Monday, June 02, 2008

A Wish and a Hope

A week or so ago, Lucy wanted to wear a tiny butterfly pin my mom had given her on her dress to church. The clasp was not so great, but I foolishly said OK. Of course by the end of the morning, it was lost. She was devastated. She sat on the back porch and cried and cried and cried. Then she came indoors, got a piece of paper and a marker out of the drawer, got up to the kitchen island, and asked me to help her write. In between sniffs she said, "Mom, will you please spell 'The butterfly is lost. Lucy lost it.'" I did, and she wrote it all down. It broke my heart to see her weeping, her little head bent over her paper, and Darren said sadly to her, "Are you just like Mom, Luce? Do you need to get it all down in writing in order to feel better?"

This is going to be one of those posts. I can't promise how long it will be; I just know I have to get it all down in writing. If you've read this blog for any length of time, you'll know I closely followed Angie Smith's story and the loss of her baby. When I got home from vacation last week, I was catching up on a little reading and saw on Angie's blog that Nicol, her sister-in-law and one of the original members of Selah, just lost her 7-week-old son to SIDS. First Angie's baby, then Steven Curtis Chapman's five-year-old daughter being struck and killed in their driveway, now baby Luke Sponberg dying of SIDS...I just had to close my computer. Too much.

I've never liked to fly. I'm guessing that's probably a no brainer for anyone with as many fear issues as I have anyway. Darren used to like to fly until Sept. 11. I told him that terrorists were only one more minor thing in the long list of stuff to fear about flying. The very fact of hurtling through the air at 600 miles an hour through any kind of turbulence and with countless other airplanes in the air simultaneously, trapped in a metal box with hundreds of total strangers--and who knows what germs and serial killers are on there--flown by someone who's assuredly been drinking or is addicted to Vicodin or cocaine or worse (the older I get, the less I'm surprised at the number of functional alcoholics and drug addicts there are in the workplace); basically the entire enterprise is so fraught with danger it's a wonder anyone travels anywhere.

Since becoming a mother, I often feel like I am flying and not really in a good way. Sometimes I hit a cruising altitude (it helps to have a sense of humor), but most of the time inside I am white-knuckling it through the fear and the terror of this intensity of love for these two little people. My girls have very set boundaries in the backyard of where they can be; they can't walk in a parking lot without holding my hand; they can't jump on the bed; we have safety locks on all the windows in our house that allow the windows only to be raised about three inches; I watch them like a hawk. Maybe you think, Alice is such a whackadoo, she really needs to lighten up and let go a little bit. However, I know a couple whose grandchildren were jumping on the bed; their grandson fell off, struck his head, and died. When Darren and I were living in Chicago I saw with my own eyes a toddler lying on the sidewalk, dead, having just fallen from an upper-story window.

It is real, this death of children, we cannot control it or stop it, and it is my very worst fear. We can put a leash on them, put a fence around them, lock all the windows, encase them in a plastic bubble--it doesn't matter. We can't keep them safe, we can't keep a baby from dying in the womb, from going to sleep in his crib and never waking up, from a little girl being run over in her own driveway.

I woke up this Saturday morning very early, while it was still dark, and I had to talk to God. I had to thrash this out again with Him, this is certainly not the first time, but I needed to ask Him afresh what possible purpose could all these deaths of children serve; what is the point; what is the point of life at all anyway since the entire enterprise is so fraught with danger; and just who is flying this plane anyway? I poured out my anger and fear, frustration and resentment, my disappointment in Him. My fear is a lack of trust; I don't trust Him. I don't really have a reason for it; my dad is trustworthy, my husband is trustworthy; it is just inherent in me, this fear and faithlessness.

I fought and wrestled with Him about this all weekend. On Sunday at church, we took Communion. I confessed again my fear, that I don't trust that He is good, that I have trouble believing He will care for me and my daughters. Then as we took the sacrament, I thought how hard it is for me to be angry at Jesus. I can take all my rage and pour it out to the Father, but as soon as I think of Jesus it melts away because I know He experienced the same horrors of the world that I do, the reality of death, and far, far moreso.

I think when a lot of Christians are in turmoil, their Bibles fall open to the Psalms and I can certainly understand that. Sometimes mine does too. But more often than not, it falls open to John 11 and to 1 Peter. Those are two of my very favorite people in the Bible, Martha and Peter. (And I know Jesus gently rebuked Martha for being all concerned about the work while Mary sat and listened to Him, but you know...someone still has to get the food on the table, am I right?!) Then Lazarus dies and Martha doesn't even wait for Jesus to get into the city limits, she gets up and goes out to meet Him and questions Him about why He hasn't answered her prayers and demands some answers--He has disappointed her. (That Martha, she is my Bible soul sister.) And Jesus gives Himself as the antidote for it all, all the death in the whole world, He's like, "I AM the resurrection!" Then at the tomb of Lazarus He bursts into tears--at the unbelief and the wickedness that causes death, death itself, the heartache and the heart-rending goodbyes--it was never supposed to be this way. He's feeling what we're feeling. I know I can trust Jesus.

Then there's Peter: his fear-filled life, his one-baby-step-forward-one-giant-crash-into-the-Sea-of-Gallilee weak like mine. Yet after he is transformed, he writes these words that speak to me so much now I almost reach down to my Bible to feel if the ink is dry: "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls."

So, I sat there during Communion, and the glorious realization washed over me again. God knows I do not understand. God knows I am weak. He knows my frame is dust. He knows I have so much difficulty trusting Him, that I fight against Him and would beat Him with my fists in anguish and frustration if I could. So He sent Jesus, to come to this world and live in agony alongside us. That's how much He loves me. That is how absolutely, completely, totally trustworthy He is. I can't see Him, but I do love Him.

I did not come away from this weekend with answers to the great "why" question. But I hope I can say as Kate does, in Stepping Heavenward, after the death of her six-year-old son: "I find no consolation in [people's] remarks. My comfort is in my perfect confidence in the goodness and love of my Father, my certainty that He had a reason in thus afflicting me that I would admire and adore if I knew what it was. And in the midst of my sorrow I have had and do have a delight in Him before unknown, so that sometimes this room in which I am a prisoner seems like the very gate of heaven."

There is a song I have been listening to a lot lately, in fact, I listened to it three times on the way home from work today--I love every word of it, but the second verse comforts me like nothing else:

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea.
A great high Priest whose Name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in Heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end to all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.

Behold Him there the risen Lamb,
My perfect spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I AM,
The King of glory and of grace,
One with Himself, I cannot die.
My soul is purchased by His blood,
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ my Savior and my God!

At the risk that no one is still reading this long post (and I have already edited it--I had so much more to say!) I'll close with what happened after church yesterday. We went to lunch with some friends, and outside of the restaurant was a fountain. Lucy and Elaine touched the water, and Lucy said, "Mama, if I had a penny, do you know what I would wish for?" Thinking she had birthday parties on her mind, I smiled and said, "What do you wish for, Baby?" She looked up at me, smiled, and said, "I wish Jesus would come back now and take us all to heaven with Him."

I searched around in my purse and found her a penny so she could throw it in the fountain. After all, it is my deepest wish, too.


Becky said...

It's so true that as a moms our worst fear is the lives and safety of our children. It starts before they're even born.

I resonated with you here because this week I flew (I do sometimes like to fly, but it's never without its moments of terror) and I'm out of my own little world.

This week I'm at my parents' house. They have a massive hardwood staircase with the spindle things holding up the banister, rather than wall--hence, a baby gate is not possible. I keep having these horrible visions of one of us losing sight of Caleb and him dashing full speed down the upstairs hall and falling down the stairs. I think, what if something happened to him? My parents just built this house. They love this house. But I would never, ever be able to enter it again!

Then I have to literally shake my head as if to dump these thoughts out. I have to constantly remember (and I like how the KJV puts it here) that I am commanded to be "casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." (For me, this means not watching the news or reading the newspaper or other things that make my thoughts stray to the sin of worry.) Instead of dwelling on what ifs, I need to think on things that are true, etc. My knowledge of God is that He is good and He is in control. This is true. I can "cast[] all my cares on Him because He cares for me." (I do a lot of casting!) What is true right now is that God has gifted me with a healthy son. And Caleb belongs to God. (Incidentally, I was reading about Hannah not long ago in my devos. Can you imagine desperately wanting a baby, God giving you a baby, loving your baby, and then, just when he was weaned, giving him up ON PURPOSE because of your love for God? Wow.)

When I fly, I know that God can hold that little plane in the palms of His great hands and set it down as safely and gently as he chooses. That's really the only thing that gives me peace when I fly alone, especially. I think it over and over in the air. And He holds my life and Scott's and Caleb's in the palms of His hands, too.

I am scared of death. I'm scared of things unknown. I dread the painful abyss of emptiness I would have if I lost my son. But my life and my loved ones' lives will not end until God is done using us here on earth. No plane will crash or car will crash or tornado will hit or fatal stair slip will ocurr until God is ready to take us home. He has a purpose for all that He does. And when I get to heaven I won't be missing my loved ones. I won't be thinking about earth at all! I will be, as I fail to be here on earth, 100% focused on the glory of my great God and King. His glory will overwhelm my every thought. Won't that be such a relief?!

Alice said...

Thank you for this. (And I'm always glad to know I'm not alone--I could probably write a whole post of fear of stairs.) I have found also that careful editing of news stories that I allow into my life helps to fight against fear; as well as memorizing Scripture and hymns.

I wanted to include in my post Corrie Ten Boom's story from The Hiding Place--when she was a little girl, she and her sister visited a neighbor's whose baby had just died. It terrified her so that she couldn't eat, and that night when she went to bed and her father came to tuck her in, she burst into tears and said, "I need you! You can't die!" He gently said to her, "Corrie, when you and I go to Amsterdam--when do I give you your ticket?" "Why, just before we get on the train," she answered. "Exactly," said her father. "And our wise Father in heaven knows when we're going to need things, too. Don't run out ahead of Him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need--just in time."

I also found this quote by Iain Duguid, "God has not promised to give us the grace for all of the desperate situations that we might imagine finding ourselves in. He has promised to sustain us only in the ones that He actually brings us into...Like manna, grace is not something that can be stored up for later use; each day receives its own supply."

I'm glad we have this forum to encourage each other!

Oh, and missed you on Sunday! :-)

Melanie said...

Thanks for writing about Luke, Alice. I was reading Angie's blog last week and I couldn't wrap my brain around it and had no one to feel lost with. I still can't wrap my brain around it but at the same time prayer is the only comfort when something like this happens, and then happens again, and agan. They say things come in threes so I'm hopeful that we'll get a reprieve from the sadness soon.

Becky said...

I really missed being there on Sunday! Another one of my fears is this fear of change. I'm feeling rather insecure about this move and starting fresh with a whole new body of people. All during the sermon on Sunday, I was sitting there thinking, can I do this? (Especially, I think, because I feel like such the little girl in my parents church instead of going in feeling like a pastor's wife.) But you're right, God's grace is sufficient for every situation.

Alice said...

Thanks, Melanie...I couldn't believe it when I read about Luke; I had just been telling Darren on vacation that Nicol had left the group in order to start her family and that she had just had a baby boy (actually, I think he was more like 2 1/2 months than 7 weeks; I guess I got that wrong). SIDS was always something I was paranoid about too (oh, surprise!), but one of my college professor's 6-month-old daughter died of it.

Becky, I too am not a fan of change. But I'd probably worry more if you blew into that situation overconfidently! You've shown at our church what a wonderful pastor's wife you are--I know you'll meet all the new challenges and opportunities head-on! Except...I have to stop thinking about it for now because it's making me too sad! :-(