In Too Deep – Part 2

Last week, the Awesome rescue of a Thai youth soccer team captivated our hearts as the feel-good-story of the decade.  Yesterday, the boys and their coach were released from the hospital and are headed home a day earlier than expected. “Awesome” is capitalized purposefully in describing the events, as I can’t help but to see God’s fingerprints all over that rescue.

If you believe like I do that God intervened to make the rescue of the Wild Boars possible, then there is a corollary that we must also acknowledge:

If we believe that God intervenes in some situations, then we must accept that He doesn’t intervene in other situations, resulting in what we perceive as tragedy.

I don’t approach God’s sovereignty lightly. At times, it is the bitterest of pills to swallow. It tastes a whole lot like why? It catches in the back of my heart. When we are deep in despair, there is no spoonful of sugar. There is no sugarcoating.

Why didn’t my loved one walk away from the wreckage? Why is disease ravaging my loved one’s body? Why did my beloved take a stray bullet?

 Why weren’t my prayers answered?

Confession – I didn’t pray for Brooke when I got the call telling me that there was a wreck and that she was unconscious. I didn’t pray that she’d be okay. I skipped straight to “she is okay.” I asked others to pray, but I had an unwavering faith like I’d never had before that she’d be fine and she’d make her way safely home. I just knew that God was in Mississippi and that He’d intervene.

God was in Mississippi on March 16, 2017, and He did intervene. I saw the wreckage of my daughter’s vehicle. I touched the space where an Angel Army surrounded a beloved friend protecting him from the fate that a reckless driver exacted of our precious Brooke. Had I been Commander-in-Chief of Divine Forces that day, I would have dispatched additional troops.

Therein lies the rub.

This is where we so often hit a snag in our faith.

The real Commander-in-Chief could have, but He didn’t. We’ve all been in that space – maybe you are still there. The space between what God could have done and what He does is sometimes as dark as a flooded cave in Thailand. The air feels thinner. The ground is melting away. Everything’s different. Or is it?

Or is it? That simple question beckons us to examine the darkness.

No one wants to examine the darkness. Why can’t everything be bathed in light? Why can’t the air always be fresh? Why can’t the ground always feel firm?

And, here’s where I let you guys down. I don’t have a simple answer to explain that dark chasm between what we want and what is. Frankly, it hurts my heart when others try to slap some overly simplistic explanation like “everything happens for a reason” on an indescribable hurt. I used to say that a lot. Not anymore. It’s too naive. It doesn’t shed any light into the cave.Cave Photo

The circumstances that push us over the edge are too complex for empty platitudes. Cutesy clichés are too flimsy to stand up against harsh realities. So, while I may not be able to explain away the hurt, I can testify that the greatest risk of  getting stuck in the gap just might be a hardened heart.

While some were genuinely joyous when the collective prayers for a safe rescue were answered, others sat in silent resentment. Anger bubbled in their hearts at the sight of Thai school boys emerging safely from murky waters. Certain losses have the power to dishearten and disconnect us. Some have even reached a point where they are no longer able to rejoice in the blessings of others. They are stuck.

As difficult as it may be, we must guard our hearts. Our hearts are what makes us human. Our hearts reflect our Maker. We are the flip-side to the valley of the shadow of death. Others come to know God by our actions – the shadow that we cast. How we react in the face of adversity is a direct reflection of how we define God.

Yes, God is immutable. His attributes are fixed and determined, and we do not “define” Him as such. Rather, what we reveal of our hearts reveals how we view God. Do we trust Him? Do we know that He is holy and has plans to prosper us? Even when it isn’t obvious? Even when darkness creeps in?

When things don’t go our way – we have two choices: allow our hearts to callous or accept God’s sovereignty. Usually, hearts don’t harden overnight. It takes time. It takes multiple losses and defeats – each one depositing a layer of hurt and hard until all of the layers solidify. No judgment here. I get it. Problem is – the fortresses around our hearts rarely perform to specs. Hearts weren’t designed to function behind walls. Like long exposures to darkness inhibit the eye’s ability to focus in the light, hearts atrophy in the dark as well.

We cannot simultaneously believe that God is good, just, and merciful and house our hearts in stone. When we shut off our hearts to the world, we also shut off our hearts to God. When we lose our ability to connect to another’s suffering or another’s joy, our very humanity slips away. More sadly, we lose our connection to God. We cannot be connected to another or to God if we harbor secret (or not-so-secret) resentment when our neighbors receive the answer to our prayers.

At times, my lack of formal prayer in the frantic minutes between “there’s been an accident” and “we lost her” has haunted me. Maybe, I could have done better. Maybe, if I’d only prayed harder or . . . Maybe someone “out prayed me.” No. I don’t believe that is how God exercises His sovereignty. When I step back and examine those chaotic minutes between phone calls, my unwavering faith that Brooke would be safe and come home was the deepest, purest, most genuine prayer ever to escape my heart.

You might be thinking, “But, your prayers weren’t answered.” True, my prayers were not answered as I had designed. However, Brooke left that backroad Mississippi highway and landed straight into the arms of Jesus. She’s home. She’s safe. I need never again to worry about her.

We may not understand God’s battle plan, but we know He’s already won the war. For that reason alone, we can have faith that God’s plans are to prosper us. When spiritual skirmishes go our way, God’s justice, mercy, and goodness are obvious – at least to us. Someone else might be left feeling that they were “out prayed.” We may not always like the way God exercises His sovereignty, but we must have faith that He is every bit as just, merciful, and good when it isn’t obvious from the outcome.

I wish that I could bottle what sustained me for six minutes in March 2017. That intense faith is what we all need to sustain us for the next six minutes and the next after that and after that. We can’t always maintain maximum intensity. However, we can choose to renew our faith every time it feels shaky – even if that means in six-minute intervals.

Suffering produces endurance; endurance produces character; character produces hope.

Hope softens a hardening heart.

 

SDG

The Struggle is Real . . .

Writing this blog has become an outlet for me as I process the loss of my daughter. It carries the hope of not only transforming me but others as well. I enjoy the process of producing the blog. I find comfort here. So, I was surprised this week with how much I’ve struggled to write the blog.

In fact, I’ve spent countless hours searching for the “perfect” topic. I’ve scrapped drafts of two different blog posts. And, I’ve struggled.

Then it dawned on me. Sometimes, the struggle is real. Sometimes, we just have to give ourselves a little grace. Sometimes, we need to refocus. Sometimes, we need to re-center.

I’m really good at doling out advice. But, this week, all of that advice applies to me.

The past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of activities celebrating Brooke’s memory. Her birthday was June 12th. On the same day, Professional Women of St. Tammany awarded two scholarships in her memory. A few days later, the Southern Yacht Club held the second annual swim-a-thon in Brooke’s name.

I’m tired. Not the kind of tired that can be wiped away with a nap. Rather, the kind of tired that settles in your bones. Can you relate?

This time last year, I was reading A Case for Hope by Lee Strobel and journaling about the scriptures that he highlighted in the book. What follows is an excerpt from my journal in June of 2017 – just a couple of months after the accident:

A Case for Hope – Day 10:

“For I know well the plans that I have in mind for you – oracle of the Lord – plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

The “letter” (scroll) containing this verse was written by the prophet Jeremiah. The scroll was addressed to the elders of the people exiled in Babylon. The essence of the message is “don’t waste your time in exile.” Even while in exile, God continues to lay a foundation for prosperity, hope, and a future. These are His plans for us.

This chapter of Isaiah seems to confirm my belief that my focus must remain on hope. The trickier part is to move from trying to focus one’s mind on hope/ a future – to living with hope. Truly living.

When does the day come when it no longer feels like living in a shell? When will the shadow be cast out? As I write that question it dawns on me that shadows are only seen in the light. On cloudy days, the shadow can’t be seen.

On the harder – cloudy days – the pain settles in a like a misty fog. On “sunny” days when the sun peeks out from the clouds, the shadow is still there. When I catch a glimpse of it, the shadow overtakes everything.”

Fast forward back to the future, what have I learned in the past year?

  • God’s plan for us is one of hope.
  • When the plan results in loss, hurt, or despair, it’s not God’s plan.
  • Hope doesn’t mean that all will be made my version ofright on my timeline.
  • Hope is the light at the end of the tunnel.
  • Hope is the firm foundation that paves the road between this life and eternity.
  • Hope is what assures me that not all of our days will be misty and blue.
  • Hope is the thing that destroys death’s power.
  • Hope is the guarantee that one day He will wipe away every tear.
  • Hope is the promise that eternity will overshadow every hurt of this world.
  • Hope doesn’t disappear on cloudy days.
  • Hope is the motivation to pick up the pieces and to try again.
  • Hope is the place where we can seek solace when the struggle is real.

SDG

Summer “Daze”

In the world of family law, summer is a battleground. Parents jockey for position in an attempt to manipulate visitation schedules so that they’d get more time than the other parent. Usually, they just wanted that unfettered time of lazy days devoid of the school calendar. School’s out. No homework. No responsibility. Just fun as far as the eye can see.

Sometimes, parents would be more particular about crafting a schedule, homing in on the “forgotten” holidays – Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day. And, in South Louisiana where summer typically stretches deep into October, parents often went to war over “Parish Fair” Day – that extra Friday in October when the world of Washington Parish revolves around the fair. (Other parts might recognize this as the “county fair.”)

For those dealing with the loss of a loved one, summer can be a battleground. Even when the sky is cloudless and blue in the shade of a memory, shadows loom with the intensity of storm clouds. Read more

Clouds of Joy

When it comes to art (paintings, sculptures, etc.), I am quite unsophisticated. As college wound down, I was searching for a more “grown-up” and “sophisticated” look for my apartment. So naturally, I headed straight the cheap wall poster section of Michael’s. And, since I didn’t have a clue about art, I settled for what someone in the eighties thought would have commercial value. Enter Water Lilies (Claude Monet) and Starry Night (Vincent Van Gogh) complete with flimsy, pop together, plastic wall frames.

As time went on, I grew more sophisticated in taste – enter Jazz Fest Posters. Hey – unlike the mass-produced variety, these are actual art. And, while we own a few (unsigned, unnamed) originals, we’ve also collected a few giclées (the adult version of cheesy wall posters) of pieces that we love but didn’t have an option for obtaining the original. Read more

We Belong Among the Wildflowers

Ah, Spring . . . that expectant time of year when everything comes to life – except when it doesn’t. I find myself living in Minnesota this spring, and winter somewhat overstayed her welcome, bleeding into that time earmarked for new life. And, it seems that Spring is melting into what Minnesotans call Summer. (If you are from the South, it’s not what you are thinking.)

Coming from Louisiana, I’ve really only met Spring in passing. She is more the fodder of poets and fantasy than reality in my own experience. The South has two seasons – hot and hotter. If you are lucky, you’ll find a piece of the South that experiences two extreme seasons – Winter and Summer. Both of which have the uncanny ability to show up the same calendar day.

Despite Spring’s marvelous PR campaign with baby bunnies and little lambs, Spring has lived up. In fact, we could skip May all together and most years that wouldn’t bother me too terribly much. May holds an awful lot of pain. Read more

Life Doesn’t Feel Fair

My daddy loved little reminders. He carried the same old, worn pictures in his wallet for decades. Joe Rudd was the kind of guy who made refrigerator magnets to commemorate holidays. He wanted us to remember the moments after they had passed.

Daddy also liked books, poems, and pithy sayings. The sound of “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right” still lands impatiently upon my ears. One of his favorite poems was by Mary Stevenson. (Who? Trust me. You know this one.) Read more

The Path of Hope is Muddy

Who hasn’t had to memorize “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening?” What 7th or 8th grader hasn’t had to study “The Road Not Taken?” Robert Frost is one of the great American poets studied by school children across the nation.

What does “The Road Not Taken” have to do with grief or loss?

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

What if your “yellow wood” is your home office in the wee, dark hours after a horrible accident has taken your youngest daughter’s life? A “yellow wood” could just as easily be the backseat of the car as your mother takes you home after seeing the team doctor. Homes are awfully lonely in the wake of divorce – even when bathed in yellow sunshine. Read more