Anna Charles’s Story

Site created on April 16, 2018

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Journal entry by Benji and LeeAnna Hollis

Romans 8:17 (NIV)

17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Romans 8:28 -29 (NIV)
28 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. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

 
Today is an incredible day. It's a beautiful, amazing gift. If you see me walking by, it may not appear that way, though. It's quite possible that my head will be tilted down staring at my feet, my shoulders scrunched forward, deep in thought, limping along.  But don't let my outward appearance fool you. On the inside, next to the overbearing anguish and pain, there's a peace that I've never experienced before. One that tucks me into bed late at night when I don't want to go to sleep, because I know I'll have to get up tomorrow. A comforting peace that gently nudges me out of bed early the next morning when the world and all of its broken promises are stacked on top of me. The peace I'm talking about is a gift in the midst of a tragedy. The gift isn't a thing. The gift isn't a way of thinking, an emotion or a feeling. The gift is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Trust me. I never thought I'd ever type those words. Not because I didn't want to, but because I was enjoying the world. But, I'm so thankful to share this with you...in the midst of a tragedy. A life centered on Jesus is a life worth living...and eternal life, no less. 

Over the past 15 months, I've shared that during the hospital and AC's diagnosis I turned to God. Looking back on it, I couldn't have been more wrong. I didn't have to seek Him.  He was right beside me the whole time. I just opened my eyes and my heart. I accepted what He was offering to me, to all of us. It took a tragedy. And the tragedy I'm not thankful for, but I am thankful that we have a Father who loves us and gives us a way through our pains and sorrows. God still hasn't told us why He had to take her back from us so soon, and I don't think He'll ever give us answer this side of life. 

8 years ago today, was the absolute best day of our lives. It was the day that God gifted LeeAnna and I with our precious little girl, Anna Charles, our beautiful baby girl...my very-own daddy's girl - who had bad eyesight and a passion for cheeseburgers - my two most redeeming qualities. She was everything, and more, than we could have ever hoped for in this life. Looking back on it now, I never could have created or written into existence a more loving, passionate, strong, courageous and spunky child. But, God could and He did. There's absolutely no way that she came into this world without a purpose. There's no way that she was the by byproduct of chance through the collision of random cells. I don't care what anyone says. There are no accidents in this life. Only God's providence - He sees all things before they happen and plans accordingly. But, if we are focused on the reflection in the mirror, or distracted with self-healing and self-medication, we'll miss Him. We'll miss the blessings...the purpose. And, the blessings aren't going to feel like a blessing when they happen. It's only when we look back that we'll be able to see the blessings in the midst of our sufferings, trials...and tragedies. And, tragedies are just that...they're tragedies. There's nothing good about them. AC's passing was a tragedy. Every child who dies of cancer is tragic. The list goes on and on.  However, God will use the hurt for good to accomplish His purpose. This doesn't dull our heartache or the pain of missing AC, unfortunately. But, we still have to trust in Him. 

I write these things and it may look like I'm just shoving the pain down deep somewhere in my soul and I'm just putting on a happy face. I've been told several times, "It's okay to be angry at God." Been there and done it. Trust me, there's a lot of pain. Enough to last me the rest of my life...and enough to share with other people. Excruciating pain is woven into my body, into my heart, it has seeped into every nook and cranny that it could find.  I've figured out that if we could just grieve the loss of AC that it would be so much easier to deal with. But, nothing in life happens as we expect it too.  Grief and suffering come with baggage. They come with accessories that we don't want to unpack. C.S. Lewis once wrote, "Reality is not easy, not obvious, not what you expect." No one told me that the simple greeting of, "Hey, man. How's it going?" would be so tough...so agonizing. But it is, because that's a loaded question. I just want to shout at the top of my lungs, "No it's not okay!! She's still gone!!" Instead, I try to muster up a smile and say, "good."  No one told me how tough it would be once the casseroles and cards stopped coming. When everyone else's life continues on, getting back to hyper speed, while we are still stuck back in September of 2018, inside the Scottish Rite PICU unit telling AC goodbye. When people look at you and think, "Why does he look so sad? It's been over a year since AC passed. He should be healing." When people ask me why I just focus on the grief and pain, instead of God's peace. And, it goes on and on. Please don't take this as complaining. I'm not. These are the misbehaving friends that come along with grief, suffering and loss. They're not forgiving. They're also not out of God's sight. God has taken care of them already, only we can't see it, yet. So, we have to trust in God with all of our hearts and not lean into our understanding (Proverbs 3:5)...even when we don't want to, or think we can. 

I find the ultimate comfort in God's word. This is how I hear God talk to me. Through His words. This is where I find His incredible peace, mercy and grace. My only regret is that I didn't realize this earlier in my life.  It sure would have come in handy when my dad died. When we lost my grandfather. Or, when we lost my brother (in-law) at the age of 30. Instead of leaning into God's word, I leaned into the things of this world and all of the distractions that it has to offer to suffering people, to all of us.  The only thing this world ever gave me was a worse attitude, a greater sense of entitlement, and a lot of bitterness and anger, which still plague me today. It maximized, to my detriment, my selfishness, and encouraged me to find happiness wherever I could find it, and at all costs, even if it was at the mercy of someone else's happiness. What a miserable existence that was! This was the product of living a life absent from God. It's a life without love, hope, faith, and purpose. This isn't how we are meant to live. 

This is why I love Romans 8:28-29, "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.  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified" (Romans 8:28-29). This passage gives me hope. It's the reason that I can continue to limp forward in this broken world. It's a message of God's purpose, sovereignty and providence. It's the reason that we can rejoice in hope...the reason that we can endure the punches and attacks of this world...and it's the reason that we can continue to lean into God through constant prayer and conversations (Romans 12:12). It's the reason that we can celebrate AC's 8th birthday today, in spite of her absence from us in this world. We may not think that there's any purpose or meaning in this life, due to all of the hard things that we will endure. We sometimes may feel that there's no hope in this life and that our days are winding down...all while wondering when is it going to get better? Is this as good as it's going to get? All of the tears, groans and hurtful things of this world would be unbearable, if this life had no meaning. Where are we to find meaning? We find it in God's word. This is where He speaks to us...where we hear His voice. God has a divine, greater purpose for our lives - to be molded into the image of His Son. Read the passage. It's right there. We may have our own purpose, but ultimately God will use our lives to accomplish His eternal purpose. And, there's no where in the Bible that says it's going to be easy. It's just the opposite, actually. But, if we take the time to read it and study it, we'll see that there is 'good news' promised...even in our sufferings. 

God has a plan for all of us. No matter how painful and challenging our lives are, we can't give up and go the way of the world. There's been an awful lot of loss in my life and LeeAnna's life to date, but we're still here and we're still moving forward, one day at a time, and sometimes defiantly, but with hope and faith...anchored to Jesus. Had I given up in life when my dad died, even though I didn't make it easy on myself, I would have missed out on all of the blessings that God had planned out for me. I would have missed out on the 20 years of love and life with LeeAnna and her family. I would have missed out on being a daddy to two amazing, spunky, and gorgeous little girls - Everlee and AC. I would have missed out on an incredible job with an organization that's focused on helping to find a cure for childhood cancer. Regardless of how terrible the pain is today, I can't imagine a life without my girls, without AC...without God. We should all take comfort in the fact that there are no surprises to God. He's sovereign. 

We love and miss our baby girl more than anyone can possibly imagine.  We're going to celebrate the 6 short years that we had with her in this life. We're so thankful that she's ours for eternity, just as we are His for eternity. We are going to welcome and enjoy God's peace when He gives it to us. And we're going to use every tear and every ounce of pain to get to know God better. We're not going to waste any of it, because we know that He's going to use it for good. We are so thankful. We have to keep reminding ourselves that our faith isn't tested in prosperity. More importantly, you never lose what you lose to heaven. For once in my life, I'm good with getting older :) 

The other day I heard this poem in something I was listening to...it gives me great peace. 

For death can hide but not divide; she is but on Christ's other side; She with Christ, and Christ with me, United still in Christ are we.

In Christ,

Benji

Please excuse any typos or misspellings - I wasn't planning on writing anything. 




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