On Thursday, December 5th, my sister, Sara Smith, lost her battle with addiction, a battle that started in high school. I thought I’d share what I have been processing about her life, her journey, and the grieving process.
My sister was beautiful, compassionate, funny, caring, and stubborn! She loved people. She lit up a room. She made everyone feel comfortable. She was real. She loved her kids. She loved life. She loved God. Often, these incredible characteristics would be masked ber her battle with addiction. There were times throughout Sara’s journey where I would get glimpses of the real Sara. The Sara we all know and love. Those moments were so much fun and so refreshing. Because my sister knew Christ, I believe those glimpses were glimpses of the relationship I’ll have with my sister for eternity.
If you have a friend or family member struggling with addiction, learn to separate who they are from their addiction. My sister’s battle led her to do some pretty unthinkable things that hurt a lot of people. I had to remind myself often that what I was seeing before me was not my sister, but the addiction. That does not mean you should excuse any behavior, but it does mean that you should always remember who they really are and try to love them where they are in the midst of their battle.
We Don’t Grieve Like Others Grieve
Many of you have asked how I am doing. My honest answer is that I am sad and I have peace. My sister’s battle with addiction lasted a long time. Over fifteen years. There has been a lot of grieving and sadness throughout that time period. She had overdosed 19 times (to my knowledge). In some ways, we’re lucky to have had her for as long as we did. However, as long as my sister had breath in her lungs, we were filled with the hope of her winning her battle with addiction. We did everything we could to help her. Of course this is not the end that I wanted, but whether I want it or not, it’s the ending we got.
In 2 Samuel 12:16-23, there is a story of David losing his son. Prior to losing his son, he did everything possible in hopes that his son’s life would be spared. When his son died, the Bible said he got up, cleaned himself up and went and worshipped the Lord. At that moment it says that, “His attendants asked him, “Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!” He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”
In a lot of ways, that’s how I feel about my sister passing. I’m terribly sad that I will never see her again on this side of eternity. However, as I’ve mentioned, in Christ, I know she is in my future.
Grieving without Hope
I Thess. 4:13 says, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.”
I have grieved like people who have no hope before. After my mom died in 2002, I was tormented for 3 months both day and night not knowing if my mom had a relationship with Christ (which is funny because I didn’t even care about God at that point in my life.) That type of grief was almost unbearable. Then one random Saturday morning, I got a call from a distant relative who told me that she felt like God tapped her on the shoulder that morning and nudged her to call me and let me know that she worked in the hospital where my mom was and she led my mom to Christ a few weeks before she passed. My knees hit the ground, my eyes filled with tears, my arms opened wide and I prayed out loud, “God, whatever you want for the rest of my life, I am yours.”
From that day forward, I have been filled with peace and hope about my mom. I certainly miss her, but I know that she’s in my future, not just in my past. That was when I began to understand that in Christ, we do not have to grieve like people who have no hope. I hope that you’ll find comfort in this as well. None of us are going to escape death. The longer we live, the more likely we are to see friends and family members cross over into eternity. We must learn to press into God and walk with him through our grief knowing that He will comfort us, give us peace, and assure us that our loved ones are in our future.
The Source of My Hope and Peace: Sara Knew Christ
Here is what I know about Sara: she knew Christ. She gave her life to Christ in the youth group under Pastor Larry Bettencourt a long time ago and rededicated her life to Christ in her time at Light of Life Rescue Mission. As a result, she is in paradise today. She is in Heaven with Him, my mom, my grandparents, my mother-in-law, and several of her close friends. Just a few weeks prior to her passing, she was telling me how she was getting into the Word and listening to worship music to get her through a difficult season.
The Bible says to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Sara is not in her casket and she is not six feet under the ground. She has a brand new body. A body not plagued by the effects of addiction. She is free. The Sara that Sara so desperately wanted to be, she now is in Christ.
Here is the good news, if you are a believer, as I am, then Sara is not just in our past, but she is in our future and if there is anything you and I didn’t get to do with her here on earth (that’s worth doing), we’ll get to do that with her in Heaven and we will have an absolute blast with her for eternity. That is the HOPE we have in Christ.
There is Hope for You
If you are reading this because Sara’s life impacted you, thank you, Sara would be absolutely honored to know she impacted you with her life, but I can guarantee that if you’re reading this, she would want to make sure you didn’t leave this post without making Jesus the Lord of your life.
If I’ve learned anything from losing my mom, mother-in-law, and sister, it’s that life is short, regardless of the number of years we have left. In light of that, I’d like to simply ask you, how are you doing with your mortality?
The Bible is clear, all of us will die one day and stand before a Holy God and give an account for our lives. At that moment, God will judge us. There really is a Heaven and there really is a Hell and each of us will end up in one of those two places.
However, the Bible is clear that we can know God and know that we’ll go to Heaven through a relationship with His Son, Jesus. The Bible says that God loved us so much that He sent His Son, Jesus, to live the lives we should have lived and died the death we should have died so that we could have our sins forgiven and spend eternity with Him.
This isn’t something you earn by being a good person, the Bible says we’ve all fallen short of the Glory of God. It’s a free gift from God and the Bible says if you’ll open that gift (it’s a choice), repent of your sins, believe in your heart, and confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, that you will be saved and you will have eternal life with Him and your life will never be the same here. The Bible says that in Christ you become a brand new person.
If you’ve never made Jesus the Lord of your life and you would like to, I have a prayer you can pray right below this. I prayed this prayer in 7th grade and again when I rededicated my life in the 12th grade. My mom prayed this prayer. My sister prayed this. My grandparents prayed this. And listen… it doesn’t matter what you’ve done. When Jesus died on the cross, there was a thief on a cross next to him who was guilty and deserved to die and go to Hell, but in his last few breaths, he repented and asked Jesus to remember him and Jesus looked at Him and said, today, you will be with me in paradise. God loves you in spite of what you’ve done.
Salvation Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name.
If you prayed that for the first time, welcome to the family. If you’re not plugged into a good church, I encourage you to get connected to one and I’d be happy to help you find one.
A Few Thoughts on Drugs and Addiction:
Drugs Ruin Everything
Below is a poem I saw shared on Facebook. It describes in detail the devastating impact that drugs and addiction have on people.
A Letter from Drugs
“I destroy homes, tear families apart – take your children, and that’s just the start.
I’m more costly than diamonds, more costly than gold – the sorrow I bring is a sight to behold.
And if you need me, remember I’m easily found.
I live all around you, in schools and in town.
I live with the rich, I live with the poor, I live down the street, and maybe next door.
My power is awesome – try me you’ll see.
But if you do, you may never break free.
Just try me once and I might let you go, but try me twice, and I’ll own your soul.
When I possess you, you’ll steal and you’ll lie.
You’ll do what you have to just to get high.
The crimes you’ll commit, for my narcotic charms, will be worth the pleasure you’ll feel in your arms.
You’ll lie to your mother; you’ll steal from your dad.
When you see their tears, you should feel sad.
But you’ll forget your morals and how you were raised.
I’ll be your conscience, I’ll teach you my ways.
I take kids from parents, and parents from kids, I turn people from God, and separate from friends.
I’ll take everything from you, your looks and your pride, I’ll be with you always, right by your side.
You’ll give up everything – your family, your home, your friends, your money, then you’ll be alone.
I’ll take and I’ll take, till you have nothing more to give.
When I’m finished with you you’ll be lucky to live.
If you try me be warned this is no game.
If given the chance, I’ll drive you insane.
I’ll ravish your body, I’ll control your mind.
I’ll own you completely; your soul will be mine.
The nightmares I’ll give you while lying in bed.
The voices you’ll hear from inside your head.
The sweats, the shakes, the visions you’ll see.
I want you to know, these are all gifts from me.
But then it’s too late, and you’ll know in your heart, that you are mine, and we shall not part.
You’ll regret that you tried me, they always do.
But you came to me, not I to you.
You knew this would happen.
Many times you were told, but you challenged my power and chose to be bold.
You could have said no, and just walked away.
If you could live that day over, now what would you say?
I’ll be your master; you will be my slave.
I’ll even go with you when you go to your grave.
Now that you have met me, what will you do?
Will you try me or not?
It’s all up to you.
I can bring you more misery than words can tell.
Come take my hand, let me lead you to hell.”
Don’t Play Russian Roulette
A friend of mine who is a graduate of Light of Life once said to me, “Doug, when you start drinking or trying drugs in middle school, you don’t know it, but you’re basically playing Russian roulette. Four out of five of the kids you are with may end up fine, but one of them will likely become an alcoholic or a heroin addict.” Unfortunately, I’ve seen this play out far too many times.
Don’t Mess with Fire
The Bible says that sin is fun for a season… then it kills you. If you play Russian Roulette often enough, you’ll eventually get killed. I remember when I first started doing drugs and alcohol, I thought it was so much fun. Had I only known the devastation that it could have caused in my life (had I not given my life to God) and that it would cause in the lives of so many friends and family, I would have never touched any of it.
I was reading a journal entry my sister wrote about her journey and I was shocked by how many times she said, “I’d never thought I’d do heroin.” “I never thought I’d smoke crack.” “I never thought I’d _______.”
If you have any struggle at all with anything, drugs, alcohol, etc. Stop. Get help if you need to. The reality is, we are all one or two decisions away from being in the same position my sister was in. Don’t mess with fire.
If You’re Struggling with Addiction
I’m sorry. I know it’s tough. Please, get help. Admit your powerless. You are not invincible. Stop thinking “it will never happen to me (overdose).” Having Narcan with you does not mean you will always be revived and live forever. The good news? You can beat this. In God’s strength, not your own. We love you. We’re praying for you.
How to Deal with People Struggling with Addiction
My dad was having a conversation with a Priest recently. In processing how he could have loved my sister better, he was sharing how he struggled knowing if he showed enough tough love vs. tender love to my sister. The Priest looked at my dad and said, “Whether it’s tough love or tender love, the keyword there is LOVE.” Love them. Always. Remember, addiction will mask your loved one’s best characteristics and who they really are. Learn to separate their behavior (often drive by the addiction) from their hearts and who they are.
Know What’s In Your Control and What’s Not
The most helpful exercise I did to help me with my sister’s battle was to draw a T table on a piece of paper. On the left hand of the paper, I wrote, “In my control.”On the right side, I wrote, “Out of my Control.”
I then made a list of what was in my control with my sister: I could love her, pray for her, help her get resources, help her get into programs, etc.
Then I made a list of what was out of my control: If she went out to use. If she relapsed. If she overdosed. The list went on and on. What I found was that most of the things I worried about with her were out of my control and I had to learn to cast those cares on God (I Peter 5:7).
One Christmas morning years ago, my sister came to me crying. She said, “Doug, I need help. I’m a heroin addict…” She was 5 months pregnant with my nephew. I had no idea what to do. I called our Program Director at Light of Life, Sherry Rorison, who to this day has walked my sister and my entire family through my sister’s battle with addiction.
If I had not had her in my life and the love and support of my Light of Life family, I do not have any idea what I would have done. They gave me resources, helped me understand addiction, help me to set boundaries, and so much more. Please find a loving community that you can confide in. Al-anon would be a great place to start.
Learning to set and create healthy boundaries should be a life requirement. In supporting those in addiction, we need to learn how to set proper boundaries. The best resource I’ve found on this is Henry Cloud’s Book: Changes That Heal (make sure you get the workbook and work through it.)
To all Who Loved Sara Well – Thank you.
Let Go of Guilt or Shame – If any of you are struggling with guilt and shame, be free from it. The Bibles say there is no condemnation in Christ. Everyone that loved Sara did the best they could with what they knew to do. Rest in that and turn the rest over to God. Again, I Peter 5:7 says to cast ALL YOUR CARES on HIM BECAUSE HE CARES FOR YOU.”
Brody and Kamden – We LOVE you. Your mom loved you more than you could ever imagine and wants you to live a life for God and have a life that she always dreamed for you. God loves you and He will take care of you. He is always with you, even when you’re alone. Laura and I have both lost our moms and as tough as it is, we can promise you that God will see you through this as He has seen us through. We love you and we will take care of you.
Chris – I love you, brother. It’s been quite a journey. Thank you for loving Sara. We will get through this. Your best days are ahead of you and not behind you. We’ll be with you every step of the way.
Dad – I love you. Sara loves you. A whole lot of people love you. You loved Sara so well. We will get through this. You’ve spent your life-giving your life away to others by serving them, now it’s our turn to serve you.
I won’t see Sara again on this side of eternity, but I can promise you we will do everything we can to make sure her life and her journey make an eternal impact here on earth.
Chris and The Boys – Sara will live on through Chris and the boys. We will do everything we can to make sure they grow-up well, know & walk with God, and build great lives. We’ve set-up a fund for their future and have already raised over $23,000. If you’d like to contribute, go here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/sara-smith-legacy-fund.
Light of Life + the Fight for all Those in Addiction – Light of Life made a significant impact on my sister’s life throughout her journey. While she was alive, I was so passionate about the work we do because every man, woman, and child that walks through our doors is someone’s sister, mother, father, brother, sister, etc. Losing Sara makes me extremely angry at the enemy. With the grace of God, I will do everything I can to help prevent addiction and to support those battling addiction.
The Kingdom – Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” I’ve seen God take the darkest moments of my life and transform them into something beautiful and eternal. Although I don’t know what it looks like yet, I know God will use my sister’s life and death for His glory and make something beautiful out of this tragedy.
I hope this post helped you. I pray that it honored Sara’s life and pleased God. In closing, I’ll simply share a small note to my little sister.