I am so thankful to know Rebecca Ellis and her family. Her faith and motherhood have had such an impression on me as a young mother. Rebecca has been married to her high school sweetheart, Mike, for thirty-one years. She is a registered nurse, but has been a stay at home mom for many years. However, she has kept her license to be able to work when needed and has served on medical trips to Haiti. Most of her nursing career was spent in OB/GYN, specifically in Labor and Delivery, and she has a specialty in fertility. She says that her life has been very full and rewarding with an amazing, supportive husband and family. At the present, she frequently speaks to teens and parents on navigating social media and cultural struggles that families deal with today and speaks to churches and Christian organizations on hope and healing after the death of a child.
Please, tell me about your children. How old are they? What are their names? What are you most proud of them for?
Haden is my oldest child. She is twenty-five years old, and has been married to Beau for a year. She is my beautiful, strong-willed, intense, and intentional child. I am most proud of her fierce love and protection of her family and those that she loves. She has eyes that are so beautiful, and when I look into them I see her heart. She is now my friend and look-alike. Cole is my sweet, precious boy who went to live with His heavenly Father when he was almost fourteen years old. He was kind, smart, athletic, loved by everyone. He was also an awesome leader in school, athletics, and at church. I am most proud of his ability to show compassion and encouragement to others. Emma is nineteen years old, and a freshman at Samford University. She is one of the kindest and funniest people I know. She has a smile that lights my heart and makes us all laugh out loud. She looks more like her daddy, but is shy and quiet like her Mama when I was her age. I am most proud of her sweet, caring heart!
What has been the hardest thing about being a mother?
The hardest thing about being a mother has been learning to build my family without the worry of judgement of my friends, church, and culture. For so long, I was caught up in trying to be the perfect mother, wife, and friend based on what we all see as we go out into our community. It was really difficult for me to face the failures of my children. I wanted to protect them from mistakes. It’s strange though because I knew that they had to learn to deal with failures, and that is where they would learn the most. God had always shown me that we find our greatest strength from learning to get back up and try again! It would also be a great place for them and us to learn more about forgiveness and grace. I taught my children that, but struggled living it out myself. I had three awesome children, and was living what I thought was a perfect life. God had blessed me greatly, but my faith was to be tested with the unspeakable. I thought I could control all aspects of my children’s lives. When they are babies and small children, we are able to control where they go and what they are exposed to on a daily basis because they are completely dependent on us. But, when they hit the pre-teen and teenage years, I could not control all aspects of their lives anymore. The world starts to have a much greater influence on them, even Christian families and especially Christian families. The single hardest thing for me, though, has been learning to live without my precious Cole. Cole’s suicide on October 26, 2009 not only took my son from this earth, but it has rocked our world for a life time. The boy that an entire community loved, and who seemed to have it all together, was gone so tragically. I prayed for my own death for six months afterwards, but God was not giving me my heart’s desire. It was a physical pain that is virtually indescribable. But the emotional devastation was beyond comprehension. My boy was gone. I would never feel his hug, see that beautiful smile, or that tender kiss on my neck this side of Heaven. I wouldn’t see him play football or baseball any longer. I wouldn’t see him go to prom, graduate high school, or take him to college. I wouldn’t see him standing up for his sister when she got married. How could God have allowed the boy that loved Him so to make such a terrible decision? The last 8 ½ years have been a journey that went from surviving moment to moment, to week to week, month to month, and year to year. God has met me in every one of those hard places, and in those hard places is where I feel His presence the most! You see, my lack of control and total surrender is where He could finally pick me up, love me, and work on me!
What is the best thing about being a mother?
The best thing about being a mother is the love and true joy that I get from just a glance at my children! No one can understand that sense of over-whelming, unconditional love unless they are a mother. The touch and smile of my children literally makes my heart race and gives me a peace in my soul. When they were small, holding their little hands, pushing their swing, bath time, and snuggling made my life complete. I couldn’t wait for the next school program, ball game, equestrian event, summer vacations, and Disney World. I have loved seeing them in their successes and failures. Watching my girls mature into young women who have a deep understanding of family, love, and grace is truly the greatest gift from my heavenly Father. But it also came with great loss and heart break. Being a mother has given me a revelation into God’s incredible love for me because I know that He loves me more than I love my own children. That is completely over-whelming to me! I have loved so many parts of different seasons of life with our children, but I will say that this season of developing a true friendship with my girls brings me so much joy. I don’t have to be the enforcer or disciplinarian anymore, but I have the privilege of being a coach and cheerleader wholly.
How did the Lord feel near to you in your grief and mourning?
Grief is a terrible gut-wrenching emotion that can destroy our lives if we don’t know the love of Jesus and the truth that He is our rock and our foundation. Without standing on that we will not weather the storms that come and go in our lives. When we have built our foundation on that Rock, we can know, even when we can’t see, that He will not let us be destroyed. My very first encounter with God after Cole’s death was in the stillness of the second night, when I was wrestling with God about why He allowed it. I heard a whisper, “Do you trust me?” I know that sounds crazy, but I heard it. The night of the visitation was my next encounter with God. There were hundreds of people that night. It was exhausting and over-whelming at the same time. It was an outer-body experience that I was standing by my son’s coffin and having to greet all these people. About halfway into the night, a lady I had never met walked up. I thought maybe Mike knew her or she was just a kind lady, so I started going through the motions. When she hugged me, she pushed a card into my hand. I didn’t have time to read it then, but I did later. Before I tell you what it said, I want you to know her identity. It turns out she was the 911 operator that answered my call that terrible morning of my son’s suicide. How does God do these things? This is what was printed on the card, just what I needed to hear from Him:
I said, “God, I hurt.” And God said, “I know”
I said, “God, I cry a lot.” And God said, “That’s why I gave you tears.”
I said, “God, I’m so depressed.” And God said, “That’s why I gave you sunshine.”
I said, “God, life is so hard.” And God said, “That’s why I gave you loved ones.”
I said, “God, my loved one died.” And God said, “So did mine.”
I said, “God, it’s such a loss.” And God said, “I saw mine nailed to a cross.”
I said, “God, but your loved one lives.” And God said, “So does yours.”
I said, “God, it still hurts.” And God said, “I know.”
I don’t know who penned this poem, and the precious woman from 911 did not sign her name. But I will tell you that I have read and reread it so many times through my journey. It was my reminder that my grief was no surprise to the Father, and it’s nothing that He himself hadn’t experienced! He didn’t need for me to do anything or know what step to take each day. He just needed me to know that He knows, and has always known and He needed me to rest in His strength. I saw God in warm touches that I can’t explain because no one else was in the room. I have smelled my Cole in odd places. God had uniquely, and in ways that only He can orchestrate, put friends and people in our lives that would help us with daily activities and navigating the chores of life. Many of these incredibly loving friends helped our girls as we tried to keep their lives as normal as possible. Then, one of the most important gifts that God gave us was the insight that counseling was going to be crucial so that we did not become a statistic. Families going through grief have over an 85% chance of imploding, leading to divorce or destructive relationships. That was not an option for my family in my mind. So, we began counseling within two weeks of Cole’s death and continued regularly for a couple of years. To this day, we go in and out as needed. I see God and feel His presence when I see sunflowers. Cole ate sunflower seeds until he would almost be sick. He kept them in his cheek playing baseball. I began seeing sunflowers in places where they shouldn’t have been. It was very strange! I see God’s presence in friends that remind us of funny or sweet stories of Cole, or a picture that they found. Healing from this grief has truly been intentional and a choice. It has been hard work, but it has also been a journey in which I have seen and heard from God in over-whelming and awe-inspiring ways. I am restoring! It is a life journey mourning the loss of a child! You do not forget or get over it. You get through it and you learn to live with it, but you can find joy and hope again! My joys and the beauty in my life look very different than most of my friends, but it is deep and full still. I have come to realize that because I have a huge God, I stand in a huge sea of grace every single day. But I have to wade out into the sea. It is a choice.
When you first lost Cole was there any particular thing (song, book, verse, piece of advice, etc.) that helped you to continue to wake up every morning and get out of bed?
This is an interesting question because I vividly remember the morning that tragedy struck my family. My pastor was one of the first ones to arrive and as I was sobbing I just blurted out, “I don’t know what to do! What do I do? I can’t even pray!” He wrapped me in a warm embrace and said, “Sweet Rebecca, you do not have to do anything. I want you to take one breath after another until you can just breathe on your own. You have an entire body of Christ that will pray and intercede for you.” Psalm 46:10 tells me, “Be still and know that I am God”. I just needed to survive one moment to the next. Honestly, I couldn’t even deal with scripture. I didn’t need my friends trying to make any of this sound like it was God’s plan, or that there was some sentence that was going to magically make me feel better or make any sense of any of it. First, this was not God’s plan! This was part of the dark world that we live in, but my God knew and had been preparing me and orchestrating all that I needed to survive and thrive in spite of. There is nothing that I could add to it, but He needed me calling out and letting Him be my healer and not the world trying their best effort to heal me. He needed me to surrender, and that did not come easy. As I dug deep into hearing Him, I knew that He already knew what my reaction would be and He would allow me to fight it out with Him. He created me and He loves me just as I am. I was sassy and confrontational with Him. Guess what, He can take it! He is a BIG God with a BIG hope and a BIG future! Cole’s favorite verse, that we had just hung in my husband’s new business, was Jeremiah 29:11– “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” I didn’t understand how that could be Cole’s favorite, and he helped hang that in the office three days prior to his death, but I kept seeing it everywhere. God was asking me again, “Do you trust me?” I felt prompted within a year to go back to Bible Study Fellowship. We were doing a new study, and it was on Isaiah. That book truly changed my life and focus. I felt like God was literally speaking directly into my heart. One of my favorite passages has been in Isaiah 43:1-3, “…I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweet over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God…” I began to understand that I would not be consumed, but I had to choose life daily and show up for Him. On days that I have nothing to give and find myself consumed with sadness and loss, I have clung to Hebrews 10:23, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promises is faithful.” Sometimes, all I can do is just hold on!
What are you most looking forward to about Heaven?
One of the first books that I read after Cole’s death was Heaven by Randy Alcorn. It was intense, and I actually found it hardto follow at first. In those first few months my mind just raced in so many directions and I had my husband and girls that needed me engaged in their lives too. So, I skipped a good portion of the book the first time I read it, and went directly to the part of the book where it described what Cole might be doing right then. Even though I was devastated and stricken with an unimaginable grief, that portion of the book gave me a peace and understanding that got me through many dark days. Cole is safe in the arms of Jesus and experiencing a beauty that I won’t be able to understand until I get there. What I look forward to the most about Heaven is that Jesus is going to let my exhausted and sinful self fall into His outstretched arms. I will finally understand it all! I will then be reunited with all those I have loved and lost, but most excitedly my boy is going to give me one of his big, ole bear hugs, nuzzle my neck, and say once again, “I love you, Momma!”