It’s been a long time since I blogged last. And in that time, our family has celebrated (if such is the word) the anniversary of the deaths that tie us together. Odd, isn’t it, that death should bring anything but death?
In November, my children and their father relived the day in which Mommy Sarah went to be with Jesus. And in December, my mother and my siblings and I spent the day talking about my Dad.
I often find myself lost in thought about these losses. I can’t believe Dad is in Heaven, and I’m sure it must feel the same for Shannon and our children. Without Sarah’s death, there would have been no need for me in this picture. And without Dad’s death, I would have never met this strong, godly man that has come into my life. Why is it that there must be two deaths for me to finally arrive at marriage? I ponder it often. And to be honest, I wrestle with it.
I love the life I’m living now. There’s so much to be thankful for … a husband (after many, many long years of praying for one) who holds me, makes me laugh, shares the little things of life with me. Two wonderful, sweet children who have adapted very well to a new situation and a new mommy. The opportunity and delight of “making my nest.” Daily, abundant provision.
Yet, underneath the beauty on the surface, there’s pain. The children and I talk about Mommy Sarah often. Things she did. What she was like. Places they went. I ache for the loss of this sweet woman that my husband knew and loved and walked alongside for 14 years. And then buried.
I think about my Dad often. He was certainly human, but he really was larger than life to me and missing him is hard. Loss is loss no matter how it comes. And grieving is not easy.
I realized recently that I’m avoiding God a little bit. Being civil but not being at ease. Relating to him at a distance. Because I don’t understand why.
Why do I think He owes me an explanation?
Do I explain everything to my children? Could they possibly understand if I did?
But it would make so much difference if we could see meaning behind these losses.
Yes, it would. But it would also take away trust. It would turn love into a business partnership. Do I want my children to love me only when nothing is a mystery to them? When I have spelled out in contract what I expect from them, why, and what they’ll get in return? Is it not precious to my heart when they come to me when they are hurting and curl up in my arms, a warm and tearful bundle, simply because they trust that I am a safe place for the pain in their heart?
I’ve been thinking over the stories of Joseph and Abraham lately. People who endured pain, without getting explanations.
Joseph’s story astonishes me. That someone could go through rejection, disappointment, his name drug through mud and hung up for all to see, unjust accusation, and a long prison sentence, and remain useable – not bitter – always grips my heart.
I really want life to be easy. Not hard.
I want things to go well. Not be turned upside down.
I’m scared of the unknowns yet to come in my life. Of my children growing older and wrestling with questions themselves, and coming to me for answers.
Reading over Joseph’s story this week, I realized that he had to wrestle with some things as well. We can go on with life, we can look put together, but sooner or later, we have to deal with what we’ve gone through. We can’t ignore it. I want to avoid pain: to box it up and pretend like it doesn’t exist. But that doesn’t work.
Joseph went through unspeakable hardships and came out on the other side. In a “coincidental” occurrence, he is set free from prison and overnight he is promoted to a leader in Egypt. Later he marries and has two sons. The first one he names Manasseh, meaning “forgetful”. “Because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s house,” he says. “I’ve moved beyond the pain. I’m going on with life. Why the dreams? Why the rejection? I don’t know. But it’s all behind me now. I’ve forgotten it.”
“As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them … then he remembered his dreams about them … he turned away from them and began to weep …” (Genesis 42: 7,9,24)
Can you imagine the waves of emotion that he was experiencing? Feelings he hadn’t had in years, washing over him with the relentless pursuit of a stormy ocean. Everything he thought he’d forgotten, all the pain he thought he’d dealt with, bitter and gritty as sand in his mouth.
For three days, he threw his brothers in prison. The Bible doesn’t say, but I’m sure he was dealing with anger, pain, agony. Why, why, why?! I thought this was done. But it’s all as fresh and raw as a blazing desert sunrise.
You can find the whole story in the latter part of Genesis, starting in chapter 37, and I won’t go through every detail here. But something began to stick out to me as I read through. What it meant was just beyond my reach, yet becoming more clear, like the last unreachable drops of honey slowly coming down the sides of a jar: “He turned away from them and began to weep … Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there … and he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him … he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept … he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time.” (42:24, 43:30, 45:2, 45:14, 46:29)
Tears are often a sign of being broken. Of a life with some painful realities. Of things we don’t understand, can’t handle, run from until we come back around only to face them again. God says this about our tears, that “every one is collected in his bottle.” (Psalm 56:8) God is a father who doesn’t fix every bad thing before it happens to us. Yet He is not unmindful of the pain we are facing, of the things too big for us to wrap our finite minds around. And tears are for our healing.
When bad things happen and I find myself drying up inside because I don’t know what to do with this pain, how will I respond?
First I have to be honest. Honest about my heart’s response, which is never pretty. Honest with God about the way He knows my heart is. Honest that though I think I have forgotten, there are things in my heart that God is going to bring again to the surface, and I don’t need to avoid them. I need to look at them with Him.
Second I have to be okay with not understanding. That hurts my pride, because I’d like God to explain things to me. I like to think I deserve that. But God is God. I’m not. He really is working out a far bigger, far better plan that I can realize.
Third, I have to trust God’s goodness, in spite of what I see or experience.
After the death of Joseph’s father in chapter 50, his brothers come to him, afraid of retaliation. Whatever Joseph may still have to deal with in his heart, he’s come to the conclusion that God is God and he’s not, and he responds, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is being done, the saving of many lives.” (50:19,20)
Joseph never got an explanation for why the story had to be so painful. For the years of hardship. Couldn’t God have done it differently? Perhaps. Yet He didn’t. Joseph learned to rest in God’s leadership and his own frailty, and found peace there.
That’s what I want. Peace. It comes when I come to my Father and curl up, warm and tearful, in His arms. Trusting that He is my safe place. Trusting that He knows what He’s doing. Trusting that He’s making something beautiful. Trusting that one day, He will wipe away every tear from every eye.
Joseph had two sons. The first he named Manasseh: “forgetful.” But the second he named Ephraim, and that means “twice fruitful.” That’s what I want to remember as life goes on. Our stories are all still being written. We may think life would look one way, and that picture gets shattered. We’d like to forget the pain, to close ourselves off because we can’t handle it. But God’s plan is never to leave us in broken places. His gracious intention – the plan He usually has to work out in spite of me – is fruitfulness. Not simply to endure. But to thrive. I don’t get there on my own, only with Him. Only by acknowledging my need and His abundance. By coming with the simplicity and trust of a child.
“The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.”
He will swallow up death forever,
And the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces …
It will be said in that day,
“Behold, this is our God;
We have waited for Him, and He will save us.
This is the Lord; we have waited for Him.
We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”