I am your creator. You were in my care even before you were born. Isaiah 44:2
One of the interesting things about this blog that I have never mentioned is that oftentimes, more often than not actually, I have no idea what I am going to write about when I sit down and begin to peck away. Sure, there are the obvious updates that I have done since this all began that more or less wrote themselves and had to be done to keep everyone up to date on the ups and downs of bringing five little lives into the world. But to be perfectly honest, the update posts are pretty mundane and are sort of boring for me to write. The ones that I really enjoy writing, though they are also the most challenging, are the ones that center around our faith in Christ and whatever difficulty he is helping our family to unpack at that very moment.
Such is the case with this post. I have no idea what I am about to write, but I know that the keyboard is calling out to me. Life has been less than easy lately and it is usually during those times that the Lord leads me to this place, sitting at my desk, staring at the screen on my laptop, and asking him what is on tap for today’s discussion. It starts with a prayer – “Lord, allow your light to shine through me and give me the words to fill the page. This is your blog, these are your words – help me to reflect your light in all that is written here.” – and it ends with whatever flows from that prayer…
Now I do not tell you this to say that I have some sort of special connection with Christ – no hotline to Jehovah exists that I am aware of and I do not hear the voice of God in my ear telling me that that sentence is too wordy or that I need to explain myself a little better in the last paragraph. It’s nothing like that, at least as far as I know. All I know is that I pray and then I write and it seems to work out pretty well when I do it that way.
Maybe that is the way God works with me, but then again maybe the prayer I say is nothing more than a mental trick to get me focused on the task at hand. Or maybe that is how it works when you are doing something you’ve been called to do. But then again, I do not have any publishers beating down my door to offer me a book deal so how could I possibly be called to a life of writing? I really don’t know why it works that way, I just know it does.
Come to me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
I do not claim to know exactly how God works and what his methods are other than to say that I know better than to expect him to interact with us in a tidy and predictable pattern…no, life is way too messy (even for Christ-followers) for that to be the case. And isn’t that the case with all of us? Isn’t life too messy for each and every one of us to fully understand how God can possibly be in control of any of it (or maybe believe is a better word than understand?)? That is kind of how I have felt lately – it has been a rough month…messy, uncomfortable, confusing…messy. I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but messy is putting it lightly. I’ve found myself in a fight I did not see coming, I’ve watched a marriage and family reach the breaking point and begin the crumbling that in spite of our best efforts, we’ve all known has been a long time coming (not ours!), and I’ve watched a little girl face the harshness of life’s realities long before any of us could have seen it coming. Like I said, it’s been a rough one…
It is tough when things come at you one right after the other as they have for us these last few weeks. I know you know how it feels – the phrase, “when it rains, it pours” wasn’t created and copyrighted by the Jones family – we’ve all been the pinball in the arcade of life, unfortunately. We’ve all been there and we’ll all be there again someday though hopefully not any day soon. So what is that all about? Why does that happen? Is it just bad luck or is someone really out to get us? Is it karma – do we all just get back what we’ve dished out at some point along the way? If there is a God who loves us and protects us and only wants what’s best for us, shouldn’t he throw up some sort of bad-luck-road-block once one or two bad things happen to us? Shouldn’t he be sending in fresh troops to ward off future attacks from the evil one after the first few dominoes fall?
In church on Sundays we are often taught to think of Christ as our father – no, more than that – we’re taught to think of him as our perfect father – loving, patient, kind, peaceful, forgiving, protecting, etc, etc. So as a parent, when things go wrong in my life I try to think of how I would handle the situation if I were my father, my perfect father. I’ve got to be honest – I would handle things very differently if I were Him…….
Maybe I’m too young to understand how it all works…maybe I’m too naive, who knows? Maybe my children have not matured to the point at which I could stand by and watch as bad things and bad people hit them one after the other from every different angle and do nothing to stop it from continuing. Maybe, maybe not…again, I don’t know. I just know what I know now and that is that I would not sit on the sidelines and allow Eliot or any of my other kids to get hammered over and over again…I would do whatever it took to stop it and stop it immediately. And listen to me, bellyaching over a bad month! Are you kidding me? There are millions of people out there who have had a thousand bad months! Bad years, bad decades, bad lifetimes…there are plenty among us who can put their names down on those lists……
So why doesn’t God stop it?
Well, again, I don’t know. But I do have some thoughts on the subject…
You know how steel is forged, right? For those who don’t, here is a quick summary: first, take a piece of steel and heat it until it glows orange and red hot. Second, beat on it, hard, repeatedly, and with a very heavy hammer. Third, repeat steps 1 and 2 until the steel has taken the shape you wold like it to be. Fourth, put it in water to cool it off quickly.
Alright, sounds familiar…I can relate. If you’ve been around long enough, you know that our lives are forged in a very similar way as that piece of steel. God wants us to be as strong as steel so he forges us like a blacksmith forges a sword – with beatings and heat and pressure and sometimes sudden relief. I can buy that.
But wait, didn’t the Lord say that he would take away our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh? Doesn’t he run the risk of turning our heart of flesh into a heart of steel with all of the beatings that come with the molding? So if the steel analogy can be true it can only be one part of the story, right?
I’ve heard it said that the eyes are a window to the soul and I believe that to be true. So if that really is the case then what are our eyes really designed for if not to see the world around us, to reach out to others, to recognize the need in another, and to respond when we see things that reach us on a soul level? I believe that God gave us eyes not only to see our feet step out in front of us and to keep us from crashing into everything in our path, but he also gave us eyes so that we could see into each others’ souls, to share each others’ hurts and strengths, to feed off of each others’ spirits, and to share each others’ longings for a better place and a better time and to help each other to get to that place and time without losing our own souls along the way.
But things just get messy when you dig into other peoples’ lives, don’t they? It’s hard to look into someone’s soul, to feel their hurt, and carry that burden as if it were your own…I know, I’ve been there and I avoid it as much as possible in my daily interactions with others…don’t we all? That actually isn’t entirely true what I just said about how I avoid it as much as possible. Truth be told, that’s the old me speaking…that’s how I used to be. Back before I fully committed to Christ it was me, me, me and more me all the time and I avoided other people’s hurts like politicians avoid the truth. And what I found when the inevitable crash came in my life is that I had no one to fall on and no one was there to pick me back up, tend to the wounds, and help me pick up the pieces and put them back together.
Things are different with me now, at least I try to be different…I don’t always succeed. Nonetheless, I learned things from the crash(es) that I carry with me today and help me to avoid a similar story from shaping my future just as it has scarred my past. I learned that in order to truly know people, to love them, and to be truly loved in return, that I had to allow things to get messy from time to time. I had to allow them to see the mess I had created and I had to take the time to look inside their world and help them clean up messes of their own making, if the need should arise. It is clear to me now after learning these things, and hopefully it is just as clear to you, that we were designed for community, for interaction, for love, and for getting messy, real messy if necessary, with those that we know and love.
For God has said, “I will never leave you, I will never abandon you.” Hebrews 13:5
But there is still something missing here. We’ve got the strength of steel, the eyes that peer into another’s soul, and the heart to feel the hurt, but there is still something that I’m leaving out here….Ah, yes, the obvious one that is always so easy to overlook. Aren’t we supposed to “trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not on our own understanding”? And doesn’t God “in all things work for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose”? And my personal favorite, doesn’t the Lord “give perfect peace to those who put their trust in him and keep their purpose firm”?
Oh yeah, that…that whole promise-of-God-Bible thing. Dangit! Gets me every time. And this is the point where I feel like a kid again, hopelessly crushed by my inability to see the logic and the beauty of the story that God is unfolding right there in front of me. Once again I have allowed daily circumstances to shape my vision of God instead of allowing God to shape my vision of daily circumstances…why is it so hard to break that habit?! It has to be this way, it simply has to be. We have to be strong for others, we have to help them grow, and we have to be tough when others cannot be. But we can’t do that unless we know the other inside and out and unless they know us in that way as well. And we need others to be strong for us and they have to help us grow and they have to be tough for us when we cannot be so. Yes, we have to be tough and strong for others, but we also have to allow ourselves to be weak for others to truly know us, inside and out. We have to go through the mess and the muck, not in isolation, but with a crowd. We have to do this if we want to get to the sweet stuff on the other side of life. We have to witness the hurt and experience the pain/joy/frustration/elation with others so that our hearts can be opened to the world of suffering/triumph/hopelessness/victories around us. We have to feel, firsthand, the isolation that is the result of building up walls around us and shutting others out. And we have to be still for once and know that He is God.
There is no other way. If one word of these Bible verses I’ve put on this page is true then there simply is no other way. For “in everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind.” And thankfully, “God blesses the people who patiently endure testing. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” God gave us his Word and by doing so, he gave us his word, his promise, that he would never abandon us, that he was with us, that he had plans to prosper us, that he loves us. If you believe as I do, then these words have to be true, they have to be strong enough for me to stand on when times are tough, they have to be there when the pinball plunger strikes and sends us careening into a world of chaos and frustration and pain…God’s word has to be there to restore peace and prosperity to our lives in the midst of the storm, not after it passes! God gave us the promise so it has to be true. There is simply…no…other…way…
*Post script in response to some of the questions and comments we have received since posting this blog entry:
We appreciate everyone’s prayers and support and would like you to know that our stress level has slowly begun to settle into a more normal level for our family. The marriage/family that I referred to in the post which is crumbling as we speak is absolutely, unequivocally not ours!! Casey and I have honestly never been in a better place than we are right now and our family is as strong as ever! (And even if we were in a rough spot with our marriage, there is no quit in this family!) There is nothing more that I “want you to know” (as ABE commented below) – I simply can’t give more details than I have because it would not be appropriate to the other people involved in the situations I mentioned. I hinted at those issues because those are the issues that we are working through and, as always with this blog and everything else in our lives, we are as open and honest with the people who support our family as we can possibly be.
I also mentioned those issues because it helped me to bring up something that I and others have often found difficult to face through a Christian faith perspective. It’s not so much why bad things happen to good people – I think I’ve wrestled with that one enough and am fairly at peace with the answers I’ve come up with. Rather, the question for me/us in this moment is why bad things happen successively to people and how are we as Christians supposed to glean from the hard knock lessons of life when they keep knocking us down over and over again.
For me, simply talking it out over the blog is a huge help in coming to grips with these types of questions as they arise. Hopefully for you, simply reading about someone else’s experience and knowing that someone is struggling with something similar as you is a huge help as well.
As always, thank you all for your support, prayers, and love!! God bless!