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Finding Purpose Here, Now: John Onwuchekwa

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
The Truth Network Radio
December 29, 2022 4:15 am

Finding Purpose Here, Now: John Onwuchekwa

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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December 29, 2022 4:15 am

Grief, author John Onwuchekwa understands now, doesn’t have an expiration date. But in his darkness, he learned to rise with defiant hope, finding purpose.

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Hey there, David Robbins here, President of Family Life, and I am joined here with my wife Meg.

Hey, everybody. Before we jump into today's program, we want you to know that each time you listen to family life, we pray you experience a deeper relationship with God. And just like you, so many others have been blessed through all of these programs. Here's what one faithful listener and partner had to say about family life today.

They shared, Wow. This is the kind of transformation that can take place when we invest in our families. As a donor supported ministry, we rely on your support. And if you have already given this season, we want to thank you for your partnership in helping families experience time together around the timeless truths of God's Word.

And if you haven't yet taken advantage of this great opportunity that is before us with several generous partners coming together to make a matching campaign, there is no better time to give than now while your gift can have double the impact. To find out more, you can go to or stick around and we'll share more later in the program. I was at the lowest point in my life then.

I've never been suicidal, but where I was there, I imagined that I was standing at the edge of the cliff with my toes off the cliff. And you're a pastor, a believer, a believer who loves the Lord with all my heart. Welcome to Family Life Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Ann Wilson and I'm Dave Wilson.

And you can find us at or on the family life app. This is Family Life Today. If you want to test a marriage or a family, it's how they respond to what? Pain, trauma. Yeah, I think pain, trauma. The valley, when a marriage has to walk through a valley, newsflash, every marriage is headed to a valley, whether it's in the first six months, which ours did, or six years or even 15 years. You're going to go there. Every family will face that.

And many don't make it. There's not enough strength there, but when a person or a marriage goes through a trial, you find out what's really there. And we started a conversation yesterday with John on WeChequa. John, welcome back.

Yeah, thanks, man. Glad to be back. And you're just smiling because I got your name without blinking. No, I'm just a genuinely jolly person.

I love to smile. You're a teaching pastor at Cornerstone in Atlanta. You're really like, are you right in the heart of the city? Yeah, it's about a mile southwest of downtown, but we live in a neighborhood that actually predates the city of Atlanta. So when you talk about Atlanta, the West End predates the formation of the city of Atlanta. So we're in Atlanta, Atlanta. One of my first experiences in Atlanta. Detroit Lions are playing the Falcons at the Georgia Dome. It's Matt Ryan's first NFL game.

On the third series, he threw a 60-yard bomb and blew us off the thing. Anyway, I couldn't fly with the team. I was preaching, so I had to come in on my own. So I got a rental car, and I'm driving over in the backseat of a rental car to the Georgia Dome. We're like two blocks from the Georgia Dome.

We stop at a light. Some guy opens the back door and jumps in the backseat of this rental car with me. Is that Atlanta? I'm like, who is this guy? That's never happened to me.

That's my memory of Atlanta. I was scared to death. I'm like, what are you doing? He wanted some money. I've never witnessed it, but it doesn't surprise me, right? It's like, oh, yeah, that could happen.

That very well could. Jon, why did you want to start a church there? In Atlanta. Yeah, because you grew up in Houston. Yeah, and spent some time in Waco and then Denton. And as we started to see and be burdened by maybe some of the need that lay outside, the relationships and the friendships that we had took us to St. Louis and Philly and Chicago and Memphis and L.A. And we started to see communities that looked like the ones that we grew up in, that it felt like they longed for gospel communities, kind of like the ones that we had come to experience. And we just saw certain voids in places. And so our hope was, well, Lord, if you would give us the grace, we want to help to meet that need, right?

We want that need to be something that we give our life to trying to solve. And so as we thought of what would be the place to start a hub to train and raise and resource and send folks out, we realized that Denton, Texas, probably wasn't the best urban church-planning hub. So there was a group of us, a group of 25 of us that moved from Denton to Atlanta to help start this church. And the aim was we wanted to be in a city of influence where if we could really plant this church in the way that we feel like God had laid on our heart, that it could reverberate not just through the city but the nation, that it could be our little acorn planted in the ground there that would birth into an oak tree, that would plant other acorns, that would do the same thing.

It was a city that was made up predominantly of a minority group. And we just saw the changes in the trends of the way that our world was starting to go and we wanted to be in a place that was reflective of where our world and our nation were getting ready to head. Atlanta also has a strong college presence.

Six major universities in a ten-mile radius and we've just seen how something like that, when it's combined with a large metropolitan place, can just produce thinkers, change-makers, people that want to invest and cultivate not just their community and their world. And so we felt like all of those roads intersected perfectly in Atlanta. We started it and then my brother came down. So we started in 09. My brother moved to Atlanta in 2011 through 2013.

And then in 2013, he moved to pastor a church in Memphis. And you mentioned yesterday, so then your brother passes. Yeah, passes away. Unexpectedly. Unexpectedly, suddenly. Yeah, and we talked yesterday about, you know, your grief. But we didn't talk about this. How did that affect your marriage?

It affected it in every way possible. I think the clearest story that I had with Chandra walking out and me saying, I'll help you pack if you want to get out. How did you come to that point? Were you in a fight? Yeah, we were in a fight.

It was an intense fight. If you ask me about what, I don't remember. And how long was this after your brother had passed? Because yesterday we talked about- Five weeks. Five weeks.

So it was fresh. So April the 14th is when he passed and May the 30th. But I mean, we had went through two weeks of funeral in Memphis and then Houston and then Dallas where we buried him. The week before my brother passed, my wife and I were going to meet a baby girl that we've been trying to adopt for a year after eight years of infertility. April 10th, that falls through.

April 14th, he passes, so it's just frustration upon frustration, disappointment compounded, and it all came to a head. So she says, I'm out. Yeah, it was the type of thing where most times when we fight or when we argue, I say this with all sincerity, I'm right and she's wrong.

All sincerity. This time, she was right. She was trying to help and my grief had just put me on the wrong side of every door, right? When she pried and said, how are you?

I would feel like you're prying, leave me alone. You just want me to get back to where I was. I'm not going to go back. When she gave me space, I'm like, you don't care about me.

You don't want to be concerned. And so it was just this- There was no win for her. No win for her and she just got to a point where she's like, I just can't. And it's like, let me help you pack. Did you say that? Let me help you pack. I said those words.

Let me help you pack. And then what happened? I mean, those are like, okay, I'm out. So she leaves. She did leave.

Yeah, so she leaves the house and instantly, right? And this is where the we and we go on comes from. Which we should say, that's the name of your book, We Go On. The subtitle is Finding Purpose in All of Life's Sorrows and Joys. I was at the lowest point in my life then.

I've never been suicidal, but where I was there, I imagined that I was standing at the edge of the cliff with my toes off the cliff. And you're a pastor. And I'm a pastor. A believer.

Who loves the Lord with all my heart. And after she left, in God's grace, the first thing that came to my mind was not, what do I need to do? The first thing that came to my mind was, who do I need to call? And so I texted the other three pastors that were at our church who are all close friends of mine.

Rich, Mo, and Trip. And this is where it was like providentially, in God's grace, when we were trying to plant this church in the West End, we said, hey, let's all move into the same neighborhood. So we all owned homes in the same neighborhood, blocks from one another. After I text them, less than five minutes. They're at your house. They're at my house.

Of course they are. This is why I feel like it's so important, because when you're at the lowest point of your life, the difference in between waiting for somebody to come, waiting five minutes and waiting 30 minutes is the difference between suicidal thoughts and suicidal attempts. And I feel like at that point, God's grace was, they were there within five minutes, and I was eager to sit in my stubbornness and stew in myself, loathing and tear my family apart. And the reason why my family's not torn apart is not because of my diligence.

It's because of theirs, right? So take us back to your house when your three friends walk in the door. So they walk in the door, and the first thing I do is I seek to explain why she's wrong and why I'm right, because I feel like y'all got to know, right?

Y'all are here. I got to give you context. And they listen to me, and then they just sit me down and they say, no, John, like, you've got to look at this through her eyes. I remember, like, Trip just sat down and said, no, no, no, John, you've changed. You know, he's one of my best friends in all the world, and he's seen me and said, no, no, no, you've changed.

And if I see it, how much more can she see it and she lives with it and she's been patient? And then I sit back and I say, well, she just doesn't know all the stuff that we have to go through. The church is getting ready to launch in eight days, and I've got to prepare and preach for Church in the Park tomorrow, and I've got to do all of this stuff. And every weight that I put on what I had to do, Richard, Trip, and Moe was like, all right. Trip was like, yo, I may have to stay up all night and work through this.

Trip has chronic fatigue, and he has for years, and he's like, I'll take that. You're not going to preach. If it requires me staying up all night, I'm going to do it. That's not on your plate anymore. Well, I still got to do this.

Richard's like, I got that. And they literally took not just every burden off my shoulder, but they took every excuse that I had to reconcile with my wife. And the only task or job that I had after that time was the weightless responsibility of apologizing and asking for forgiveness, which feels like such a lighter task when you're not weighed down by thoughts of letting the rest of the world down.

And I still think back to that day, finally, because I think if it wasn't for them, I would have messed up one of God's greatest gifts to me in Chandra. So she came back. She came back.

I mean, did you have to go get her? Well, when she left, she didn't think of what. She thought of who. She called her best friend who also lived in the West End because we were getting ready to plant this church. And her friend encouraged her and said, hey, no, John has changed, but he's been through an incredible trauma.

And so she helped her to maybe understand or grasp a little more what was at stake. It wasn't just because I had a bad day. It was because my whole world turned upside down. And it was strange because I don't remember what we fought about. And when it came to reconciliation, I don't remember it being a long, drawn out process.

We came, we said our sorrys, and it was like as quickly as we were torn apart, I think we were back together starting to rebuild our marriage. It is interesting how much grief affects our marriage because it affects us personally. I do remember when my sister was dying, she was in a hospital in Atlanta, actually. She wasn't doing well. She was at the end stages of lung cancer. And I was in the hospital with her, had flown there from Michigan. And I remember one of Dave's best friends called me while I was in the hospital.

And I was in the midst of grief realizing I'm going to lose her. And his friend called and said, hey, Ann, I know that you don't plan on going to this wedding in Colorado because your sister's dying. And you guys have been invited.

It was a pastor friend of ours, a really good friend. And Dave was planning to go. And you remember this, Dave? He said, I really think you need to go with Dave because he's really hurting right now. And John, I'm just going to tell you, I was like, he's hurting?

Dave's hurting? And I was so mad. Like, I'm sitting here with my sister. I may not have weeks with her.

I may have days. And my husband's hurting? And I said that to him on the phone, like, dude, do you know what's happening in my life right now?

Because you become so, you're just drowning in your own sorrow. And I hadn't considered Dave's. But I think our friend guilted me into it because I thought Dave is my priority.

And so I did end up going to this wedding. Which I think was the wrong decision. Do you think it was? She should have stayed.

I probably never said this in 20 years. But yeah, you should have stayed with your sister. I didn't know my buddy called her. But I will say, Dave, the time that we had out there at that wedding, I do remember. Because we were with our best friends. And I can remember, I was in the depths of sorrow and grief. And yet our friends are funny, man. And I remember laughing, thinking. We were laughing and yeah.

That was a good part of it. It brings up this, when you're going through grief in a marriage or in a family, and you're at different places in that grief. And even depression, Dave. There's so many.

Any one of those, that's what you're talking about. We go on. How do you go on?

How do you navigate that? Because your wife might have been on a different plane. It wasn't her brother. It was yours. And even today we've been talking about how friends, how that's so necessary. And you've taken this all from the study of Ecclesiastes. So take us through that, more of that, like as a spouse is struggling.

What do you think? So I think it's an interesting point that you bring up as well, too. Like most of the times when our world thinks of living with depression, and somebody says, hey, I'm living with depression. We assume that it's their depression. But when you're married and you live with a spouse that's depressed, you can also live with depression vicariously through them. And that starts to affect you and to weigh you down. And so one of the things that I learned in our time was what made it so hard for us is that I was comparing our grief and negating her grief because I felt like it wasn't as much as mine. And sometimes we have a tendency to judge the reality of somebody's grief by our perceived quantity of grief. Sam was my brother, and I'm hurting and all of this. So my grief is more than yours. Therefore, mine is more real and yours is less real. And you need to be nicer to me. That's what I would say.

Yeah. But the whole time, Chandra is like, no, wait, wait, wait, wait. I've known Sam pretty much as long as I've known you. I'm grieving that I lost him, and I'm grieving because now I look at you and the way that it's changed you. I've lost parts of you.

And there's parts of you that I've lost. And so there's ways in which her grief was just as real. And what hurt us the most or what can hurt you the most is spending time deciding what to do with grief by comparing it. And it's not a contest. It's not meant to be compared.

It's saying, no, no, no. Both of us have very real grief that is doing very real things. In what ways can I help you carry yours? In what ways can you help me carry mine?

And in what ways do we need to get resources outside of our marriage to help us carry? Yeah. And for me, there was also, I hate to admit this, but there was a part of me at times that would be, because it wasn't my sister, and I was grieving, and it was really a hard, sad thing. And I've got four nephews' sons now, her boys, that are motherless. But at some point, there were moments where I was like, okay, girl, to Ann, are you not through with this yet?

Right. You know, it's been a year and a half. It's like, I don't know if I ever said it out loud, but there were times where my patience was like, you've grieved long enough.

Can I get my wife back? I'm really glad you never said that out loud. That could have been disastrous.

No, that would have been horrible, but it was a real feeling. So what do you say to that? So what I say is like, that is a common misconception that folks have. And the one thing that I've learned through grief, right, the most important thing that I've learned through grief is this, grief doesn't have an expiration date. Grief doesn't expire. We tend to think of grief like a loaf of bread.

Like, all right, no, no, no, it's fresh for a bit, but eventually it's supposed to mold, crumble, and you'll be done with it. Now, grief is like a non-perishable can of beans that's been sitting at the back of your granny's pantry since World War II, and you can pop it open right now and it's fresh, right? Like, people that haven't lost somebody in this way, they look at the grief as a past tense event, something that went on at a certain point in time and now it's done.

But when you lose somebody that close, it's not past tense, it's present tense. Because every time you go to sleep and you have a dream about them that's real and you wake up and you realize that they're not there, you rediscover that they're gone and you grieve once again. It makes it tough to sleep because when you have nightmares, you can wake yourself up out of the nightmare, but when you lose somebody, waking up feels like the nightmare. And so... Did you start waking up a lot?

All the time. Crying in the middle of the night, finding myself. Like, I wasn't scared of the nightmares. I was scared of the good dreams because I would have a dream of my brother and I would just want to hug him and I would see him. And then at some point in the dream, I would realize this is a dream and I'm going to have to wake up. And waking up is the nightmare.

And it's ongoing, but I think once we learn grief doesn't have an expiration date, then I don't think we get sucker-punched by it as much. You're listening to Dave and Anne Wilson with Jon Onwachekwa. His book is called We Go On.

Finding purpose in all of life's sorrows and joys. You can get a copy at Just click on today's resources to find Jon's book. Or you can call 800-358-6329.

That's 800, F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today. And you know, we're in the last days of our matching challenge here at Family Life Today. As we are, I went through and looked at a couple of reviews that people have left as they've listened to this both on the radio and as a podcast. And one of the reviews said, I keep coming back to listen because Dave and Anne constantly offer hope through the gospel of Jesus.

I need to be pointed to him and they do this all the time. This podcast encourages me to hope in Jesus. Thanks, Family Life crew.

Well, thanks so much for writing that and thanks so much for listening. We are encouraged by the fact that you are pointed to the gospel every day. And thanks to partners like you who give to this ministry.

It makes all of this possible. In addition to that, some generous ministry partners have offered to match every gift given dollar for dollar until we hit $2.3 million. That's for a one-time gift, or if you become a monthly partner right now, your monthly gifts will be doubled for the next 12 months. Again, you can give today at or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329. That's 800, F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today. Tomorrow on Family Life Today, Dave and Anne Wilson are joined again with John Onwachekwa, who shares the rest of his story of how he overcame the trials he faced and finally saw the truth of Jesus in the midst of his suffering. On behalf of Dave and Anne Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a production of Family Life, a crew ministry helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-30 18:06:22 / 2022-12-30 18:16:21 / 10

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