THERE IS NOT A SINGLE atomic attribute we possess within our humanity able to ensure security. Simply, our ultimate welfare is out of our hands. Our lives sway in the breeze of circumstance. One day we are well, the next bedridden. We tire. Our bodies succumb to sickness. Beyond that, we tangle ourselves in worry until our hearts sag heavy under the weight of life out of our reach. The phone rings and we receive disappointing news. Maybe the news concerns your position at work suddenly gone, your spouse confessing he no longer loves you, a diagnosis set to violate your child’s life. There is an unending myriad of tragedies and difficulties you could attest to. And as quickly as that we find the fragility of life, like that of a dandelion blown by the wind.Read More
Does He know fully well? In days too undone and nights darker still, where is God? Busy with the cosmos, waiting for Forever, un-winged by our unbelief or tending to bigger brokenness than we know, perhaps? There have been times when the cool of swollen waves have swallowed most of me and lost, in the most dislodged sort of way, pushes into my thoughts - my heart apart from my head. In those times, the question grows emphatically, demanding attention and all of life, from beginning to now, looks diseased. Good couldn’t have possibly existed here. Somehow, the goodness in life appears to have always been bad just waiting for the opportune time to strike, and it is as it always really has been.
Suffering has a way of sickening all of life. Many different faces draw upon suffering - death, illness, divorce, brokenness, abuse - tragedy of all sorts. There in the moment every fleshed person, whether faith is confessed or disavowed, sneers upward, “How could you?” Every fairy tale and happy ending is perverted, and we feel tricked by a feeling of good.
Here’s a truth I’ve learned: not every ending is a good one. At least, not in the way we consider goodness to be good.
In the writing of my book, Earth and Sky, I wrestled with the question. I wondered if God truly knew how deeply affected my heart really was or if He truly cared. Fear lurked in life upended. In grief, something that looked just like security fractured deep within me. Frailty rushed over faith, and strength was matched by circumstances too big for me. Here's an excerpt of a chapter entitled, '9 Degrees':
This is the ageless question asked by everyone drowning in painful, uncontrollable circumstance. Where is He? He’s present in dark times, when powerful waves grind against the sides of our faith, when we’re disoriented by suddenly changing conditions. No matter the severity or the suffering, Christ remains aware. When our distress flags wave and we can withstand no more, when we float lost in the frailty of all that we are and have become, we can still be assured that God is good. His power isn’t diminished by changing conditions. His goodness lies in His unmatchable ability to redeem and make uncontrollable wrongs right.
Jesus asked His disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
Their feet were soaked. Their hearts still pounded. They still drew breaths deep and out of rhythm. . . . but everything was eerily calm. The threatening wind suddenly was no more. The water was as still and flat as glass. Jesus was wet, too, yet His eyes were calm, as if nothing had happened. He understood why His friends had been terrified. He had seen the waves; He had heard the howling wind. But He wanted them to see something else. Now. Afterward certainly, but even now. “Why are you afraid?” invites us out of the wind and waves, beyond our panic and dread, and into His moment of security.
Afterward. Even then.
We’re just like them—transfixed by the storm, wondering when it will stop (or kill us), waiting for people and love to make sense again. We expected a life so bright, right there at our doorstep. In our sorrow, we try to make it right, but we only make it worse. Finally, we find the One who can still the storm in our souls. That’s grief. Embracing yesterday and wishing it well. Embracing now and holding it tight. Wanting so badly to be whole now.
So what, then? Faith. Have you none?
I realized my life would be ruined if I didn’t let go of fear. I had to endure the storm of what-ifs and hope-nots. Fear consumes us when we can’t let go. We run around in panic and assume the painful present will last forever. Life ebbs and flows, circumstances threaten to swamp our lives, but hope exists even in quiet thoughts. After the darkest of nights, the morning will bring a new dawn. Fear had consumed me and changed me, altering words and perspective. The problem, I realized, was the fear of losing, not the losing itself. Loss is the lasting reality left in the wake of fear.
Grief isn’t just sorrow. It includes faith in the future. It’s releasing what can no longer be and becoming open to new possibilities. I have to trust that Jesus is standing there right in front of me. He is wet, too. He never left me during the stormy moments. His eyes are calm, loving, and patient. He sees my panic, calms the storm, and whispers, “Why are you afraid?”
Your cause for breaking might very well be different from mine, but make no common mistake - we are all broken. We all reach a point where we wonder just how much the sky separates us from God’s knowing care. Out of timelessness, He fleshed himself and entered our world to own all pain and abandonment. And then, He returned to timelessness with it all in His hand. Yes friend, He knows well the day in which you walk right now. He knows your pain and your fears and right in the midst of it all, an invitation extends to you, too. Go his way.
Morning would always arrive too early, and in each minute a thousand days were lived. My feet would shuffle along while the world spun by, a regular blur of normality and happiness alien then. Everyone seemed so okay and days just kept going on. People spoke and I smiled and that was all. Suffering isn't something we're akin to talking about. We hide. Often, we suffer silently due to the shock of loss, of something missing, misaligned and broken. The face of suffering looks like divorce, abuse, abandonment, loss of a career, injury and even death. We feel alone. Many drown in the confusion of just why or how this - whatever 'this' is for them - happened to them.
We who watch life pull apart in those moments have all opportunity to outlast suffering in the lives of those we love - not with our words or enlightened ideas, but with our hope. Hope always blooms in the harshest winds and darkest nights. Just as morning too early arrives overcoming night, hope in a new day owned by our faithful Creator usurps suffering.
Here are three things not to say to someone suffering: Time heals all wounds. (Not true; healing belongs who mourn. Matt 5:4) I know how you feel. (This only serves to diminish the reality of the person's suffering.) Be strong. (Lasting strength begins with our need and dependence on our Savior.)
Rather than offering quick words to those suffering, let us offer lasting Hope and suffer well with them.
"Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good." 1 Peter 4:19
When I do revisit those days, I find the most perplexing piece of my life lived. Like a garden pushed up through soil holding death and pieces of what once was, I only gaze upon goodness flowering death and disappointment, a sure evidence of God’s immeasurable grace.
And soon, another evidence of good grace stands ready to fill our lives raising us from four journeying hearts to five. I can’t help but realize God foreknew of the goodness to come, all seen now and much more far into tomorrow. Even in the darkest days following my first wife’s death, the horizon glowed with hope and passage to promise. Little felt sturdy under our feet and the present day then seemed to stretch longer than my resolve. Still the horizon glowed in contrast to the faded hues of then and whispered invite and rest. When we shuffled lost and weak stepped and she meandered through life sure but curiously wondering of beyond, he knew.
Into the new horizon, the new day, hope swallowed death in a momentary microcosm of eternity arriving as always echoed. Only weeks away from the light of new day warming our faces, we couldn’t be more ready to enter in.
Let me be lovingly clear, she’s not the horizon, nor the salvation; she’s the evidence of his resolved grace. And grace continues to be the most formative teacher shaping life beautiful behind and warm joy ahead. God doesn’t keep score or measure fair of all good and bad in our lives somehow having to managing balance. Grace invades where it’s not welcomed, grabs our hand and leads us through.
The new day pushing in requires a new me – the days after yesterday brought me here. Through those grief wrenched days following death, I learned to be a different man who sweats the same, yet talks with a heart hallowed, then filled again. Grace primed me in my darkest to stand, to love and belong again. Death fits as a defining memory behind and little more than a looming reality somewhere ahead, while life rushes deeper and freer closer to the feet of God.
And so life independent must swing to life together, merging messy, lines blurred into a new color of two now together. Much of my life has been a strong lean into grace and furious falling forward each day. The approach to each day fixed into a rhythm of not focusing so much on how we made it as a family so long as we did make it, but life merging from the four of us to the five of us demands more stability and intentionality, not mere happenstance and butterflies. My love must be ready for more than just affectionate high fives and romantic date nights. After all, she is someone my heart will be tied to and my feet will find cadence with until there's little distinction.
I’m learning how to practice love that cuts through me – my fears, my circumstance, my past, my worries, my mistakes, my deficiencies – for sake of belonging to her and us and now and promise not always seen.
[II Cor 4:16-18]
I often wonder of tomorrow, when I am older and time runs beyond me, when my bone and muscle move much slower than my heart leads, when I have more space in each day for thoughts to circle. Thoughts of how life will be for them and what life’s pressures feel like then.
I remind myself: they were created for that day ahead.
And it waits for them.
“Dad, do you think I can be . . .” You fill in the blank because my little girls ask about them all. My strong reply always echoes the same. “Yes, you sure can.”
They will meander close behind me and stray in the distance as my daughters grow, get older and begin to stand surer in life. There will be many instances where I have little control. I feel their strings pull a bit more as their day gets closer. The truth is I have very little control over their course in life. God has allowed my opportunity to reflect His glory and nature into their lives, but it is He alone who owns the days ahead.
CONTINUE READING AT DEEPER FAMILY
Two. What are two years worth? Can days be discarded, undesirable and unwanted ones?
In a telling shortness, the two years behind me are worth all that’s ahead. I’ve cursed plenty of those days playing the victim drunk stumbling on circumstance violating what I measured fair in my life. Death never seems fair or fitting in its happening and the lonelier days following.
Tomorrow marks 2 years completed since my wife unexpectedly died. On a Wednesday like countless other ordinary Wednesdays before it, she was rushed from home to hospital. And I think it was then, not on the following Monday when she breathed her last, that our paths began to pull apart. I say this because for five days while she lay in an ICU bed, machines pushed air into her and fluids through her. She was gone. All that she was was no more.
Time stopped even as I watched it continue all around me and my life, the one lovingly built with her, ended. A new one started where I was a minor character in a major lead role, often overwhelmed with wordless emotion swirling in the context of grief resting heavy and constant.
I hated the new life that I had no choosing in. I resented God and if I’m honest in confession, parts of me still do. Those are the real hurt parts of me pierced by inexplicable, but not out of the question circumstance of a loved one dying.
Killing those hurting and accusing parts of me by allowing time, love and hope to heal is a daily exercise in trusting God and his goodness both universally for all people, but more intimately, for me.
We all die someday, I suppose.
We certainly do die, everyone of us. Saying, ‘I suppose,’ comes from one of those hurt parts of me that finds a slighting satisfaction in reminding God that I don’t agree nor expected such tragedy to find me then. But death and tragedy in its wake did find us. That’s right where our new life started, the one that we are two years into now.
Like morning fogged with sky fallen as low as our feet, Ahead ambiguously hangs on the fading tail of days bled through, lost in and even the smallest celebratory moments in clouds knifed through by sun. The promise of life in the closing distance warming more with each step away from life tearing apart glows on the horizon. We are not yet there at the glowing destination where all seems as though it rests only calm and giving. Maybe we never will be fully there. And maybe not being there is a good thing; a sort of guiding beauty always prompting us onward to a land and place of promise and peace.
We’re drifting, sliding sideways some days, but mostly moving forward in tossing waves frothing and foaming of grief and grace ...a heart-healing, God-stirred elixir.
Days old and aged in effort given and attempts overcome are also effective little liars. Creepers finding cracks to grow in; the unwanted searching for higher position than truth just standing stoic. Those days must be let go of as our hands grasp and hold to a new day. Faith. Grief. Healing.
Rocks hold well in the sea stirring and are a sure welcomed sight for one drowning, but waves don’t relent in crashing. Unconcerned of their breaking, they keep coming and breaking, again and again. Life and waves can feel much of the same in this way.
Rock holds and waves break.
So what of the two years behind?
I’m braver. I’m bolder. I’m stronger.
I’m more lost. I’m lonelier. I’m smaller.
I’m more convinced of good. I’m wrapped in dawning grace. I’m rescued.
I’m a better father. I’m a contradicting son. I’m an honest man lying in moments precarious.
...a loser won.
And what of them, the girls, my daughters? Well, they’re still watching, always waiting and regularly wondering and dreaming of tomorrow. They simply are the best thing for me, and I would surely be someone different without them. My daughters hurt and are still found in tears. In moments where moms fit appropriately, they have no one of exact measurement. That is the deepest bruise. Their little hearts have journeyed further and lived more than mine at that age. And smiles defy all wrong in their day with an honesty inspiring each of my steps.
These two years have beat the hell out of me, honestly. But I’m here everyday gazing upon a glowing distance still blurry in my eyes.
You are where you are, precisely. Circumstance, both good and not, will always loom and exist. Your choosing just as mine is simple: onward and through; no matter the depth nor height.
And now three.
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“Tomorrow found in today; what’s ahead discovered in days behind.”
This has become somewhat of an echoing mantra and anchoring core value in my life. Often what we need for today and beyond lies in the path behind us. A risk that taught us to trust more. A failure that taught us bravery. A mistake that taught us humility. A hurt that taught us to bleed. A loneliness that taught us to find. A darkness that taught us courage. A victory that taught us to win.
Whatever those steps pressed into the ground of yesterday hold, above all, they hold life and answers and path.
The writing of my book gave perfect opportunity to look back, gaze upon the burning heap of dreams behind ...look ...love ...want ...hurt ...break, and mostly ...find. Recounting pieces of my past floating, stretching further apart on life pulling like the tide and swelling waves, has, in a way, been the greatest happening. Many days I felt like a scavenger walking through barren lands once rich and fertile, now hollow and uninhabited. And then, I would stumble upon deep wells of remembrance whispering words I couldn’t understand but laced with promise and passage finding penetrating way into the chambers of my heart.
Losing my wife, a woman whom I loved indescribably, did nothing less than change me completely.
Life turned unexpectedly and unforgivably. I stopped lost in tracks. The steps behind me began to guide me with each faith-filled, God following, narrowly trusting, grace infusing step into the unknown.
Future bowing to past in homage and honor. My eyes learned new, the value of unknown and how to choose.
Here’s an excerpt central to my story from a chapter currently entitled, “Surely Goodness and Mercy.”:
I saw a man alone, subdued by pain, frightened by the fear of all that may be some day, and I quietly asked to never be that man. I can't. I won't. The man fumbling through fading memories like a thief holding a leaking bag, the man stumbling drunk on why things settled they way they did, talking to himself, mumbling angrily and hurt. That will not be me.
My daughters will not know him. They might see me wince and wrestle to the ground... But they will never know a hollowed heart comfortable only in shadows. I may not have much greater to give them than that but it will be an echo that resounds like bells of freedom in their warm little hearts. Always. I pray.
I will not allow myself to be the man hollowed by pain, afraid of shadows and those things which lie in waiting. Life may indeed only seem to take from us, days, memories, happiness, but courage is mine to give. And the source, it is immeasurably and unfathomably deep. It is unending. Through darkened spots and failing strength, the reason for courage remains.
For months following her death, I only prayed for God to piece back together the life I was forced from. So little did I know and perceive the beauty of his bridge building redemptive ability lies within the thinnest, most inescapable steps when I am invited to only follow and not need bearing or direction or understanding.
Each day, a decision. Choose wisely. Trust ridiculously. Step faithfully.
... A day forsaken is a day forgotten. So many want only to escape.