The Journey: Finding Purpose Through the Pain
Posted by sharon on Jan 23, 2020
The sermon that day was powerful, and it drew Tonya Rogers to the altar afterward for a special prayer. As she stood there, shoulder-to-shoulder with others bearing their own burdens, Tonya couldn’t stop crying. At the time, she didn’t know why. Looking back, she figures it was the Lord’s doing. He was preparing her for what was about to happen.
When Tonya returned to her seat, a woman tapped her on the shoulder, told her that a friend was waiting for her in the church lobby. It was an emergency. Tonya scurried to the lobby where she learned that her 23-year-old son had been found unconscious and transported to the hospital.
By the time she arrived, doctors said there was no hope. They tried to revive him, but he’d been down too long, they said. They declared him brain dead. They gave Tonya time to soak it in and decide when to pull the plug.
Rodney Rogers had been diagnosed with diabetes at age 9. Since then, he never felt “normal.” He never fully accepted his condition and the limitations that came along with it, Tonya says now. He was in and out of hospitals over the years. By the time diabetes led to kidney failure and the need for dialysis, Rodney told his mother he was tired of fighting. “I don’t want to do this anymore,” he said the day before his death. “Live your life,” he told her. “Don’t worry about me.”
She thought about those words, while deciding whether or not to stop the machines that kept her only son alive. Later that evening, she gave the go-ahead. Rodney died March 17, 2013.
For the next two years, Tonya kept going to work and to church, but says she found ways to “self-medicate” behind closed doors. Every time the thought of her son’s death crept into her mind, into her heart, she did one of three things: “I rolled up another blunt,” she said, speaking of her affinity at the time for marijuana. Or, she poured another glass of wine. Or, she called her male friend and invited him over for sex.
Then, one day, it all changed. Tonya was at home in a state of depression. “I could hear the spirit of God saying, ‘It’s time. It’s time...’” It was time to truly grieve for her son.
She let the tears flow. She let the wails that had been buried for so long come out from deep inside her spirit. She did not look for her marijuana stash, but instead allowed herself to feel the heartbreak. She cried and wailed for hours. When the tears finally ceased, she says, “I felt like a new person immediately.”
There would be no more drinking or smoking or late-night rendezvous to numb the pain. Now she knew that, with God, she could face the pain. She could go through it. She could fulfill Rodney’s final request and still live her life.
Not long after Tonya’s breakthrough, her daughter gave her a flyer about an event for grieving women. A support group called Mother to Mother would host it. Tonya went to the event and connected with others who experienced loss. The founder of Mother to Mother eventually asked Tonya to share her testimony. Soon, she was talking about her pain before dozens of people. As she told her story, a passion stirred inside of her, a passion that she had never felt before. Tonya opened her heart to the possibility that God wanted her to help others overcome their loss, just as she was learning to do.
Looking back, she says, “I needed to feel that pain in order to minister to someone else who was feeling what I was feeling.”
God started sending people her way. For instance, once in Wal-mart she simply asked a woman how she was doing. “Not too good,” the woman responded. She went on to tell Tonya that she had lost a child. Tonya was able to share her story and comfort the woman in the moment. Then friends began referring grieving women to Tonya. She met people at their homes or talked with them by phone. She realizes now that her purpose is to minister to others’ pain.
When asked about the worst day of her life, Tonya explains, “Making that decision to pull the plug, it was almost like life left me—but also life came into me… I lost my son, but I found me,” she says. “I found my purpose.”
Tonya Rogers is the Vice President of Mother to Mother Support Group. She resides in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and enjoys spending time with her three daughters and her family.
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