I want to share a family story with you. It’s about heartbreaking loss, but it’s also about miracles, forgiveness, and grace. It is a true story, seen through the eyes of an eleven year old girl.
The year is 1965; A time when most neighborhoods were peaceful and safe. There was not much traffic and children walked almost everywhere they went. People left their doors unlocked. Neighbors looked out for each other and their children.
Living on Bexley Street in North Charleston SC, was a family of five. A Dad, Mom and three girls; ages 14, 11, and 3.
So imagine for a minute, you are the eleven year old. Your stepfather is Daddy to you and your older sister and has loved you like his own ever since you were five years old.
Your three year old sister is gentle and precious with brown eyes and brown curly hair. You share a bedroom with her and play with her every day. She is like having your own little baby doll. She brings you and your family much joy and laughter. She is your stepfather’s only biological child.
One day, you are playing with your next door neighbor. Your little sister is several houses down in the back yard with her little friend.
While you and your neighbor are playing, you hear the screech of car tires. It’s on down the road so you don’t pay much attention. After a while, you notice neighbors coming out of their houses going toward where you heard the tires.
You sense something bad has happened and start racing down the street with your friend. You run up to where a crowd has gathered. They are looking at something in the road. You squeeze through the adults so you can see too. Suddenly, your happy, carefree world stands still.
Your heart nearly stops when you realize your baby sister is lying in the road. She is bleeding and motionless. What would it feel like to you, an eleven year old, seeing your sister, pale and still.
Her little shoes have come off of her feet. Her white lace socks are the last thing you see before a neighbor pulls you away. It is strange, the things you notice during a time like this.
There is a knowing in your heart that your sister has died. Your friend’s mother sits with you on your couch, holding you as you cry and cry. She won’t tell you the truth about your sister even though you continually ask her; you see she is waiting for your Mother to get home.
Your Mother finally comes in the door and collapses as someone tells her that her baby has died.
The fear and agony is tremendous as your eleven year old mind tries to cope with the complete breakdown of her Mother and the death of her sister. The grief and pain multiply as you see your strong and steady stepfather, cry heart wrenching tears over losing his little daughter.
He is the only Daddy you have ever really known and you love him with all your heart. Seeing him like this is very, very scary for such a young girl.
Imagine going to your little sister’s funeral and your Uncle tells you not to cry because you need to stay strong for your Daddy. Every time you look in the casket at your sister in her pale yellow dress, all you can think is, “I don’t understand, she looks so pretty; she looks like she is sleeping; she needs her favorite baby doll before they close the lid of that casket.”
The tears well up until you feel you will burst but then you see your Daddy looking at you, and you force a smile instead. You have to stay strong like your Uncle told you to… for your Daddy.
It’s after the funeral, and everyone has left. Your house is a sad, sad place to be. No one explains about death to you because you were not raised in church, you don’t know much about God.
Your Mother has suffered an emotional breakdown and is sleeping a lot because of pills the doctor gave her. Your Daddy can’t comfort you because he is in so much pain himself.
That night, you finally fall asleep but are jolted awake by conversation and loud crying in the living room. You listen at the door. A woman is begging your Daddy to forgive her. The woman offers one of her very own children to replace your sister. It dawns on you that this woman was the one driving the car that killed your sister.
You can’t believe what you hear. Your Daddy is consoling the woman and telling her it was not her fault. He is offering words of compassion and forgiveness to her.
Just take yourself to this place even for a moment. You and your family going through all of this … Without God.
That family was my family. I was the eleven year old. The little girl, who died, was my sister, Cindy. She was only three.
I’ve told you about the tragedy
Now for the miracle
My Dad was not a Christian man but nothing would give him peace until he found out how he could see his Cindy again one day. He remembered his mother’s teaching about God from his childhood and knew this was where he needed to start. He sought God for answers with a heart that was broken and torn.
One evening, my Dad tells me he stood in the middle of the living room & yelled, “God I can’t take this pain anymore!” “Help me!” Immediately, God heard my Dad’s cries and gave him “peace that passes all understanding.” For the first time in days, my Dad was able to sleep.
About a week later, a minister from North Charleston United Methodist Church saw the article in the newspaper about Cindy’s death. He came to see our family and brought God’s message of hope and eternal life.
Because of Pastor Tom Evatt’s council, my Dad confirmed his acceptance of Christ. My Mom accepted shortly after, then me and following was my older sister Linda.
Looking back, I realize that Pastor Evatt did several difficult and amazing things that only God could have orchestrated. He listened to God & contacted my family, risked rejection, lovingly counseled us, and led us to salvation.
This is the miracle.
Little did I know that we would need God to help us bear what was ahead.
My parents wanted another child so badly. Months went by and during that time my Mom had three miscarriages. She finally became pregnant and was able to carry the baby to term. When baby Donna was born, the cord was wrapped around her neck; she had died minutes before delivery.
Many years later my sister, Linda faced the death of her thirteen year old son, Kevin. Now my dear sister had lost a child and my Mother had lost her little grandson. But there was a huge difference in the way they coped with death…They now had God.
Mom told me that when Kevin was dying in the hospital she went down to the dock near my Grandmother’s house. She talked to God trying to understand why this was all happening again. Why was she losing her grandson? Hadn’t our family faced enough? She knew that once we belonged to God, there was no turning back.
My Mother said she wept before the Lord trying hard to figure it all out. She finally gave it to Him and said…“God you are still God and I will always believe in you and trust you even if I never receive the answers in this life.” Mom said, a wave of peace covered her and she had the incredible sensation that God was holding her.
I won’t tell you that these times were not hard but I will tell you that God’s light was now shining in our hearts. His love held us and sustained us through this unspeakable pain.
The Lord never said all things are good, however, He did say, “All things work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.”
My sister Cindy never got the chance to grow up and be a light for Christ. Over the years God has shown me that I can be her light. I can be her voice; I can tell what Jesus did for me, for my family. Cindy’s death was not in vain. The pain of losing her is the reason I turned to God. She is the reason I stand here today…To share my story… God’s story.
I now see that through her death came life for my family; Eternal life. The change in our hearts was and is the greatest miracle and witness of all.
The Lord has provided opportunities, like this one, for me to share Cindy’s story. Only God knows if a seed was planted that led to salvation. I like to believe there was.
We are instructed in 1st Peter 3:15 ”Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to share the reason for the hope that you have.”
My parents could have blamed God for the death of their baby and never turned to Christ. They had a choice. God had a bigger plan out of this tragedy. The God of eternity works out His plan from the perspective of eternity.
I will never say God caused this to happen but I can say that God walked right into our pain and brought beauty out of ashes. In Isaiah 61:3, God promises He will, “Comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve. He will bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”
I know so many of us have faced rough times and are going through difficulties even now. Sharing about the heartache my family went through is not to say that my pain has been any greater than yours.
This family story is not about our loss and pain as much as it is about God’s miracles, forgiveness and grace. If my family had not accepted Christ after Cindy’s death, we might have missed our only opportunity. The result? Hopelessness! I truly do not believe we could have survived through those years without God.
When we find ourselves facing pain in our life, and we all do…
We need to take a minute and let Jesus hold us in His arms. He will keep us there as long as it takes to quiet our spirit. As we linger and listen in the quietness of that moment, we will discover that our greatest peace and hope is and will always be, in Christ alone.
I’d like to share some words from a song entitled,
In Christ Alone
“In Christ alone my hope is found, He is my light, my strength, my song. This Cornerstone; this solid ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm. What heights of love, what depts. Of peace, when fears are stilled, when strivings cease. My Comforter; my all in all, here in the love of Christ, I stand.”
“No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me. From life’s first cry, to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny. No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever take me from His hand. Til He returns, or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.”
“No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever take us from His hand!” Isn’t that awesome! Once we belong to Him, NOTHING can take us out of His hand!
Sometimes, we don’t turn to God because He doesn’t seem real or personal to us. We think He has forgotten or doesn’t love us. Sometimes we go about our day to day activities and forget to even think of Him. Our Heavenly Father is constantly thinking about us and will go to great lengths to draw us to Him.
Listen to what the Lord says in Jeremiah 7:13. “While you were doing all these things, I called you again and again, but you did not listen.”
Is it possible, we become so busy “doing all these things,” we don’t hear God’s voice anymore. If we listen…in this place; in our heart; We can hear the Lord’s voice. He is calling our name. He is calling our name because He loves us. All He desires from us, is to love Him too.
Did you know, the Lord weeps for those who will not believe in Him and will not love Him? Feel His heart breaking in Jeremiah 9:1, “Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears; I would weep day and night for my people.”
Does that sound like God has forgotten or doesn’t love us? Does that sound like an impersonal God?
His love for us is very personal…So personal, He sent His only Son to die in our place.
If you take nothing else from this message, please consider this. Cindy’s life was taken in an instant. Our life could be gone in an instant. Cindy did not have tomorrow. We are not promised tomorrow. For that reason, the time is short. There is an urgency to share the gospel with hurting people…Before their last tomorrow comes and it is too late for them.
In the book of Esther, her uncle Mordecai pleads with Esther to speak to the king on behalf of their people. He tells her God has placed her in a strategic place at a critical moment in History.
It still amazes me every time I share this family story that in 1965 Pastor Evatt was in a strategic place at a critical moment for my family. Pastor Evatt passed away in 2009. His love for God and this message of salvation lives on through my family story and through all Christians who witness for Christ. It is a high honor that God trusts us enough to place us in positions to speak for Him.
We are living in the days where Jesus’ words are coming to pass. “Nations are rising against nations.” Our world is full of chaos and unrest. Men and women who don’t know God, find themselves in a fearful place. They are seeking answers and peace for their souls. As Christians, we have the answers for them in Jesus Christ.
I was just thinking; It would be tragic, if one day, a person who has come across our path, stands before the Lord in eternity and says, “no one told me.”
Each one of us, at this time in history, like Esther, are in a unique and stratiegic position to be used for God’s purpose. We might not be able to reach the entire world, but we can reach those right in our own communities.
God is saying to us the same thing Mordecai said to Esther;
“And who knows but that you have been put into position;
For such a time as this.”
There is a wonderful ending to my family’s story!
In God’s own timing, He answered my parent’s prayers for another child. My sister Kellie was born; gentle and precious, with brown eyes and brown curly hair. She brought me and my family much joy and laughter.
Well, I mean, until she turned thirteen.
But then, that’s a whole other story.
This story is dedicated to:
My stepfather "Daddy"
To my precious little sister
Cynthia Walker McDowell
September 8, 1961-March 15, 1965