An Inconceivable Wound
Hank and Peggy Graeser’s life was tragically altered when their beloved son, Bryan, received a diagnosis of cancer at just eighteen years old. Their immediate response was a desperate prayer, “Lord, we are going to trust you in this. Amen.” They had no idea what that trust would look like.
Words like “aggressive,” “difficult to control,” and “low survival rate” became their reality as they came to realize that the statistics were against them. Over the next three years, Bryan endured multiple surgeries and chemotherapy. Psalm 23 was their framework as they walked through the valley of the shadow of death. Bryan experienced a time of clinical remission after two years, a blessing Hank describes as a feast at the table prepared before them in the presence of their enemy, cancer, which was still present but unseen.
After a three-year battle, Bryan went home to be with his Savior in 1998. For those of us with children, it’s an inconceivable wound, a heartbreak we cannot imagine.
Now, 24 years after Bryan’s passing and by God’s grace, Hank and Peggy are able to share their story to help others who are experiencing their own grief and suffering. “It’s not easy in any way to talk about, but it is joyful to be able to help others.”
Hank describes the nine years after Bryan’s homegoing as a period of going from mourning to mission. The family needed to take the time to grieve, take a step back from things they were involved in, listen to the Lord, and regain their footing.
Time to Heal
Hank credits Peggy as being the visionary of the two. In 2001, she imagined having a place to invite other grieving couples who had lost children. But it was not yet time. God was doing a work in them to prepare them. It took another six years for Hank and Peggy to be safe in that role. Hank describes it as “holy detachment” – being far enough away from their own story to be confident in God to minister to others.
The couple purchased and modified a home in the mountains and turned it into Bryan’s Oasis, a refuge for others in need of respite and healing. They trusted God to bring those who needed to come, and as they began hosting other families, they found that people were now looking to them for comfort, answers, and assurance.
Only by God’s grace and mercy can anyone turn such mourning into mission. Only because of their deep encounter with Jesus can they confidently share with others that He is still walking with them even when they feel deserted.
From Mourning to Mentoring
God turned Hank and Peggy’s mourning into the gladness of ministering to and mentoring others. In fact, Hank decided to retire from his full-time engineering career to pursue this vision.
To comfort all who mourn… to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit.
Hank’s testimony and example of mentorship are powerful. Along with hosting others at Bryan’s Oasis, they have led a GriefShare group several times. He is also a senior member of the Segue group at his church, which focuses on helping men at or approaching retirement mentor others too.
From Wounds to Scars
It took years, but Hank and Peggy pressed into God as He began to heal their wounds into scars, and they took the step of faith to comfort others with the comfort God is granting them. Through his encounter with Jesus, the Good Shepherd, through the dark valley, he has been able to enter into his “second vocation” of discipling others with deep wounds. He encourages other men to realize they have something to share from their life and experience in Christ and to begin now to look for opportunities to be around younger men.
“Meaningful mentorship has to come out of a deep encounter with the Lord Jesus. It has to be a reality that a person knows and can articulate.”
We are tempted to hide the pain of our past and believe that our scars are too great for God to use. But as Christ-followers, our scars give us a chance to recount God’s faithfulness to others. We don’t all experience the same trials, but when we put them in God’s hands for him to use, the payoff is seeing God at work in people’s lives.
Just like the boy who gave his loaves of bread and fish to Jesus to multiply, Hank is a living example of offering what he has to God for him to use. They started Bryan’s Oasis with one idea in mind, but over the years, God changed it. He encourages others to start somewhere and tune in to where God might take it.
“It’s our job to bring the loaves and fishes; it’s Jesus’ job to feed the 5,000.”
My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles who now will be my rewarder.
John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress