By Debbie Adams, March 2020 speaker at the Kanto and Hokkaido JEMA Women in Ministry retreats
August 19, 2019
“Seize the day”—that phrase conjures images that portray strength, confidence, and boldness. I can see Moses standing on a rock, wind in his hair, staff outstretched in his hand, overlooking the Red Sea. Miriam is singing victory songs with a throng of others. This would be a great depiction of seizing the day. The phrase comes from carpe diem, which means to “enjoy, seize, make use of” the day.1
But for me, that is not my day today. I am living through the most difficult journey that God has ever called my family to walk through. A year ago today (August 19, 2018), we said goodbye to our daughter Emily who was returning to college in Arkansas, a 16-hour road trip from our home in Georgia. Before she left, we stood in a circle as a family and prayed that God would keep her safe, that she would have a good school year, and that God would lead her steps.
Two months later, on October 4, 2018, Emily fell asleep while driving (we think), was hit by an oncoming pick-up truck, and died instantly. That day our family changed forever.
We felt broken, kicked in the gut, left lying on the sand trying to catch our breath. Hurt is not a strong enough word to encapsulate the feelings of grief that we lived through. Ten months later, I feel like I am able to stand—but my gut still hurts and my tears still flow.
Just to stand
I am standing, but some days barely. How do you even think about seizing the day in a time of deep grief, limited energy, and in the pain of sorrow? It is not humanly possible. I have come to learn that only by hanging on to God can I finally stand again. God sees our ordinary days and also our bad days. He can use both extremes and enters into both our joys and sorrows. We become more relevant to others because we know our days are made up of the mundane and routine, as well as deep anguish that must be endured.
What if God sees us seizing the day in a different way than our usual picture of strength and power? What if God sees us simply standing up and calls that victory? What if that is all he asks of us?
When I was a young girl growing up in Brazil as a daughter of missionaries, I had many opportunities to go to the ocean and play in the waves. We had big waves—in my young mind, at least, they were very big. There were times when I could barely stand in one place. The currents tugged at my legs and the waves crashed over my head. When the waves passed, I would land again on the sand. I would try with all my might to stand firm, but it was hard. That is how I’ve felt my life has been these past months. I am trying to stand in the midst of many moving parts: memories, emotions, grief, and yes, even regrets.
After Emily died, we spent time looking up verses that talked about death. The Lord led us to 1 Corinthians 15:54-58:
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’
‘Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting ?’
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain (NIV).
What were God’s thoughts about death and how should we live in light of that reality? In that chapter we read about death being swallowed up in victory, but the author concludes by saying, “Therefore.” What that means to me is this: because of the fact that Jesus has conquered death, that our mortality will be clothed with immortality . . . therefore . . . God says, “Stand firm.” Don’t let anything move you while you give yourself to God’s work. And you do this because you know that it is not worthless because it’s God’s. There are those words again: stand firm.
When we are standing in the midst of our trials, we become an example to others who are watching us. People watch and wonder how one can make it through hard times and deep tragedy.
Our daughter’s accident
That night ten and a half months ago, my youngest son and I were staying the night at my parents’ house, where my sister also lives. Three policemen came knocking on the door a little after one in the morning. My sister Lori and I quickly went to the door. There were many flashing lights outside—surely there must have been a robbery!
The blue-eyed policeman inexplicably looked straight at me and said, “Are you Debbie Adams?”
I sighed and said, “Give me a moment, please.”
I went to the bedroom and grabbed my robe and came back. The lights were on in the living room. The policemen were standing in the middle of the room. I sat on the couch.
“Is it Jordan?” We had left Jordan, one of our daughters, alone back at home.
There was no response. The officer was trying to say words that I am sure he had been formulating in his mind and rehearsing on the way over.
He said, “There is no easy way to say this. We have heard from Arkansas: your daughter has been in an accident and she didn’t make it.”
Time stood still. I remember getting up and holding my shaking hands together. I tried to swallow and said, “Well, let’s pray together.”
A week and a half later I heard that the blue-eyed policeman had been touched by my example of prayer. He had left shaken, thinking to himself, I need to get my life right with God. I don’t think I could have handled that experience like that lady.
After a few months, we thought it would be good to contact the policeman again to see how he was journeying in his walk with the Lord. We also wanted to tell him more of the story of God’s preparation for Emily’s homegoing.
Our attempts were not working until two days ago when we had a small car accident. We were on the way home from spending a few days at our local lake. We were in our truck, towing a boat. A car crossed the double yellow lines in front of us; its side mirror scraped the side of our truck and knocked the spare tire off the boat trailer, sending it flying down the embankment. Through the back window, I could see sparks flying down the road and then I saw the car coming to a stop. We’d been hit!
We were not injured in any way. But the sound of crunching metal and the emotional aftermath of the accident left me shaken and brought thoughts of what Emily’s accident would have been like.
Soon blue lights of police cars surrounded us, and cars were stopping. Many questions were asked. The police walked up and down the road. Time passed. We called our son who had just been with us at the lake and on his way home in his own vehicle. We had to wait for the investigative police to fill out all the forms.
Eventually, another policeman arrived, and I had seen those blue eyes before. Seeing him took me back to that dark night ten and a half months ago.
I said, “You are the officer that told me about our daughter Emily’s death.”
He said, “Yes, ma’am. That’s me.”
We found ourselves on the side of the road, next to the police car with flashing lights, with moments to revisit Emily’s story.
I told him that the day before Emily died, I was taking our youngest son Beau to church and we had stopped to pick up a pizza. We went to the cemetery to eat. It was the first time I had picked that spot for a picnic supper, but it was a peaceful place to stop.
As we sat on the bench I told Beau, “Death is a part of life. We don’t know when God will call us home. All we know is that God said he has ordained all our days before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16, author paraphrase).
After that I took him to youth group. The very next day, Emily died.
When I woke Beau up to tell him the news, I sat on his bed and said, “Beau, do you remember what I told you at the cemetery? Well, last night God took Emily home.”
He got out of bed and, sitting on his knees, he put one arm around me and said, “This is really hard.”
As we went to the living room, Beau told us what he had learned during chapel service that week. The speaker had talked to the kids about how to walk through the death of a loved one.
God is walking with us
The happenings in our lives are never a surprise to God. Even the divine appointment with the police officer was God’s timing for us to meet that night. We are comforted and amazed by his love and preparation. We wanted that policeman to know that our all-knowing God is with us and with him too.
Together with God, we can seize the day . The days will look different, but in each situation that we face, we can walk in victory as we fully depend on him. Whether it be in moments of great victory or days of deep darkness. Sometimes our seizing the day may just be to stand firm. God has not changed—he is there with us and will help us overcome. To him be the glory, honor, and praise.
“Police Car Lights” by flickr user Robert Kuykendall
Debbie Adams and her husband Todd have served with the Christian & Missionary Alliance since 1996. Their first term of service was in Mali, West Africa. They currently minister in Papua, Indonesia. Their ministry involves leadership development, youth ministry, and non-believers.