A Lily in the Valley | Ylva Reynolds
A LILY IN THE VALLEY
– Ylva Reynolds
Ylva and Ross Hunter, Senior Pastors of Grace Fellowship Church in Kyalami, South Africa: Dedicated to their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, committed to their Church members, devoted parents and deeply in love with each other. Their visions and dreams had been well planned and purposed. Their commitments at all of those levels never wavered even under the most extreme of life’s circumstances. You will be inspired. You will have a faith-lift!
This is Ylva’s story…
BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS
“Be strong and courageous and to never be afraid or discouraged,
because the Lord my God will always be with me wherever I go!”
In Jewish thought, a person’s name is not taken lightly, nor is it a random selection of sounds. A name conveys the nature and essence of the thing named. And so it was that on the 29th December 1969, that I, Ylva Woods came into the world – earlier than expected – but with a hint of the determination, courage and loyalty that was carried in my name. Ylva, meaning ‘she wolf’ was a constant reminder of the words, “Be strong and courageous and to never be afraid or discouraged, because the Lord my God will always be with me wherever I go!”
For most of my life these words found in The Bible, in the book of Joshua Chapter 1, have been my anchor, they have spurred me on to be strong and courageous in the face of devastating challenges and have guided me through the darkest days of my life. The words strong and courage are an invitation to the reader to have an inner resolve, a mindset, a determination to be able to face difficulty, danger or pain without fear and to consciously draw upon that quality of God’s character.
I know without a shadow of doubt that it was only God’s grace that allowed me to face danger and difficulty on Friday 25th November 2005 without fear. This was the day that felt as though I heard the audible voice of God telling me to be strong and courageous, because He was with me. This was the day that changed both the course and destiny of my life.
Ross, my husband, had been given the gift of a digital camera and in his excitement to take images of our beautiful garden and the flowers in full bloom, he left the house and walked outside capturing the exquisite red roses, the shock of brilliant pink petunias and the elegant St Joseph’s lilies. Contentedly he shot several photos and soon came back into the house to show me the beauty of his plants he had captured through the creativity of his photography. We laughed and enjoyed the moment. The digital images, locked in time, were to become the captured moments for a lifetime and a reminder of everything that was about to take place on that life-changing Friday.
MY FOREVER GARDEN
“If I had a flower for every time I thought of you.
I could walk through my garden forever.”
– Alfred Tennyson
That beautiful moment passed all too quickly as we got ourselves ready to leave home for our scheduled appointments and commitments for the day. Morning minutes always seem to move faster than other times of the day and I watched valuable time rush away when my car would not start. Ross decided to use jumper-cables while I sat listening to the dull knock of an engine that would not ignite. I knew that we needed to make alternative plans. No problem. I would drop Ross at his appointment, do what I needed to do, and then fetch him later that morning.
The distance from our home to the stop sign at the end the cul-de-sac was only a few meters. As we drove towards the intersection I quickly, almost instinctively, processed our options. If we went right we would drive on the main road catching the morning peak hour traffic. If we went left we could take all the back roads; more stops and starts, more pot holes, but less traffic. Too late! Ross had made the decision. We turned right. What would it matter anyway, we were in no rush. We chatted and laughed along on the way.
We headed west following the flow of traffic, moving over to the right hand side as the road opened up to us and we steadily travelled up the hill. There was not much traffic on our side as we were going against the frantic morning rush. The right lane was however a never-ending stream of trucks, vans and cars. All this traffic was funnelled into a single lane as the double carriage road merged into one lane. As the cars moved passed us I looked at the solid line, realizing that the thin white line of paint was all that separated us from the on-going stream of traffic.
All too suddenly and without warning, Ross swerved to miss the truck that had found itself in our lane and he lifted his left arm instinctively to brace me for the impact. As much as he would love to think so, Ross’s arm could do no good in deflecting the shattering glass that flew around the car like daggers; or the crunching compression of our car and our bodies. It was a few intense seconds of screeching tyres all cluttered in a blur, followed by absolute silence.
I don’t remember hitting the truck.
In an instant, the past and future merge. Memories are not locked in a distant vault. They are real, they are now. This is really happening.
I can hear Ross breathing. I feel his nearness – but I can’t see him? I sense him. I hear him. His breathing is shallow. Every breath is piercing pain. What I do hear, doesn’t sound good. Why this darkness? Where am I? Why am I unable to move; to reach out? Darkness – then oh, there’s light, followed by more darkness. I pray in the gift of my Heavenly language, praying in the Spirit of God. My mind races uncontrollably, but my spirit, my inner being, is stable.
A TIME FOR SILENCE…
Sometimes being a friend means mastering the art of timing.
There is a time for silence. A time to let go and allow people
to hurl themselves into their own destiny.
And a time to prepare to pick up the pieces when it’s all over.
– Gloria Naylor
I can hear my thoughts telling me to say something to Ross! Say something in English, damn it! Still I can hear this rasping sound coming from beside me. Ross is battling to breathe. I want to tell him something. I want to scream, to shout. I want to whisper. Anything. I want him to hear the words, ‘I love you.’ I try to move my mouth to ask him to ‘hang in there’, to tell him to ‘fight’, to beg him not to die.
But nothing! Nothing – only silence.
I can hear voices now. I am not sure who these people are. There is a lot of noise. Somewhere deep in my spirit I seem to acknowledge what I have just heard.
My thoughts meander to our children, someone needs to tell them about the accident. I ask someone, anyone, to make sure they are all right and well looked after. Tell them I love them. Tell them they are on the forefront of my mind.
The pain is now a reality – excruciatingly unbearable. Somebody is holding my head, and I ask this person if they could please move my seat back as something is crushing me. They can’t. Why not? It is a simple request, just move my chair back! I didn’t realize that the front dashboard was squashing me against my seat. There is no place to go. There is no going back!
Have you ever lost someone you love and wanted one more conversation,
one more chance to make up for the time when you thought they would be here forever?
If so, then you know you can go your whole life collecting days,
and none will outweigh the one you wish you had back.
–Mitch Albom, For One More Day Part Two to follow…
I open my eyes and see people through the shattered front windscreen. I know them. They are our friends. These are the people that Ross was going to meet and talk about future plans. Why are they here? What are they doing? I want to lift my hand and wave to them, to greet them. But nothing – there is a disconnect between what I want to do and what I can do. I cannot move. I cannot think clearly. The noise around me is deafening. Somewhere in my subconscious I recognize the sound of machinery; what I think may be the ‘jaws of life’. Either way the noise of metal crunching seemed endless.
Then in an instant everything seems bright and I can feel the warmth of the morning sun stream onto me and I know that I have been in an accident. For certain, I now identify the sound of the machine trying to cut my crushed body from the metal frame that is holding me captive against my will.
I close my eyes so that I do not have to see, but I can’t block my ears. The sounds surround me. They pull, prod and bombard my body from every direction and instinctively I know that the sounds are not just those of machines and cutters and people in panic, but rather the terrible haunting screams of my life falling apart.
I fall in and out of consciousness. Glass shatters and pelts my body like a million little darts. Angry voices shout across the deep chasm of my bouts of unconsciousness and consciousness. “Why did you not cover her before breaking the glass?” I look down and see pieces of broken glass. Shattered and broken. Just like my heart. Just like my life.
The light starts to invade my world after losing consciousness again and I feel someone cutting my jeans. I remember having the most frivolous thought in that moment, “Oh no! Not my Levi jeans!” This brought brief relief as I chuckled inwardly. This lasted the same amount of time that it took me to blink, and then I was back to my reality. This really is my story.
An ambulance rushes me to the hospital. The sounds and the smells invade my waking thoughts. News about the accident spreads like wild fire; as fast as a winter fire driven by a fierce wind over an expanse of dry grass. A wave of much-needed prayer is starting to gather momentum and by the time I get to the hospital a large group of people have gathered in the foyer. Family, friends and congregants all there — waiting… Anxious. Fearful.
The news emerged. Someone had to tell our family and friends about the awful accident. Pat, a dear friend and our Church secretary, had the terrible task of phoning Ross’s mother and his sister, Sally. She had to tell them the shocking news. Their treasured Ross was dead. My husband and the father of our children had been killed on that normal, sunny, go-about-your business day.
Mikhaila (14) and Jordan (11) are still at school – they had left home this morning, lunches packed, bags on their backs, just like any other day. They knew nothing of the accident. Less that their father had died and that I was fighting for survival in hospital. On this day, this news would change their lives forever. While family were gathered at the hospital, it was decided that Andrew, their music teacher and our Church worship leader, would go and fetch the children from school. Andrew had a close relationship with the children. The task would be difficult; how does anyone tell young children that their parents were in a serious collision? He was sensitive, caring; one who could handle their pain.
It still breaks my heart to think of how difficult it must have been for my children. Every time I reflect on that time, I replay every moment in mind. I picture Mikhaila and Jordan being called to the school office, uncertain of the reason for this unusual summons. As they enter Andrew sullenly sits there waiting pensively and tells them that there has been an accident and they need to go with him to the hospital. There is an unspoken heaviness as they drive in silence with a growing fear and hard-to-explain pain as they near the hospital to confront the reality that their father is no longer alive.
Arriving at the hospital they see the large group of people huddled together, comforting one another. They quickly recognise many of the group and looking around the crowd they see pain etched on the face of every person. They instinctively know that something terrible must have happened. The family tell Mikhaila and Jordan the details of the accident. The entire conversation builds to a climax when the dreaded words are finally uttered, “your father was killed in the accident.” After a moment’s silence as the realisation of what they have been told sinks in, they utter a heart-wrenching cry; one so painful that it seems to echo in all the corridors of the hospital. A cry that would long haunt family and friends during the dark days to follow.
This is news that every child dreads to hear. What is worse is that I am not there to comfort them in this time of deep pain, fear and insecurity. I am not able to console them, to hug them, to hold them. I cannot weep with them or let them cling to me at this, their greatest time of need. I, Ylva, She-Wolf, am in the emergency room fighting for my next breath, fighting to stay alive. Doctors and trauma nursing staff are taking X-Rays, examining every crushed and broken inch of me, noting down the severity of my own injuries. My life as I know it was about to change – dramatically.
The fight for life is in every moment and every moment is undergirded by praying people who have grown in number in the corridor of the trauma unit. By now most of our congregation has gathered together in different areas and places – praying, crying, holding each other, to give some form of comfort in the midst of the shock that their Pastor was no longer alive on earth. They are anxiously awaiting news of my condition and to hear how seriously I have been injured, and if I would indeed survive this horrible, surreal ordeal.
As soon as the doctors stabilise my injuries they transfer me to a trolley and wheel me to the Intensive Care Unit. My best friend Chantal, comforts me for a moment before nurses usher her out of ICU. There is awareness in me that I am in hospital, but I cannot remember why or what really happened, nor do I know the extent of my injuries. The news trickles through to our family and friends. I will be put onto a ventilator, with doctors hoping for the best, for my life is also hanging in the balance.
Memories of that fateful day are still cloudy. Individual conversations merge into one long dialogue of scrambled phrases and incomplete thoughts. Friends and family recount details and help me piece together a fuzzy puzzle. In the shadows of my mind I remember telling my children that everything was going to be all right. Then darkness overcomes me again. For a little while it allows me to escape the reality of the tragedy and just for now, I can forget about what I may have to face ahead.
Four days later. My eyes open. I am lucid. I am in the High Care Unit. I cannot move, but the pain in my body is intense. Slowly and very apprehensively my eyes make their way down the length of my body, which seems frighteningly frail under the white, cool hospital sheet. There are several drips in my arms; a catheter assists bodily functions and thick bandages are strapped around my stomach and the firm foam against my spine. I try to move but cannot. My legs are bound in something that moves up and down every few minutes. As I try to focus, I realise that I cannot clearly make out what I am looking at. The shapes and objects are there, but they seem to be behind a shroud. My right eye is unable to focus and my left arm lies limp beside my body. I force all my attention on trying to lift my arm. Slowly I see my arm move – but it is only a few centimetres. The physical pain is unbearable, indescribable. Soon the emotional pain and mental anguish is just as agonizing as the memories of that morning flood my mind. My husband is dead. I am alive – or am I?
My first love! He was the man who won my heart. I was supposed to grow old with him. I had met Ross when he worked as a ‘bouncer’ in a bar. His love for God was so attractive to me. We connected instantly and that first night we sat and chatted for hours, eagerly and effortlessly. I was only 18 and I knew that I had met the love of my life – Ross Hunter. In 1989 we got married and we enjoyed 16 amazing years of marriage. This was the man who had helped me grow in my Christian faith. Together we started and pastored a church. Together we started a beautiful family. It was Ross who was there when I had a miscarriage; then when we celebrated the birth of our two children, and we dreamt of growing old together. Now there was nothing. He was gone, and I was left with raw pain. Ross had been snatched from me and my life would never be the same. Where would I find the courage to go on and to face the future alone? Did I have the strength to continue? Did I want to continue?
GOD IS GOOD
“Don’t measure God’s goodness by what is happening to you;
but by what is happening in you.
God is intrinsically good despite your circumstances.”
– Author Unknown
A friend had once said to me, “Don’t measure God’s goodness by what is happening to you; but by what is happening in you. God is intrinsically good despite your circumstances.” Suddenly these words seemed so much harder to accept. In a moment of time I had lost the love of my life, I was a single mother, a widow. I was, I felt, totally alone. My children had lost their father. He was their hero. He was a good man with a tender heart who loved his children and the people who had joined us and whom we pastored. What good could come from this senseless accident? And why, how could there possibly be a purpose in all of this?
Over the next few months I tried not to ask too many ‘Why’s?’ However, there certainly were times when in the depths of my despair I would cry out, “Why God?” and on further meditation of my circumstances another “Why?”, but I dared not utter a third, knowing that I would enable the enemy of my soul to pull me down into the pit of depression. Depression was a place that I was desperate to avoid. I knew that if I entered that dark place I was unsure of how I would pull myself out of that hole.
As I struggled to gain perspective on my life and face a very unclear future, I began to draw upon the courage that was tied to my name – I wanted to be strong and help my children make sense of life without their father.
During the days, weeks and months after the accident I drew strength from God as He faithfully whispered in my heart, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Therefore do not worry about tomorrow..” (Matthew 6 vs 25, 26 & 34).
As I meditated on this verse I had an overwhelming sense of supernatural revelation as I felt my spirit being lifted on the wings of eagles. These were the words that gave me the courage to face the unknown tomorrows. While I tried to pick up the pieces of my life, the support and love that I was receiving from my family, friends and congregants kept me up on the down days; their love, so appreciated. The church elders never hesitated to come alongside our family. Despite the initial shock of Ross’s death, their faith was activated to the point of entering the mortuary and praying, asking God to raise Ross from the dead. When I heard about this incident I smiled knowing that Ross would have been so proud of those he had mentored. How often he had encouraged them to have enough faith to believe that God is able to raise the dead!
Reports of the extent of my injuries kept me praying and trusting God for the strength to face each day. The trauma inflicted on my L4 vertebra required a spinal fusion with the support of a titanium cage and with an external brace that supported my back. At the time of impact the corner of my right Illium, which is the uppermost and largest bone of the pelvis, had broken off, causing great pain and discomfort. My inability to focus during my waking hours was the result of a blow-out fracture to my right orbital. This meant that I needed to have a plate and pins inserted to hold my right eye in place. Concern of possible paralysis of my bladder, bowels and sphincter due to possible spinal cord injury presented great danger.
Days and nights merged into one long tunnel of pain and darkness. I managed the pain with sleeping tablets at night and medication during the day. My body was broken but I (was) determined to face my rehabilitation with vigor, resilience and passion. I did not want to be held captive by a disabled body for the rest of my life. Tentative movements were made as I began the long and painful journey back to wholeness and health. As I heard doctors pronounce verdicts of “little movement,” “no running”, I decided to face the odds and win the battle. I made up my mind to be strong and courageous. I once again felt a stirring to live up to the qualities of my name and God’s promise “to always be with me wherever I go!”
IT IS THE COURAGE TO CONTINUE THAT COUNTS
Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
– Winston Churchill
Not only did I have to deal with the pain of my children and their future, but there were so many questions that were being hurled at me from every direction. The church elders wanted to know if I would be able to lead the church on my own. Did I want to? Could I manage? Did God want me to? There were times when I would cry out to God, reminding him that I am a woman, a single parent, a grieving widow! I was not qualified! Self-pity was always beckoning.
As I continually reminded God of what I didn’t have, I had a sense that God finally answered me and asked me a question in return. “Do you want to ‘step down’?” Well, I hadn’t realised which step I was standing on. It was God who reminded me that I had been Ross’s helpmeet, and that we had stood side-by-side as we had pastored the church. My circumstances may have changed, but I had not. Now after seven years of pastoring with Ross, God was calling me to lead without Ross, but with God. God wanted me to lead this group of people He had brought into our lives.
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience
in which you really stop to look fear in the face.
You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror.
I can take the next thing that comes along.’
You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life
The challenge was great – the circumstances unusual, but in my heart, I knew I could do it. As a young girl I had always felt a call to leadership. From an early age God had impressed on my heart that one day I would be leader. Memories of presenting a 7th Grade English oral and doing extremely well flooded my mind. I had received good marks, but more than the grades I felt a stirring in my heart that one day I would stand in front of many people, teaching and speaking. Was this the time?
As I prayed for God’s guidance in this difficult decision regarding church leadership I became increasingly aware of how real and personal God’s grace is. I could feel His Presence and His pleasure. The more I looked back on my journey with the Lord and meditated on His faithfulness I knew with certainty that I was going to pick up the leadership mantle. I finally gave the elders my answer. The answer was a definitive YES – God had called and I was going to be obedient, no matter the cost.
THUS FAR HAS THE LORD HELPED US
“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen,
and called its name Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”
– 1 Samuel 7:12
The external confidence matched my internal realisation, I felt a little like Moses when he faced the solid wall of water at the Red Sea. The circumstances seemed overwhelming. The odds were not in his favour, but with confidence in his God, Moses lifted his hand holding the rod and the waters separated. There was no going back. My decision was made. There was no turning back – I would lead the church into a new and unknown future.
As I grappled with questions of women’s leadership in the church, I read “Why Not Women?” by Loren Cunningham & David Hamilton. Their writings settled the issue in my heart and as I studied the scriptures I felt a new hope stir within my heart. A new confidence began to grow. Women were able to fulfil positions of leadership and I wanted to become one of those women. So, a few months later with the full support of the eldership team, I was ordained as the pastor of the church.
Despite taking a position of leadership I still needed to feed my own soul, to flood my mind with God’s Word and to be encouraged. So many people gave me books that dealt with pain, comfort, sorrow and grief, but most of them found their way to my family bookshelf. One night while reading a booklet on ‘Sorrow’, I remembered an incident that had happened when I gave a young woman who had lost her husband a booklet entitled “How Can I Live With My Loss?” I wondered if she had perhaps shelved it too.
I told the Lord that He knew me better than anyone else and that He needed to help me process this grief the way He wanted me to, because I was not able to deal with all the people who were trying so hard to help me get through this difficult time. There were times when I would intentionally shut out the people who were trying to give me advice on the ‘steps to grieving.’ The pain that I was feeling was huge and often overwhelming and I simply could not tackle it. I felt torn and battered trying to deal with my own pain as well as that of my children and a grieving church. I was attempting to meet their needs, but every day the pain was like hot lava searing my soul. Church members kept reminding me that they had lost a friend, a brother, a shepherd and mentor. While I listened to their words I wanted to shout, “Yes I know, I understand. I have lost the love of my life!”
For years I had looked down on people needing the services of psychologists, always believing that everything we need in life is found in God. Suddenly I had a need, my children were broken and I could not help them make sense of their own lives. This was when we connected with Andrea. Andrea was God-sent. She worked with Mikhaila and Jordan; giving them the courage to take one step after the other and to face their future without a father, and with hope and confidence.
Facing the future without Ross was not just a challenge for our children, but the entire church went through a time of desperately missing Ross. Despite our pain we wanted to see God’s will be accomplished in our church. Over those weeks and months God instructed me every step of the way. He showed me how to lead. The closer I followed His instructions, the more we grew spiritually and in number. We had the most glorious experiences undergirded by the Holy Spirit. God’s Word became alive and active in our lives. I was preaching every Sunday and pastoring daily; encouraging people, meeting with them, doing pre-marital counselling and marriage counselling and leading the ‘flock’ by the grace of God; but still my own heart was broken.
March 2008 was a significant month for me. I had been invited to share my testimony and to preach at a Ladies’ Conference in the United Kingdom. Returning home I felt elated; this was a lifetime dream come true. How often I had told Ross about my burning desire to travel the world as an itinerant preacher sharing the Word of God. No sooner had these thoughts entered my mind, the reality of my current situation crashed in on me. I was alone, I was preaching – but I was alone. Ross was gone – forever. The cost had been too high. The brave smile and my willingness to continue at all costs, to be victorious and to manage on my own suddenly crumbled around my feet. It was time to acknowledge my situation. It was time to face reality, and to finally deal with Ross’s death.
I may have been able to deceive my own heart for a season, but the signs of my breakdown were evident to those closest to me. The Road Accident Fund required me to see psychologists, psychiatrists and various doctors in connection with the court case. They all shared the same verdict: I was not healthy. I needed help – and I needed it desperately.
Help came in the form of an extended sabbatical and God-sent Andrea who helped me to process the enormous pain that was nearly drowning me. I seemed to be crying continuously. At night lying alone in the darkness of my bedroom I would stretch out my hand to the ‘empty side of the bed’ and ask God to please hold it, like Ross would have. Sleep would finally come and I would fleetingly find rest for a few hours, but as the morning dawned, the piercing pain returned. There were so many days that I had no strength, just the thought of getting out of bed overwhelmed me. I was incapable of interacting with anyone or taking on any new thing. Solitude and isolation became my refuge. I just wanted to be left alone to pray and ask God to take away the pain. Not able to cope with the situation in familiar surroundings anymore, I decided to take my children away for a holiday to Kenton-on-Sea. I loved the ocean and I longed for space to walk and pray. I needed God to minister to me, personally, deeply. I needed to find a way out of the pain that was sapping my very life. I needed to live again!
Early one morning I walked on the dunes and could feel the cold sand beneath my feet. The tears flowed like a never-ending stream rolling down my cheeks and onto my T-shirt. Finding a wasted piece of driftwood I started writing in the sand. The letters were enormous and it took all my energy to write the words: “I miss you Ross.” As I collapsed in pain next to the last love letter I would ever write to the man who was once the centre of my life, I finally succumbed to the ache in my soul and I begged God to open the portals of heaven so that Ross could see my words. I have no idea how long I sat beside those words written in sand. I asked the Lord to restore my broken soul. It was then I heard these comforting words whispered to me… “When I am weak then He is strong.”
Driving back to our cottage, my emotional pain totally overwhelmed my physical being and my body heaved with every sob that left my lips. I could barely see the road ahead of me. The occupants of the car next to mine stared at me as the tears flowed; they could never know the depth of the indescribable pain that was literally tearing me apart on the inside. How could they know? How could anyone know?
Each time I let Jesus enter my pain, I discovered that with His help I was beginning to heal; slowly, but surely. I began to experience the reality of the words in Isaiah 61:1: For He was sent to heal the broken-hearted. Yes, God was indeed beginning to heal my broken heart. As my healing continued I returned to pastoring the church and to leading God’s people. As we headed towards 2009 I felt that God was telling me we would see His Glory revealed. These words caused a stir in the hearts of the people. They were expectant and ready for the Lord to present Himself amongst us. As I pondered the reality of this forthcoming renewal I knew that the church would require new leadership and I felt that it was time to pass on the baton. I wanted to prepare the way for the new season. I had, by God’s grace, managed to steer the boat through difficult waters, but now it was time for a new leader to forge into the new horizons of the future. Handing over the leadership was the closing of a chapter in my life and I could never have known, even in my wildest dreams, that God would very quickly start a new one. A whole new chapter was about to be written.
A little over a week after the announcement of my decision to hand over the leadership, I was working at home when Graeme Reynolds arrived to meet someone who was staying with me for a couple of days. Enter the new chapter in my life. Graeme was my new chapter. He caught me totally by surprise, completely off-guard. I was not looking for another man in my life, but it was Graeme who taught me how to laugh again, how to live each day and, to love again. After a brief courtship, we married in September 2009. I knew that while Graeme was filling the dark corners of my soul, it would be difficult for the children. Losing a father is never easy, but sometimes having another man take his place can be even more difficult.
Graeme has two sons, Greg and Lance, and his easy playful manner often resulted in laughter and joyful noise filling the house. In the early days I would look across the room and feel Jordan’s pain as he watched Graeme interact with his children. Jordan, now a teenager, missed his dad enormously. He missed him during cricket season, he wished he was there to watch him play rugby; he still hurt when watching sport alone. Jordan wanted his father to be the one who would rough-house with him. Mikhaila was “Daddy’s little girl”, and the void in her life was glaring. Mikhaila never found the ‘blended family’ to be easy as it would take time for Graeme to find the place of “Dad” in her heart. But God uses time and experience to work through all the new chapters in each of our lives.
I had grown. I was moving towards healing, but to my surprise I realised that healing is a long process and that grief does not just stop on demand – or with new love. Even though Graeme is a caring and loving husband – he was not Ross. Every day became a new day of learning, embracing the new and letting go of the past.
THE PAST IS LIKE AN ANCHOR
Maybe the past is like an anchor holding us back.
Maybe you have to let go of who you were to become who you will be.
– Candace Bushnell
Looking back on my life at that time, I had lost my beloved, led a church, married Graeme, merged a church, stepped down from leadership, managed a blended family, and moved home. On the stress chart each one of these incidences score very, very high. Most people only have these experiences one at a time. I had endured them all in a period of five years. Now my grieving was not just the loss of my husband, but also the loss of everything I had known and was familiar with up until then.
The first months of marriage required getting to know a new person, becoming familiar with his likes, his personality and his ways. Sometimes I would say to Graeme that his ex-wife still had his ‘rib’, until one day the Lord challenged me. “Ylva, listen to what you are saying.” Then I had an ‘aha’ moment! I was comfortable for her to hold onto Graeme’s rib because in my mind and heart I was still holding onto Ross. The rib was so significant for me, as it was from Adam’s rib, that God created extraordinary woman.
Our first year of marriage was not easy and as our first anniversary approached I knew that it was time to acknowledge Ross’s place in my heart and life. He could not be part of the present. I will never forget him, he will always be a part of my life and memories of our time together are securely locked away in my heart. But now it was time to move on with my own life and to rediscover my destiny walking beside the new man that God had brought into my life. It was a beautiful, cool Johannesburg evening where I sat on a park bench outside our home that I decided it was time to draw the line in the sand, indelibly. If our marriage was going to work I needed to make a declaration of my intentions to Graeme. Tentatively I picked up my phone and dialed his number. My voice was sombre as I asked him to come and meet me in the park. I watched as he walked towards me and I knew that this conversation was going to be a life-defining moment in our relationship. It was to be a conversation in its season. A decision whose time had come. Slowly Graeme sat beside me, expecting and waiting for more complaints about the issues we had experienced in our first year of marriage.
Gently I told him how the Lord had arrested my heart concerning my confession about Ross still holding my rib, and in essence my heart. I went on to explain how I had in prayer, metaphorically speaking, given Ross his rib back. I asked Graeme if he in turn would give me his rib. The tears cascaded down his cheeks. He reached for my hand and we sat in silence. This time it was not an uncomfortable silence, but the sweet silence that seals a promise between a husband and his new wife.
Graeme owns a beautiful cottage in Kenton-on-Sea and in December 2009 we decided that this would be the place that we would enjoy our summer holiday as a family. There is a little church at Kenton that Graeme always attends when in the area and they had asked me to share my testimony. On the morning of the service Graeme and I got up early and went for a walk along the beach. The air was crisp and the water icy cold. We walked hand-in-hand for a long time, both absorbed in our own thoughts. After a while Graeme let go of my hand and walked down towards the water. I wandered up onto the sand dunes so that I could look out over the calm sea. No sooner had I sat down when I realized this was the very place that I had once written the words, “I miss you Ross.” This was the place where I had begged God to let Ross see me. This was my Peniel– my meeting place with God. Peniel is a Hebrew word meaning ‘God’s Face’, or coming face-to-face with God.
Tears blurred my vision of Graeme in the distance. I fell to my knees and started praising God for bringing me back to this place. God was indeed restoring my soul. Healing. Freedom. Gratitude. A few hours later I stood before a group of Christians who had gathered to worship in their little church. I encouraged them with the fact that whatever they are facing in life they have what it takes to get through the difficult time because “they are filled with all the fullness of God,” and “are complete in Him.” (Ephesians 3:19 and Colossians 2:10). My confidence grew with every sentence. I was a living example of a woman who had been buried in despair, but had found a reason to live again. The longer I spoke, the more I could see hope rise as men and women listened to my story.
That morning in Kenton-on-Sea was the beginning of a new season in my life. I was sharing my story and God was using the details of my experience to bring healing to those who listened. Today I continue to share my story. I still love preaching the Word of God and am willing to go wherever and do whatever God requires of me. There was a time when I felt like the prophet Habakkuk did, concerning the nation of Judah (my life) in Chapter 3:17, “Though the fig tree does not blossom and there is not fruit on the vines, though the product of the olive fails and the fields yield no food, though the flock is cut off from the fold and there are not cattle in the stalls…”
I have decided to always praise God and thank Him for his grace and wisdom even when I do not fully understand His ways. This decision has allowed me to embrace the goodness of the Father, to walk through loss and to embrace the destiny that God is still preparing for me.
Habakkuk goes on to say in vs 18-19:
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the [victorious] God of my salvation. (For)The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hinds’ feet and will make me to walk [not to stand still in terror, but to walk] and make [spiritual] progress upon my high places [of trouble, suffering, or responsibility].
And so, I Ylva Reynolds have decided to always “Be strong and courageous and to never be afraid or discouraged, because the Lord my God will always be with me wherever I go.”
I recently came across old memories from that life-changing Friday, it was the photographs that Ross had taken that morning of our garden in full bloom. As I carefully studied the desperately sweet amateur photography of the red roses and St. Joseph’s lilies, an overwhelming joy and realisation welled up in my heart and trickled down my cheeks.
Flowers have their seasons of change. They are beautifully delicate and seem so easily breakable, yet defiantly, they will still emerge out of cracks of dry concrete and worn tar.
The sun had for months on end, scorched those flowers. They had been under-watered, over-watered, even. They had been trampled on; battered by hail and harsh wind and perhaps even been ridden over with a lawnmower once or twice, all in the security of my own back yard. Yet, come spring and they flourish into full bloom again, without fail.
It is as if God knows that He has made them wonderfully resilient and strong enough that no matter the hardship they endure, they will emerge the next season stronger, fuller and even more vibrant than before.
As this realisation dawned on me, I gently wiped away the victorious tears from my cheeks and nodded my head slightly in a salute to the flowers for overcoming what they relentlessly endure every year.
I was God’s beautiful lily, and I had just blossomed.
You are invited to contact YLVA REYNOLDS, this modern-day Woman of Courage.
Email: [email protected]
Ylva is a dynamic minister of the Word of God and also shares her testimony wherever God opens the doors. Her desire is to encourage all who hear her and her story that there is hope, and that no matter what they face in life, they have got what it takes to get through!
Thank you Ylva for the opportunity to co-author your story. You are an inspiration to multitudes!