When a couple promises to love each other “For better or for worse,” most will never have a “for worse” on the level of tragedy that my friends Jay and Mandra have experienced. Their story reminds me that a couple can endure any storm if they’ll trust in God and fight for their spouse and not against each other.
Mandra had been out running errands, and Jay stayed home to watch their three young kids. Jay was playing in the backyard with his four-year-old daughter, Jayden, while also keeping an eye on their two-year-old and holding their baby boy. The baby’s diaper needed changing, so Jay asked Jayden if she wanted to stay and play in the backyard while he changed the diaper. She said, “yes,” so Jay and the younger two kids went into the house.
Jay returned to the backyard a few minutes later, but he didn’t see Jayden anywhere. He called her name a few times, but there was no answer. He thought that she might have walked into the house, so he went inside calling her name, but there was no answer. He started to get a little bit concerned. He went next door where she sometimes played with a neighbor, but they hadn’t seen her.
Jay paused to gather his thoughts, and in a moment of terror, he realized there was one place he hadn’t thought to look. He hadn’t considered it as a possibility, because Jayden was always so careful to stay away from it. She knew not to go near it without an adult, but maybe something had happened and she had fallen in. In the most terrifying moment of his life, Jay ran to the backyard while pleading with God. He stopped and held his breath as he peered over the edge of their swimming pool.
He was begging God that she wouldn’t be there as he looked through the autumn leaves that covered the surface of the water. The color left his face the moment he saw his daughter lying on the floor of the pool. He dove in and pulled her out. It was the darkest moment of his life.
The minutes that followed were a blur. There was CPR and frantic screams for help and police and ambulances. Finally, the chaos was replaced with an eerie stillness in a sterile waiting room.
We sat in that room and waited. It didn’t seem real.
We prayed for the best and tried to brace ourselves for the worst. In a moment like that, many mothers would lash out in anger. Some would have expected Mandra to scream at Jay and blame him for this tragedy, but what she did instead was a picture of grace. With tears in her eyes, she summoned her strength to support her husband in his most fragile moment.
She kept rubbing his back and whispering words of love and affirmation to him. She would softly say, “I love you so much. You are such a good dad. This isn’t your fault. This could have happened to anyone. God is going to carry us through this. No matter what happens, we’re going to face this together. I love you so much.”
They were living out their marriage vow to love “for better or for worse” in a powerful way. I knew that whatever news walked through that waiting room door, my friends would make it. Their faith in God and their commitment to each other was unshakable.
A few minutes later, a doctor walked in with a chaplain standing beside him. The doctor began a well-rehearsed speech with an inevitably tragic ending. They had done everything they could do, but Jayden was gone.
The pain was overwhelming, and yet, there was a peace in that waiting room that can’t be explained apart from the presence of God himself. The Prince of Peace was holding the parents of that precious little girl. He was giving them peace in their darkest moment. He was comforting them with the hope of knowing that he would never leave their side and their daughter was safe in the arms of her savior.It was a holy moment. It’s a moment I would never want to relive, and yet, I’m eternally thankful that I was able to be present in it. Through our tears, I was reminded of the shortest verse in the Bible which simply says, “Jesus wept.”
I find so much comfort in knowing that our God is not distant from us in our times of pain and heartbreak. He’s not indifferent to our suffering. He is not emotionless. He is present with us in our pain, and his love has the power to carry us through the storm.
The days that followed Jayden’s tragic passing were filled with tears but also filled with hope. Jay and Mandra cried many tears, but they also chose to thank God for the time they had been blessed with their daughter. They also thanked God that Jayden wasn’t truly gone. She was with Jesus, and they celebrated the fact that in Christ no goodbye is ever final.
Jayden’s life on earth was short, but her impact was huge. We hosted a funeral at our church and another celebration of her life at her preschool. At both ceremonies, two of her favorite songs were sung. One was “Over the Rainbow,” and the other was a worship anthem called “Mighty to Save.”
Even in death, Jayden’s pure faith, joyful spirit, and unbridled love continue to touch hearts. Many people have come to faith in Christ as a direct result of Jayden’s legacy. She was on earth only four years, but her impact will be felt for eternity.
I pray you never have to experience the kind of tragedy Jay and Mandra experienced, but on some level, every person will experience loss. In those moments of heartbreak, you’ll find yourself standing at a critical crossroads.
One choice will lead you down a path of bitterness. You’ll be tempted to push loved ones away. You might even be tempted to push God away, because you blame him for the pain you are experiencing. The path of bitterness might feel liberating at first, but it will prove to be a trap in the end.
The other path is a road to healing. It’s a road where you choose to trust God even when you don’t understand what’s happening. It’s a road where you’ll be willing to use your own pain as a way to help others find healing, which will ultimately help you find healing too.
This path of healing is the one Jay and Mandra chose to follow. They continue to celebrate Jayden’s life and legacy, and they share their own story as a way to give strength and hope to people all over the world. I’m honored to call them my friends, and I hope that if I ever experience a similar tragedy, I would have the faith to respond the way they have responded.
I don’t believe it’s possible to have peace after a loss like Jay and Mandra’s without faith in God’s presence and provision. Jay and Mandra wisely understand that real peace isn’t the absence of tragedy, but the presence of a Savior who is bigger than your tragedy. Healing from a broken heart isn’t the result of mere time and effort. It comes when we put our trust in the Healer of our hearts and we walk through the journey together as a couple; hand-in-hand and side-by-side. As the Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 6:2…”Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
This story was originally published in my book The Seven Laws of Love: Essential Principles for Building Stronger Relationships.
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