20: From Pain to Purpose

20: From Pain to Purpose

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

From Pain to Purpose

Don’t waste your pain; use it to help others.

~Rick Warren

Why were the police at my door? What did they want, especially at 7:00 a.m.? I pulled my mind out of my morning quiet time and opened the door.

“Are you Sandra Maddox?” the officer asked.

Why did he want to know? What could this be about? I hadn’t broken any laws. My husband hadn’t done anything wrong. And my daughter, Tiffany, was attending school a thousand miles away. What could possibly be wrong?

“Yes, I’m Sandra Maddox.” Thankfully, my husband, Ron, had by now joined me.

“Ma’am, I’m sorry to tell you that your daughter, Tiffany, was killed in a car accident last night.”

“NOOOO!” I screamed as I fell into my husband’s outstretched arms. In an instant, my peaceful little world had shattered. God, this can’t be true! Not my Tiffany. Why?

Time lost all meaning as I moved through the motions of each day, doing only what had to be done. Even breathing became a chore. It wasn’t possible that I’d never see Tiffany’s beautiful, smiling face ever again. God, why?

Every morning, there it was again—a fresh wave of grief slamming into me, like a powerful riptide pulling me under. I couldn’t imagine ever smiling or laughing again. My very soul—my little girl—had been taken from me. How do you bury your only child? I raged at God. Parents aren’t supposed to outlive their children! I knew God was good, but I could not see any good in this. Nothing made sense anymore.

She was still so young with so much to live for. She hadn’t even had time to start her own family yet. No God of love would let this happen. Would he?

Every moment seemed to overflow with despair.

In the midst of it all, I found myself thinking of our last visits and of all the things she would say, all her funny little expressions. One of the latest was, “Mom, I think when you want answers, sometimes you have to get in people’s faces until they give them to you. Y’know?” It made me laugh to hear her say that. Remembering it now both stabbed and salved my broken heart.

I had been beating myself up thinking about all the things I’d done wrong as a mother, my mind filled with “what ifs” and “if onlys.” But what good was it doing? Nothing could bring my precious daughter back to me.

Just months earlier, our church had finished a series called 40 Days of Purpose, a campaign based on Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life. I found phrases we’d memorized then coming back to me now, right when I needed them:

God is more interested in your character than in your comfort.

We are made to last forever.

You are not an accident.

Was it possible God could have a purpose in my daughter’s death?

I was stunned by the words the pastor spoke at her graveside service, “Look at the special gifts God gave Sandra in Tiffany’s last days.”

How could losing my daughter possibly be a gift? I pondered those words as my tears freely fell. I pondered and prayed and “got in God’s face,” as Tiffany might have said.

Could it be possible that God had been preparing me for this very moment my entire life? Certainly, it wasn’t God’s perfect will to take my daughter, but He had allowed it. Did He have a purpose for my grief and loss?

I thought about how my own mother had left me when I was a young child. I reflected on the abusive marriage I’d walked away from when Tiffany was 14. Hadn’t God taken care of me then? Somehow, each trial we’d experienced made the bond between Tiffany and me stronger—even during her rebellious years.

And God reminded me of the prayer I’d prayed back then. “God, please bring Tiffany home—not home to me but home to you.”

I thought of the last time I’d seen her, blowing me a kiss in the airport just a few weeks earlier. The beautiful red scarf wrapped around her neck had been my last gift to her. How could I have known this would be the last earthly glimpse I’d have of my daughter?

Was it possible God had not taken Tiffany away from me, but simply taken her home to himself? Did he need her more than I did? Was she dancing in his presence even now?

I’ll never stop aching to hold my daughter. Tears still flow and holidays—those times that used to be so joyful—are terribly difficult to get through.

But slowly, I found myself asking God to show me his purpose in it all.

And slowly, doors began to open.

I was invited to speak at Tiffany’s high school, where I let the tears flow as I told the story of the wrong choice she made when she got in a car with a boyfriend who’d been drinking.

God inspired me to write a book for children in Tiffany’s memory—a book in which she, as a little girl, is the main character.

And then one day our women’s ministry director at church asked if I would lead a new program: an outreach to young mothers of toddlers and preschoolers. I felt my breath leave my body.

Could I do it? Could I handle being in a room with all those “daughters”? How would it go? Would it bring back all the old pain and regret?

But by now, I knew this was about more than a choice—it was a holy assignment.

Slowly, the darkness was fading and the sun was rising in my life again. God was showing me purpose—a way to go on without Tiffany and leave a legacy for her in this world she’d known so little of.

Today I share my story wherever I can—before church groups, community groups, school groups—anywhere I am asked to go. It’s amazing how often I meet people who’ve also lost children, people who need to know God cares. I tell them grieving is necessary, but that if they trust in God’s good purposes, that riptide of sorrow may try to sweep them away, but it cannot hold them under.

Sometimes, before we can find the sunrise, we must find courage to walk into the darkness.

~Sandra E. Maddox

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners