I received a text from Chris. It said, “William’s son killed himself!”

Just a few weeks before, William had stood in church and asked that we pray for him and for his children. He had recently been released from prison and was trying to get his life “back on track.” He gave his life to Jesus in prison and had determined that he was going to take a new path when he got out.

Will had been hanging out at Joe’s a few weeks and attending church with us on Sundays. That day he told us a bit of his story and that he had just been awarded custody of his two kids, a 12 year old boy and a 10 year old girl. Their mother was a mess, and he was looking forward to being with them. He asked for prayer that God would help him to be a good father. We prayed for Will that day.

The holidays were approaching, and William wanted to be kind to the children’s mother, so he allowed the kids to go and spend a week with her before Christmas. That Sunday afternoon, Will had spoken with his son on the phone. The conversation ended with “I love you, son,” and “I love you, too, Dad.”

Later that evening Will’s phone rang with the news that his son was gone. Just an hour or so before, the boy had told his sister, “I’m gonna go get high like mom.” He didn’t know how it worked; he didn’t know how much to take.  He took too much. There was nothing that could be done.

Devastation. Insanity. What can you say? Where is God? There are no words.

William spent the next couple of days hanging out at Joe’s. We all cried together. We all hugged him and each other. And we didn’t leave him alone. We reminded him that he has a daughter, that she still needed him, that he could not forget her. And we cried.

It was the week before Christmas, and the big event happening at Joe’s was a Free Toy Store. All kinds of loving, generous people donated toys and clothing, and the storage room was full!  Parents would come and choose a toy for each of their children. They could even wrap them in Christmas wrapping paper. Joe’s was busy with the hurry and flurry of stocking shelves, setting up wrapping tables and making signs.

When the time came to open the Free Toy Store, William said, “I want to help.” We told him, “Everything is taken care of. It’s okay. You don’t need to do anything but sit and rest.” Gruffly, he said, “No. I have to do this.”

We walked outside, down the sidewalk to the Store. There was a long line of people—all the way around the end of the building—waiting in the cold. Parents waiting with excitement and expectation to choose presents for their children.

William took up his position as Door Holder and Greeter, smiled at the waiting parents and invited them in.  All day long, he manned the door, greeting and welcoming parents—sometimes through teary eyes—to come and get presents for their kids. I will never forget the beauty of pain and joy mingled together, as William pressed into his grief and turning it into a blessing for others.

You can pray for William, as each day is another hard day. Parents are not meant to bury their children.

(William’s name has been changed to protect his privacy.)