Day 27: Sandy Ruzicka

Revelation 1: 17-18
“When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.’”

On September 23, 2023, my nephew, William Richardson, was tragically struck by a car that drove up onto the sidewalk right across the street from Grace Chapel. He passed away at the scene of the accident. William had simply been out taking his daily walk and was completely innocent in the matter. He lived next door to us and was more than just a cousin to my children; he was their big brother.
The surreal events of that evening continue to play on repeat in my mind. The Mezzasalma family from Grace Chapel was at our house for dinner that day. Pastor James Panza was at church that evening and came out to the accident scene. Danielle Yang, an EMT from Grace Chapel, was also there on scene.
First of all, as I re-live that evening, one thing that has remained blatantly obvious to me is that God was working through it and was with us the entire time. Our hearts are still in agony because we miss William terribly. However, there is absolutely no doubt that our God is sovereign. Like a game of chess, He moved all the pieces and players into position to catch us as we collapsed, to cushion the blow, and to lift us up again.
I’m trying to think of words to adequately describe the love and support we received from our Grace Chapel family and I’m at a loss. I cannot sufficiently represent everything that was done for us and how deep our gratitude is for each and every one of you. On many occasions I was compelled to announce aloud, “God’s family is totally awesome.” So thank you. That’s my first “Boast in the Lord.” You were God’s perfect representation of His church as described in the book of Acts, breaking bread with us, praying with us, and attending to our every need. Praise God! What an incredible blessing. Thank you for living out your faith and running your race so well.
Next, in those first few days, as word of William’s passing began to spread, a friend from Grace Chapel emailed me and said, “As Christians we mourn differently.” I could not agree more!! What I wasn’t expecting was just how crystal-clear God would show this to be true.  People sent cards, texts, and emails. As we were out and about, we ran into people we knew in the store, at the kids’ sporting events, at church, etc. The difference we observed was so glaring we could not help but comment about it to each other.
Our unbelieving friends and acquaintances were distraught. Many of them were seething with anger at the injustice of a life ending so young. One person told me they wanted the tree taken down that the car had crashed into. She said she even might chop it down herself! Others were so shaken that the sympathies they offered were accompanied by strings of curse words. Others gave condolences wishing us “light” and a vague, mystical sense of happy thoughts and positive vibes.
What a stark contrast to what we know as Christians! Our grieving is NOT to be like those who have no hope. We know exactly how this story ends and what to expect. “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore, encourage one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18
Encourage one another with these words! Friends this WILL happen. Praise God! I can’t wait! Is it right, then, for Christians to mourn? Do we grieve at the passing of loved ones? Absolutely! But while we mourn, we continue to hope in the promises of the Lord. We cling to His Word and we stand firm in the truth we know in our hearts.
So, my second “Boast in the Lord” is that we have God’s word, the Bible, right at our very fingertips. To me, the Bible is the ultimate spoiler-alert! In His infinite grace, God has revealed to us the entire story. He gave us the history of what came before, He detailed for us the game-changing moments of Jesus’s death and resurrection, and He even describes what is yet to come. Our earthly death is not the end. William lives on with his Savior for all eternity, just as you and I will someday.
I am so thankful that we have the Bible. What a gift! We can trust every word of it and remain unshaken during life’s difficult moments knowing that God’s promises are true. We have a hope that is secure! Therefore, if we call ourselves Christians, if we believe God’s Word is true, if we are saved through Jesus’s death and resurrection, then what are we to do? What are we to think? Where does that leave us as we go about the day-to-day here on earth?
William’s passing was not the first difficult season for my family and it won’t be the last. What about when awful, heartbreaking things happen in our lives? We still need to get out of bed each day and do… something. So what do we do? How do we go on? Have you ever played sports? Do you enjoy watching sports on TV? One of my favorite things about playing field hockey was the sweet reward of victory. All that training, all that running and exhaustion, leaving every last ounce of myself out on the field, sometimes even collapsing at the end of the game. Ah… but if we won “the battle” the victory was so sweet you could almost taste it.
Later on, when I coached field hockey, I would even bake cupcakes or other treats before every game. We called it Victory Cake! We gave our players a tangible taste of how sweet the payoff is for hard, grueling, obedient work. So consider this, if you’ve ever competed in something or watched a sporting event on TV, how does the winning team behave? How does the losing team typically react? I can guarantee we don’t see the victorious champions sulking around or acting defeated. Instead, we see jumping, cheering, celebrating, singing, smiling and laughter.
What about our lives as Christians? Are we living in a way that displays to unbelievers our firm confidence in the work that Jesus has done? Or are we going through our days with despair, hyper-focused on our troubles and hardships? Think of the unbelievers you know, who very well may be observing you. Is your Christianity “attractive” to them? Is the light of Jesus shining through you? Are you living in victory? Are you jumping, cheering, celebrating, singing, smiling and laughing? Do you have something inside you that others notice and desire to learn more about? 1 Corinthians 15:54-58  says, “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
My third “Boast in the Lord” is that Our God wins! And through His incredible grace, we are also on the winning team. Death has no victory. No sting. However, unlike competitions you or I may have participated in during our lives, this time we receive the VICTORY through our Lord Jesus Christ based on what HE has done, not what we have done.
So friends, let’s act like it! The end of the 1 Corinthians verse tells us to be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. Other Bible verses command us to be thankful in all things and pray without ceasing. We are also commanded: do not worry. Do not be afraid. When we get out of bed each day, this is the mindset we are to have; Living abundantly in God’s amazing grace. Forgiven and set free. Victorious! “The Lord is my light and my salvation - whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life - of whom shall I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1
Today let’s boast in the victory we have through Jesus. Act like you’ve just eaten a piece of supernatural victory cake - because you have! Revelation 1:17-18 says, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.’” Jesus has the keys of Death and Hades! He wins! Cue victory celebration! Amen!
One of my favorite old hymns: Oh Victory in Jesus my Savior, forever, He sought me and bought me with His redeeming blood; He loved me ‘ere I knew Him, and all my love is due Him, He plunged me to victory, beneath the cleansing flood.
"Good and Gracious Heavenly Father, we worship You in all things and all circumstances. May everything we do and say bring glory to You. Even when things don’t make sense to us, we trust You completely. If we are downtrodden and burdened with despair, I pray that You would rescue us and remind us of the eternal hope we have in You.
Thank You for inviting us to join in the work You are doing here on earth. When others look at Your people, Your Church, I pray they would not see people walking without hope, defeated, trapped in fear, confusion or worry. Let the fruit of Your Spirit within us be evident. I pray that when unbelievers see the way we as Christians live, act, and respond to life events, their hearts will be softened and they will be curious as to what it is about us that is different.
Give us an opportunity to share with them the good news of salvation through Jesus. I pray that as Your Holy Spirit works through us, Your light will shine for all the world to see so that You receive the glory and You alone!
Renew us each day with the eternal joy that we can only find in You - and help us to live like we have VICTORY! (or even victory cake!) Amen."

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