PICTURED ABOVE: Sonnie with friends at First Baptist, Jamie and Crystal
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
When asked to share a testimony, I would have normally said no. I’ve always been somewhat reserved and reluctant to draw attention to myself. But, things in my life have changed and I’ve changed. I know now my testimony is not about me, it’s about God, and how He has worked in my life. If God can use me to help someone else I am happy to share my story.
I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior when I was 12 years old. At that time, my family lived in the suburbs of Chicago. My parents were Christians but didn’t like “church politics” so they were not attending church, yet they sent my brother and I on a bus to a Baptist Church every Sunday. I remember the congregation was singing the hymn Just as I am. The words and music were so powerful I couldn’t stop crying. I walked to the front of the church and I accepted Christ that day. I will never forget… the calming peace that came over me.
Several years later I got married and my husband and I moved to Hawaii but we did not attend church. I had married a minister’s son so I thought we would live a Christian life. It didn’t work out that way. We ended up divorcing when our son was seven years old. Even though I had fallen far away from God, I knew in my heart, I was still part of God’s family and I felt Jesus’ love drawing me back into a relationship with Him. No matter how far from home we may wander our heavenly father is patiently waiting with open loving arms to welcome us back.
I decided at that time I needed to go back to church. I wanted my son to know Jesus as I had come to know Him as a young girl. I wanted him to know that God is real and that Jesus is a wonderful friend we can rely on in times of trouble. It just so happened there was a Baptist Church right across the street from where we were living. We started attending First Baptist Church of Honolulu and became quite involved. My son accepted Christ at this church but sadly, on June 11th, 2015, we had his funeral service at this church. Elston was only 23 years old when he took his life. [MORE ABOUT ELSTON’S LIFE AND FAITH]
At age 19 Elston was diagnosed with mental illness and in the subsequent years was in and out of hospitals. He heard voices that told him to jump from a building but in the end it was a jump from a freeway over-pass that ended his life.
I know I could not have survived this without my faith and Christian friends and the knowledge that my son is at peace in the arms of his loving Heavenly Father. I’m so grateful that Elston and I had a loving church family leading up to, during and following this tragic time.
It would be easy for me to be angry at God and blame Him for my son’s death after all He could have stopped it but didn’t. Why are some lives saved while others die a tragic death? I could have become bitter but instead I have chosen to believe there is a reason and I will understand it in the sweet by and by. Of course, it’s still very painful and I miss him sorely every day. Initially I was in shock but somehow even in the midst of great pain God has given me a calm assurance and hope.
I have felt God’s presence, often it’s through the people he sends to comfort me. I know He’s helping me even now. God doesn’t promise that you will not experience pain, but he does promise to be with you every step of the way. Two of my favorite scriptures are Psalm 23 and Jeremiah 29:11. These were favorites even before Elston’s death but after his death these are passages that have become even more comforting and meaningful.
Another thing that is getting me through my son’s death is knowing that God was with him in his last moments. Ironically, I had seen a movie with Pastor Barry about why bad things happen to good people. It was about a woman who lost her husband and all her kids in a plane crash. She now helps other people through their grief. She was asked how she could be so strong, and she said it was because she knew God was with them. I remembered those words, and that knowledge has given me peace too.
About the time Elston committed suicide, Rick and Kay Warren’s son, who also had mental illness, shot himself. Their testimony on how they got through it was so helpful. I felt that maybe somehow I had not done enough to help my son but the Warren’s shared that “all the money and resources in the world could not have helped their son.” [RICK & KAY WARREN’S TESTIMONY]
I had always been led to believe that if you committed suicide you would go to hell, but I was relieved to know the Bible doesn’t say that. Knowing Elston had accepted Christ, I thought for sure he would never commit suicide. After it happened, and the more I thought about it, I realized it could not be true because God would not do that to someone who was not in their right mind. I have since learned that the only unforgiveable sin is if you deny the Holy Spirit.
Instead of being angry about the years I felt robbed of, I have focused on the years we had together and have chosen to thank God for those 23 years. I’m so grateful for the memories we shared together. Even though he is not here now, the memories will never die. I know that in that short time we had Elston he was a gift to me as well as to so many others. Through this gift God has taught me about unconditional love, helping me be a better person. In fact, others have lost children at an even younger age and others have not been able to have children at all.
Because of my faith in God’s Word I know I will see my son again. I can’t even imagine how horrible it would be for those who have no faith to face the death of a loved one. I would feel hopeless and It would be a living hell. But because of my faith, I know that God has and will continue to use this tragedy to help others.
About a year after Elston’s death, I was attending a concert at First Baptist Church by Brad White he shared the background of the song I’ve got the joy, joy, joy down in my heart. He said the writer who wrote those words did so after his son died. It was such a happy song, I was shocked. Another beautiful, happy song was born out of tragedy; the song, It is well with my soul. It too was written by someone who lost all his family when their ship sank in the Atlantic Ocean. I’ll never forget what he said after his great loss. He said, “Take all your problems and multiply them by a million and it’s not going to matter if you do not know Christ.” Nothing in life is half as important as having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.