“My life at home was a mess, and when it all came crashing down, I realized I couldn’t hide behind my strong facade anymore,” said Oakley Winters. “I knew I couldn’t carry this big plate without Jesus.
“Although I grew up in a church that taught Scripture and trusted Christ at six years old, I didn’t know what it looked like to have an intimate relationship with the Lord. Through the pursuit of a mentor and the guidance of my mother, I began to learn how to read the Bible and follow Christ. This led me to attend church camps and hold various ministry roles throughout high school that allowed me to experience the raw, transformative gospel. I was hearing biblical truth, but a lot of my life was sitting in complete darkness. I felt like I wasn’t able to walk completely in the light and began to hide sexual sin, in addition to living with a desire to feel accepted, which was fueled from a broken relationship with my father.
“During my freshman year of college, my mom was diagnosed with stage four small intestine cancer. This news shook my world. The person who took care of me and who taught me how to live according to Scripture now needed my care. I had to step in and be a source of emotional support for my family, including my younger brother. While visiting her over weekends in Dallas for treatments, I started coming to Watermark with friends. I was learning the benefits of bringing my sin to light amid this painful realization of my mother’s sickness. I confessed five years of hidden sin to the biblical community around me and began to experience freedom and grace. I learned when sin is confessed, community and Christ grieve with you and meet you with so much love and truth. With the help of community in this chaotic and uneasy season, I began to fully believe the Lord was the only constant in my life.
“On April 21, 2018, four months after her cancer returned for a second time, my mom went home to be with the Lord, and my world was turned upside down once again. My summer plans quickly changed, and I ended up coming home for the next three months to care for my family. Throughout this early season of grief, there were a lot of secretive actions and sin that caused pain in relationships with other family members to resurface. My life at home was a mess, and when it all came crashing down, I realized I couldn’t hide behind my strong facade anymore.
“In the midst of this life change, I read Psalms in its entirety. When I read Psalm 34:18, ‘The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit.’ I thought, ‘I AM the crushed in spirit.’ It felt like the Lord was using this to say, ‘Let’s embrace this brokenness.’ With an increased understanding and humility, I started to pray for my father and brother and encourage them to join me to aim for transparency and openness through the Lord in our grief.
“Over the last year and through this heartbreak, I have been able to see all the Lord has done with my family’s suffering. I experienced the Lord answering prayers, and I reconciled my relationship with my father while also watching him be reconciled with Christ. I’m watching him fall more in love with the Lord. I’m watching our sadness, anger, grief, and bitterness being lifted by the Lord. The Lord brought our family together as we admitted our brokenness.
“Now I could empathize with Mary when Lazarus died and was in the grave in John 11: ‘The Lord was intensely moved in spirit and greatly distressed by Mary’s weeping, and He wept with her.’ I had to realize that this is the same Father I serve. Jesus meets me in my grief and confusion, just as He meets me in my joys and mountaintop experiences. He is the same God yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
“My relationship with Christ before my mother passed away set me up with a foundation of faith that carried me when everything else came crashing down. I was in a seemingly hopeless situation – it felt like a part of me died when my mom did – but I knew God was there with me. Although I would not choose this as my story, I’ve come to realize that every story is one to be embraced. Not because of anything I’ve done, but because I have been fully redeemed by Jesus. It has been one of the sweetest gifts to have my brother and my dad right by my side through this, all leaning on God as our rock. We’re learning together that the Lord can bring beauty from ashes and brokenness. I’ve learned that in death, new life can be found – in a way, through my mom’s death, and even more so, through Jesus becoming the ultimate sacrifice for our sins.”
The Watermark Institute was created to invest in, develop, and deploy the next generation of church leaders. Our Fellowship and Residency tracks within the Institute combine biblical training, discipleship, and hands-on ministry experience to fully equip gifted leaders who desire to serve in vocational ministry. Find out more at watermark.org/institute.
Grief Recovery for Youth and Adults
Mondays beginning January 20 | 9:15 – 11:15 AM | W. Tower Tuesdays beginning January 21 | 6:30 – 8:30 PM | W. Tower GriefShare (adults 18+) and Shift, a kids grief support program, (kids K-12) offer biblical insight, support and hope to those dealing with the death of a loved one, no matter how long ago their loss occurred. watermark.org/grief