Grief has a terrible way of consuming every part of your life, sometimes parts that you didn’t think it could touch. Jordan Hodgden, co-leader for 4word: Oklahoma City, openly shares about losing her infant son and how God used her grief to grow her.
Tell us a little about yourself!
I’m a lover of the Word and am truly seeking how He wants me to live. I happen to be a millennial, and true to millennial form, I’ve changed career plans about three or four times in the last decade. I’m currently running the finances and HR for our family business as the office and accounts manager, which allows me to have my two kids at the office. This has been amazing, because it means my husband and I tag-team and homeschool the kids as well. I recently finished my undergrad in business and tourism, and the long-term plan is to move from the family business into a lodging and resort ministry for couples to renew their vision for marriage!
When have you had to practice emotional agility through an unexpected life change?
My husband and I were young when we married, and we thought we knew everything by the time our first son Russell was born. We were high-functioning, ambitious people who felt that the Lord was providing for us and everything was going “according to plan.” We loved God and knew God loved us. What couldn’t we do?
When Russell was about 6 months old, we found out he had Alpha-1 Antitrypsin disorder, which in this case caused his liver to fail. Our doctor immediately put him on the list to have a liver transplant. Being young and believing in the Lord, we really expected things to go well. We knew this diagnosis was mysterious and that our child was technically “sick” (though his demeanor the whole way through was calm and playful—totally a normal baby!) but we really expected the transplant to be the cure. Truly our faith was in the Lord, and death was NOT on our radar.
In February of 2014, a month before Russell turned one, we got a call that Russell’s transplant was ready. The night of the surgery, all was well. Russell was in a good mood, despite not being allowed to eat all day, and we all hugged him tightly before the surgery.
The surgery took about nine hours, then when he was out, we waited about six more hours until we were told we could go in. His little body, transformed and bloated after surgery, was unfamiliar and unconscious in his large hospital bed. There were tubes to machines all in and out of him. It was the first time I saw him as a sick child. We were informed that after the surgery, a clot had formed, limiting blood flow to the new organ. The organ failed, and we had to go on the emergency list for another transplant. We were given a window of 48 hours before further complications would occur. Five days went by and we were shown brain scans that indicated our son could no longer be a viable candidate for another liver transplant. It honestly wasn’t until that very moment that I even considered that my son might die. I just believed it was going to turn out fine.
So when it didn’t, I was left in such a weird place. It’s completely unnatural to go from being a parent one day to no longer being a parent the next. In the weeks after laying our baby in his casket, we found a closeness to God I cannot describe, while simultaneously experiencing some of the far reaches of human emotion. It was inconceivably hard, and that kind of experience transforms you forever.
Besides your faith, what got you through this time?
There was a mob of support from hundreds of people from our church family, my work family, and our actual family. We were never extroverted or exceptionally friendly people (though we always loved these people for sure), and we had even moved a state away for a short time right before this happened. We were amazed at the support from our church. I mean our family of nearly 20 people were ALL fed meals (at three separate houses!) for nearly a full month after Russell died. That takes serious commitment, and I couldn’t believe how much they really showed up. Our immediate families became forever friends with each other, due to all the time spent in hospital waiting rooms together. I never would’ve even known to ask for this level of support, but in hindsight I’m just so grateful for every single person who was there, who sent us messages, and can’t imagine how much harder it would’ve been to do this without them.
How did Job’s mentality on grief affect your own grieving process?
I hit the book of Job hard as I was processing my grief head on really for the first time, five years after Russell had died. I read where God was almost sarcastically chastising Job for his questions. God said, “Who are you with all knowing wisdom? You who have been here since the formation of the earth. You must know all, because you are so old!” And while it’s funny to think of sarcastic God, it’s completely sobering to realize that God was telling Job—the most faithful servant who had stood by his Lord after losing every single piece of normalcy—that Job had no right to question what happened to him. We know God loved Job, it says so in the beginning. Job’s response? Absolute agreement. He humbled himself and likened himself to dirt.
If you tell someone in the midst of deep and true sorrow they have no right to question God, you will probably get slapped. It’s not something you can say and still consider yourself a compassionate person. So don’t share this with hurting people, this is only for you. The truth here that one has to come to when going through difficult changes, is that God is sovereign. It is NOT about us. I wish I could write that on the walls, ceilings, and my soul. It is not about my suffering. It is not about me. This is God’s domain. He made me (and probably you) with gifts of leadership, creativity, ambition, influence, and all good things in His image, but that does not mean this life is my story. We are His servants. A life subjected to His will is a fulfilled and enriched one, even if just in eternity.
I had to pull myself out of immense self-pity to understand this. Friends would think I deserve to feel sorry. I lost my baby, I had a plan for his life, I wanted to hold him and see him grow up. But realizing it’s God’s world, not my own, and being dedicated to Him, vanquishes pride. To what end? I believe closeness to the Creator is what Job experiences.
Some might say that suffering leads to greater prosperity, because Job did receive it all back by the end of the book. But after reading his humbling moment with God, and knowing just a fraction of what it took for Job to agree that God is all knowing and sovereign, I just don’t think redeeming prosperity is at all the point of this story. I think through his humility (which could only come through experiencing the most unexpected change and deepest of human emotion, and then accepting God’s sovereignty fully), he experienced closeness and unity with the Creator. Closeness to the Almighty God has absolutely no comparison.
What advice would you give to someone facing an unexpected change in their life?
My advice to anyone going through new and unexpected changes: lean into the difficulty without expecting to be able to control the outcome. Don’t be quick to make a new life plan, don’t immediately seek advice from peers, don’t think you will be able to manage this just because you’re a Christian, or even just because you can manage everything else. As counterintuitive to our fight-or-flight response as that is, I really believe that is a huge way to experience closeness to God. Of course, I’m not saying if you do these things you’re doomed. I’m trying to make it clear: the reality is that closeness to our Creator is the only thing that can soothe our souls when unexpected change causes difficult repercussions. Just as a child with irrational emotions runs to their mom or dad for comfort, we too need to experience the closeness of the One with perfect love to be able to go on.
I found an enormous amount of grace and a unique closeness to God that I can’t even describe in the days when we were waiting for our son’s life to come back to him, and in the months after losing him. I didn’t deserve it, and I was too shocked to even know to ask for it. I recall this as a time where I knew the least about what and why this was happening, and a peace that transcends understanding was certainly a result.
On the flip-side, about a year after our loss, I tried to steer myself back to what I thought I knew “for sure” before this change. I also wanted to be the one to bring my husband back to “normal,” who, though undiagnosed, was experiencing a kind of depression—yet another wrench in the plan to be whole again by “figuring it out” myself. Even when I would do so much to take stock of what happened to me and attempt to make my own sense out of it, all of this trying and doing caused me to really hit my limits as a human. It led me to a place of distance from the Father. Sin and pride had its debut like never before.
After several forms of counseling, mentorship, and grief-work, I’ve truly understood what it means to be human and to have human limits, to be without the wisdom of the Heavens and to not be able to do a thing about a thing. Unexpected, and tragic change—even change from one version of yourself to a different version that you may not love as much—can cause us to put up every defense. It causes us to try anything that makes sense to our flesh and pursue answers that make it all seem okay, just like Job and his peers. We are not God. We don’t have his wisdom, and ultimately, it’s God’s story.
Our human emotions are something to subject to His will, just as much as our careers and families are as believers. He is a good God, and if you trust that, it’s not a scary thing to not have the control or power or answers. It’s a freedom from your flesh, and just like a mother who has hold of her child, God’s got you. Don’t fight the hard away, because in the hard He is near.
Jordan Hodgden graduated from Arizona State University with a BA in Tourism, and currently operates as the Office, HR, & Accounts Manager for Arbor Image Tree Care in Oklahoma City. She’s passionate about helping people find spiritual rest in their work and life, and is working on her first book. She spends her time chasing children, working for the family business, and growing her community into an inclusive environment that knows the Lord.