Downsizing. Disease. Divorce. Death. No ones knows what, when or how. But the day will come when control over our lives and our confidence in the future will be shaken. Will your circumstances crush you? Or will you overcome? Is it possible to know which it will be?
See how the Smiths have wrestled with the loss of a husband and father, what it means to have hope and why the empty tomb of Jesus makes all the difference.
Zac believed God, and so did his family. Miracles could happen. Miracles do happen.
From the moment the doctors found a lemon-sized tumor in Zac’s large intestine in 2009, his wife, Mandy, and their three kids, Lizzy, Jake and Luke, asked God continually for healing—for Zac to live. But more than that, Zac’s true focus was giving God the glory in everything, even stage IV colon cancer. What if the miracle was Zac’s power to rejoice while he was dying?
Zac called himself a private man, but he wanted everyone to know, “God is bigger than cancer, bigger than me, bigger than you, and bigger than any valley of shadow of death.” The legacy Zac wanted to leave his family was faith in Jesus. Because Jesus was his hope. Because Jesus was his family’s hope. Because Jesus was everyone’s hope.
In a video shown at NewSpring Church, Zac declared God’s victory over cancer with the unforgettable words, “God is still God and God is still good.”
His spirit was unbroken to the very end. As the cancer destroyed Zac’s body cell-by-cell, he continued to work, amid pain and exhaustion. He blogged. He wrote poems. He composed music. The disease made Zac, in his own words, “bolder, more brazen.”
In his last weeks before his death, Zac prepared his family for the inevitable with “Ask Me Anything” nights. “When your earthly father is in Heaven,” he told the kids, “God will still be your Father here on earth.” That’s a promise all Zac’s children have taken to heart.
Being a working mom of three isn’t easy.
Between taking kids to three different schools, then to work, then to theater practice, soccer games and guitar lessons, most days Mandy feels like she never stops. To be a widow at 32 after 11 years of marriage—to lose your best friend, the person you have spent your whole adult life with, your partner in raising your children—makes every day harder.
When Zac died of cancer, Mandy focused at first on trying to make a new normal for her family. She thought that if she could just stay busy that maybe, just maybe, the grief wouldn’t seem so real. But she discovered that a person can only do that for so long. In the end, normal was just too exhausting, Mandy says.
Now, Mandy knows the process of grief might never end, and she’s OK with that. She knows Jesus is with her through all of it. Knowing Jesus and loving Jesus doesn’t mean her days are perfect. She still burns dinner. She still gets frustrated at bad drivers. She still cries when she thinks about how much she misses Zac.
But Mandy finds peace in every moment because Jesus meets her there. A bad or good day—it doesn’t matter. Jesus is the same. God is a Father to her fatherless three. He is a defender of the widow. Those are the promises she clings to.
Lizzy loves drama. Not irritable-and-moody-14-year-old-girl-drama. No. Lizzy loves to act and sing. She belongs to a local theater group that stages musicals and loves the chance to have friends who are a little different, just like she is. She’s also writing a book, which she’s worked on slowly. Poems, too.
Feeling. Thinking. Creating. Life is full of meaning. Her dad, Zac, encouraged her artistic side. Every year on Christmas and birthdays, he’d give her a box of books he’d picked from Amazon or even from his own collection. The challenge: Read every book by the next holiday. She always did.
When Lizzy thinks about her dad, she thinks about the story he got to tell. That thousands of people trusted in Jesus because of what he had to say. He could have just died. He could have been alive one minute, and gone the next. The worst thing is to have a meaningless, ordinary life.
But Zac’s life meant so much more, Lizzy is quick to point out. He chose to make his life and his death all about Jesus. There’s nothing anyone can do about death. But how you live? There’s only one way that story can live on forever, Lizzy says.
The Denver Broncos. Mountain Dew. Halo. Blueberry pie. Dark chocolate. His dad’s favorite things? They’re special for Jake now, too.
Jake doesn’t have to think about his dad to remember him. The reminders are everywhere. Every day. Even the XBox video controller Jake skillfully wields is about more than a high score. Zac used to call himself “the master of disaster.” Now it’s Jake beating everybody in Halo. That piece of molded plastic is Zac’s gaming legacy passed down, father to son.
In the final weeks before Zac’s death, he told Jake it was now his turn to be the man of the house. Four years later, at the age of 13 it’s a mantle he wants to wear. Checking up on mom when she looks a little tired. Offering to read his sister’s writing to encourage her when she’s moody or mad. Throwing a football with his brother in the backyard.
Jake’s carrying on out of love for his dad and out of love for God. Jesus is always there to turn to, in all the tough times, he says. He just has to remember those people changed by Jesus because of his dad’s video. When bad things happen, that’s proof there’s always hope for better things to come.
Luke doesn’t have to go far to find an adventure.
Just across the street, at the back of some undeveloped lots in his subdivision, there’s a thick stand of trees. Every other day, the 11-year-old will go exploring. One time, he discovered a rusty sickle. Another time, an old gear. He knows there’s probably lots of stuff out there that could make the perfect stick weapon.
Luke’s two favorite things? That’s easy, he says: isolation and finding stuff. He was only 7 when his dad died. And in the years since, he has to admit it’s been pressuring for him, he says. His memories are fading. Not having a dad is the only life he’s really known. When he’s feeling sad, when he wants some downtime, he prefers to seclude himself in his bedroom or the woods to try and forget about it.
Luke misses his dad. But he says he wouldn’t choose to have his dad with him if it meant thousands of people wouldn’t have heard about Jesus and wouldn’t have had a chance to go to Heaven. But when friends talk about doing things with their dads, he says, that’s what breaks him. Luke knows it would be good to have a father to love and care about him. And right now, that's God’s job. He’s doing his best to remember that.