends and acquaintances struggled for ways to say “I’m so sorry.” There is no more elegant thing to say than that. Thank you for acknowledging his life, but the fewer the words, the better. Say those three words and no more. Stop there. If you must say more, tell me a funny memory about my child. Tell me about the heart warming time my child got peanut butter in his hair or made an adorable, awkward plea to your daughter to let him kiss her. I will lap that up like cherry pie knowing he also lives in your memory. Just don’t say, “I know what you must feel,” because there's no chance you do if you haven't experienced this kind of loss.
My question for God had kept me sitting up nights for a dozen years. But I was never angry with God for taking my son; I needed God so completely that shaking my fist at Him was an impossibility. My solution was to invite my Lord to let me buy Him a cup of coffee in exchange for His time. “I’ll serve.”
So back to my dream. “Father, why did you take my son?”
Rhetorically, He posited, “Steve, whose son should I have taken?” Aren’t we all someone’s sons and daughters? From the beginning, I knew Travis’ death was never about me. It was always about Travis – although I prayed for a reversal that would take me and leave him. I offered a devil’s deal to take my life also as long as I could be wherever Travis was. But God does not punish one person for the problems of someone else.
Then in great kindness God said, “I know you are hurting. I know something about losing sons.” He hung His own Son on the cross bearing all the weight of the world.
Of course, all the billions and billions of men, women and children who have died since the beginning of time were ALL God’s sons and daughters. God knows everything about losing sons and daughters without being told.
I keep the third part of His answer to myself. But the main revelation was that Travis had been in trouble and was about to get into more. In His great love and mercy, He took Travis before it could get any worse. This explanation completely satisfied me and filled me with peace such as I had not known before. His loving answer left me with a firm conviction that God is good and can be trusted completely.
Steve Stewart has spoken professionally 3,500 times over 36 years in North America and Western Europe, on the subjects of business and marketing. He is the author of 13 books on these same subjects. Since 2012, Steve has spoken exclusively on the subject of Teen Suicide Prevention and is the author of a 14th book, Un-Speakable: Why teens commit suicide and how to make it STOP! This father’s story grew from the suicide loss of his only child and the desire to protect other sons and daughters through love and understanding. Suicides are preventable when we know what to look for, what to do; say and not to say. To speak to audiences of teens, college students and parents, Steve travels from Oceanside CA.
NOTE FROM CATHERINE LEGGITT: My friend and classmate Steve Stewart speaks on Suicide Prevention in Southern California. His story of ongoing healing through reaching out to teens so touched my heart I asked him to contribute a post for my blog. The following statistics he sent made me gasp in dismay.
- Suicide is either the #1, #2 or #3 cause of all deaths among American youth, depending on your location. (I live in San Diego County where it is the second most common cause of all youth deaths.)
- A recent 10 year study by Harvard University and the University of Toronto found that suicide is HIGHLY contagious, particularly among 12-13 year olds. Simple awareness of the suicide of a peer increased thoughts of suicide as much as FIVE TIMES over. Troubled economic times create more suicide attempts. In the US in the three years from 2010 to 2012, suicide deaths among 12-13 year olds increased 100%.
- Some personality and mood disorders increase the frequency of suicide attempts by between 8 and 26 times. What we say thoughtlessly to these people can mean their life or death.
- Suicidal impulses are treatable. Anyone as early as 7th grade can be taught what to do and say with faced with the reality.
Do you know a teenager who seems troubled? Are you concerned? What are you going to do about it?