Posts

Crying Over Nabeel Qureshi

Screenshot taken from YouTube

I never thought I would cry over a complete stranger. But the death of a man whom I have never met had me tearing up a few times this week.

Last night, it happened again while I was watching the live stream of Christian apologist and author Nabeel Qureshi’s memorial service. Hearing two of his mentors, apologist Ravi Zacharias and Rice University chemistry professor Jim Tour, recount their time with the 34-year-old and his love for Jesus as well as his non-Christian family, had me welling up in tears.

Perhaps it was because the tributes were heartfelt and heart-breaking, or because it felt like I actually knew him personally. I bought Nabeel’s book two years ago, and have been following his progress since he first announced that he had advanced stomach cancer. Whichever reason it was, Nabeel has certainly made an impact on my life—as well as the lives of many others.

Here was a man who centered his entire life on Jesus and the gospel even though it meant turning his back on the people he loved most dearly—his family, who were staunch Muslims. Not only that, he went on to proclaim the good news of Christ, through talks and books—such as New York Times Bestseller Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus—despite threats to his safety and relentless criticism from those who considered him an apostate.

So many, including myself, were shocked that God would take him home so early on in his earthly life. Like most people, I couldn’t help but wonder, Why? Why now, when he was at the peak of his ministry? Why now, when he had just started a family? Why now, when the world needs gifted and passionate communicators like him to build bridges with the Muslim community?

Though none of the answers that have been circulating online can fully answer these questions, a post I stumbled on provides a deeply encouraging and helpful perspective. It was written by Nabeel’s colleague, the North American Director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM). In a beautiful tribute to his dear friend, Abdu Murray wrote:

Ravi Zacharias, who loved Nabeel deeply, has written about him in a secular news source. Thousands who had never heard Nabeel or the gospel he loved to preach have now been exposed to Jesus’s life-changing message. People have seen Nabeel’s steely faith remain steelier yet in the face of death. They have seen the “peace that passes all understanding,” as the Bible calls it, in Nabeel’s voice. And they are encouraged to face difficulty with grace. A deaf world is roused through the megaphone of pain to hear the message that God has overcome the troubles of the world through Jesus. Nabeel was a megaphone for that message in his life and he is a megaphone for that message in his passing.

 If not for anything, Nabeel, who made a significant impact during his life, continues to make an impact in his death. Many have come to know of him, his books—and his God—after hearing about his life and death over the past week. I believe Nabeel’s legacy will continue in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

Of course, that doesn’t take away from the fact that Nabeel is no longer with us. We will miss him dearly. But while his passing may seem like a huge loss, let us not forget that he is in a far better place today. And let’s not mourn without hope—for we have the full confidence that God will continue to raise up men of great faith to continue His kingdom work. Just as God can raise up a devout Pharisee like the Apostle Paul and an ex-Muslim like Nabeel to become effective ambassadors for Him, He can—and He will—continue to convict the hearts of men in His own time and way.

The Courage To Grieve

I am not at all claiming to be an expert on the varied topic of grief. Although there may be familiar elements between individuals’ grief experiences, their paths are distinctly unique.

With that in mind, it’d be ridiculous for me to make any sweeping generalizations regarding how to grieve or what to expect. I do not know what you’re going through, nor can I claim insight into what is to be anticipated. That said, I think a common thread among the different grief journeys is that completing them well requires a special courage.

My own experience with grief started from a horrific car accident that resulted in the loss of my plans, many of my cherished pastimes, and inadvertently, also some of my identity. The latest blow came this past fall, when I was told that I wouldn’t be given a full-time job in speech pathology, which I was hoping for.

As a speech pathologist, you have two years after obtaining your master’s degree to complete your clinical fellowship in order to gain full licensure. I was exactly half way through this supervised internship when the accident occurred. As a result of my severe injuries, my stint was cut short and in the year following the accident, my full-time job was attending doctor appointments and rehab sessions. I used countless pages of paper telling the state licensing board why I probably wouldn’t be meeting the two-year licensing deadline and requesting for an extension.

While completing my own physical therapy, I volunteered over 400 hours at two fabulous medical facilities. At the first one, I completed administrative tasks cheerfully and to the best of my ability, clinging to any verbal encouragements I received about an eventual offer for a clinical fellowship. However, I wasn’t offered one and my time volunteering there eventually ended without an offer of employment. At the second facility, I volunteered many more hours, again hoping to be offered a job as a speech therapist.

I put every effort into making it happen, but eventually realized they had no intention of hiring me full-time. The end of the second volunteer position came as a huge blow, reviving the hopelessness I had felt after the accident. I had thought I’d worked through these feelings, believing that I had been able to put the loss behind me, but now, it all came back.

I have learned that grief is not a linear process. Even after appearing to have resolved a particular loss in a mature way, it is likely to pop up again, sometimes when least expected. Situations may also arise which require the individual to face these emotions a second time—or for the 1,000th time.

It takes courage to embark on a path that, while necessary, will surely be painful. False inner voices or those outside your own head may give you the impression that you’ve already worked through that grief, and that it’s time to move on. But the truth is, it may not always be the case. With the necessary boldness, unapologetically admit that you need to grieve.

Grieving is hard—and often daunting—work. It requires endurance to accept that as an individual, or even in supporting a loved one, you are in it for the long haul. Life is not going to return to what it was before, although you may find joy beyond your imagination. Boldly leave room for the potential of that joy to come.

To grieve well is to acknowledge the feelings of pain while also, in time, to take steps towards healing (such as re-connecting with friends after losing a loved one).

This 19 December will mark the fourth anniversary of my accident. The life I led before the accident seems like a memory from just yesterday, but at the same time, so foreign that it feels like it came from a different lifetime. I have almost no emotional connection to the gregarious, active and capable young woman I see in pictures from before the accident. I’ve come further along in recovery than I could’ve hoped for during the initial months after the accident, while, at the same time, I’m not as far as I would wish.

I’ve learned that it takes courage to acknowledge that even in the midst of grief, there may be moments of happiness. It doesn’t need to make sense or be consistent with an overall emotional experience; there can be happy times even during long journeys of grief. It can be beneficial to put on “blinders”, so that you can only see what’s directly in front of you. What you already have, here and now, in this moment, is everything you need at this point to honor God. Try not to dwell on the possibilities or expectations about how your grief will unfold.

Not following a preconceived script on the way one “should” grieve requires courage that will shape your outlook towards the future.

Before A Loved One Dies

Written By JC Tulalian, Philippines

I was by the side of a church member’s father minutes before he took his last breath. Overcome with emotion, I whispered a final prayer for him. It was the first time I’d felt so depressed while praying for someone.

That was in April. When my friend’s father died of cancer, he was only 40.

What could I say to a family who had just lost their beloved father? I knew the right “Christian” things to say: “Don’t worry, God is in control”, or “Be strong, I’m praying for you” . . . but when I saw the sadness on the faces of everyone around me, I struggled to bring myself to say those words. And I had to wonder: why did God allow this to happen to a family who loved and followed Him so faithfully?

At her husband’s funeral, my friend’s mother said in her eulogy, “How can I rejoice in this situation? How can I say, ‘Thank you, Lord’? Why did You allow this to happen? My husband is dead . . . But I will wait for Your answer, I will wait for it.” As I sat there listening to her heartfelt cries to God, I learned two things about responding to trial and loss in life: Our response shows how close we are to God; and pouring out our hearts to Him is a perfectly acceptable response.

Have a Close Relationship with God

One of the most quoted examples about suffering and loss in the Bible is the account of Job. God allowed Satan to inflict suffering and loss on Job to test his faith in difficult times. When that happened, Job didn’t waver in his faith, but continued trusting in God. Though he was in immense grief and pain, his relationship with God remained intact and he trusted in God’s sovereignty through it all.

I believe that Job could do this because way before these trials came, he was walking closely with God. I witnessed a steadfastness in my friend’s mother when her husband died. Although she was overwhelmed with sorrow, she kept her faith in God and continued to wait on Him.

 

Pour Out Our Hearts to Him

That’s not to say that we cannot express our deepest emotions to God. Besides Job, the Bible records many other godly men and women of faith who went through very challenging times, and did exactly that.

When his enemies were coming after him, David wrote Psalm 42 to lament to God about the troubles He faced. He sought God and expressed his inner fears and emotions to Him. And through the psalm, we see how God reminded him of His love and how David received comfort from that knowledge.

Some of us may have heard of how American lawyer Horatio G. Spafford wrote the well-known hymn, “It is Well With My Soul”, after his four daughters died in a shipwreck. It amazes me that in his despair and grief, he was able to pen a song with these words: “It is well with my soul”. And just like David, Spafford’s honesty before God was the first step in allowing God to heal and comfort him.

 

As we go through life’s trials and loss, let’s stand firm in our faith, knowing that God is constant and that He is sovereign over all. Let’s learn to pour out our hearts and wait patiently on Him.

Dealing with the “Death Knock’”

The words “death knock” is enough to make my knees go weak and my hands go clammy.

A “death knock” involves a journalist showing up on the doorstep of a family who has just lost a loved one for a story. When I was a reporter, I used to pray that I would never have to do a “death knock” story, because I couldn’t handle the idea of having to interview a family while they were grieving. I felt like it was intruding.

Unfortunately, it was part of the job, and I had to do my fair share of death knocks. I covered stories including those of a young girl killed in a car accident, a family who lost a mother because of a drunk driver, and a young family who lost a child to cancer.

Each story was heart-wrenching, and after finishing it, I went home to lie in bed for hours, wide awake, wondering if these families knew I genuinely felt for them, and that I wasn’t making use of their grief just so I could have my name on the front page.

Of the few “death knock” stories I covered, the one that stood out was the story of the family who lost a mum in a drink-driving accident.

Family Who Lost Mom

I was working one evening shift when I was told about an accident that had happened nearby. A pedestrian had suffered head injuries after an SUV hit her, and had been flown to hospital. The next day, it was revealed that the woman was a well-known artist. Her husband worked for an arts organisation, and they had two daughters. Soon, news came that she had passed away.

My heart sank when I was asked to get hold of the family for a story. I left a few voice messages on the family phone and tried getting in touch with one of their friends, but couldn’t reach them. So I set out in the dark, with rain lashing in all directions, hoping to find the family at home. I could feel the bile rising up from the back of my throat as I did so. But the family wasn’t home.

I went back to office, and as I was about to pack up to go home, my phone rang. It was the husband returning my call. While he sounded calm and collected, my mouth felt as dry as cotton. I stumbled through an awkward “How are you?”, and immediately felt like kicking myself the minute the words came out. I quickly said I was sorry to hear what had happened, but my condolences seemed hollow and insincere.

The man told me about his wife, and how passionate she was about her children, her artwork, and her life. “She was honest, extremely honest. There was no pretence in her,” he said. Her eldest daughter described her mom as an “amazing person” and said, “I have not met anyone so giving, she gave so much. She was always there for me and always encouraged me.” Her youngest daughter sobbed at the end of the phone, saying she missed her mom, who used to play with her every day and missed her cuddles.

My heart broke as I wondered how anyone could cope with such a tragedy. What really surprised me was that her husband decided to spare the offender his jail sentence. (It was later revealed that his wife was unlocking the door of her parked car when she was hit. The driver was so drunk that he didn’t even know he had hit her, and had driven on until a witness banged on his window and pulled his keys from the ignition.)

The husband told the judge he didn’t want the offender to waste both his time and taxpayers’ money in jail, and said that it would be better to “put his time to more effect by educating others on the dangers of drinking and driving, including being part of an educational documentary—thereby potentially serving future lives.”

I felt nothing but deep respect for the man. Not many of us would have been able to respond the same way.

Response To Suffering

From this encounter, along with others I’ve had with families of victims, I have learned that it’s not what we say but what we do that shows people that we are mourning with them.

For me, it meant knowing when to back off when a family declined to be interviewed, as a way of showing that I respected their wishes. Sometimes, it also meant going out of my way to accommodate their requests. In the case of the woman knocked down by the drunk driver, it meant reading the story back to her family before it went to print—which is something we would not do in normal circumstances. A few months later, I received an email from their friend saying they had appreciated the respect and care I had shown while doing the interview.

As a Christian, it’s easy to say something like, “God has a reason for this suffering”, or “God grieves with you”. But from the biblical story of Job, I learned about how to grieve alongside someone else.

When Job’s three friends first heard of the tragedy that had befallen him, they comforted and consoled him by simply being there and not saying a word. They started “wailing loudly, they tore their robes and threw dust into the air over their heads to show their grief. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw his suffering was too great for words” (Job 2:11-13).

The Bible says we are to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). That would include lending them a shoulder to cry on, or taking the time to ask how they’re getting on, and reminding them they’re not alone in their grief.

Sometimes, we may feel like we’ve to try and mend a person’s grieving heart—forgetting that we have a Father who is close to the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18) and who weeps with us just as He wept with Martha and Mary when he heard Lazarus was dead (John 11:35). The Scripture also says that He’s with us “through deep waters, through the rivers of difficulty, or when we walk through the fire of oppression” (Isaiah 43:2). Death can sometimes seem so final, but take heart in knowing that when Christ died on the cross for us, He’d also won over death!