"I came across a quote the other day that said, 'We had the experience, but we missed the meaning'. Today I want to share with you the most difficult experience I have ever had. But I want to share with you the meaning... God has a way of turning tragedy into victory. Our story is a story of loss and of pain, but also a story of great gain."
Before continuing, Professor Dave Jongeward issued a challenge to his chapel audience. In a sincere tone, he told students that what he was about to share was an intensely personal experience and very integral to the man he has become. Because of this, he asked students to listen intently so that they might be changed and learn vicariously the deep truths that he himself had experienced through dark times.
The Journey Begins
With the students rapt attention, Dave proceeded to tell his story. In 1946, Dean and Alice Jongeward graduated from MU and became missionaries in Ethiopia where Dave was born. At 8 years old and one of 6 children, Dave and his family moved back to the United States and settled in Yakima, Washington. The passion that Dave's Dad, Dean Jongeward, had for God, missions, and people still burned brightly within him which drove him to travel and speak on missions at churches and places like Multnomah.
In the spring semester of Dave's freshman year of high school, Dean was diagnosed with brain cancer. After surgery, Dean began to recover only to deteriorate again with little hope for recovery. While he was in this downward turn, Dave and his brother, Allen, were in a very serious car accident. Dave and Allen where rushed to the hospital where Dave was treated for the injuries to his side, knee, and head. After a couple of days, Allen was still unconscious and when he woke up it was discovered that he was paralyzed from the neck down. As Allen was undergoing a series of surgeries, sicknesses, and complications, Dean lost his battle with cancer and died at the age of 44. Within the same month of Dean's death, Allen died as well.
Dave encouraged his audience to listen intently as he told us of the wisdom that he had distilled from this time of incredible pain.
What was the meaning?
1. The most difficult journeys can be the most meaningful. Somehow God seems to talk to us more in our pain. As C.S. Lewis wrote, "Pain is God's megaphone," which was certainly true as God sculpted the most defining moments of my entire life.
2. God is God. Do we truly accept and understand that God is a God of the Heavens and he does what he pleases? I can fight with him and I can be bitter or I can align myself with God's plan and be more refined. Be bitter or be better. It's your choice.
3. Trust God even though you don't understand what he is doing and even though you are in pain. Job stated his absolute trust in God when he said, “Even though You slay me, yet will I trust in You.” A passage that has continually spoken to my heart through this hard experience is Lamentations 3:31-33, 37-38, and, again, I am reminded that we need to trust that God knows what He is doing, no matter how bad it seems to us.
4. God is for me, not against me. When things go badly, you might be tempted to doubt the unconditional goodness of God. I have to remind myself that God does this for my benefit because God desires me, He delights in me and plans for me to gain.
5. God has the right to take my life. He also has the right to use my life for His glory.
6. There are worse things than physical death.
7. God was teaching me at a young age how to die to self. Because of the car accident, I had to wear a neck brace and could no longer play in any sports. Sports had been a very important part of my life, but because God taught me to die to myself, when the time came to take the neck brace off I was able to pray with sincerity, "God, if my life is not pleasing to You, You have the right to put neck brace back on."
8. Hard things are guaranteed to happen in life, the only thing you can change is your response to those circumstances.
9. Pain and loss are God's curriculum for life. When we learn about God through adversity, He develops our love for Him.
10. God can use our pain, failure and brokenness as a platform for His praise and ministry to others. As A.W. Tozer once said, "It is highly unlikely that God can use a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply."
To end our time together, Dave's mother, Mrs. Jongeward, recounted how God revealed His leading in her life through the loss of her husband, and she reiterated that God had indeed taken care of her all these years as a widow since 1969, after the death of her husband and son. There was a still solemnity as we then listened to a recording taken of Mr. Jongeward before he lost his ability to speak due to his cancer:
"I am so conscious of the fact that God is with us and that all of His afflictions and testings are borne out of His great heart of love...and if the Lord sees fit to raise us up and give us added years, than that will be wonderful, and if He doesn't see fit to do that, well that's wonderful too."