Talk about a tough holiday season. A week after Holt’s funeral it was Thanksgiving. Three weeks after that we braced ourselves for Christmas and New Year’s. It seemed like one hard blow after the other, and I have to admit that the timing felt so unfair.

Dave and I thought that the best way to handle Christmas would be to get away from Blackshear and our traditional holiday plans with family. Nothing could stop the pain, but a change of scenery couldn’t hurt. Some kind friends loaned us their condo at the beach for the holidays and we traveled on Christmas Eve to get away. When we got to where we were staying, it was late afternoon and time for dinner. As we drove around trying to find an open restaurant, I was reminded yet again of how the holidays are a time for family. Most restaurants close early on Christmas Eve to give their employees the opportunity to be with their own loved ones, a right we all deserve on Christmas.

We finally managed to find one Wendy’s restaurant not yet closed, so we hurried in to order. Dave, Hunter, and I were the only people sitting in the lonely dining room as the employees began cleaning up so they could close early. As we sat there, I held back the tears while I chewed my food. Having endured so much since Holt’s accident, I could feel my strength fading along with my hope. I felt sorry for Dave and myself, but most of all, I felt sorry for Hunter. Trying as hard as we could to keep his life “normal,” it was so sad to me that he had lost a brother, seen his parents deeply grieving, and had to face the reality of death before he was even a teenager.

I left the restaurant that night discouraged and feeling hopeless. Not sure what God was doing and what reason could ever be considered a good enough reason to allow my sixteen year old son to be taken away from his life on earth at such a young age. A boy with so much life and so much potential. A bright spot in this dark world, I just could not understand. I wish I was one of those people who could say that they never questioned God, but I have to be honest. I have questioned and doubted, and many times said out loud, “God, you picked the wrong family to go through this; we are not that strong.”

After we ate and found the condo, there was time to watch a little television before going to bed. I can remember watching a Christmas Eve bowl game and thinking to myself how unfair it was that those college guys got to enjoy the experience of playing college ball. How cheated I felt about Holt’s life once again and how much we looked forward to watching him play the sports he loved. Again, I felt sorry for myself and held back the tears as I stared straight ahead at the television screen. “How can life be so normal for everybody else?” I thought to myself. “How can the world just keep on going like everything is fine?”

Looking back now, a little over four years since that Christmas, I still have a lot of unanswered questions, but I realize now that in no way am I the only person that has ever had to deal with the feelings of grief. I look around in our community and our world at all of the hurting people and deaths. Sooner or later grief is part of every person’s life.

Healing for us has been a process that has happened slowly. Through our circumstances, I have learned that grief has its place and its time. Grief is real; it kind of becomes part of who you are when you lose someone you love. When you think about that person, you grieve that he or she is no longer here. That feeling becomes part of your life; BUT, grief does not define your life. Grief becomes part of your story but it does NOT define your story. As a matter of fact, over the past four years, I have miraculously watched as God has taken our family’s story and rewritten it in a way that it is now the direct opposite of grief. Our story now, this Christmas, is one of HOPE.

Little did I know as we sat in that lonely Wendy’s that four years later I would be writing a blog for a foundation created in Holt’s memory. Little did I know then, as I sat there feeling hopeless, that actually hope was all around me. Little did I know then that God was already working to bring good through such sad circumstances. Little did I know then that God had a plan.

If you follow our blog you know that we desire to honor Jesus Christ through this foundation.  Our family never pursued a foundation, and since it came about by God initiating the idea in other people, I have always believed that it was for a specific purpose. We have prayed for God to help us know that purpose. About eighteen months ago, God answered our prayers by giving us a two-fold plan for a future ministry. That plan includes a way for us to minister right here in Pierce County, but God also made it clear to us that our foundation needs to have a missional purpose that extends beyond our area as well. God has made it clear that the Dominican Republic would be our mission field.

I could write many stories to explain the miraculous details of how all of this came about. I could preach on and on about how trusting God is sometimes scary but so worth it. I could cry you a river of happy tears to say again that our story is not one of grief but of hope. But for today, I am simply honored to announce the beginning of a new ministry of which we are a part: “Holt’s House of Hope”—A shelter for a group of homeless boys, “the windshield washers,” living on the beach in the city of Boca Chica in the Dominican Republic. We will care for these boys and disciple them in the name of Jesus. We will provide safety, food, showers, rest, reading, writing, and training so they can have real HOPE in their lives and in the future.

God has given “The Holt Rowland Foundation” the opportunity to partner with The Bridge Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia; Bridge Community in Blackshear; and FCA missionary, Mike Shaheen, to help make this ministry a reality. You can visit for more information and prayer requests. Also, join us on January 4, 2015 at Bridge Community Church in Blackshear at 8:30 or 10:30 to learn more about this ministry and how you can be a part.

Hope. Four years ago I sat in a lonely dining room on Christmas Eve and felt without it. Thank you, God, for not leaving me there.