Roger Marsh: Greetings everyone, and welcome to Family Talk, the listener supported division of the Dr. James Dobson Family Institute, proudly coming to you over the airwaves and streaming to you digitally for over 10 years. I'm Roger Marsh. Thanks so much for listening today. Dr. Dobson's guest on today's broadcast is Jan Harrison. Jan is an author and a speaker, and she serves on the board of a global missions organization called With Open Eyes. Jan and her husband, Frank have four children. In 2010, the Harrison's got the call that their 27 year old son James had suddenly passed away while doing mission work in Africa. As a father myself, this is the kind of news that I would never want to receive, it must have been devastating for the Harrison's. The following days, weeks and months were the hardest that Jan had ever walked through. Today, Jan will talk with Dr. Dobson about her journey of grief and her hope in Jesus in the face of overwhelming sorrow. Let's listen in right now.
Dr. Dobson: Our pastor a few years ago, preached a sermon on this subject. He said that everyone, and he put the emphasis on everyone, is either in pain or will eventually be in pain. There are no exceptions. This is the human condition, and I believe it's true. Jesus told his disciples right before his crucifixion, "In this world you will have tribulation." I mean, you can count on it, "but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world." That is one of the strangest scriptures in the Bible, because tribulation and good cheer don't really go together. You don't think of them as experiences that would come along side by side, but that is what Jesus taught us. And the reason is because when you put your faith in God, you can deal with anything that life throws at you, although it will not be easy because that is again, the experience that we can expect. Our guests today has learned how to do just that. She's Jan Harrison, she's married to Frank Harrison. These are my good friends, I love these people. Jan has been married to Frank for 38 years. You have had four children?
Jan Harrison: Yes.
Dr. Dobson: And you have written a book called Life After the Storm: God Will Carry You Through. Given what we just said about tribulation, it's obvious that you're talking about this subject. Now you have actually grouped the content of this book into three categories that I want to talk about. We went to lunch recently, and you said that when you talk about this matter of difficulty and tribulation and hardship and some sorrow that people all come up to you, because they've all gone through it, haven't they?
Jan Harrison: They have, there doesn't seem to be any exception to any human relationship or life where storms and difficulty have not been a part. What I want to tell people and encourage people and offer to people is that, no matter what the storm is, no matter how dark or how difficult the experiences are that they are going through, that God has provided for them, and he will take them through it. He has already gone before, he knows the other side, he knows what we will need. He has forecasts that we're going to have trouble, you shared that scripture, it was the forecast and he loves us. And he has given us all that we will need to get through those troubles, and we have to take advantage that.
Dr. Dobson: All right, let's make it personal here because this is something you and Frank have gone through. You sometimes share this, and in fact in this book Life After the Storm, you talk about your low point, a time when you as a family went through what you felt at the time was the most difficult thing anybody could ever experience. Describe it.
Jan Harrison: In 2010, it was a beautiful October afternoon in North Carolina. Everything seemed to point to another regular day going about our business. And Frank received a phone call that was the phone call every parent tugs deep down in the recesses of their heart, that they hope they will never, ever receive. It was the US Embassy in Kenya calling to inform us that our 27 year old son, James had died. That was all the information that we had at that point. Frank came home, I was working in my office and I heard him walking through the kitchen at an odd time of day for him to be home. And he stood in the doorway to my office and he looked at me and he said, "Jan, I need to tell you something. I want you to come back here." I followed him back to our bedroom. So I was walking behind him, and when we got back there and he had turned around to face me, he didn't say a word, but I looked at his face and I knew that something horrible had happened.
Dr. Dobson: Did you guess what it was?
Jan Harrison: I didn't. I looked at him and he said, "Jan, we've lost James today." And you can't process that kind of news. I said, "What? Are you sure? It's too much."
Dr. Dobson: He died of an illness, it's not an accident.
Jan Harrison: Exactly. He got sick suddenly, and in the course of just a few days, he died. We did not know that he was sick, we had spoken with him on a Friday and this was a Tuesday afternoon. So we had no idea. And you know that it's a compromised environment, it's dangerous to some degree, but you don't expect to be told that your 27 year old son is dead.
Dr. Dobson: Had he been healthy before?
Jan Harrison: Yeah. He was basically healthy. He had been in Africa for off and on for five years. He had had malaria, he had had a pretty serious bout with blood poisoning from infected wound, but he was healthy.
Dr. Dobson: Yeah. And then those other things weren't life-threatening at the time, so there was no reason to suspect that you might lose your son.
Jan Harrison: Right.
Dr. Dobson: Yeah. What was he doing in Africa?
Jan Harrison: James was living with a Kenyan pastor who was a mentor and a friend that he had met years earlier when he had gone to South Sudan and begun to just develop a love and a compassion and a kinship, really with the indigenous people in South Sudan, and then in Kenya. He was so touched by their faith. Their days were really not likely to change circumstantially, but they had such hope and such joy.
Dr. Dobson: What did you do during that time of sorrow? Going back to it today, what do you remember?
Jan Harrison: God is so good. As any listener would know, when something first happens, it's as if he just drops a veil of protection down over you, his protective grace, and you take care of the things that need to be taken care of. In our case, Frank had to go to Africa to get his body, I stayed home to receive our three daughters who were coming in from various places and college and living out of town.
Dr. Dobson: Yeah. And this is not just a loss of a son, as terrible as that is, it's a family affair, isn't it?
Jan Harrison: Yes. James was the only boy, so he was the only brother, and all of those interpersonal relationships are skewed on the dime, they change. Nobody knows how to prepare for that or anticipate that or what to do with it, when it happens. God just, he led us through those first days. But when everyone leaves and the services are done and all of the arrangements are taken care of, and the numb starts to wear off a little bit, then you walk into that dark season. You cannot absorb it, it takes a long time to accept fully that you will not see him again, this side of heaven.
Dr. Dobson: When you speak on this subject, people come up to you and say, "I've gone through this too," or something on a same level as a loss of a child, a loss of a spouse, I can think of many possibilities. And what do they say to you? What do they ask of you? What do they want from you?
Jan Harrison: They want hope, particularly if they are in that dark period. And you know, there's no way to put a time frame on that dark period. The dark goes from really deep pitch, dark at some times, and then it becomes grayer and it is just an up and down period of time, you don't know what to expect. So people just want to know that there is light and there is hope beyond this dark place, because they don't feel it.
Dr. Dobson: Jan, the subtitle to the book says, "God will carry you through." He doesn't always do that immediately, does he? I mean, there is a moment there where he's not even talking to you sometimes. Did you go through that?
Jan Harrison: It gets very quiet. And he carries you through, and I think a lot of times, until you look back, you realize you weren't even walking or moving, so for you to be where you are now, he had to have been carrying you.
Dr. Dobson: Yeah. I don't want it to sound trivial, is though you go through something like this and you say, "Well, what do you know? God took away all the pain." And yeah, that's not what you're saying.
Jan Harrison: For me it is most definitely been the darkest time. And yet I do want to say, in the deepest, darkest place, I knew he was there. Not so much that I could feel it, but I knew he felt my pain, and I knew he cared for me. I had the Word of God, I had the spirit of God, it's super natural, it's not something that you can work up. You're not strong and you're not full of faith, it's what he is doing within you that is beyond yourself. But he does allow the pain, and in hindsight, I think he allows it in order to stretch us, to see how desperately we need him. You know, as parents, we want to pick them out of the pain, just as fast as we can. It's so painful to watch someone you love hurt. And I know our heavenly father grieves when we hurt, but his love is so complete that he leaves us in that pain so that we can know him in a much deeper and more precious and more powerful way.
Dr. Dobson: It's really important to understand that, because if you have not yet gone through something like this, you're often confused about the lack of response from the Lord. I hope people understand my saying this. But just read the book of Job, and he uttered these incredible questions. I mean, they're so articulate and so intelligent, you can hardly believe that a human being going through what he did was saying these things. And the Lord never answered a single question. If I could just go find his throne, I'd explain myself, and he would understand. But sometimes for reasons we don't understand, he lets us go through the valley, but he is always there. That's your message, that even when it's the darkest, he is there and you were aware of it.
Jan Harrison: I was. I often recall weeping lasts for the night. The night is the duration of that dark time.
Dr. Dobson: But joy-
Jan Harrison: But joy-
Dr. Dobson: ... Comes in the morning.
Jan Harrison: Joy would come, because joy is Jesus. And he would come and pick you up and wipe your tears and just that ever so subtle whisper, "You're not alone."
Dr. Dobson: You drew comfort from knowing that James was a believer, didn't you?
Jan Harrison: Oh my goodness, yes. The marvelous hope of seeing him again, the reality that he has never been more alive than he is right now today, the understanding that I'm just waiting, life is a waiting room. And so for God to give us grace to wait, but I know that I will see him again.
Dr. Dobson: Yeah. Can you imagine the reunion when that occurs with your three girls? And my heart goes out to the parents who had a son or daughter who didn't know Christ, and that must be incredibly painful and difficult.
Jan Harrison: It is profound, but it was very simple, Frank was in Africa and I was at home, these were in the days immediately following James's death. And our pastor was there and he looked at me and he said, "We're not going to tell you how to grieve, because grief belongs to you. And this is your relationship, and nobody knows, but you and the Lord, what all is involved here." But he said, "I want to say this, there is nothing you can do that is wrong." And over those months, after the initial period of time, and we settled in to now husband and wife and grieving and dealing, we dealt very differently.
And thankfully, because both of us were in the word, both of us were hanging on to eternal truth. Though we comforted each other, neither one of us depended on the other one to be the comforter. Frank went into a male, or it seemed to me a male response, which was, do more, go harder, give more. I went into more of a withdraw and shut down. We gave each other permission and freedom. And when I would get like, "You're just doing all these things," I would hear that nothing he does is wrong, this is his grief, and it is between him and the Lord. And God just protected us, that's really why we aren't a statistic.
Dr. Dobson: Another way of describing that, Jan, is that you allowed each other to grieve in your own particular way and didn't demand the same response from your spouse that you were feeling.
Jan Harrison: Right. And it didn't come at the same time, sometimes if he would want to bring something up and I would think, I'm feeling kind of okay right now, do you have to go there? But I would think, but it's surfacing for him right now. And I think he did the same for me. God just gave us the grace to grieve together, but separate, and we still do.
Dr. Dobson: It's now been five years, have you turned a corner?
Jan Harrison: The summer of right before the fourth year, we went on a family vacation. We take one, everybody in the whole family, children, their spouses, their children. I remember when I came home, it was just an especially sweet time. And when I came home and I was looking back thinking, wonder what was so good about that, I realized for the first time I had come to peace with our new normal. And I say that, and then just last night, for some reason, this time I said, "I wish James was coming."
Dr. Dobson: There's still an empty place in your heart. And-
Jan Harrison: It always will be. [crosstalk 00:21:08]. It's okay.
Dr. Dobson: When you have lost someone, there's something called the attack. I don't know if you've ever heard of that concept before, but you've kind of come to a plateau where you feel like you're dealing with it, and you feel like you're getting over the grief, and then you're in a grocery store and you see something or you run into somebody out in the business world and it's suddenly back. It's the attack, because you really haven't totally conquered it yet. But the Lord understands those processes as well.
Roger Marsh: What a raw and vulnerable discussion here on Family Talk. You've been listening to Dr. James Dobson's candid conversation with Jan Harrison discussing the loss of her son, James, when he was just 27 years of age. Grief is a strange and tricky thing, isn't it? It's different for everyone. And there's nothing easy about it. But Jen Harrison was able to find comfort during her grief in the knowledge that Jesus was always there with her and that ultimately he promises to turn all of our mourning into joy. We hope that today's program has been an encouragement to you. And if you're going through a difficult season right now, may I suggest you pick up a copy of Dr. Dobson's best-selling book called, When God Doesn't Make Sense. In this book, Dr. Dobson offers assurance of God's constant care, even when human suffering seems to be beyond our comprehension.
To find out how you can get a copy of Dr. Dobson's book, When God Doesn't Make Sense, or to order a CD copy of today's broadcast, just give us a call. We're here 24 seven to speak with you. Our number is (877) 732-6825, that's (877) 732-6825. Or go to our broadcast page at drjamesdobson.org. Again, that web address is drjamesdobson.org/broadcast. You can find information there about Jan's book as well, it's entitled Life After the Storm: God Will Carry You Through. Don't forget that Mother's Day is just around the corner, and right now we want you to have a copy of the audio CD called Celebrating Moms.
This CD features three popular broadcasts that honor and encourage mothers, and it's a great gift for any mom in your life. Now we'll be happy to send you a copy of the celebrating moms CD as our way of thanking you for your gift of any amount to Family Talk. So call us right now at (877) 732-6825 that's (877) 732-6825 to reserve your copy. Well, that's all the time we have for today, thanks so much for listening to Family Talk. If you like what you hear on the program, be sure to tell a friend, and make sure you join us again tomorrow for the conclusion of Dr. Dobson's tender and heartfelt conversation with Jan Harrison. I'm Roger Marsh, and for all of us here at the Dr. James Dobson Family Institute, we hope you have a blessed day.
Announcer: This has been a presentation of the Dr. James Dobson Family Institute.
Dr. Dobson: Someone said, if you connect a boy to the right, man, he seldom goes wrong, and I believe that to be true. If a dad and a son or a daughter can develop some common interest together, the rebellious years really shouldn't be all that troubling. I had that kind of relationship with my own father and the full force of his contribution hit me a few years ago when suddenly he laid dying of a major heart attack. As I stood by his bedside, I thought back to the very happiest moments of my childhood, how my dad and I would get up very early on a wintry morning, and head about 20 miles outside of town to our favorite place. We parked the car. We climb over a fence and follow a little creek bed back to an area that I called, the big woods.
He'd get me situated under a fallen tree that made a little secret room, and then we'd wait for the sun to come up, listening to the squirrels and the birds and the chipmunks, and the entire panorama of nature unfolded before us. Those moments together with my dad were absolutely priceless to me. There was a closeness that made me want to be like him, to choose his values as my values and his dreams as my dreams and his God is my God. That's the power of a man, to set a kid on the right road. And I can think of no wiser investment of time in the entire realm of human experience. To get involved, go to drjamesdobson.org.