Testimony

Testimony of a Father

My son Carter was born on April 10th, 2008. On that day, God gave my wife Heidi and me, a gift of immeasurable worth. Through my eyes as a dad, Carter was, and still is, an absolutely perfect little boy. His beautiful blue eyes and open-mouth smile welcomed me home every day from work. Walking through the door and seeing him squeal with excitement was the highlight of my day. We spent so many hours playing, reading, wrestling, singing, and snuggling. We would also spend evenings snoozing together in the recliner. Carter had an especially intimate bond with his mother. What a blessing it was for me to see her care for our son so tenderly. Carter knew nothing but love throughout his whole life. He brought our family untold amounts of joy and laughter. I miss my son more than I could ever describe and will love him eternally.

Testimony of a Father

My son Carter was born on April 10th, 2008. On that day, God gave my wife Heidi and me, a gift of immeasurable worth. Through my eyes as a dad, Carter was, and still is, an absolutely perfect little boy. His beautiful blue eyes and open-mouth smile welcomed me home every day from work. Walking through the door and seeing him squeal with excitement was the highlight of my day. We spent so many hours playing, reading, wrestling, singing, and snuggling. We would also spend evenings snoozing together in the recliner. Carter had an especially intimate bond with his mother. What a blessing it was for me to see her care for our son so tenderly. Carter knew nothing but love throughout his whole life. He brought our family untold amounts of joy and laughter. I miss my son more than I could ever describe and will love him eternally.

Carter lived to be 8 months and 3 days old. Jesus called Carter home to be with Him on December 13th, 2008. On that day he was flying with his family to Puerto Rico. About 30 minutes into the flight, Carter simply went limp in my wife’s arms. Doctors performed CPR while the plane made an emergency landing. Medical personnel were waiting and Carter was rushed to the hospital. Despite the best efforts of the doctors, they were unable to revive my son. The reason for his death is unknown.

I will never forget the moment the doctor told me there was nothing else they could do. My world came crashing down. To be honest, it is very difficult for me to even think about those hours of my life. Every time I do, it is impossible to stop the tears from running down my face. Even the passing of time seems unable to dull these most intense and heart-wrenching moments. I remember sitting in the emergency room tightly holding the body of my precious little boy and sobbing uncontrollably. I felt lost, confused, and devastated. Despair overwhelmed me. Hours passed, yet time stood still. Perhaps the hardest moment was when we had to leave… and I had to hand my son to a stranger because we were not allowed to take him with us. Carter’s death devastated me and my family. As a parent, I cannot imagine a worse nightmare.

Emptiness

In the days and weeks following Carter’s death, tears, emptiness, and numbness best described my life. I learned that the body can only cry so long before it runs out of tears. Each time the tears had run their course, the numbness and emptiness returned. They stayed until my body regained the strength for tears, and then the cycle resumed. I remember this most vividly during our son’s visitation. Family and friends approached us to offer their condolences, often too choked up to speak, yet at the moment I had no tears to offer. They had already been exhausted. Carter’s funeral was overwhelmingly difficult and sad, yet it was also beautiful. The gospel message was shared, and I am so grateful for its truth.

Following the funeral, nothing seemed to change. In fact, things seemed to get worse. Sleep only came when exhaustion overwhelmed me. Each time I woke up, there was always the tiniest fraction of a second before I remembered my son was no longer with us. Each time this happened, my world fell apart. Coming home now became the most dreaded part of my day. The house was so quiet, there were no toys on the floor, and my precious son was not there to greet me.

Throughout this time it seemed that God was absent. I couldn’t understand any of it. How could God let this happen? He seemed so distant. To tell the truth, I felt betrayed. In fact, one morning, while sitting at the breakfast table, it all came gushing out. I screamed to God, ”I feel so betrayed!… Why, why, why!?” I couldn’t comprehend why God would allow my son to die. What good could come from such a tragedy? Was this some type of punishment? While very far from perfect, I was striving to live a life faithful to God. I had tried to be the best father I could. I was determined to be a parent who made my child a top priority. I wanted to be intimately involved in his life. I was resentful of other parents who saw their children as burdens and spoke of them as a drain on their time. Why didn’t God allow one of those children to be called home? Why Carter? Why pull him out of our loving arms? God seemed distant, quiet, and unresponsive.

The Lowest Point

As the weeks moved on, another concern started to dominate my life. Was my son really in heaven? What was Carter’s eternal fate? Was he really in the presence of Jesus? The uncertainty started to eat away at me, and it worsened each day. I understood that the Bible teaches that when a person repents from their sins, and receives Jesus Christ through faith, they are promised salvation and eternal life in heaven. I also understood that the Bible teaches that all people are born into sin, even infants. So how could my son who was born into sin, yet too young to understand what it means to receive Jesus into his heart, enter into heaven? People would assure me that Carter was in heaven… that he was now with Jesus. But how could I know? Where was that taught in the Bible? No one seemed to be able to show me where. I think most people just assume little ones who die are welcomed into the kingdom. I quickly found out that an assumption isn’t good enough when it’s your own son. 99% certainty isn’t enough. I needed absolute 100% certainty.

As time passed, I became more and more distressed. Not only did I miss my son beyond description, but my uncertainty regarding his eternal fate worsened. I vividly remember the day I hit my lowest point. While it’s very hard to describe how I felt, it was undoubtedly the most broken and desperate moment of my life. I had returned to work and was sitting in a meeting. I couldn’t concentrate on anything that was being discussed. I literally felt sick to my stomach. As I left the meeting, I felt an overwhelming sense of despair. I slowly walked back to my desk. It was at that moment that I reached the very “bottom of the pit.” Where was my son? I was about to find out that God had never abandoned me. I was about to realize that God didn’t leave me in the pit alone. In fact, He was about to tell me what he has told so many others: “Ryan, do not be afraid.”

As I reached my desk, I noticed a blinking light on my phone indicating I had a voice message. The message was from my father. He had been home working in his shop and listening to the radio. As he was scanning through the stations, he happened to hear the announcer say, “Stay tuned to hear pastor Skip explain how we can know infants who die go to heaven.” My dad took the phone and held the receiver up to the radio for the next 30 minutes. As a result, when I sat down at my desk, God’s biblical plan for children was specifically laid out for me. I remember the tears streaming down my face as the truth of God’s Word was explained and the certainty of heaven assured. My son was safe and I would see him again. I was at the lowest point… at a point where I simply couldn’t bear the burden anymore. But God was faithful and came to my rescue. Through His divine providence, God used my father and a church ministry from Albuquerque, New Mexico to share His plan for my son. What’s absolutely amazing is that I hadn’t told anyone I was burdened with this issue. My dad didn’t know. I didn’t talk about it, because I didn’t want those around me to struggle in the same way I had. What’s also amazing is that out of the hundreds of people God could have chosen to relay the message, he chose my dad. The reason I say that is because my dad isn’t very technologically savvy. That’s why he held the phone up to the radio, thinking it would be the only way I would be able to hear the message. I suspect anyone other than my father would have simply suggested I visit the church’s website. Instead God used my father, and as a result, His truth reached me at the exact moment I needed to hear it. There are no coincidences with God. God used Calvary Chapel church and my dad to deliver His perfect message at the perfect time. It was at that point that I started to move out of the pit and be filled with hope for the future. It was also the point that I realized God had been with me in the pit the whole time.

My Foundation

Jesus Christ is the foundation of my life. He has been consistently faithful to me. He has been with me during the darkest storm of my life. He continues to carry me, comfort me, and explain His truth through the Bible. I can tell you with absolute certainty that without the strength of Christ in my life, I would still be in a pit of despair. It is only through a relationship with Him that a measure of joy has entered my heart again.

If you are reading this, you have most likely experienced, or know someone who has experienced, one of life’s most devastating tragedies. In fact, I would suspect that you may doubt in the presence of an all-loving God… and perhaps doubt even more in the promises and claims of Jesus Christ. Throughout my life, even before the death of my son, I have truly tried to investigate the reality of such claims. I have found that not only does the moral fiber of my being point to the Truth of Christ, but when examined closely so does science, so does ethics, so does archeology, so does the Bible’s description of this world. I have literally walked through the valley of the shadow of death. I have lost the greatest joy in my life, yet my God did not abandon me. I may not be able to understand everything about God. I may not understand everything written in the Bible. I may not be able to explain everything about Jesus Christ… but I am able to understand enough. I am able to understand the profound impact Christ has made in my life. I am able to understand that with Jesus Christ in my heart there is a joy and peace in my life that cannot be explained. I am able to understand that the Bible speaks truth and its promises are eternal. I am able to understand the moment to moment strength that Jesus gives me to make it through each day.

It is my testimony that Jesus Christ can impact your life in the same way that He has impacted mine. If we reach out to Him, He promises to walk with us through the darkest moments of hopelessness. He will take your broken heart and begin to mend it by filling it with His joy. I know this to be true because He has done it with my heart. He also promises us that if we place our faith and trust in Him, we will live with him eternally. Through that relationship we will be able to experience a reunion with our precious children in heaven.

However, one thing that isn’t promised is the elimination of our grief in this lifetime. This has also held true in my life.

Grieving with Hope

I know my son is in heaven. God has made that abundantly clear to me in many different ways. I know that one day, in the not so distant future; God is planning a reunion for us. However, that does not mean I have stopped grieving. Carter’s death has left a vacancy in my life and heart that will never be filled this side of heaven. It will never be completely healed, nor do I ever want it to be completely healed in this lifetime. Even though I know Carter is in heaven, there are still moments when the grief and sadness of separation overwhelms me to tears. It can happen in an instant. I miss my son so very much. I also grieve the loss of so many unfilled expectations and dreams. How I would have loved to hear my son say his first words, watch him play in a high school basketball game, or celebrate with him at his wedding.

I still ask why. Why God, did you take Carter home so early? Why didn’t you intervene? Why couldn’t it have been me instead? Why my son? It doesn’t seem right, or fair, or just. Why? Why? Why? To be honest, I am quite certain the why question will never be answered to my satisfaction during this lifetime. Yet God has been faithful to me. He has shown me tiny pieces of His plan… fleeting glimpses of a much larger purpose. God’s Word tells us:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. ~Romans 8:28

This verse doesn’t tell us that all things are good. My son’s death was not good. God did not design us for death or the resulting separation we are forced to endure. However, God’s Word does tell us that God can use all things, both good and bad, for the good of those who love him. And God’s definition of good is from an eternal standpoint. I have seen how my son’s life has drawn many people, me included, closer to God. I have seen how God has used Carter’s life as a catalyst to bring others into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Carter’s life has made an eternal difference. But I still ask why.

Even though I continue to grieve, I am able to grieve with hope. The truth is that when Carter died it was the worst day of my life… but it was the best day of his life. The Bible tells us that Carter did not cease to exist. In fact, the Bible tells us that he is now living in heaven, being held safely in the arms of Jesus. He is being protected and taken care of by his Heavenly Father in a way that his earthly father could never have done. I grieve, but I grieve with the certain knowledge that God is planning a reunion for my son and me. All the pain will be healed. All of the brokenness restored. The missed experiences of this life will be replaced by eternal fellowship in the next. God promises a reunion beyond anything I can imagine… which is incredibly exciting, because what I can imagine is wonderful beyond description.

It is very difficult for me to explain my yearning for heaven to others. One of the reasons I anticipate heaven so greatly is that God promises to answer the why question.

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. ~1st Corinthians 13:12

One day I will get to see the full scope of God’s design. I will get to see how God perfectly fit Carter into His eternal purpose. I will get to see all of the lives God touched as a result of my son’s life. I will get to see how God used all of my family’s pain and sadness for His divine plan.

Yet the greatest thing about heaven will be standing with my son and other loved ones in the presence of Jesus Christ. God didn’t design us for death; He designed us to be in unbroken, eternal fellowship with Him. I am so excited for that day.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~Romans 8:38-39

Of all the material items I own, the pictures and videos of my son are my most treasured possessions. They are dear to me beyond description. However, God has revealed something incredibly wonderful to me… they don’t need to last forever. The handful of Carter’s outfits we have hanging in our closet don’t need to last forever. The journal where I have written down so many memories of his life doesn’t need to last forever. Even the gravestone marking his place of burial doesn’t need to last forever. All of these things only need to last until the moment God calls us back into reunion with our children. Then pictures and videos I treasure today will pale in comparison to the reality of being with my son again. Until then, I will cling to those pictures and videos. I will talk about and remember my son. Most of all, I will look forward to that day of reunion which was purchased for me by the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Why Carter’s Eternal Hope

Many people have asked why Heidi and I are willing to share Carter’s story. God’s Word can express our feelings better than anything I could compose.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us. ~2nd Corinthians 1:3-10

We want others to know how God has been faithful to us and comforted us in our darkest valley. We want others to understand the promises of heaven and eternity that God revealed to us through His Word. We want others to experience the joy of living in relationship with Jesus Christ. We want others to participate in a heavenly reunion with their precious children. We want others to know that Jesus Christ can impact their lives in the same way He has impacted ours.

And finally, we share because I am very very proud of my son. Even though Carter only lived on this earth for 8 months, God is using his life to bring others into a relationship with Him. I have realized nothing could give me more pride than knowing God chose Carter to help further His kingdom. I love you so much Carter.