Compassion in Her Community

04/28/2017 .
Myra Biernat Wells  .  Volunteer Storyteller

Several years ago, the bottom dropped out from under Judy Paskey when her 41 year old son, Mark, committed suicide. In one heart-stopping moment, the world splintered for the mother of four. Her heart and life shattered, separating them into two distinct pieces — before and after.

Maybe it was because he grew up with 3 younger sisters, or it could be his gentle soul instinctively knew how to make children happy, but Mark loved children. As a Christian, he worked in Children's Ministry at his church and helped build a children's playground at the Lake Forest campus. In a cruel twist of fate, however, when Mark's marriage disintegrated, he lost what he valued most — his own kids. With custody and visitation denied, Mark felt he couldn't cope and took his own life.

Judy saw the warning signs and tried to get Mark help. Once he was gone, she felt crippled with grief. With none of the answers bringing comfort or relief, Judy cried every day and night for months.

Judy's small group tried to understood her devastation, loss, and heartache. The small group stood by Judy in her sorrow saying, "We will not let you walk through this alone."  

Judy added, "We learned together: How do you supply love when you don't feel like loving? You show love because the heart will follow the actions."

Through the years of shouldering each other’s burdens, the group knew what to do when someone suffered a tragic loss. They showed up, just kept showing up, completing the small, daily, necessary tasks They never pretended have all the answers.

Mark's funeral occurred on the birthday of one group member. Yet that woman graciously opened up her home and hosted the funeral luncheon after her son's service. It didn’t end there. They brought her meals and patiently listened to her grief. To hold another who is in pain and to affirm their faith in Christ when they are questioning his goodness is not a one-time act of service, but a call to be present in someone's life over the long haul.

"Some days were better than others, but I always had a shoulder to lean on, a friend to pray for me and someone willing to complete even the simplest chores I didn't have the strength to tackle," Judy explains. "But by letting my group help me, I learned in a very tangible way how much Jesus loves me. Companionship with these women helped me more fully understand the friendship I have with God. My small group’s empathy was a gift that transformed my life. I learned so much more about God’s abundant love because these women cared for me despite all my questions and doubts."

"But it wasn't me that did all the growing. Everyone one in the group had been wounded by life at some point during our time together. We learned God sometimes does his greatest work with those who know what it is like to be crushed in spirit. Suffering teaches us God's compassion and grace. Helping someone in pain displays Jesus' love. We become aware that what we were given when we suffered might be exactly what someone else needs when they face their darkest hour."

"I don't wish what happened to me, to our family, on any mother. But I've seen some beauty come from Mark's death," Judy continues. "When I was in pain, I surrendered important parts of my life to others, but I had a better understanding of God's character. He doesn’t leave us. He listens to our prayers. He is always close to us. And how he can use a group of women to encourage and lessen the load of each other’s burdens."

"These women taught me something significant," says Judy. "Mark's death is still difficult to talk about. Through my small group, a tiny miracle happened. When we love people, we are changed. That's because love is not a trite good feeling, but a steady stream of quiet actions that carries the person in pain towards God who comforts them. My group continues to give me courage to talk about Mark’s death. When I share my story or the sadness that surrounds our family, I've made it acceptable for others to share their grief. And with that, new doors of healing for those sharing the same sorrow are opened."

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