Tragedy first visited Joan Sepp in 1983. Her oldest son Marty, a gifted musician and promising student, whose future had been crushed by drugs and mental illness, was murdered in one of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario’s downtown alleys, where he often roamed at night.
“I lost Marty twice,” Joan said, “first to drugs, then to murder.” To handle her worries for Marty, Joan had been meeting with a local pastor for prayer and counseling. It was during this time that I met her. Emotional pain was visible on her face then. Through the pastor’s guidance, she committed her life to Jesus Christ. After Marty’s death, Joan found comfort in the Lord. He led her to a life of generosity. “Every time I do something for someone else, I become more whole,” she said.
Five years after Marty’s death, Joan’s only daughter, 21 year-old Krista was working at a youth detention center in Midland. She’d been there only a few days when the boyfriend of a young offender attacked her with a knife and stabbed her to death. No one could believe that another member of the Sepp family had been murdered.
Krista’s death brought national media attention. Reporters camped on the Sepp’s front lawn. For several nights the evening news opened with this picture of Krista. Everyone who loved her, worried for Joan. Would she fall apart? “People would’ve given me permission to curl up and live in an institution for the rest of my life,” she said. “But I didn’t want to do that and I knew God didn’t want me to do that.”
I don’t want to give the impression that Joan was stronger than the average person. If anything, she was weaker, more emotionally fragile than most. After Krista’s death, she joined a grieving parents group. I remember thinking what a good idea this was. But after a few meetings Joan said, “There are people there who had children die 20 years ago and they’re still grieving. I can’t live like that.”
With God’s help, Joan found her own way to healing. She took the giving route. She gave and gave, of her time, her money and her artistic talent. Joan summed up her life’s philosophy in these words: “I discovered that giving is therapy so I’m always looking for opportunities to be a blessing to someone.” Joan became mother to several young women and a mentor to everyone who knew her. A quiet woman, she thrived on giving love and liked nothing better than a warm hug in return.
Joan Sepp’s earthly story ended on September 23, 2008 but her strong, quiet trust in Christ remains a testimony to all whose stories intersected with hers. One of her paintings sits on a shelf in my den. It’s a reminder to me that no matter what happens in life, the best route to take is to keep following Jesus and to do whatever He says because He knows the route to healing for us. For Joan, it was giving.
Joan carried her lost children close to her heart but she made the daily choice to choose life and not self-pity. I hear her saying emphatically, “Self-pity is the road to ruin.”
Today I’m remembering Joan, an ordinary woman who had an extraordinary influence in the lives of everyone who knew her. I feel privileged to be one of them.
Joan’s favorite scripture: “God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).
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