Community Stories Health

On This Side of Heaven

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After suffering the unimaginable loss of a child, parents are left with this question: How will they spend their time on this Earth before being reunited with them in Heaven?

For parents Scott and Karen Harmening, the passing of their sweet daughter Sarah was devastating. Sarah was on a bus with her church youth group headed to the airport for a mission trip to Botswana when the bus crashed.

“Sarah knew that there was a possibility she may not come back from this trip, and she went anyway,” Karen said.

But through her death, millions of people across the nation and around the world heard Sarah’s testimony from her last journal entry, where she wrote: “I was just reminded of why I am here and that God has called me here and He has done this for a reason. So, I know He’s going to do incredible things.”

And again, in a text to her sisters and cousins shortly before her trip, Sarah pointed back to God: “This is such a great reminder. We are like a wisp of smoke. We are only here for a moment and this not about us, life is not about us, it’s about God who is eternal. So, I want to dedicate the one moment I am here, completely and entirely to Him.”

Though they knew Sarah was with God, the Harmening family still had to say goodbye to a beloved daughter and sister.

“Knowing I won’t see her again this side of Heaven is absolutely heart-wrenching,” Karen said. “Ever since Sarah’s death, eternity is so much more real to me. Everything holds a greater weight than before.”

Many people were unsure how to approach the family, often tiptoeing around them.

“You feel like you’re in a fish bowl, and everyone is watching you,” Karen said. “You’ll always be seen as ‘other.’ ”

Karen knew she needed to share what the Lord was teaching her family through this experience, so she began chronicling their journey on her personal blog.

“I write because I am broken and I am seeking the Lord,” Karen shared in a post where she repeated her daughter’s conviction about God. “I write because I know He is faithful ‘so I know He’s going to do incredible things.’ I could save it all up and share it later, but there is something more powerful about watching the hand of God in the lives of broken people, real time.  He will heal us, though we will always ache for Sarah.  He is and will continue restoring our joy as a family.  He will powerfully sustain us.  He has and will continue to pour out grace upon grace on us.  I cannot bear to be silent about what He has done and what He will do, so with a heart full of pain and praise, I will continue to write.”

Very soon after the accident, Scott felt a calling to start a ministry for other parents who had lost a child.

“I was more hesitant. It definitely took me more time and prayer to accept the idea,” Karen said. “But eventually I came to agreement with him.”

In the weeks following Sarah’s death, someone sent the Harmenings a hope package from a ministry called While We’re Waiting. Scott and Karen began to research more about this ministry. They found an organization providing faith-based retreats for bereaved parents as well as support groups. While We’re Waiting takes its name from the verse Romans 8:25, “But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.”

The retreat center is the former estate of Larry and Janice Brown, two of the organization’s founders who lost their son Adam in 2010. On these retreats, 10 sets of parents (couples and singles) are able to share stories, sorrows and encouragements together.

On the Harmenings’ first retreat, Karen spoke of the tremendous relief and peace she felt opening up to the others there. “You’re in the fish bowl together. You know what the loss is like.”

Soon, Scott and Karen decided to start their own While We’re Waiting support group for bereaved parents in the Huntsville/Madison area. The decision was fairly straightforward: The couple could use the support and resources of others more experienced, and they believed the ministry’s retreats were life-giving.

“We didn’t want to try and create something ourselves. We really wanted to partner with this amazing ministry that we already loved,” Karen said.

A regular group meeting starts with some food and mingling, followed by a devotional. During the subsequent discussion time, group members are encouraged to share whatever they are comfortable with sharing. Although the group is faith-based, it is not required to be a Christian to attend.

“It is so powerful to hear some of the personal victories, big or small, from other members,” Karen said. “Not only does it help them recognize their victories, but it makes you think, ‘I can get there one day, too.’ ”

Karen said she has seen God’s faithfulness over and over since losing her daughter Sarah.

“My greatest victory is learning to truly wait on the Lord, following the words of Isaiah 50:10-11 and trusting in the name of God, walking in His light.”

The support group meets at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Huntsville on the 1st Thursday of each month. The group is open to any parents who have lost a child, whether a newborn baby, teenager or adult and every age in between.

The While We’re Waiting site puts it perfectly: “Come, knowing you will be surrounded by people who care, who understand, and who will pray for you.  This will be a safe place, a place where we can discuss our struggles, knowing we will not be judged, because every one of us has been there at one time or another.  We will also share our victories, and rejoice with each other as we move along the road toward healing.”

“I would strongly encourage bereaved parents to attend this group,” Karen said. “The strength you find in being able to walk alongside others who have experienced what you have experienced is incredible. We must be steadfast in our waiting and live fruitfully, knowing that one day we will be reunited with our children who have gone before us.”

For more information about this group, please call or text 256-580-6260 or email [email protected].

Additionally, if you are not a parent but have experienced the loss of a loved one, you may receive encouragement at one of these GriefShare recovery support groups here in Huntsville.


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About the author

Claire Simpson

Claire Simpson

Claire Simpson was born in Nashville, grew up in East Asia, and has now made her home in Madison, Alabama. Claire is passionate about using her writing skills to tell others about the Lord and bring others joy. She enjoys spending time with the people she loves, like her kindred spirit, Sarah, and her family. You will most likely find her in the kitchen trying a new recipe, in her room cuddled up with a good book, or on a coffee date with a friend.

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