"Three times I have walked around this hospital. And three times I have begged God to spare her life." Those were the words from my dad as we walked together on the evening my sister was dying.
I have said before that there are some losses you grieve for a lifetime. Every year at this time, my grief is thick, even though it has been fourteen years since Karlene passed away from a brain aneurism. She has missed out on seeing her children grow, go off to college, get their first real job, get married, and have their first baby...with each event, her absence is a sting to the heart.
I was talking with a friend of mine whose mom passed away after a long, hard battle with Alzheimer's disease. She had said that her mom had worked so hard to prevent cancer (a disease that had taken many in her family) only to end up getting Alzheimer's. My dad will say in his funeral messages that we all have an expiration date. Why are some allowed to live to ninety-five, while others die at thirty-five, as children, or in infancy, and others in the womb?
There is not an answer you can give me. I know God is good, I know that he has a plan. But in the darkest times, when all of a sudden your life is full of turmoil, confusion, and chaos...it is hard to see the good. My husband and I do not make it a secret that we have walked through deep waters in our marriage. In our marriage, we have suffered huge loss. I have experienced a similar kind of turmoil, confusion, and chaos. Times when all I could see with my eyes was darkness and all I could feel was the impact of grief.
But this is faith. When in the darkest times, we trust in the unseen.
And having faith is not the guarantee that life will work out the way you want it to. That you will beg God to spare your daughter and he will do just that. That you will ask God to keep your marriage from devastation and he does. Because sometimes God allows unimaginable suffering. Sometimes, you find yourself facing your worst nightmare. And as Christians we can say, "Oh, I know that suffering will come and that God is still good." But until you actually face it, your words have not been put to the test.
It is difficult to watch a person in the thickness of grief and suffering. Very often we feel we need to say something. Point out all the good things about the situation. But God didn't say be thankful for the circumstance. He said be thankful in the circumstance. There is a big difference. Some circumstances just plain suck and they always will. However, God promises to work all things to the good of those who love him. Can I always see that? No. Can I always feel that? No.
But what I can see are the faces of my nephew, nieces, and my incredible brother-in-law. Their strength, determination, compassion, and beautiful smiles. And we all see Karlene in them. What I can see are the faces of my own children, my husband, the snow falling gently, the deer walking on the back of the farm. What I can feel is the joy that hearing music brings me, the freedom I feel when I dance, the release that punching the crap out of my punching bag brings me. And in all of that is where the thankfulness in the circumstance is.
God speaks in all of those ways. And he speaks to us as individuals, in our frame of reference. I experience God when I am teaching a fitness class. I experience God when I watch a room of women having the freedom to express movement, release their inhibitions, and work hard. I experience God when I see a group of men encouraging each other to keep going through that last set, even though they may feel like giving up.
Who are we to say the way God can or can't reveal himself to us? I listened to a podcast by Erwin McManus and he was talking about a man who was a Jewish Buddhist and he gave his life to Christ after a conversation with his Buddhist life coach. Say what?! How is that possible? I read a story of a missionary who was alone in her hut and cannibals were going to attack her, but stopped because they saw very strong men with swords coming out of her hut. Elisabeth Elliot asks why shouldn't God send angels to do things for him in this century as he did in Bible times? "Do centuries make any difference to the Eternal God?"
Yes, I am reading yet another Elisabeth Elliot book, God's Guidance A Slow & Certain Light. She talks in a section of this book about how God gives to us so that we can give to others. "He did not make all deaf men hear or all blind men see. He got Paul and Silas out of prison, but left John the Baptist in prison--left him there, in fact, until his head was chopped off. He prevents some accidents and allows others. He keeps us from disease at times and at other times lets us get them. When he lets us get them he sometimes heals us and sometimes lets us die. But in whatever he does in the course of our lives, he gives us, through the experience, some power to help others."
The other morning I was having my devotions. I was feeling down. Kicked in the gut by the hardships of life. I heard God say, "Open my Word. I have something to say to you." I opened my Bible to Hosea chapter 11 and there in front of my eyes was an underlined verse. I really don't remember when I underlined it. I mean, Hosea isn't a book that I have spent a lot of time studying, but at some point I underlined this verse. Hosea 11:9 I'm the Holy One and I'm here--in your very midst. (The Message)
When everything is black, my eyes can't see, and it doesn't seem like God has it in control...the Holy One is there, in my very midst. And he is right beside you, too. I don't understand all of the suffering in life and my own suffering has been very messy. I have not struggled without grasping for some kind of relief. God knew where my heart was being pulled to go during those confused times and he stayed with me as I wrestled. I am grateful that he sees my pain through my eyes and is full of compassion. I hope that through the experiences of loss and grief, I use the power God has given me to in some way help others.