From Newly Wed to Widow: The Search for Craig (Part II)

“Let it all out. Get it all out. Rip it out, Remove it. Don’t be alarmed, when the wound begins to bleed.

‘Cause we’re so scared to find out, what this life’s all about. So scared we’re going to lose it. Not knowing all along, that’s exactly what we need…”

As I walked down the cracked and crooked sidewalk, dodging low-hanging branches along the way, I couldn’t help but visualize myself in the Tim Burton version of “Alice in Wonderland.”  The path looked like it was once kept up with, but over time the ground beneath it must’ve begun to shift causing the concrete to split and shoot up in uneven ridges. The tree limbs around me were black with dark thorns, reminding me of the trees in an old children’s book [You might know it. It repetitively states, “in a dark dark forest, there was a dark, dark house..”, and so on. It was kind of creepy now that I think about it?] As I continued on, I started to see this cracked and decaying sidewalk as a metaphor for our lives on earth. During this winter season, the trees looked so cold, lonely and depressing. It was hard to imagine that this pathway could ever look beautiful again. Even the ground seem to gain metaphoric qualities as I constantly stumbled along the uneven pavement. A few times when the thorny branches caught hold of me, a part of me felt like giving up my efforts because the open platform ahead was just too impossible to reach. Several times I thought about turning back, but this walk seemed so parallel to what I was currently experiencing.  Continuing on felt like I was telling the lake around me that I wasn’t giving up.

When I finally did reach that landing at the end, I knew my excursion did not happen by chance.  It was there that I had the conversation with God I described in my former Part I. As I mentioned before, the revelations He placed within me that day changed my perspective forever.

So after experiencing this perspective-changing moment with God, I felt it was time to head back to my friends in the lookout point parking lot. I looked back along that dreary [some might say creepy] sidewalk and continued to reflect on the ways in which this path represented how God uses even the darkest of paths for good. I thought back on the idea of seasons, and how in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 we are told there is a season (or a time) for everything under the sun. With this reminder, I realized that while these trees looked dark and ominous, there is a season when they also look full of life with branches budding with green leaves. I tried to picture how different the path before me would look with new buds sprouting from each entangled branch. I began to trace back the steps I took only 20 minutes prior. I couldn’t help but feel like I had just taken a incredible journey…one in which I started as a desperate woman struggling to carry her newest burden, but upon encountering an ever-present Friend on the hilltop, ended up coming back a much different person. It wasn’t that I miraculously felt like everything was now going to be okay. I knew that wasn’t going to be the case. No, it was more like I had come across an old friend who quietly reminded me I didn’t have to walk down this woeful path alone.

“And today I’ll trust You with the confidence of a man who’s never known defeat. But tomorrow, upon hearing what I did, I’ll stare at you in disbelief. Oh, inconsistent me. Crying out for consistency.

And You said ‘I know that this will hurt. But if I don’t break your heart then things will just get worse. If the burden seems too much to bear. Remember: The end will justify the pain it took to get us there…’

On the day we found Craig, I stood in the same place I stood the first day holding his paddle. Randy, Katie, Jason, Hunter [one of Craig’s best friends] and I had split up to cover more ground, and I was disappointed – to say the least – when we came to the same place in which I had started. However, as we reached the familiar thicket of trees, I ran into an officer who seemed to literally appear out of nowhere. He told me that he had just arrived that day to help search but had needed to get off the scouting boat to walk around and warm up his body. As I explained to the officer how I believed Craig may be further north along the water line, Randy also walked up and also started sharing his speculations. They began discussing the theory that Craig may have gotten out of the water and tried to climb up the very steep hill beside us. They decided to go with this idea and turned to make their way up the hill. Up to this point, I had always been eager to go every step of the way, preparing myself for what I might find. But when it was time to follow Randy and the officer, God held my body still as He did the first day. I stood with Hunter for a few minutes until when we saw Randy reappear walking south along a fence that was just out of our sight. We turned to follow him, but after only a few minutes, one of the scouting boats pulled up to the bank and yelled after us. The officers on the boat asked if Randy was Craig’s father, and if I was Craig’s wife. They had found Craig. They loaded us onto the boat and drove just a few feet down the shoreline before we could see 8-10 officers standing on the bank waiting for us. As soon as we stepped off the boat they began to tell the story.

The officer we ran into just moments before was the one who found him. When he and Randy reached the fence just a few steps into the treeline, they decided to split and go separate directions. Randy went south and the officer went north. The officer stated he may have taken 2-3 steps before he spotted a glove – Craig’s glove – and followed what looked like a trail until his eyes froze. There Craig was. Lying less than 5ft away. He could still hear Randy’s footsteps behind him. So without a sound, he looked back and watched Randy until he was out of ear shot. He then radioed the other officers, and now here we were.

I couldn’t believe how close we had been. He was only 15ft away from where I had been standing. With how impossibly close we were, I am absolutely certain that God lead us to that place that day. But God knows what we can and cannot handle…and therefore He covered us with a hedge of protection.

“And I’ll Let it be known, at times I have shown signs of all my weakness. But somewhere in me, there is strength. And You promise me, that You believe, in time I will defeat this. ‘Cause somewhere in me, there is strength.

And today I will trust you with the confidence, of a man who’s never known defeat. And I’ll try my best to just forget, that that man isn’t me.

And you said I know that this will hurt, but if I don’t break your heart, then things will just get worse. If the burden seems too much to bear, remember: The end will justify the pain it took to get us there…

The night before Craig’s memorial service, my three friends [Holly, Kaley and Lyndsey] and I tried to go to bed early. We knew the following day was going to undoubtedly be the longest, most difficult day thus far. As we all laid quietly in the dark, I remember rolling over to face my friend Holly. It was finally time for me to let it out. To share the feelings deep inside that I hadn’t yet said out loud. For me, remaining strong around others happened somewhat naturally. Not because of some inherent super power I possessed, but because I’ve always empathized with others. I don’t want anyone to have to be sad, and I definitely don’t want to be the cause of their sadness. So it isn’t that I really think about acting happy around others, it just happens. But there in that dark hotel room next to my childhood best friend, who knew every secret about me, I felt the feelings I had tried so hard to ignore starting to spill out of my lips. I’ll never forget looking at the faint outline of her face and saying with child-like honesty, “Holly…I don’t want this to be my life. I miss him. I miss cuddling with him. I miss kissing him. I don’t want him to be gone.” It was like I thought that by saying the words, maybe she could change what was going to happen the next day. Thinking on that moment still makes me choke up because it was so real. So raw. It was the first time I had allowed myself to admit it. I had finally ripped the band-aid off and let the wound bleed. Growing up Holly was always able to fix my problems with logical answers. So now that we were adults, couldn’t she fix this? After a moment or two of silence, I heard Holly choke out the whispered words, “Helen, I’m so sorry.” And I knew she couldn’t.

“You said I know that this will hurt. But if I don’t break your heart, then things will just get worse. When the burden seems to much to bear. Remember: The end will justify the pain it took to get us there…”

You see, Holly couldn’t fix this. Kaley’s thoughtfulness couldn’t make it feel better. And Lyndsey’s encouragement couldn’t help overcome it faster. But that’s because it wasn’t something that was meant to be “fixed”. It’s just another part of the path that’s cracked and splintered. And this painful acceptance of my fate, was just another sting of a thorn on a low hanging branch making a deep cut in the skin. A cut can’t be taken away…but it can be healed. And even though God wasn’t going to take this sting away, in time He would provide me with the healing my heart needed. For there is a season for everything, for everything there is a time under the sun. And in this season I would grow in ways I never dreamed. To be used in ways I never imagined.

My dear friend, if you’re reading this blog soon after it’s been posted, then Valentine’s Day is upon us. And whether today held exciting plans for your evening, or if it only held the title of “Single Awareness Day” in your planner, I know we all can agree on a simple truth: we all face seasons of feeling unloved and lonely that sometimes feel impossible to get out of. Yes, even when we are so passionate about our relationship with God, we sometimes find ourselves at a place where loneliness has slowly seeped into our hearts and taken up the space that was once filled with our Father’s love. Well friend, I’ve been there…I was there…and sometimes I’m still there. But can I share with you a quote that carried me through the most lonely seasons of my life? [You’ll never guess by who…] It’s a quote that helped me through my painfully lonely transformation period. I wanted to be reminded of it’s truth so much that I actually wrote it on a piece of notebook paper and taped it to the wall of my one bedroom apartment. And every time I felt alone, I would look at that piece of notebook paper and repeat the words, “Loneliness and Solitude are two things not to get confused, ’cause I spend my solitude with You.” (Relient K, “Therapy”)

In a world where everything tells us to never be alone, and not having plans means being left out; we have to find a way to realize that sometimes, solitude is necessary. We can continuously fill the seasons of our lives with worldly things – both good and bad – to desperately avoid the solitude we’re so terrified of…but sooner or later our lives are going to take an unexpected turn and we’ll be forced to work our way through that cold, rocky path alone. And if we’re not learning how to spend alone time with God on a daily basis, then in those seasons of solitary heartache it is quite possible to let the loneliness consume us. But let me encourage you by saying this…It is in those dreadfully quiet, tear-filled moments, when we’re alone in our bed that God is closest. He’s waiting for you to look to Him before anyone else, because he is wanting to be the one to heal the painful places of our hearts with His love [the only remedy for a broken heart]. Yes, everyday He’s just waiting for us to come to Him, be still and know that He is God [Psalm 46:10]. And I won’t lie to you…At times it might be one of the hardest things you ever have to do. Especially in those moments we can’t change, when we fall on our knees and beg God to let this cup pass us by. But I believe that as his children, when the cup cannot go to anyone else, we must choose to trust that God is there walking beside us in our pain.

In the months to come I will admit that I had days when I felt totally lost. My heart would yearn for someone that wasn’t there, and nothing I could do would change that. But on the days when I felt like the loneliness I felt might consume me, I’d stop and check where I’m focusing my perspective…because I’ve found that if I’m allowing my “aloneness” to dictate my feelings, then most likely my focus is inward on my own selfish wants and desires, instead of being focused upward on my relationship with God.

“Reach out to me. Make my heart brand new. Every beat will beat for You. And I know You know, You touched my life. When You touched my heavy heart, and made it light.”

Lyrics: Relient K, “Let it All Out”

Sweet friend, I promise God is there with you in your loneliness. I know He is. You may not feel it in the moment. But in time, when you look back at whatever lonely path you may have faced or may be currently facing, you’ll be able to see your ever-present Father walking beside you, lovingly carrying the weight of your burdens down that rocky, thorny path. Don’t believe me?  Then why don’t you spend a few moments of solitude this evening, reflecting on all the moments God has carried you through the difficult moments of your past. And I bet you’ll be reminded of the many times He’s brought you out of your turmoil. Moments when He may have taken something away because He could see what you couldn’t at the time. Yes, He has protected us every step of the way…and we must choose to remember so we don’t forget.

Know that I’m praying for you today and always…but especially on Valentine’s Day. And even more especially if your date “forgot” to text or call you – the entire day – like mine did one year. Which is totally fine. I’m not bitter…but we can save that story for another day…possibly when “it’s not okay to punch your neighbor as hard as you can and not feel bad about it” is our topic. I’m just kidding! (Kind of.)

With all my love on Valentine’s Day,

Helen Elizabeth Wisner Strickland

21 thoughts on “From Newly Wed to Widow: The Search for Craig (Part II)

  1. What awesome encouragement that can only come from one who has had to face the solitude. Been there too. Thank you for taking the lessons and the darkness and shining the light for others to follow. Amazing Helen! Clearly God knew exactly what He was doing when He chose YOU to walk this road. XO

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  2. Happy Valentine’s to you … i belong to the single group … have been for years. I have followed your story since i heard of the tragedy of these two young men. I am so sorry for your loss i cant even imagine what you or anyone of both families had to go through. I did not know you nor craig but this drew me in i couldnt stop thinking of this.. i would look at the water while i was driving for work and just picture him laying there as a cross on the land. I wish i could be as strong as you and believe he will make it all better. But i have been asking for help for years and years and try to believe but i feel more doubtful then hopeful. I guess he is still believes i need more hard circumstances in my life still. I know it be good one day .. i pray for it but i dont pray everyday maybe thats what im doing wrong idk… but thank you for you stories and belief and God bless you !!!

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  3. Helen you are such a true encouragement! I hope you don’t mind me sharing this with some of my coworkers, who say they don’t can’t believe in a God who puts people in similar situations. You say it perfectly!

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  4. Thank you for sharing these inspiring, life changing words. Keep them coming, you are touching many hearts, including mine 🙂 ! May God continue to bless you!

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  5. Girl, you are such an encouragement! You speak from the heart and I can feel and see Christ through every single word. Thank you for being so strong and courageous to share your story with the world. God bless you!

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  6. As I sit here in the hospital next to my daddy, I read your blog,For the past 6 months he has been dying, my daddy had one wish in this journey & it was to remain a “secret” that he was so sick. partially I think because of his pride or just like you & I he doesn’t like to see people sad. In September 4 months after his diagnosis my papa passed away from ALS (you know the ice bucket challenge) so my (extended) family was so caught up in grief he didn’t want anyone to worry, leaving only my sweet mama & me to bear this Burden of knowing the head of our family was dying. At 20 he was hit by a drunk driver and given a bad blood transfusion giving him hep c, it destroys your liver. My daddy has never drank my entire life and he had cirrhosis, they gave him about 6 months with out a transplant, I then immediately went to googling and found out the transplant list was long & most people don’t ever get the organ they need. I felt my heart poop its pants,
    The loneliness you described I’ve been there, I’ve felt sorry
    for my mom.
    And for my brothers
    And for myself.

    But mostly just for myself
    Like how selfish is that?

    So the other day I’m sitting in my bed Feeling sorry for myself (imagine that) because my daddy wasn’t going to be there to walk me down the isle or meet the grandkids (he reminds me constantly he doesn’t have…LOL) Just having my very own pity party preparing my self for the loss of my precious daddy,& I felt God, I didn’t know what it meant to feel him but I did & reading your blog today I heard him.
    My dad is still in the hospital, but he got a new liver on Sunday.
    Most say it was a miracle that he got one so fast but I know it was God, I know this experience is God teaching me something. I just didn’t know what until I read YOUR blog.

    Thank you sweet Helen,

    Jess

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  7. Thank you for sharing your heart and the truth of God’s love and what he has planned for us even in our loneliness. I can’t imagine going through what you are, and have, gone through but I could only pray I would be able to glorify God through pain as you have. I want you to know that I have been praying for you from the moment I heard of Craig’s disappearance (I live in Ponca City) I clearly remember rocking my sweet baby the night before he was found praying over and over for peace for you and his family, that you would find him soon, and that God would be Glorified through tragedy. Thank you for allowing us to follow along with your journey. Love and hugs to you.

    – Your sister in Christ
    (And fellow avid Relient K fan)

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  8. Let this cup pass … if you have been there you recognize instantly someone else who has held the cup. You have a special anointing that has touched my life and no doubt many others. Bear hug Helen. Be filled with hope honey. Not a sparrow falls to the ground without the Father’s knowledge.

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  9. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I lost “my person” 9 months ago in an accident and have struggled, especially this week, to say the least. As someone in my early 30’s none of my friends have experienced any loss like this and to read someone else having the same thoughts, feeling the same things, and offering prayers is unusual for me but made me feel like there was someone else who understands my experience. I don’t know you, I’m sure I’ll never meet you, but thank you for telling your story and please know that it helped someone today.

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  10. Thank you for your honestly and encouragement. I also went from newly wed to widow when I was 21. I married my high school sweetheart (who was also a United States Army soldier). 7 months into our marriage he was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor. Within 11 months he passed away. It has been almost 10 years, I am remarried, and I recently gave birth to my first child. I relied on my faith in Jesus to push through the hard times, my life feels full again. But I still think about him everyday. I will always love him despite finding a new love. From one young widow to another, I will pray for you and your grieving process.

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  11. Hi Helen, your story is so incredible and touches my heart; how strong you’ve been through the loss of Craig! After 21 years of marriage I couldn’t imagine myself without my husband (or my love ones) we are just as much in love today as we were then! Thank you for opening up your deepest thoughts and feelings, especially how difficult it was to look for Craig! Your story is so inspirational and I thank God because your story brings comfort to people like me! Loneliness affects people in many ways; so your story comforts me by the way you’ve overcome your loss! I look forward to reading your future blogs! Take care and God bless!

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  12. I cannot tell you how much this blog means to me – A lot to reflect on. I will be reading it again tonight when I can spend more time reflecting on what is wrote.

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  13. Hi Helen! You should know that your words have really helped me today. I have been walking the same difficult path as you since June 2, 2016 and have had to guide our 6 year old sons through our new life without their daddy. And I put on the same brave, happy face each day knowing that in time it won’t be an act. I try to remind myself to feel it all and allow God to use me. But at night, when I’m all alone and I know no one will see, the tears fall. They try to come uninvited about 100 times a day. I am reminded over and over throughout the day that our life is forever changed. I have to see a look on my children’s faces that I hadn’t seen the first six years of their lives: heartache. They too are reminded constantly that they are now different, because it won’t be their daddy teaching them all the things that daddy’s get to teach. Instead it will be their mommy, who doesn’t know all that much about “boy stuff”, but she sure will find a video online that can break it all down for her! I know we will be fine and our lives will still be full of amazing and wonderful things but I keep having a pity party because now they don’t have a daddy and he is going to miss all these things…..
    But God brought me to your page and through you and your words, I am reminded that even without a daddy they can have a relationship with our Father! And he can heal their heartache, and their mama’s too. So we will fixate on the cross and not our loss because God will never leave us empty. He will replace everything we have lost, if we let him. Thank you for your words.

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    1. Megan, Oh how your words touched my heart. I’m so sorry to hear about your loss and the struggles you now face with your sons. You are carrying so much, and I know how much you wish it could be different. Know that God has such a special love for you. I can only imagine how He looks down on you with such love in his heart for all you are doing out of love for your children. Please know that I am thinking of and praying for you. God is walking with you during this difficult time, even when it feels like He may not be…Love you dear friend 🙂 So proud of you and your love for Christ.

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  14. Helen – I have followed your story from Manchester, United Kingdom and must say what a beautiful, inspiring lady you are. I was so gutted to read about the passing of Craig when it happened but he certainly knew how lucky he was to have you.
    You’re in my thoughts.

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