~by Vanessa Hanna
I realize it now, more than ever, that God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform.
On March 23, 2012, my baby, Justin Emanuel Hanna, lost his life in a swimming incident. He was just 18.
In an effort to try to make sense out of this tragedy – which then and now seems so surreal – I spoke with the doctor. The results were inconclusive regarding what caused him to collapse and go under the water. She told me it could have been a blood clot or it could have been going from a hot hike to the cool water. It could have been… No matter what, the end result was the same. We don’t know, but God knows it all.
It was all so overwhelming. My mind was racing. “This can’t be. He hasn’t begun his summer internship yet. He hasn’t finished college. He hasn’t gotten married and had children. He hasn’t…”
Through tears and incredible pain, I was eventually allowed to process a little more, with God’s help. I remembered that my prayers and desires for Justin and my oldest son, Donavan, included (and still do) that they be surrounded by Godly influences, to be a blessing to society and, most of all, to be saved into God’s kingdom. I began to review Justin’s life, especially over the last few months.
Approximately two months before he went to sleep, Justin sent me the most beautiful text message that said, “Ma, can we start praying together?” I responded with more joy than he could know in a text message. I said, “Yes! And, can we have a devotional thought, too?“ He said yes! Through tears, I had to thank God for that.
The distance apart did not hinder our close relationship. Like all of us, Justin had spiritual challenges. But, we were excited as he called to share with me the victory he had so far that week. I rejoiced right along with him. He shared again, the same week, with excitement and conviction,
“Ma, guess what? I shut down my Facebook page.” Surprised, I responded, “You did? What made you that?” Justin told me that he just wanted to be more focused. Again, I encouraged and celebrated with him. As I thought about these things, again I had to say, “Thank you, God!” But, the story doesn’t end here.
I have had numerous opportunities to speak with Justin’s many friends and people with whom he only had brief acquaintances. I also received a letter that was sent to me from one of his high school classmates. All of these revealed evidences of Justin’s spiritual journey towards God and how he positively impacted so many people – with his sense of style, with his humor, with his compassion,
with his thirst to be more like Christ and his efforts to encourage family and friends along the same path. As I think about these things and more, again I say, “Thank you God!”
I now proclaim with new and intense meaning, Psalms 34:8: “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” He allows some sweetness amidst the bitter, cold sting of death. Justin and Donavan shared time over lunch on that very day. I spoke with my baby that very day. Our conversation ended with me saying, “I love you, Justin.” He responded, “I love you, too, Mommy.” So many sweet memories. Thank you, God! I’m so happy that our last conversation ended with expressions of love.
Even though he had been away for high school at Mount Pisgah Academy and at College at Oakwood University, the distance did not sever the bond between us. As he hiked and talked with his friend Ephraim on that very day, for a portion of their conversation, they spoke of God and changes they wanted to make in their lives. Thank you, God!
There were dedications and other acts of love and compassion made in Justin’s memory by his high school class and by various organizations at Oakwood University. Donavan and I, along with our entire family, are so thankful for the many prayers that have gone out and continue to be sent up on our behalf over various parts of the world. Thank you God! “O taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Our children are not perfect, and there are no perfect parents. However, it is so important for parents to do all they can to stay connected with their children. It is so important to rejoice with them over their victories no matter how small they may seem. It is so important to be firm but understanding when they make mistakes. It is so important for them to know that you love them at all times, just the way God continues to love us all even when we fall. It is equally important for children to stay connected with their parents. Parents need to know and be shown that they are loved. Bonds are more tightly sealed with continuous and collaborative cooperation.
I would never have chosen for Justin to be gone so soon. However, when I look through spiritual eyes, I am so happy that God allowed him enough time to absorb and apply the things that I, his father (the late Silvaris Hanna), his brother Donavan, his sister Ariel, his family, his friends, and other godly influences impressed upon him. Thank you God!
Vanessa Hanna is Performance Assurance Coordinator at ACS Technologies in Florence. “God placed me at such a great place to work. They have been very supportive during this extremely challenging period, and I am most appreciative.” In her spare time, Vanessa enjoys golf, tennis, walking, talking and hanging out with friends, singing, and travelling.