"Hello Abby" I say. Her smile lights up the room as her eyes search for who called her name. "What a beautiful smile." I search for words to say that are normal rather than clumsy. Not pity but kindness. How do you extend that to a stranger who is clearly in some pain?
"My daughter, she pushed too long in labor. She did not live and Abby, we all take care of her." His dark eyes reflect his sadness and love at the same time. "My other daughters, the other grandparents, we all help. They say her mind is good." I listen, struggling to put in to words the emotions I feel at him having shared his pain. "My daughter, she was so smart. She went to Georgia Tech. She had so many job offers. So smart!"
"HOW OLD IS SHE?" Madi yells. "Three, just like you" I tell her. "Why can't she talk?" Lydia asks. "She is learning. She will one day." I respond. "She wants to watch you play." he tells the girls. "HI ABBY!" Madi yells at her, like she yells everything. "Abby smiles and giggles." It is a beautiful sound.
I wonder how he does it. Tells a stranger about his daughter without breaking down. I don't know if I could be that strong. Even after 3 years. "Oh God, please hold this family in your arms." I whisper as I walk out of the office.
A friend is married to a man for life. She loves him. The act of loving, not just the feeling. He is not a Christian. She is. She prays, begs God to bring him to Him. Prays and begs for God to use the pain to remake her in his image. What does it all mean? Why did God put her there?
A beautiful young girl of 14 is disfigured by her husband. She is shunned and eventually hidden. If you look past the marks he left on her, you see eyes that are deep pools of pain. Shame. She spends her time covering the face that God loves.
Another friend tells of her struggles to maintain life in the face of her husband's health challenges. She is living for both of them. Doing it all. She is strong until we ask how we can help her. And she crumbles in tears. She does not see her strength. She says through it all she is pressed but not crushed. I picture a beautiful flower pressed between the pages of her heart. Pressed to God.
A dear friend has a daughter. She struggles. Their relationship reached a breaking point. The pain of sending your baby away for a season. I cannot fathom the pain. Yet she gets on her knees and thanks God for that baby. Thanks God for a safe place for her daughter to go. Asks for God to teach her through these trials.
She glows. There is a certain woman who just glows. Her smile is beautiful and her laughter makes me smile. My children barely know her but they are drawn to her as moths to a flame. How does she find the strength? For a decade her body has been fighting illness. I would be so tired. How does she not give up? Yet she prays for others. Her words soothe my soul. She serves those around her.
A fading marriage. Life-long friendships suddenly ended. Estranged children. Strained relationships with parents. Divorces. Illnesses. Death. My own children's pain of broken bonds, fear of abandonment.
I have always felt that God "allowed" things to happen. Or maybe he just didn't prevent them. And then he'd use them to make us stronger or whatever. But I was just making something up to keep myself from thinking God could be bad. My own theology. Hmmm. I think the bible says something about a person who counsels himself. A fool, I'm pretty sure it's called.
But I recently had my thoughts changed for me. If I believe God is all-knowing, benevolent, in control, how can I think he'd just benignly watch bad things happen? I mean, this is the God that caused the flood. He wiped out all of man-kind except for a chosen few. This is the God that parted the red sea then let it go and drowned the Egyptians in the way. Egyptians who were His creation. That He loved. If God has numbered the hairs on my head, and knows the exact moment of my birth and death, I'm pretty sure He doesn't sit idly by and watch the world go by.
I never liked the thought of those disasters. "The God of the Old Testament" was a phrase we used. Like He had a personality change somewhere around the time of Jesus birth or something!
So I'm studying suffering with a group of ladies (now there's a fun topic!). And I was ready with my, "He allows but doesn't cause" belief. Then I read Isaiah 45:1-7. Apparently I'd been trivializing God. God the Father. Creator. I was viewing Him as a benign old man watching events unfold and seeing how he could put a good spin on them.
"I create the light and make the darkness. I send good times and the bad times. I, the Lord, am the one who does these things." Isaiah 34:7 NLT
In the ESV is says, "I make well-being and create calamity." Calamity? Disaster? He doesn't allow, watch, or wait. He makes it happen. Now two thoughts instantaneously go through my head. "Really? Really God? You purposely took Alyssa from us? You let her drown? You purposely made my friend sick? Watch marriages fail? Cause tornadoes?" The second thought? "OLD TESTAMENT GOD!" Not that I voiced these in our discussion!
So our discussion continues...In John 9:1-4. The disciples asked Jesus, "Why is the man blind, because of his sin or his parents sins?" Jesus response?
At first that confounded me. Why God? Why would you cause pain deliberately? Then I began to listen to the stories around me. Stories of pain so intense that the person runs to God because there are no other options. Times of confusion that force turning to our creator the clear our thoughts. And God clears our thoughts and His glory shines through. The pain does not evaporate. But it becomes a way for God to show His glory.
"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us." Romans 8:18
Then I realized, pain and suffering was what drove me to realize my desperate need for my savior. Pain of inadequacy. Fear of another layoff. I recall vividly, walking around our small house for hours, hyperventilating and crying, not knowing how we were going to pay our bills. Phone or power cut off again. Our parents desperately trying to help us not lose our house to the bank. Desperate for affirmation from a husband who was struggling to survive the emotions of being out of work. Losing Alyssa. Losing my temper over trivialities. Striving for recognition at work. Loss from a miscarriage and buried desires to bear a child. Shame that I was jealous of others who could get pregnant, who were prettier, richer, more courageous. Fearful of others seeing my heart. Seeing the inadequate person I really was. Wanting to seem perfect. Wanting a God sized hole in my heart filled by a man, a job, a child.
As I surveyed each of those painful moments, I came to see how God was using them to pull me ever closer. To show me how He, and only He, can fill the void. How He can soothe. And even produce bounty out of tragedy. How many times has he held me together that I did not even see. If we had not gone through what we saw as the tragedy of losing Alyssa, would we now have such broken hearts for orphans? If I had gotten pregnant, I would not have any of the children we have now. That thought rocks me. Shocks me even. My children's painful beginning has a purpose both for me and for them. Being in our family now was part of God's purpose.
Each challenge made me turn, and lean, on the only one who could truly hold me up. And knowing that God is always purposeful, while sometimes I still want to say, "Really God? Why? Why me?" Now I am beginning to think, "I don't like this but God how will you use this to teach me? Form me?" I have comfort knowing that nothing happens randomly. God planned for my life. And His glory will be revealed in it. Now that's something!
I read and wrote about once how someone felt adoption was a distant plan B for children. And I thought that Jesus somehow was God's plan B. But I'm pretty sure the creator of the universe never had a plan B. That this is all part of God's design. There are those who will argue against predestination. I'll let my much smarter husband and 13 year old respond to your arguments (I had to say "Predesti-what?" when she asked me if I believed in it!).
I just know that God already knew Adam and Eve were gonna mess up. He knew you and I weren't gonna be able to pull off the, "I'm perfect" image for long. And He knows just where to press us so we'll lean into him. And if you'll lean into Him in those "why God" moments, He will hold you until His glory shines through.
Praying that you will all be "pressed but not crushed" as he turns your face to Him. Love you.