Randi and I attended the same tiny public school. She was a few years older than me, but with a little over 150 people in your entire middle and high school … you know everyone, even if you don’t know everyone. I’m not sure if we ever had a conversation back then, but thanks to Facebook we’ve been able to connect in the last few years. Social media has been a gift in this regard – to see how others have grown. It’s an unshakeable fact that Randi has grown an incredible amount because of the tragedies she’s faced. She has a unique perspective and has a passion to serve those who are experiencing grief. Here is her story:
December 4, 2017
RANDI: Growing up, my mom was raised Catholic. I knew the basic stories. I knew about Jesus being born in the manger and a little about Noah and Moses – your basic children stories – but I didn’t really know who God was. I knew to pray, but I didn’t know why or who I was really praying to. I wasn’t really involved in church. It wasn’t one of those things where she didn’t want me to go … I went with friends, but it mostly just to hang out with them. When we were in church or Sunday School, the people I would hang out with were pretty knowledgeable about Jesus and I wasn’t, so I never really want to ask any questions. I remember someone saying “Okay, turn to John 1:2,” and I was like, How do you look for John 1? (laughs) I didn’t understand. I asked about it one time and I felt like I was asking a stupid question, so I just didn’t ask anymore. It wasn’t that my friends made me feel stupid, I just felt stupid. We didn’t go every Sunday or all the time. It was just once in awhile. As I got older, I just stopped going. I wish I would’ve gone more.
As I got older, I moved out and went to college. I started dating my now husband and he was raised in the church ever since he was a little boy. His parents were really involved and so he was always involved. We started going to church weekly. His church was a really big church. I grew up in a small town, so when you went to church, everyone knew you because there were 20 or 40 people max. When we went, we sat up in the balcony. There were hundreds of people. There were people speaking in tongues and I had never heard that before. I didn’t say anything to my husband at the time. It wasn’t until it had happened after three or four times of going that I was like, What is going on? I just thought it just people who didn’t speak English until he really explained it to me. I was not used to the bigger churches. We continued to go to church, but it was more that I felt we had to keep going, rather than I wanted to be going. I loved the services, but I didn’t feel connected. Something was missing.
Right before Nathan and I got married, my mom passed away. I was so angry and so depressed. I just kept going to church because I knew I needed to, but I was so angry and in denial. I was mad at God that I didn’t want to have anything to do with Him.
It’s just amazing how God plans things out and puts pieces together. It was my final semester at college and I needed to do an internship to graduate in web design. Nathan asked a friend of his if he knew of anybody here in [Springfield] and the guy was like, “Actually, I do. I’m going to have you talk to so-and-so.” So I had an interview and got hired on the spot. He worked at one of the big churches in town, James River Church. I started doing the internship there and started wondering if I should start attending the church. I didn’t know if it was mandatory, but I started going in January and the internship lasted through May.
Nathan and I started going and again, I was terrified because it was a huge church. I could definitely tell that something was going on there – in a good way. We went a few times and Nathan would see some of his friends and we started getting connected. I started thinking about volunteering, but I didn’t know … like did you have to be a good Christian person to start volunteering? On Easter 2010, Nathan went home to visit his family and I had to stay here because I had to work. I debated for 20 minutes trying to decide if I was going to go to Easter service before I finally decided to go. I was like, No, you’re going to go. You can sit in the back and nobody will see you. I get there and I’m by myself. There were hundreds of people. I remember where I sat: front row of the back section on the first level. I just sat there and probably had fear in my eyes. I sat while everyone walked in and just watched the kids and families. I started thinking, Okay, God … if this is where I need to be then something needs to happen. All of a sudden, a pastor from this huge church just came up to me and started talking and saying, “Hey! How’s it going? Thanks for coming!” Afterward, I was like, Well, okay. I guess it doesn’t get bigger than that. I sat through service and it was so overwhelming and amazingly spiritually felt. I learned about the story of Easter – I hadn’t known it previously.
At the end of service, I’m just in tears. I’m sitting there by myself and I make eye contact with this other couple. The pastor does an altar call and says, “Bow your heads and if you feel the Lord speak to you, raise your hand.” It’s so hard to explain. I felt like I was being pushed and so I raised my hand and continued to bawl. The pastor said, “Go ahead and stand and we’ll worship. Now, the first step is saying that you want Jesus in your life, but now you need to come down and we can pray with you.” I was like, Ohhhhh no. I don’t think so. I’m not coming down in front of all of these thousands of people. I’m standing there in pure shock and this lady comes up to me and asks, “Do you need me to come down there with you?” And through my crying, I’m like, “Yes.” I sounded like a seal. We started to walk down there and it was a pretty long walk. She was like, “Oh my gosh, friend. I never come to South campus, but God told me that I needed to come to this campus this morning and now I know why.” So now, we’re both sobbing. They take us to this back room and other people are there crying – so I’m like, Oh, okay, this is normal. I told this lady about my story and my mom passing. I told her about how mad I was and how I didn’t understand. She said, “Oh girl, I just lost my sister. It’s hard.” So we talked and talked and talked. It was amazing how up until this point – there are no coincidences. I called my husband after and my dad and my sister were coming into town. It was a really great day.
After that, Nathan and I went to a Newcomers’ Dinner at the church and it was good. We got to know some people at our table, the pastor, and about the church. They set up a way for us to get connected and volunteer. After the dinner, I told Nathan that I thought I wanted to volunteer with the babies. I signed up to volunteer with the babies and after that, Nathan was like, “Well, do you think we should sign up to join a life group?” I was like, “Uh, that’s two commitments in one day. I don’t know if I can do that.” He suggested we get more information and we didn’t have to sign up today. We go over to the information desk and I recognized the guy behind the desk. He’s got his computer out and we told him we wanted to look into joining a life group – a small group of people to get to know and meet with regularly. We gave him some background knowledge about us and he was like, “Yeah, I think I have a great family to connect you with. Before we do that, do I know you?” I was like, “Yeah, I worked in [this guy’s] office as an intern.” So we connected on that. He then says, “Yeah, I found the perfect family for you guys. They meet [at this time] and on [this side] of town.” He flips his laptop around and it’s Nathan’s friend from college who got me connected to the church for the internship. Nathan’s like, “Well, I guess we need to join a life group and this is the one.” (laughs)
We started volunteering. We started doing our life group. A year later, I ended up getting baptized and [mine and Nathan’s] lives started changing dramatically. Not that there weren’t bad times, but even in the bad times, God was there. After we started getting more involved, I was thinking about my grief over my mom. Nathan wanted me to go to counseling. I started going to grief counseling at the church and it was probably the best decision I ever made. I was in such denial and anger that Nathan insisted I do some sort of counseling. I thought it was stupid and didn’t want to go. He was basically like, “You’re either going to go by yourself or I’m going to drag you there.” I get there and it’s all older people because they had lost a spouse or a child. I was the only one in my early twenties. I ended up staying and loved it. I ended up gaining friends. It was a safe place where I could go and talk and they didn’t care if mascara was running down my face. They just wanted to hear my story and were there for me.
I don’t remember if it was during or after my counseling, but I remember I was sitting on the floor one night and I told my husband, “[As a web designer] wouldn’t it be cool to have a place where people could come and just talk about their grief? Kind of like a safe chat?” I think that’s the hardest thing about grief – not being able to talk to people that know what you’re going through. Unless they know what you’re going through, they don’t really know what to say. Nathan was like, “Yeah, that’s a great idea.” So, I’m sitting on the floor looking at ideas and all of a sudden God was like, “You need to write a book.” I was like, “Oooookay, no. I don’t know anything about – no.” Again, He said, “You’re going to write a book.” I was sitting there with a weird look on my face and Nathan was like, “Are you okay?” I turned around and was like, “I’m going to write a book.” And he laughed! Then he was like, “Oh, you’re serious …” I was like, “Yeah, I’m serious. God just told me to write a book about my story.” So, I started and I’m not anywhere near a writer. It’s just my journey. I went through so [ideas] and versions. I’m going to do a diary. No, I’m going to do this other thing. It’s been since 2011 when I started that book. It seems like every time I start writing in it … things change and I get to add to it. My mom passed away July 17, 2008 and I thought July 17 [of 2017] would be the perfect date to have it published – right on her anniversary.
Well, at the beginning of the year, we felt God lead us away from the church we were attending and to our friend at Scenic Church. It was one of those things where it was out of our comfort zone. We were really comfortable at James River. We were in a small group. We were volunteering. We were connected. I don’t like change. We prayed about it and decided to make the move. It’s been quite the journey to see when you’re obedient, what God does for you. Even in the way Nathan has had a raspy voice for a year now – to the point where it sounds like he’s sick and we can’t figure out what’s going on. So many good things have happened to us and Scenic Church. I found out in February (2017) that my job would be ending that June. Nathan was working freelance from home and being a stay at home dad. I was a wedding coordinator and I had my last wedding on June 3rd (2017) and I told myself I was going to stick it out. I couldn’t leave my clients hanging. The end of May comes around and at the beginning of June, we were freaking out. I hadn’t applied for any jobs, but I was like, You know what, this is happening for a reason. Suddenly, Nathan gets a message from a friend at BKD and they wanted Nathan to come to work with them. He didn’t even have an interview. They were just like, “Let’s have lunch!” They didn’t see his resume or his portfolio. It wasn’t until later that his boss told him, “I felt like God said, ‘You need to hire this boy.” [laughs] It was crazy.
The first week of June, we had planned for my sister to come from Wyoming. We had this whole weekend planned where we were going to see my dad. We told my dad’s girlfriend that we were going to come up and have an early Fathers’ Day barbecue planned out.
June 3rd rolls around and I was at work. I’m always afraid of getting a phone call when I’m at work. The same thing happened with my mom. I got a phone call while I’m rushing around helping the Mother of the Bride and it was my aunt. She told me I needed to call your dad’s girlfriend. My heart sank. I call her and she’s in tears. She was like, “Your dad in the hospital. You need to come now. I need you.” I drop everything and drive an hour and a half away. On my way, I end up getting lost because I had to take a detour. It takes me 30 minutes out of the way. I’m like, God, why am I taking this detour when I should be at the hospital saying my goodbyes? Sure enough, I get to the hospital and he’s already passed. I was the only kid that was local and had to take care of everything. By the grace of God, my phone was at 5% for, like, 2 hours. I don’t know how I made 17 phone calls or was on the phone for 45 minutes with the organ donation place. I don’t know how my phone didn’t die, but it didn’t.
I called my sister and she rented a car to come down. She had already planned to come on the 5th. She came down sooner. It took about a month to go through his house. All of my childhood stuff was there. My mom and sister’s stuff was still there. When my mom passed away, my dad said not to worry about going through her stuff because I could go through it later – so I never did.
When I look back and in regards to my mom’s passing versus my dad’s passing … I now am in a relationship with God … and I don’t want to say it’s easier because grief is never easy. I don’t want to say “better” either. It’s just been … different. It’s a different type of pain. Before, there was so much anger. Now, I’m not so much angry as I am sad. I’m able to grieve now better than I was with my mom because there were so many more emotions hiding behind the grief. Yes, I was angry. You know – I had all those emotions, but I was able to …
TAYLOR: It’s like now you have a God big enough to handle it.
RANDI: Handle it. Yes, I was able to handle it differently. I mean, even last night – I had a grief moment where I just laid there and cried in bed. But now I can grief cry and then move on to a different day. I’m so thankful for God’s grace so that each day is different. I may have been angry. I may have been sad, but that day is done. I’ve gone to bed. New day. New grace. I think when you realize His hope and grace – it makes every so different and so much better. I wish I would’ve had a relationship with God when my mom passed because I spent so many years hurting and in denial that I couldn’t properly grieve. When we look back, as angry and sad as I am that I’ve lost my dad – that’s never going to change – but you can’t say that I coincidentally lost my job on June 3rd, my dad passed away, my husband started a new job on June 5th, and my sister was here by the 6th. Not only was I not by myself, but my husband was able to work. I didn’t have a job so I didn’t have to worry about babysitting. I was able to drive back and forth to my dad’s house for a month to go through everything with my sister. She was able to stay for a month. All of this … it didn’t just happen. I would not have been able to do my job and do what I had to do. Even though my boss would have been great about it and allowed me to take the time I needed, I still had clients. I would have still had to answer emails. I would not have been able to mentally and emotionally focus on my sister and my dad.
With that, we’ve just seen God change our lives through the Church. We’ve accrued some new people to help with Scenic Church. To see how He’s worked in each of our lives and the Church itself – it’s been amazing. A friend of mine is going through her own grief now and she’s asking me questions. I’ve been able to respond to that. It helps her and it helps me to step back and think, What did I do in this situation? With where she’s at in her grief, what would I be doing? It’s human nature to focus on the bad. Even during the holidays, I miss my dad. My son will ask for Papa and I have to keep saying, “Well, not today,” until I’m able to explain it to him. If we keep focusing on that part, we cannot focus on the new. I don’t feel that our people would want us to do that either. I think another thing that has helped with grief is spending time in as much daily prayer and devotion as I can. Having a child, I don’t get to do it as often as I would like to, but when I can it just feels so good. It clears your mind. It clears out all the bad. It helps you to focus on Him and what He’s trying to speak to you. One verse that I really like is 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:
We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is our Father Who shows us loving-kindness and our God Who gives us comfort. He gives us comfort in all our troubles. Then we can comfort other people who have the same troubles. We give the same kind of comfort God gives us.
It’s hard not to think that God is punishing you. Why would He allow me to lose my mom and my dad before I’m 30 years old? Obviously, I think He’s bringing me closer to Him and to realize there’s so much more life with Him than without him. Who knows how many people I need to help now that I’ve gone through this. I’ve already helped one friend really well. During one Wednesday night service (which is more just music and prayer) people ask me, “How can you worship, still praising God for what you went through and your dad passing?” And I’m like, “How can I not? He’s given me 30 great years with him.” It was that night when God told me, “This is why I’ve postponed your book. You need to add another chapter and you need to tell about your grief with and without Me.” Then, I started sobbing. I couldn’t do anything but sit there. I’ve learned throughout this grief journey that you have to stop asking, “Why?” … “Why would this happen?” “Why would you do this to me?” You have to start asking, “How?” You have to ask, “How are you going to use me in this?” … “How is this going to affect my journey?” It’s amazing then how much differently you see everything.