It wasn’t that life had been idyllic before my mom left us, though I had been told that from the outside it appeared so. There were certainly fault lines that our home had been built on. Generations of our family, in fact, had built along these fissures. So maybe that thing that shook us all to our core, leaving us each feeling permanently off kilter, was unavoidable. When you ignore the growing rifts, can you reasonably expect that there aren’t eventually going to be damages? Casualties even?
But here’s the thing: When the event comes along that shakes the very foundations of your life and leaves everything permanently changed you determine, though perhaps subconsciously, never to be caught unawares again. You live the rest of your days shadowed by the grim reality that the Earth on which you stand might so very easily be broken to bits. Knowing how you barely survived that first event, you brace yourself at the occurrence of even the most trivial vibration, an almost constant subtle tension defining your musculature. In places where you feel exposed a bit you notice yourself holding your breath, keen not to miss the most minute signals in your surroundings that could indicate the ground’s about to drop out from under you. Your hyperawareness feels like a matter of life and death. You live with a low-grade sense of dread that, after so many years pass, you just assume is a part of living. Though you experience joy, you never trust it to stay.
When I talked last week about unpacking that pretty box that we buried when our family exploded, and worrying less about whatever gruesome things we might find and more about the beautiful things that we might have buried forever, this is what I meant: Would I open that box we’d closed to find eyes, clear and hopeful, peering out at me. Eyes that are better attuned to the beauty in the present than the danger in the future? Would I find feet, bare and dainty, made for nimbly navigating instead of ones weighed heavily to the ground in cumbersome, steel-toed preparedness? Would I find skin that freely takes pleasure in soaking up the comfort and warmth of another’s embrace instead of skin that pulls away in anticipation of the next loss. Would I find a heart radiating with hope instead of one buckshot with disappointment so deeply and inextricably buried that it has shaped the very manner in which it beats?
Did what happened to me as a child permanently and irrevocably damage me? Would my life have been better had those things never happened? More importantly, would I have been better if they had never happened?
Did my circumstances shape who I’ve become? Without a doubt. My circumstances may have shaped me, but I also know that there is only One who defines me. Every single thing that touched my life first went through His perfectly loving, perfectly wise hands. All of my days were written in His book before even one came to pass. He has kept track of every tossing and turning night and every tear I have shed as if collecting them, that not even one might fall to the ground forgotten by Him. And what will He do with them? With every. single. one., He will work it for my good. To think of that! Nothing will be wasted by the Great Redeemer when it come to bringing about good, not even a single tear. He promises His people who mourn-
“to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.
They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.”
Sometimes it is hard for me to trust that God’s good is really and truly that good. A lot of people and a lot of things promise good, but I’ve been disappointed so very many times. And the truth is that all this supposed “good” that God is doing has felt an awful lot like excruciating, searing pain. It has felt like death. It has felt like He’s broken my bones in order to reset them, but to me my bones appeared perfectly fine in the first place. It felt like everything that I could possibly cling to, the very things that I could depend on to shelter me, were ripped from my grasp.
My familiar home, my community, my church family, my parents as I knew them…These are not unreasonable things for a 12 year-old to depend on. But all of them seemed to be torn from my grip and remained out of my reach for years as I stumbled toward adulthood, ostensibly on my own.
To be honest, I don’t have a perfect understanding of why tragedy and suffering are allowed by God. And I’m still praying that God would reveal to me how He held me during those times when I felt so very alone. But I am slowly starting to understand parts of how God used those very painful years for good.
First, He used it to teach me the destructive power of sin and to determine to diligently pursue what He has said is best and trust His perfect wisdom above my own feelings and inclinations. (I’ll have to save this part of the discussion for another day, though.)
Second, He is showing me the superiority of placing my hope in Him above all else. Because when even the very earth crumbles around me, He does not.
Though people let me down, He never lets me go.
My own dreams and plans may fail, but His gifts and His call on my life are irrevocable.
What others intend for harm, He uses for good.
And even when I am not faithful to Him, He remains faithful to me.
I am changing my strategy now to this: When the storms of life have their way and a path of destruction seems to have carved deeply and painfully through things we tend to value in this world, I will still be found standing on solid ground with my gaze fixed on Him, my vision full of that which is of greatest beauty and worth. Because everything that fell away was perishable anyway. That which was present at the beginning and that which will be victorious in the end is eternal. And THAT is truly what I crave. Eternity, after all, is what we were made for. And though I don’t always feel this way, I am determining to trust that He will make all things beautiful in their time: Whatever is dead in that box is not as good as what He is bringing to life.
Are there parts of yourself and your life that you thought were beautiful that you had to bury? Why do you think that happened? How do you find that balance in your own life; joyfully embracing the gifts but not grasping them as if they’re our life preservers?
**I do not mean we should not cherish and receive as gifts those things that we can enjoy here on Earth. It’s just to say that we can’t hold too tightly to them. If we lean the full weight of our hope on them, we will surely find ourselves toppling eventually. And if another person is that upon which we are leaning we may crush them as well.