(Note:  We have been touched by the generous outpouring of love from God’s people, many of whom are Credo readers. We wish we could thank each of you individually, but please know of our heart-felt gratitude for your many recent expressions of love and encouragement.  – FGZ)

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For a dozen or so years our daughter, Gina, suffered unspeakably from more maladies and on more levels — physical and otherwise — than I could begin adequately to explain. The infection that ravished her central nervous system, the years of sleeplessness, the constant nausea, the passing out and the many falls and concussions that came as a result, the severe and relentless headache pain, the haunting hallucinations, the struggles with confusion, the blood clots, the systemic infections, and so very much more, all in the extreme, made her life the most severely agonized I have ever witnessed. Amazingly — yet true to form — she found moments of laughter almost daily, and we delighted in her company even while hurting for her. But the suffering became increasingly severe on so many fronts. And as we watched her suffer, how we prayed, often in despair, that God would deliver her from it all.

About three years ago he did. In a dramatic and miraculous moment the disease was gone, and for a short while it seemed her life had been returned to her. But further setbacks were to follow. The suffering again became intense and unspeakable. Until finally, on Thursday, October 31, it was all over. Forever. Gina is now with the Lord.

At several points over the years it seemed she was dying, but then she would rally. And on occasions she and even we could have wished it for her sake — her suffering was so awful, death would have been considered a mercy. We still feel all that, but nothing could have prepared us for the pain we now feel over our loss. She was Daddy’s girl, Mommy’s soul mate, and brother’s very closest friend. We are a very close family, and we loved Gina more than words could ever express — and we told her so many, many times every day, verbally and with countless hugs and kisses. Surely a day will never pass, in this life, without sensing this deep, gaping hole in our hearts. We just cannot imagine life without Gina. How we loved her.

I have often suspected over the years that Christians who romanticize death have likely never experienced the loss of a close loved one. Death remains a dreaded and a devastating enemy, and there is just no way to make it pretty. It still stings, deeply so, and when it comes close like this it leaves us feeling all but completely undone.

Yet for Christians there truly is a difference. And during this past week since Gina passed, agonizing as it has been, we have learned first-hand that we really do not sorrow as those who have no hope. The weighty promises and massive truths that God has revealed to us in his Word truly are life-shaping and soul anchoring, and they provide a sure point of reference for even the most hurting heart.

United to Christ by faith Gina belonged — and belongs — to God. And through the years of her suffering we reminded ourselves often that the God who in grace had rescued her in Christ from sin loves her even more than we do. And so we trust his providence. He is too wise ever to make a mistake, and too good ever to do us wrong. And we acknowledge that just as he was free and sovereign in giving Gina to us 29 years ago, so now he is free and sovereign — and good and just — in taking her. He has not wronged us. Indeed, not only do we affirm this great truth — we rest in it. This God is himself our Father, a Father who knows what is best for his children and faithfully directs our lives accordingly. Moreover, he is the Father who in love one day gave up his own Son to bear our curse in order to redeem us to himself. Yes, of course there are many “Why?” questions that we cannot answer, but we lack no proof of God’s love or his goodness. And we bless him today with deeper passion than ever.

We are so very grateful not only that God gave us our daughter for 29 years, but also that in grace he saved her and made her his own. This is really everything — everything — and we recognize that we are blessed to know that Gina is rejoicing today in the presence of our great Redeemer. How she loved him! How she loved the gospel. Gina was marked by passion in everything she did, but nothing so stirred her like the gospel of Christ. She loved to hear it, she loved to learn it more deeply, she loved to sing it, and she loved to share it with others. Her whole hope was in Christ. Virtually every day, even in much pain, she would sit down at the piano to play and sing and refresh her aching soul with some of her favorite songs about Christ, God’s love in Christ, salvation in Christ, God’s faithful love and providence, and the glory that awaits us. And this same gospel is what assures us still. And we rejoice that neither death nor life nor anything else in all God’s creation could ever separate Gina or us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And we have come better to appreciate that our hope in Christ is not for this life only. We eagerly await the day of Christ’s return when we will rejoice together in his glorious presence and discover for ourselves that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will then be revealed in us.

Meanwhile, we are learning afresh the blessedness of the joy that is in Christ, a joy that bereavement somehow only serves to deepen. What a great hope, and what great joy is ours in him. We are also coming to appreciate more deeply the present work of Christ for us. In his sermon last Sunday our pastor wonderfully reminded us of our sympathetic high priest, the Lord from heaven who has come as one of us and who himself having learned suffering — successfully — now is able to provide for us every needed grace at every needed point in our journey. And we have also come to appreciate more deeply the real encouragement God gives through his people. Christian friends so often apologize for their stumbling words, unable to find words that seem suitable. Yet their many expressions of loving sympathy have all been blessed indeed.

We are hurting for our loss. The pain is massive, and on one level I’m sure it will never be absent in this life. But deep as this hurt is, we are not left adrift. With minds and hearts shaped by gospel truth, with the love of God marvelously shed abroad in our hearts by his Spirit, with confidence in his unerring providence, and with an unshakable joy and hope in Christ, God has given us more than all we will need.

Scripture assures us that one day God will “wipe all tears from our eyes.” I doubt that this language was intended to make us envision a gigantic handkerchief or some kind of cosmic hug. I suspect, rather, that this comfort will come by means of further revelation — that God will enable us to see things from his perspective, to see his wise purpose as he has worked it out in history unerringly for the good of his people to his own glory. There at last, with this fuller understanding, all mourning will be turned to joyful praise.

And so even in our loss, we do not doubt that for all eternity, one note of our song, looking back, will be “Our God has done all things well.”

Fred Zaspel (Ph.D., Free University of Amsterdam) is pastor at the Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, PA. He is also Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA. He is the author of The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary  and Warfield on the Christian Life: Living in Light of the Gospel.

 

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29 Comments

  • “For He inflicts pain, and gives relief; He wounds and His hands heal.” ~ Job 5:18

    Continuing our prayers with sorrow for you … and with hope that does not disappoint.

    In the Shepherd’s great care, Jim & Diane Sharp

  • Your teaching at Calvary brought great clarity to gospel-centered thinking in my life. In the midst of this great trial you continue to teach – thank you and I continue to pray to the God of all comfort for you and your family.

  • Thank you for your love for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Thank you for your Love for the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thank You for your steadfast Love for your wife, son and daughter. Thank you for your words of Reflection about your loss and heavens gain. We will continue to faithfully pray for “God’s Comfort” for you and your family during this time of grief.

  • My children spent their adolescent years praying for a girl they did not know and minimally, but wonderingly comprehending the suffering of your family. For them and for us as their parents it has served as a lesson in perseverance in suffering and trust in the goodness of God. I’m sure as they face their own trials this is part of their understanding of how God listens to our suffering without relieving it the way we want, expanding our comprehension of the both the significance and theater of the battle and overwhelming us with the reward and comfort in being able to commune with such a great and loving God. They will perhaps be less severely blindsided by present or future shocks and be encouraged that God has kept you faithful and thankful.

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  • This was beautifully written and should be part of a near future book.
    It just tore my heart to read this… How sad but how wonderful..

  • The pain lessens with the passage of time. It’s been 5 1/2 years since Mandy was killed. At first the pain seemed almost unbearable. I likened it to being on a flimsy raft in the middle of some wild rapids during a hurricane.
    People always want you to “get over it”. “Rejoice because she’s in heaven.” They want you to be okay and judge you when you’re not. While you do rejoice, the grief is still there. If she was worthy to be loved, she is worthy of leaving. There’s a gap in all of our lives that shouldn’t be there. This “out of place” death brings you face to face with what you really believe about heaven and salvation and what happens to people when they die. It shakes you to your very core. Hopes and dreams that you didn’t realize you held in your heart died with her. Marriage, grandchildren, future events and celebrations, simple conversations, phone calls, hugs, laughter, even arguments are all gone now.
    With time the storm dies down and the wild rapids and huge waves of grief calm down and don’t hit you so hard. But you never get over it, or get to the other side, and you never will in this life. You just learn how to stay in the boat better. You realize that God is still God; He is still good; and He still loves you even though your life has been turned upside down and will never be the same.
    At first I didn’t want to sleep after Mandy was killed, because I felt like each time I slept marked the passage of time more definitively and took me farther and farther away from the time we had her with us. It’s been 5 1/2 years, and I still think about Mandy everyday. Sometimes I cry because I still miss her so much. Most of the time I remember her with gladness and laughter about something she said or did. I think John and I have grown closer as a couple through this. I think our faith has grown deeper, as well as our compassion for others.

  • The pain you suffer I have been suffering too as you well know I lost my wife of 58 years last Feb. You will not get over your loss. God’s Grace just helps you deal with it . During song service in church the tears come when one of her favorite hymnes is sung. I dont care any more. As I write this tears are flowing as I remember her playing the old upright in your dads church in Illinois. And I remember his great sermon on Gods Big Bandana when he preached in Revelations. So we go on in a world that is wicked and soon to be judged. And we wait for that trumpet that will sound and bring a joyous reunion….God haste the day.

  • You and your family remain in our prayers that God would continue to comfort you as only He can. The memorial service was beautiful, a testament to your faith in our incredible God. Our reunion day in Heaven will be here before long — and oh, what a day that will be!

  • Fred,

    Adrienne and I are mourning Gina’s death with you and Kim, and praying for God to comfort you in your sorrow. We pray that the joy of memories shared with her and the reality of her glory now fill you both with peace that passes all understanding.

  • Don’t know you you Fred, but my heartfelt sympathies go out to you. Read your (her) story from a friend of mine on Facebook. I responded, “I wish death would die.” I have 2 little girls 5 and 6 that I am crazy about and that becomes an unspoken fear of mine, that something would happen to them. We lost our firstborn Noah 38 weeks stillborn and even that experience is a deep scar. Until then we are in transit hastening the Day when we unveiled face will behold the King and our kids. These light and momentary afflictions sometimes feel not so light, but in the light of eternity, and all that Christ has purchased for us we can weigh these things accurately, biblically.
    She is in glory, her pain is gone, and her joy is full. Rejoice in that my friend. Be at peace. Jason

  • My condolences to you and your family, brother Fred. I don’t know you, but I have also recently (13 mos. ago) experienced the loss of our child. He passed away unexpectedly at 20, cheerful and full of life at bedtime, and gone from our presence on this side of glory the next morning. Nothing prepares a parent to face this reality. Our son had special needs, and I think in some way people think that that reality should make it easier for us to “deal” with our grief, as though our life together was defined by his disability. Our son Jack couldn’t speak very well, but he had a message to share with everyone that he met: “Jesus, died, cross, heaven, Amen!” I still marvel at how God ordains praises from the mouth of ‘babes’! Though God’s promises in Christ sustain us moment to moment, day to day, though we know that we will see him again! the fact that it may be a really long time is a reality that we need grace to live in. Instead of asking God futile questions like ‘why only 20 years Lord?’, I ask God to give me eyes to see blessedness and fullness instead of lack. I remind myself that “the hidden things” belong to God, and by grace I may one day know His purposes in eternity. For now, I thank God for 20 years with our special boy who brought joy everywhere he went with his childlike satisfaction in small things like chocolate milk, music, balloons, kisses and a smiling thumbs-up to those around him. The tears which flow when I think about these things water the garden of my soul which has been planted with the truth of God, and through Christ, will bear fruit to the glory of His name. Jesus and His comfort are more precious to me than ever before. Remember Fred, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3 He is faithful, Fred! Blessings to you and your family.

  • So very sad with you Fred, and with your wife and son. “Not left adrift.” I like that. So grateful with you that we have an anchor for the soul in the midst of the storm of grief.

  • “The weighty promises and massive truths that God has revealed to us in his Word truly are life-shaping and soul anchoring, and they provide a sure point of reference for even the most hurting heart.” Wow. One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read.

  • I’m praying for you and your family. Thank you for sharing your heart. There is pain, yes; but how powerful is it to me to read your wonderful testimony of a Gospel-centered life. Again, I’m praying for you; that God’s grace can be powerfully expressed to / through you and your family!

  • Fred and family,

    We will do what our dear Savior advised. We will weep with those who weep and grieve with those who are grieving. May God grant His peace that passes understanding.

  • I was deeply moved by your wise words our Lord’s providence led me to your post hours after my son in law went home to Jesus. God bless you. He really used you to minister to me during my time of sorrow

  • To the Zaspel family, I am so sorry for your lost, she was a wonderful person. Just so easy to be around. I wish our friendship would have started long before it did, so I could have had more time to get to know you guys even better. with the short time I had with you it was such a joy I would have replied sooner but I just came home from a 3 week stay in the hospital myself (I just had an operation). I pray that all of you can get through this with the love and the joyful memories of Gina, and the many years you all had together. With All My Love John Egan

  • In 1969 my wife and I lost a 4 year old son when he was hit by a car. Two years later I followed Fred’s father in the pastorate of the church in Bartonville, IL. My heart goes out to him and his family. I also know that God give marvelous grace and He really is with us in the valley of the shadow of deep darkness.

  • Praising God for your faithful praise. May He be the God of ALL comfort to each of you. She was a diamond of a girl. Thankful for you all.

    Nancy

  • This was such a heartfelt testimony. I was literally feeling discomfort in my spirit. May God give you and your family His peace and grace to make it through this tough, tough trial. I have no understanding of a loss so great. I have two children 8months (girl) and 2year old (boy), I would be devastated if I lost them but it’s always a possibility, I pray to mimic you all’s great faith in our Lord’s soveriegnity if it were to happen to me. I’ve prayed for your family. God bless and be with you all until the moment you join your daughter in his presence.

    In Christ by grace.

  • Touching and beautifully said, Fred.

    “I have often suspected over the years that Christians who romanticize death have likely never experienced the loss of a close loved one. Death remains a dreaded and a devastating enemy, and there is just no way to make it pretty. It still stings, deeply so, and when it comes close like this it leaves us feeling all but completely undone.”

    Indeed. God bless you and your family with courage, perseverance, and hope.

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