My reality has returned.
It’s been almost four weeks since the weekend of respite with eleven other couples who have recently lost a child, and the two weeks following that retreat were the lightest, most lovely days I have had in the last six months. But as predicted, the darker moments are inching their way back into my routines.
Go away! I don’t want to fight you!
But I can tell the fighting is different this time. Before the retreat, the Dark Moments would creep around the corner, and as soon as I saw them, I deflated in defeat before the battle had even begun. The pregnant woman pushing her 18-month-old in Target would send my heart swirling with sadness. I should have an almost 18-month-old, and I should be pregnant again. Am I ever going to be able to go to Mommy Mecca (Target) again without bursting into tears in the detergent aisle? Joy gone. Hope erased. Swearing off all future trips to Target.
But the retreat brought new words to my heart to help me fight in the midst of those Dark Moments. They are words I had read many times before in various contexts, yet once again I am reminded how the Bible is unlike any other writing in the world. As Hebrews tells us,
“The Word of God is living and active” (Hebrews 4:12).
The Bible is not merely words on a page. It is alive. It encourages. It convicts. Its wisdom, I’m reminded every time I read it, is greater than man could ever concoct. The more I study, the more there is to learn and the more I long to learn. No scholar could ever plumb its wisdom. Because “it” is God. It is God speaking, and I can feel His Spirit fluttering in me as I read those pages.
In the depths of my pain, He is very near in those flimsy pages. He is beside me, His arms wrapped around me as I sit quietly with His Words and invite Him into this ache.
Such was the case as our host, Nancy, led us on Sunday morning of the retreat. She reminded us that Jesus asked God to “take this cup” from him three separate times on the evening of the arrest that would lead to His crucifixion.
“…He fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me.” (Mark 14:35-36)
And God said no, because there was purpose and greatness and love in what was coming.
How many times did I (did we) beg God to heal Tage? I was sure there would be a miracle! Yet, God said no. With just a word, God parts oceans, removes diseases and brings the dead back to life! And for some reason, when asked to heal Tage, He said no.
In the most desperate prayers we’ve ever prayed with full belief in God’s ability to do everything, God told Jesus and me “no”.
Jesus gets it. He knows how I feel.
What’s more, Jesus continued to walk the path ahead of Him, and in His humanity, hours before He would be arrested and taken away, He said to His close friends,
“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and watch with me.” (Matthew 26:38)
My soul is overwhelmed with grief. I get that. Jesus gets it. Overwhelmed to the point of death? Yep. I wanted to die after Tage died. That’s not a cry for help, just the truth. I wanted the pain to go away. I wasn’t crazy though if Jesus felt the same feelings. I couldn’t believe it: Jesus Christ said His soul was completely overwhelmed with grief.
For the first time, I actually believed He might know what this pain feels like.
That weekend, Nancy also reminded us that Jesus spoke of a blind man and said,
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (John 9:3)
I needed to read that reminder this week. I “know” that Tage’s death was not a punishment, but then unexpectedly I’m plowed over in the middle of folding laundry because I see his sweet face in a photograph, and I want to shout, “THEN, WHY GOD?!” Why would you take Him from us? I want a refund! This is not what I thought you meant when You invited us to share in Your suffering. And then I think surely I must have done something. There could be no other explanation. It’s not making sense, and I can’t figure out the why.
But as Nancy pointed out: Jesus didn’t answer the cause of the man born blind. He answered the purpose: So that the work of God might be displayed in his life.
And all I’m left with is there must be a purpose. An enormous, incredible, loving purpose so that the work of God might be displayed in Tage’s life. In my life. Oh, Lord, help me with my unbelief. Some days the cost doesn’t seem quite worth it. Yet, Tage has always belonged to You, and I know You love him even more than I do.
Oh, my unbelief. My sorrow. My questions. My fears. My overwhelming fatigue. It is difficult to keep going under the weight of them all. Yet, I was reminded that Jesus said,
“My grace is sufficient for you; for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
And all I can wonder is if there must be a lot of Jesus’ power in parts of me that I can’t even see, because the weakness is there for sure. I feel completely powerless. I battle hopelessness.
Nancy proclaimed that this is not a “pat on the head” statement (and I was glad she said it, because I was sure thinking it). “God’s grace IS power,” she said. This is Jesus saying, “Molly, I will supply everything you need in the form, quantity, and timing exactly when you need it.”
Can I trust that? Can I really trust He will give me everything I need?
Josh and I both had been battling Tage’s early death. Perhaps there was more we could have done. Perhaps the timing wasn’t right. Perhaps his life wasn’t complete. But as Nancy pointed out, we are assured that only One person decides when it is time for someone to pass from this side of the curtain to the other. Jesus Himself said:
“Don’t be afraid!…I hold the keys of death and the grave.” (Revelation 1:17-18)
No one enters death’s door until Christ opens it. And when He does, He says there’s no reason to fear. I imagine that when He opened the door for Tage, Jesus crouched down to greet him and smiled big with a warm, “Hi, Buddy!” His joyful, peaceful, and piercing eyes sparkled in delight as He locked eyes with our bright blue-eyed boy. From His crouched position, He held out His arms as Tager ran into His comforting hug, and Jesus squeezed him tightly and said, “I’m so glad you’re here, Tage.” …and it was all at just the right time.
Tage lived exactly the number of days God intended. His life would completely fulfill its good purpose in an incredible 244 days. Much to his mama’s dismay, his death did not surprise God; rather, it was right on time.
These are the fightin’ words I need right now. Eternal, powerful, grace-full, and loving words. Words all spoken by a God who loves me and died for me so that death would not be the end.
I can’t say I live these words every moment of every day. No, grief still plows me over regularly. But a friend told me yesterday as she looked into my mascara-free face, “Molly, there’s a new light in your eyes that wasn’t there these past months.”
And I’m certain: that can only be the power in His words. They are fightin’ words.