Guest blogger: Donna Marks

Today’s post is written by Donna Marks with Eric Stillman.

“I thank my God every time I remember you…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:3,6)

On Monday, March 5th, 2012, my beautiful and healthy 33-year-old daughter Sandra began to feel unwell. She made an appointment and went to the doctor on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the doctor gave her the bad news: she had Acute Myeloid Leukemia, a deadly type of blood cancer. On Thursday, the medical staff struggled to get her bleeding under control. And on Friday, Sandra had a cerebral hemorrhage and died, leaving behind her husband, two recently adopted boys, and me, her devastated mother.

It is hard to put into words just how painful Sandra’s loss was and continues to be. It took me almost three years to finally admit to God just how furious I was with him for taking her away. I attended Grief Share, as well as the Compassionate Friends support group. Both were very helpful, but I still needed more from God to reach the depths of my sorrow. One night, I woke up at three in the morning and cried out to God, telling Him that I needed him to give me something or I was not going to make it through my grief. The message that came to me in that moment was that God didn’t do it. He did not have leukemia in heaven to give to my Sandra. This world was not as God originally intended for it to be, but was a fallen world, with sin and sickness, where sometimes children die a terrible death and parents have to bear that grief for years to come.

Fast forward to 2024. A couple of years ago, I moved from Colorado to Connecticut to take care of my aging father, aunt and uncle. They have since all passed away, and in October of last year, I found NewLife online and began attending. In December, I had my annual check-up, and my doctor recommended intermittent fasting for 16-18 hours every day in order to improve my health. Great idea, but seemed pretty unrealistic to me. But then, that Sunday, Pastor Eric announced that the church would be doing 21 days of fasting and prayer beginning on January 7th. With his encouragement, I decided to commit to the discipline of intermittent fasting, along with prayer and time with the Lord.

The result has truly been life-changing. On a physical level, the intermittent fasting morphed into working with a personal trainer, and my health has improved. But more importantly, on the spiritual level, the Holy Spirit revealed to me that since my daughter’s death, I had stopped being a good steward of not only my own health but many other things in my life. When Sandra died, I lost most of my interest in life. And since my dad, aunt and uncle passed, I have often found myself asking God why He would not also take me home. The days are lonesome, and finding a purpose in life has been a real struggle.

Since I began this season of fasting, God has been birthing in me a growing excitement about the new season He is leading me into, as He changes my mourning into a new purpose. I have been hanging on to Philippians 1:6, where Paul tells us that God promises to complete the good work that He has begun in us. My pastor in Colorado was fond of telling us to complete the mission that God has given us, and with the Holy Spirit’s help, I intend to do just that.

A few weeks after God gave me that 3 AM message, He gave me one other encouragement. I was laying in bed one morning, and in no more than the time it takes to snap my fingers, I had a vision, clear as day, of my daughter Sandra, my cousin Pamela, my mother, my grandmother, and all our pets (!) sitting in a beautiful field, laughing joyously. I hold on to that vision, trusting that it was a gift of God’s grace to me in my sorrow. This life may be filled with trauma and tragedy, but God is always good, and the mission that He has for me is not yet done.

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