Suffering, Anguish and Redemption

At 2:48 PM on June 8th, 2017, a twenty-two second phone call revealed that our lives as a family had been forever altered.  Scott, who was driving behind the bus that crashed with our precious Sarah and 38 other members of our church on board, called and said, “Karen, there’s been a horrible wreck, the bus has flipped and Sarah is pinned under it, but if you will pray there is still hope.”  God in His grace had all three of our other girls home, extremely unusual at that time of day, we immediately dropped to our knees and faces and cried out together to God to spare our precious Sarah, to preserve her life, to supernaturally prevent her from being scared or in pain, and to wrap His arms around her and Scott.  My parents, who live next door, immediately came over and we all left together.  I drove, we went 90 mph most of the way, I suppose it took 3-4 hours to get there, but I’m certain it will forever be the longest drive of my life. The entire time I sang “Even If” by MercyMe, over and over again, initially silently in my head and eventually out loud as, in the absence of updates from Scott, I began to assume what had happened.

“Even If”  by  MercyMe
They say sometimes you win some
Sometimes you lose some
And right now, right now I’m losing bad
I’ve stood on this stage night after night
Reminding the broken it’ll be alright
But right now, oh right now I just can’t
It’s easy to sing
When there’s nothing to bring me down
But what will I say
When I’m held to the flame
Like I am right now
I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
They say it only takes a little faith
To move a mountain
Well good thing
A little faith is all I have, right now
But God, when You choose
To leave mountains unmovable
Oh give me the strength to be able to sing
It is well with my soul
I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt
Would all go away if You’d just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
You’ve been faithful, You’ve been good
All of my days
Jesus, I will cling to You
Come what may
‘Cause I know You’re able
I know You can
I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
I know the sorrow, I know the hurt
Would all go away if You’d just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
It is well with my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul
Songwriters: Bart Marshall Millard / Benjamin Glover / Crystal Lewis / David Arthur Garcia / Tim Timmons
Even If lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Music Services, Inc

We hoped Sarah was at a hospital by now, so Katelyn called Scott to get the name of it. He was evasive and said he would send us the address, which he eventually did. When we finally got to the address the GPS took us to, it was an industrial park, no hospital in sight. Katelyn called to tell him he must have given us the wrong address, he responded, “It’s not a hospital.” I knew then.  We eventually found the office, as we walked in everyone who worked there looked away or down, no one spoke it, but I already knew.  I finally found Scott in a small office in the back of the building, alone, my heart breaks for him every time I think of him alone there for hours.  The look in his eyes required no words, but he spoke them anyway, “she didn’t make it.” We as a family wept together for a time, then turned to the Lord in prayer, we begged Him to redeem it in some way, we also interceded for the other students and leaders on the bus, that there would be no more death.

At the time we had no idea what redemption might be or look like, we just knew we were desperate for it, and would continue to be desperate for it in the days ahead.  Soon thereafter I told the volunteers there that we needed Sarah’s backpack from the crash, I knew she had her journal with her and was so hopeful God would have something encouraging for us in it. I have no concept of time for the day, but after what I assume was a couple of hours they loaded our family in the back of two ambulances to sneak us away from the media frenzy at our initial location to a church that would be the center for reuniting the other families with their children.  We were placed in a conference room upstairs. Eventually we got word that the bags from the crash site had been delivered to the church where we were, so Katelyn and Sophie went downstairs to get Sarah’s backpack.  I couldn’t get her journal out fast enough, I immediately flipped to the last entry which we quickly discovered was written on the bus that day, moments before the crash.  God is so gracious. Sarah’s gentle, tender heart was so in tune with Him that I have no doubt she wrote exactly what He gave her as a message of hope for us to hang onto for the remainder of our separation from her. Hope that she was absolutely confident that she was called to this, and hope that God will indeed redeem it and “do incredible things.”

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Botswana Day 1                                                                                                 June 8, 17

I was just sitting here in the bus feeling a little sad.  I guess because I am going to be gone so long and I was feeling a little uncomfortable.  Then I decided to read my Bible.  I prayed and opened up to 1 Peter 5 and 2 Peter 1.  Pretty much everything I read applied to me now. It talked about watching over the flock entrusted to you, which would be my little buddies in Botswana, humbling yourself which I will need to do (and that also means being a little uncomfortable), it talked about the devil prowling about like a lion seeking whom he may devour, which he will especially be doing on this mission trip, and how we need to be alert and of sober mind, and lastly how we get to participate in His divine nature!  I mean, how awesome is that?  So mostly I was just reminded of why I’m here and that God has called me here and has done so for a reason.  So I know He’s going to do incredible things.

We were all immediately overwhelmed by the journal, what a precious gift.  We shared it with the mayor, Red Cross workers and various other people assisting us. After a period of time I told my family I thought we should share her journal with the media, Scott agreed.  We asked each of the girls if they were okay with that and each whole heartedly agreed we had to do it. In addition, Katelyn said she felt led to share a text Sarah had sent to her cousin, Ariel, as well (below).

“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, ‘All people are like grass,  and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;  the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.’” 1 Peter 1:23-25 [NIV]

This is such a great reminder! We are like a wisp of smoke. We are only here a moment. And this is not about us. Life is not about us.  It’s about God who is eternal. So I want to dedicate the one moment I’m here completely and entirely to him.

My parents also agreed we had to do it, so I asked the mayor to set it up. We prayed together asking God to go before us and speak through us that His name may be lifted high through Sarah’s life and testimony, her greatest desire.  In so doing, only hours after our precious Sarah’s departure, God began to redeem our suffering and anguish.

You may view the press conference here.

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves;  we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing;  persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;” 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 [NASB]

Among other things, Merriam Webster defines redeem as to “offset the bad effect of” or “to make worthwhile.”  As Christians when we cried out to God to redeem Sarah’s leaving us, we were asking God to be true to His Word, as He always is, in working even this for our good and His glory.  Initially one hopes the redemption will somehow remove or at least diminish the pain, but I can testify that is not the case.  The suffering and anguish persist, but the redemption provides a purpose to the pain that enables us to persevere.  We can boldly proclaim the truth of His Word together as we so clearly see His hand at work.  Each life impacted for Christ because of Sarah’s and our testimony serves as redemption.  As we receive testimonies of people coming to Christ through the sharing of Sarah’s testimony we rejoice greatly, there is no greater redemption. Equally impactful, though, are the stories of complacent believers challenged in their faith to pursue Christ as Sarah did, blessed redemption.

” In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;  and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.   And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” Romans 8:26-28 [NASB]

In sharing this I must interject that I do not believe God caused the bus to crash.  I am strongly convicted that Satan was the author of the crash, that he intended to sift us and others on the bus as he did Job in the book of Job, and Peter in Luke 22. As in both of those situations I believe that our sovereign God allowed it to happen, but I take courage that my precious Jesus, our great high priest who lives to intercede for us, was praying for us in advance just as He did for Peter, that our faith would not fail and that our brothers and sisters would be strengthened through Sarah’s and our testimony.

For over a year, our family has been praying for a holy revival to sweep through our church, community, state, nation and the ends of the earth.  In retrospect, I believe that desire was set in our hearts by God to make the redemption He is providing for the absence of our sweet Sarah all the sweeter.  Granting us the desire He set in our hearts beforehand, enabling us to persevere, praise and worship Him through the suffering and anguish of the valley of the shadow of death.

If you do not know Sarah’s Jesus, our Jesus, as  your personal savior and Lord, we implore you to seek Him today. To learn more about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ visit https://peacewithgod.net.

Join us in praying that the winds of revival will continue to sweep through Mount Zion Baptist Church, Huntsville, Alabama, The United States and around the globe to lift high the name of sweet Sarah’s precious savior and Lord, Jesus Christ!

“And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”  Acts 4:12 [NASB]

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32 thoughts on “Suffering, Anguish and Redemption

  1. Karen, I could barely read this through my tears. God has gifted you with such a way of sharing His message. You are blessing so many. What a mighty, glorious God loves us and is able to use something so heartbreaking to change eternity for so many. I pray that the stories continue to flood in to your family and your church family. Sending my love and prayers to your family.
    Rosemary Northrop

  2. I am still praying for you, Scott, a the three girls. I have know Scott since he was a young boy, but have not met you Karen. I knew you all were a Christian family, but I am amazed at Sarah’s depth of faith!!!!! You, Karen are such a great writer, thank you for sharing Sarah’s faith in Jesus!!!!!!

  3. The Love of God, and the Power of Prayer, coupled with our humbleness, will always guide our thoughts, mind, and heart to be in the center of His Will!! Prayers for this family, and this church!

  4. Dear Karen,
    I am speechless after reading this! A continue to pray for you and Scott , Sarah’s sisters and all of your family. God is good and will bring you all through this!
    Your sister in Christ,
    Michaelle

  5. Thank you so much for sharing your heart. We love you and will continue to pray you through. What a beautiful example of Christ you are!

  6. Karen, Scott,
    You know my children (Cailean and Caitlyn). I have been introduced to you. I was privileged to get to know Sarah as she and Rachel were fundraising for their trip as I was fundraising for Trail Life alongside them. I am in Maryland now for a job and have visited several churches and have asked the local congregations to pray for you and your family. I have been able to share Sarah’s (and the Harmening family’s) testimony with several folk here. Brother, Sister, I’m praying for you as well. Thank God for your faith and faithfulness to be willing and able to share Jesus.
    Chris

  7. Your story, Sarah’s story has broken my heart in so many ways. But because of your witness, because of her’s there has been a sweet wind of hope that has surrounded all of the sadness.
    While this was never the way your prayers were intended to be answered, God is so completely sovereign. And this act that was intended for evil is instead bringing revival and renewal.
    I join you in your prayers for our community and nation. I see revival happening now.
    You and your family remain in my prayers. Thank you for training your children in the way they should go.

  8. Thank you for sharing! What a beautifully written testimony of His redemption that will continue to speak to many.

  9. Thank you for yours and Sarah’s testimony. I continue to be blessed and inspired by your family’s deep faith. Sarah’s life has already impacted so many people to want to know our Lord and Savior. Through her short life, she has witnessed to more people than a lot of us would do in a lifetime. Oh to have that deep faith. It has to be comforting to know she is in the presence of her Lord and He is holding her with an everlasting love and she is overwhelmed.Praying for the family for a peace that is comforting to you.

  10. Wow! What a blessing this has been to me! God’s grace is so evident with your writing. Thank you for opening your heart and sharing it with us. My heart has been aching with your family but GOD….so thankful we have a God that knows!

  11. Well spoken friend. I can see His reflection. God is at work. Love the comparison to Job and Peter. Couldn’t agree more. Love you all and my heart still breaks for you.

  12. Karen, Scott, Katelyn, Kristen, and Sophie,
    I shared a little of this with my daughter and granddaughter a little while ago, and showed them pictures of all of you. Gracie has had a hard time since Xander’s death on October 18, 2015. We all knew this was coming. We hoped to have him longer, but we had him much longer than the two years given as the educated guess from his doctors. My heart breaks for each of you as I only somewhat know how your hearts break. There are NO WORDS. NO WORDS. Just know you are loved and prayed for in the mornings when I wake up and at night when I lie down, in the day time when my thoughts go to you. Karen, you are a gifted writer. We have encouraged Mandy to blog and she has. We believe that she has a story to share and so do you. Sarah’s story has so much power! We do join you in asking the Lord for a revival in our churches and in our communities and in our country. You are loved and precious to us and to many, many others. Our love to your family and each of your parents.

  13. Karen my heart bleeds for you all but I am sure I do not feel the anguish you all feel. Sarah has touched my heart but I am sure she has affected many more through her writing. My prayers are with you all that the memories and facts can give you assurance that all is well with her and in time you all can get on with your lives even with a vacant spot. May God give you His grace.

  14. All I can say is, What a MIghty God we Serve — and it is very evident that HE is living in and through you and your family. Truly – Lord – let the WINDS OF REVIVAL fall on all of us.

  15. Thank you for sharing your heart with all of us .This morning at Providence Baptist Church, our pastor used Sara’s writing and picture as an example of never knowing how short our time here may be. It made me think of how mightily God is using her far and wide to be His witness. Thank you for being faithful in raising your children to love and serve Him.You continue to be in my thoughts and prayers.

  16. A stark reminder of how our God carries us when we can not carry on. He gives us what we need when we need it. Thank you so much for sharing this very painful, personal, and intimate story. Praise God from whom All blessings flow….even when we can’t call it a blessing. Praying for all the family. I am a grandmother….my heart aches for the grandparents, also.

  17. Karen You are gifted at expressing your thoughts and beliefs in such a way that is inspiring and compelling and truly amazing. Thank you so much for sharing this. Your family is greatly loved. We will continue to keep you all lifted in prayer. Cannot imagine what you are going through but reading this helps so much for us to know He is holding you close.

  18. What an inspiration Sarah and your entire family are! May God wrap his arms around you all and hold you there and comfort you as only he can… my prayers, my thoughts, my hopes are with your family. May God bless you all.

  19. Karen & Family,

    You don’t know me, but your story has impacted my heart.

    We were in the middle of Vacation Bible School at our church on the day of the crash (about 20 minutes from the crash site in Mableton, GA). During our craft rotation, the leader sat all of our kids down and we prayed. We prayed for you all. My biggest hope is that the prayers spoken that day and the prayers since have held your arms up as you continue to praise Jesus in the most painful situation you’ve probably ever faced.

    Thank you. Thank you for not letting your grief overshadow your message. Thank you for not being deterred by a liberal media that doesn’t want to hear the name of Jesus. Thank you for being obedient to the great commission. Thank you for sharing Sarah with the world.

    I pray that more people are touched by her (and your family’s) testimony. That because of her death, more people will come to true faith, hope, and life in Christ.

    May the sovereign God of the universe continue to give you every bit of strength you need to have joy and hope in your sorrow.

    Love,
    Christie
    Powder Springs, GA

  20. I don’t know you personally , but my heart goes out to you and your family and I have great admiration for your wonderful God given strength and faith. I was in Atlanta this past weekend and as I passed by the road where the accident happened my thoughts were with you and your family. I believe the message will resignate forever in the many hearts affected by this event… strangers and family/friends alike. God bless you all.

  21. Sarah’s Pinterest quote,

    “For he knows where I am going and
    when he tests me, I will come out as pure as gold.” – Job 23:10

  22. My heart has been so full ever since 6/8/17. What an AWESOME GOD we serve!! May the comforter continue to be with your family and give you Immeasurable peace. Thank you for sharing. God’s Blessings Upon Your Family.

  23. I am so very sorry for your loss. I’ve prayed and cried the song “Even If”, “Blessings”, so many times. My sister died 3 1/2 years ago. My parents lost their daughter. My brother-in-law lost his wife. She, like your baby girl, was a believer. I got the phone call, very early in the morning. I fell to my knees and prayed and cried and prayed and cried. It amazes me how God uses songs to reassure and encourage us. The next day, my mom and I were alone in my car. “Not Home Yet” came on the radio. We turned it up as loud as we could stand and sang at the top of our lungs as tears poured down our face. Take this world and give me Jesus. This is not our home. That thought, along w/ countless scriptures and prayers brought us (and still brings us) comfort in the days/years to come. May you be blessed by the great Comforter.

  24. I lost my husband of 30 yrs instantly in MVA 23 years
    He was a godly man. Sec. And treasure of our Assembly of God Church. On the Church Board, he loved Jesus. I know how much comfort Sarah journal brought you. Continues to bring to you snd all her family. I cried so hard I could hardly read your testimony. May many many christisns be encouraged and many lost souls be won through Sarahs life and death. Praying for you and all your family.

  25. I am so thankful for Sarah’s beautiful Faith. God is reviving us and I prayerfully thank Him for allowing Sarah to fan the flames!
    God Bless you, your family and your Church. We too are praying for revival and an awakening in our community and families!
    Eve

  26. Such raw encouragement , for the love of our sweet Jesus. Her story will forever remind us all of the brevity of this initial trip, but the impact that can be made for the kingdom! God bless your every tear …..

  27. Dear Karen,
    Deepest thanks for your journaling. The word of God is truly living and active; you are so faithfully sharing and teaching us ways in which it is powerfully so. This week my family prepares for one we deeply love to begin treatment for cancer that has metastasized to the brain. God’s word through your sharing is encouraging, strengthening and comforting me. It is one of the answers to my prayer for the Lord to help me prepare to love and support in the days ahead. Thank you for your witness, my prayers for God to bless and keep your family and your church will be steadfast.

  28. Pingback: Forgiveness, Unity and Revival | Listening to Him

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  30. Upon Wedlock, and Death of Children

    BY EDWARD TAYLOR

    A Curious Knot God made in Paradise,
    And drew it out inamled neatly Fresh.
    It was the True-Love Knot, more sweet than spice
    And set with all the flowres of Graces dress.
    Its Weddens Knot, that ne’re can be unti’de.
    No Alexanders Sword can it divide.

    The slips here planted, gay and glorious grow:
    Unless an Hellish breath do sindge their Plumes.
    Here Primrose, Cowslips, Roses, Lilies blow
    With Violets and Pinkes that voide perfumes.
    Whose beautious leaves ore laid with Hony Dew.
    And Chanting birds Cherp out sweet Musick true.

    When in this Knot I planted was, my Stock
    Soon knotted, and a manly flower out brake.
    And after it my branch again did knot
    Brought out another Flowre its sweet breath’d mate.
    One knot gave one tother the tothers place.
    Whence Checkling smiles fought in each others face.

    But oh! a glorious hand from glory came
    Guarded with Angells, soon did Crop this flowere
    Which almost tore the root up of the same
    At that unlookt for, Dolesome, darksome houre.
    In Pray’re to Christ perfum’de it did ascend,
    And Angells bright did it to heaven tend.

    But pausing on’t, this sweet perfum’d my thought,
    Christ would in Glory have a Flowre, Choice, Prime,

    And having Choice, chose this my branch forth brought.
    Lord, take’t. I thanke thee, thou takst ought of mine,
    It is my pledg in glory, part of mee
    Is now in it, Lord, glorifi’de with thee.

    But praying ore my branch, my branch did sprout
    And bore another manly flower, and gay
    And after that another, sweet brake out,
    The which the former hand soon got away.
    But oh! the tortures, Vomit, screechings, groans,
    And six weeks fever would pierce hearts like stones.

    Griefe o’re doth flow: and nature fault would finde
    Were not thy Will, my Spell, Charm, Joy, and Gem:
    That as I said, I say, take, Lord, they’re thine.
    I piecemeale pass to Glory bright in them.
    In joy, may I sweet Flowers for Glory breed,
    Whether thou getst them green, or lets them seed.

  31. Prayers for your family. I cannot say I understand your loss, because I don’t. You have shared with many the blessing that Sarah was, and her words are, to us all. To see the love and devotion Sarah had for the Lord warms my heart. Thank you to you and your family for sharing. God Bless you all.

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