The Struggle Is Real

The Struggle Is Real: Pain to Purpose


Written by: Stephanie Petska

Original piece written on the “Angel-versary” of my son, Braden.

How does one embrace a day like today? Do you honor it in a special way or hide under the covers, letting time pass until tomorrow comes? Do you pray to God for comfort or seek it elsewhere? Do you let anger back in or try to seek the peace you once felt? Do you throw a tantrum at the unfairness of life or celebrate the memories in a special way?

I find there’s no “right” way to embrace the moment that forever changed my life. I’ve walked a long road of healing with my grief, and no matter how many years have passed, there will always be a piece of me that remains altered.

I can’t begin to describe the void that death leaves behind, like an unavoidable emptiness that no amount of laughter or joy could fill. The longing for a boy, I could now only find in pictures, left an ache so deep, it was suffocating.

How does one cope? How does one move on? How does life ever return to normalcy after loss? Does it ever return?

As much as my mind had an idea of heaven, I had many questions. What was heaven like? Who was Braden with? What was he doing? Was someone else rocking, singing, and kissing him goodnight? My mind knew, but my heart couldn’t cope with the fact that he was no longer in my arms and within reach.

God, where are you? God, where were you the night I prayed so hard for my son to live?

The more questions I asked, the fewer answers I seemed to find. I was angry, bitter, cynical, distrusting of God, and no longer believed in prayer; I chose to fill the void with anything and everything but God. This lead me on a downward spiral to a path of hopelessness.

When I was at the lowest point in my grief, I heard a message that was based on unanswered prayers. I felt myself leaning in, hoping this message had the answer I was so desperately seeking.

Sometimes God wants you to witness a miracle, and sometimes He wants you to BE the miracle,” were the words Steven Furtick used to capture my attention. In that moment, images flashed through my mind like a movie reel. It was then that I finally realized God was present, He had been by my side this entire time through the people He placed in my life.

My heart started to shed the bitter, hard scales that were leaving me stuck in this state of hopelessness. Although I didn’t know how, I realized that God was somehow going to use my pain for purpose.

Where distrust once resided, I began to see God’s faithfulness, His sovereignty, His goodness take root – a new trust started to evolve. John 16:33 says, “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.” This has been a reminder to put my faith, not in the world, but in the One who will give me eternal life.

I don’t have all of the answers, especially the “why” behind my Braden’s sudden and unexpected death, but I do believe that “God works all things for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Revelations 21:4 promises us, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.There’s incredible peace in knowing the end of our story, and there is beauty in imagining the moment I get to embrace my Braden again.

Every day is a choice to focus on the dim, unfair parts of my life or choose to be the light in someone else’s life. Today I choose to be the light, and I pray I can be the hope to others who have endured the unbearable pain and suffering of child loss. The hope in knowing that there is life after death and it is possible for joy to return to a shattered heart.

“So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy” (John 16:22)

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