Wednesday, June 19, 2013

In Honor of Pastor Tom Givens

(Originally posted March 12, 2012.)

This morning I received the sad news that my friend and former pastor, Tom Givens, lost his battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). 

Pastor Tom ministered to me during the most painful period of my life. After my son Kyle died, I spent most of my time soul-searching and looking for answers. I simply could not reconcile that I had outlived my child for no apparent reason. The medical explanation that Kyle's heart problem was simply random did nothing to ease my aching soul and empty arms. I was Catholic at the time and spoke to quite a few priests. Rick and I went to grief counseling. I read books. I did everything I knew to do and yet my suffering only intensified. I was caught in this cycle for two years. Then, upon the recommendation of a dear friend, I started attending Grace Baptist church in Santa Clarita, CA. Pastor Tom's sermons were amazing and really spoke to my heart. After a few weeks, I made an appointment to meet with him.

Opening my heart to Pastor Tom was not an easy thing. Though my family and friends knew I was heartbroken and in pain, the only person who really understood the depths of my suffering was Rick. My feelings were so raw and agonizing that I couldn't articulate them or let anyone else see them. A few months after Kyle died, I woke up one night and literally smashed every dish we owned against a wall. Rick just stood there and let me smash them then held me while I sobbed for hours. How could I possibly explain those feelings or actions to anyone? How could I possibly reveal the darkness of my soul? Yet when I walked into Pastor Tom's office, something moved within me. 

Kyle's story spilled forth from my heart as the tears spilled forth from my eyes. For the first time with anyone other than Rick, I spoke the unspeakable. The ugliness, bitterness, and anger I felt towards God was laid bare. As I revealed my deepest and darkest moments to Tom, I felt ashamed, frightened, and irretrievably lost.

I wasn't sure what I expected Tom to do or say, but I certainly didn't expect his response. He sat next to me, held my hand, and spent twenty minutes praying for me. During that prayer Tom revealed that he and his wife had welcomed a baby girl that died in their arms when she was twenty minutes old. Tears streamed down both of our faces as he talked with the Lord about his daughter and Kyle. 

Tom went on to explain that God had not, in fact, been cruel and heartless to me. In fact, God had experienced the same sense of loss and pain when His son, Jesus Christ, died on the cross. The idea that God could possibly understand and relate to my feelings was an overwhelming idea. Tom read several Bible passages that convinced me beyond the shadow of a doubt that Kyle was, indeed, in heaven. For the first time in two years, I felt a glimmer of hope. God no longer seemed like a cruel and distant puppet master, but rather a loving and compassionate father. The chains of fear and pain and shame that had bound me for two years broke open. Kyle's death, of course, could not be undone. But my perspective of Kyle's death changed dramatically. 

Tom became my blessed mentor and friend. He understood me. He connected with me. He invested in me. Together we drew a spiritual map which led me out of Kyle's grave and into the arms of God. The ugliness, bitterness, and anger I harbored towards God were replaced with hope. Instead of blaspheming God for stealing Kyle from me, I now praise God for having sent Kyle to me. In Kyle's three short days of life, he changed my life in blessed and glorious ways which Tom helped me discover. I pray that I might have the privilege of changing at least one life the way that Kyle and Tom changed mine. (If you would like to hear a few of Pastor Tom's sermons, you can download the podcasts for free by clicking here.)

As for Tom, he was diagnosed with ALS 16 months ago. His battle intensified quickly, his suffering became immense. Though I am deeply saddened by the news of his death, I am thankful that he has been freed of the chains which bound his body but could not bind is soul. I can only imagine the joy and praise with which he was welcomed home.

My prayers continue for his wife Sharon, their children, and their grandchildren. May our loving and merciful God comfort their souls, and may their hearts and minds know that they need not say goodbye to Tom, but rather, "Until we meet again..."

I look forward to seeing Tom again. May he rejoice at the Lord's feet as he is reunited with his beloved daughter and those who have been waiting at home for him.

In loving memory of Tom, and with abiding love, friendship, and thankfulness for him in Jesus...

Copyright ©2012 by Vicki Scott Burns. All rights reserved.