Lately, my heart has been heavy. For the family of a little boy named Ben in western New York. A family that I don’t know directly but have friends who do – a 4 year old, beautiful little boy, who’s cancerous brain tumor was inoperable, and he went home to be with Jesus. I’ve prayed for him, and for his family, for a few months now – crying as I read his mom’s blog updates; my heart aching for his pain…for their loss.
I’ve mourned for the family of a gal I knew from elementary/middle school, Jenna. Who’s twin girls were born via emergency c-section and started out their lives in the NICU. Within 24 hours, Jenna was put into a medically induced coma because the surgery revealed an advanced, rare cancer. Her little girls were released from the hospital…Jenna never was. They started chemo, but the cancer was too advanced, too invasive. She never really knew those precious babies.
Parents, loved ones, children, babes still in the womb. People facing unimaginable heartache and loss.
Why, God, why?
I wipe away tears as my heavy heart aches for yet another.
As I tuck a wispy hair behind Clara’s ear as she falls asleep in my arms at night I can’t help the what-if’s that form. And oh, it’s been weighty. Overwhelming.
On the one hand, I feel guilty. I look at our Mother’s Day photos and I wonder: Why should I be so blessed? And what’s more: why don’t I always act it? Why do the frustrations of the every day weigh me down? What are hands shoved in a poopy diaper and missed naps and persistent whining and bites from a nursing, teething baby and long days with Sam at work and then night school when compared to cancer? To loss? To the heartache that I see around me?
Guilt settles deep in my gut. Guilt for our happiness. Guilt for my inability to see it as happiness some days. Guilt for the moments that it all seems too much and I yell at my two year old for ignoring me and intentionally knocking over his sister for the 1234940th time that day. I SHOULD be treasuring every moment that I get with these two precious little ones. Why do I even let frustration and anger and irritation sneak in? Why can’t I be eternally patient, eternally understanding, eternally grateful? Why do I so quickly seem to turn from thankfulness in the nitty-gritty day-to-day?
And then another thought makes it’s way into my guilt-ridden brain and completely side-swipes me:
Dear God, I can’t loose them.
I’ve never, ever in my life wanted to be an over-bearing, over-protective mom. I want my kids to fall hard sometimes and get back up, and step out and sometimes fail, and to push on, to learn, to grow, to experience life, FULL life. I want to set good, healthy, God-centered boundaries, of course…but I don’t want to reign them in suffocatingly close to home.
I look into their sweet, sweet faces and I think of the cancers, the accidents, the motherless children and the childless mothers, and I want to hold them close and never let them go. I want to shelter them, protect them, stand in between them and the hurt, the heartache, the sickness, the loss.
Though I know I cannot.
As I dive to catch Clara before she smacks her face on the glass door in her latest attempt to “walk” or dash to Oliver’s room trying to understand what he is frantically screaming about; as I leave my wallet on the checkout counter at target and go running towards the automatic doors – baby bouncing on my hip – in pursuit of my toddler who is almost to the pavement on the other side…In the day in and day out chasing and catching and feeding and providing for, I just feel so very responsible for them. At two and 11 months, my children rely SO much on me. Clara who still needs the sustenance I can provide through nursing, and who’s cries in the middle of the night can only be soothed by her mama. Oliver who acts so big, so old, and yet always circles back for snuggles, for kisses, for the safety and security of mommy’s arms.
They NEED me.
I NEED them.
My prayers turn desperate as the fears sink into my heart and weigh anchor…deep.
I talk about them with my husband: these seemingly irrational fears. It’s not like we’re facing a debilitating illness, there’s nothing specific lurking in the shadows. And yet the fear comes and the worry with it, and I’m left feeling desperately anxious – for them and for me. He tells me that I need to trust God. We need to pray for our children and we need to entrust them to God. After all, they’re His and He loves them more perfectly than even we can.
But, that’s just the thing. Trusting Him doesn’t mean that things will always go well. It’s not like some magic blanket prayer that I can spout off and then go back to care-free living knowing that everything will always be ok. I believe that He’s God and that he CAN heal, CAN protect, CAN provide…but I also know that he doesn’t always. I’ve seen the hurt, the heartache, the loss. I’ve prayed for Ben and for Jenna just as I pray for my family. But, praying for my children does NOT guarantee that they will be shielded from anything and everything hurtful.
I don’t want to just TRUST – I want to KNOW that I will be around for my children when they need me. I want to know that I will not lose them. I want assurances, not a willingness to say: “Not my will, but thine be done.”
I’m sorry if that’s too real, but that’s where I’ve been lately. Afraid to pray because I’m afraid I’m being asked to surrender. To open my grasp and choose – really choose – to trust Him. To relinquish MY will for His. To identify my roll and to acknowledge His. To step out of the level of comfortable Christianity that I’ve been in for a while and once again respond to the Holy Spirit’s prodding to go deeper. As I have many, many times before.
But, this time, it’s harder. This time, I don’t think I want to. And so, instead I sit in my house surrounded by my fears and my guilt, grasping tightly to what is not mine to grasp and begging, pleading with God to not make me let go.
I picked up a copy of Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts a couple of weeks ago and the first couple of chapters nailed what I’ve been feeling. She writes:
Is this the toxic air of the world, this atmosphere we inhale, burning into our lungs, this No, God? No, God, we won’t take what You give. No, God, Your plans are a gutted, bleeding mess and I didn’t sign up for this and You really thought I’d go for this? No, God, this is ugly and this is a mess and can’t You get anything right and just haul all this pain out of here and I’ll take it from here, thanks. And God? Thanks for nothing.
I want to agree with her. I want to say it just like that, and yet I’m ashamed at the very notion of it. That I would dare to tell God that MY way is better. That HIS plan just plain sucks sometimes. That regardless of the fact that HE is glorified in the big picture, I’d rather not trust his plan if it means taking away my children. Or taking their mother from them.
Your plans are a gutted, bleeding mess…
It’s where I’ve been. It’s what I’ve been feeling. But it’s hard to look at written out, the thoughts put in actual words that seem to eat away at this concept of a loving God that I have always known. It’s not that I’ve never seen pain and suffering before – but somehow, with two little faces looking up at mine it seems so much bigger now. So much harder.
She goes on, echoing the words in my heart that I have not been able to utter:
If it were up to me …” and then the words pound, desperate and hard, “I’d write this story differently.” I regret the words as soon as they leave me. They seem so un-Christian, so unaccepting—so No, God! I wish I could take them back, comb out their tangled madness, dress them in their calm Sunday best. But there they are, released and naked, raw and real, stripped of any theological cliché, my exposed, serrated howl to the throne room.
And that’s the real root of it. It’s not that I don’t trust that God has a plan, it’s that I’d do it differently. Can I see the bigger picture? No. But I can see the hurt, the heartache, the empty arms of a mother, the motherless orphans, the cancer, the car accidents, the tiny babies that I walk past in the NICU as I visit a friend who’s 10 day old baby is fighting serious infections. I can see the hearts and souls of those I love that have been ripped open with gut-wrenching loss and I think that for my life, for my children, I want it written differently. And I don’t want God to ask me to trust him because I’m afraid of what that trusting Him will mean.
I turned on the faucet the other day while I was giving Clara a bath, and she sat there mesmerized by the flowing water. Over and over again she would stick her hand into the water and clasp it tightly, bringing it to her mouth to eat it, only to find that her hand was empty. The water had continued on it’s downward flow – pulled by gravity’s force – escaping her tightly clenched little fist each and every time. Over and over again, she tried to grab it, contain it, keep it inside those chubby little baby fingers…but she couldn’t.
And as I sat there laughing at her perplexed expression, it suddenly dawned on me that I have been doing the same thing. Reaching, grasping for what I cannot hold. Trying to keep my comfortable little world the way that I want it to be.
When, in reality, I can no more do so than Clara could hold onto the water coming out of the faucet.
It’s not mine to hold.
My children are His.
Heck, the UNIVERSE is HIS.
For probably the first time in my life I feel like I can really, truly identify with Eve. Eve who looked at the fruit of that darn tree in the garden and said: Who cares what God said about it? I want to do things MY way!
I asked Jesus to come into my life at 3 years old. Yes, 3. Which means that I have walked with the Lord for nearly a quarter century. I never really went through much of a rebellious patch – even in my teenage years. I went to youth group and church events and eventually even Bible School. Studied Theology. My walk with God has been stable, unwavering. A benchmark in my life. And I’ve always kind of wondered what in the world Eve was thinking… You’ve got this whole garden full of fruit, and you want that ONE? The ONLY one you cannot have? As though the rest of the garden isn’t good enough for you?
Voskamp puts it this way:
Isn’t this the human inheritance, the legacy of the Garden? I wake and put the feet to the plank floors, and I believe the Serpent’s hissing lie, the repeating refrain of his campaign through the ages: God isn’t good. It’s the cornerstone of his movement. That God withholds good from His children, that God does not genuinely, fully, love us. Doubting God’s goodness, distrusting His intent, discontented with what He’s given, we desire … I have desired… more. … Our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we aren’t satisfied in God and what He gives. We hunger for something more, something other. Standing before that tree, laden with fruit withheld, we listen to Evil’s murmur, “In the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened …” (Genesis 3:5 NASB)
Oh Eve, I get you now.
It’s not like she wanted to eat from the one orange tree in an orchard full of apples. No, it wasn’t about the fruit at all, really. Eve doubted God. She doubted His character; doubted His plan. She wanted to do it HER way. To choose on her own what should happen. To set her own course.
Pass me some of that fruit, Eve.
Because, let’s be honest. That’s where I’ve been too. Wanting things to go MY way.
And when I realize that, when I really truly grasp what I’ve been saying (0r not saying) to God in my tight-fisted insistence that I, surely, know better…I’m brought to my knees.
And I feel how Job must have felt when God asks him:
“Where were YOU when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him?
I look down at my clenched fists and realize, through my tears, that they are empty. There is not, and never has been, anything there for me to hold onto in the first place. The overwhelming, crushing feeling of responsibility, the weight of my fears, the anxiety that has literally taken my breath away in recent weeks – it’s all been for naught.
And I realize that in my questioning, in figuratively shaking my fists at heaven and demanding answers, assurances…insisting that His plan seems messed up – I’ve forgotten who He is. I’ve decided to view Him, and His plans, through the lens of my own experiences, my own desires, and yes, my own sin.
Circumstances do NOT dictate WHO God is. They do not change his character. They do not sway His Love. He remains constant. The Beginning and the End. The LORD of Hosts. The everlasting God. Good. Just. Holy. Exalted. Eternal.
The Lord our God.
The Lord MY God.
I may never understand, this side of eternity, why some things happen the way that they do. You can try to tell me that everything happens for a reason, explain that it’s the result of sin in the world, and give a dozen short, pithy Churchy answers like: ‘God won’t give you more than you can handle’ (which, by the way, is baloney, but that’s worthy of a whole other post).
The truth of it is: There is no neat, tidy explanation for the messiness of life. For the raw hurt. For the wounds that we suffer at the hands of others. For the heart-wrenching loss of those we hold dear.
But God is STILL on the throne.
And He is still GOOD.
And I’m learning that perhaps the peace is in the letting go. Rejecting the age-old lie that doing things my own way – insisting that I know better – will make me full. Will give me understanding. Will give me control. Turning away once again from the fruit that seems so tempting and instead, choosing to trust Him even when I do not – can not – understand. Giving Him my worries, my fears, and my failures. Acknowledging that I am His. That my children are His.
And as I ache for and cry with those that I love, as I go to my knees once again, bringing my children, my husband, our family, and many, many others before the throne, as I brush away the tears even as I tuck that wispy hair behind Clara’s ear at night. . .
I need to do so with open hands, and a heart that says:
“God, I don’t understand. Yet, I will trust you.”
Author’s note: I had heard a lot about Voskamp’s book before picking it up, some positive and some critical. As with any other post of mine that mentions someone else’s work, this is NOT meant to be a full review of, or complete endorsement of every line in the book One Thousand Gifts. I am simply sharing something that spoke to my heart as I read. 🙂 -Bethany