This is the Day

exploring the soul's quest for joy

Tag: heartbreak

When Light Breaks Through the Darkness

 

They called it a bomb cyclone; I call it forty-four hours without power. Forty-four winter hours with no heat. No light. And not even cell service.

 

We were all bracing for the winter nor’easter to rear its ugly head, interrupting our weekend plans with sheets of driving rain. We wondered if we would make it to our daughter’s lacrosse game in northern New York given the storm’s predicted snowfall there.

 

The storm ended up catching us all by surprise. Where my daughter was expecting 15 inches of snow, she got 3; we expected rain and instead got 50 mph winds and a 6-inch blanket of snow heavy enough to knock out power in 300,000 homes. The storm had caught us all completely by surprise.

 

Life’s storms are like that, aren’t they? Life is running along smoothly when an unexpected and devastating storm rips through our world, upending our tranquility.

 

At church yesterday, one of our pastors said, “Lent is a time to sit in the darkness and appreciate the light.” He was speaking, of course, about the darkness of our sin and the lightness of our savior, but yesterday, forty hours into my cold, dark experience, his words held greater significance for me.

 

In the dark, we discover what inconveniences us. And I have realized that it doesn’t take much! As evening fell, the darkness began to envelop us. We sat huddled together, pooling the light from flickering candles and beams from our small headlamps. We washed our hands in cold tap water to conserve what remained in the hot water tank for the next day’s brief showers. The first night wasn’t too bad; the house was still over sixty degrees and honestly it still felt a bit like a pioneering adventure. But once day one stretched into day two and the house hit fifty-five degrees, all sense of adventure had worn off! Without cell service, we were truly in the dark, literally and figuratively.

 

As I walked through these hours of darkness, I really did appreciate the moments of light with a more grateful heart. A walk in the warm sunshine the day after the storm. A lunch out in a warm place. An invitation from a friend to come to dinner and bring our dog! A place for a hot shower and a hair dryer on day three. These moments where light broke through the darkness were the sustaining moments that enabled us to persevere as the season of darkness lingered.

 

Glimpses of light are essential when we are walking in the dark.

 

 

I have experienced another type of darkness, an extended season when there were no respites of light breaking through. My son had just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and I was angry. Angry at God for allowing my son to get this devastating disease that took my brother’s life and has afflicted my sister since she was sixteen. More than being angry that this wasn’t my plan for my family, I questioned why a loving God would allow such an awful thing to happen to my son.

 

And so I pushed God out of my life. Stopped up my ears and squeezed shut my eyes and declared that I didn’t want to hear from him or see him again.

 

And the dark became very dark, indeed.

 

It settled in and lingered. What I first noticed was the silence. Like the stillness of my powerless house with no humming appliances or electronics, my mind went completely silent. Gone were the conversational prayers that would flow in and out of me throughout the day. But I was okay with that; I was angry at God. I didn’t mind the silence, at least not at first. But like the silence of the winter nor’easter, the silence eventually became deafening.

 

The darkness continued to settle in, heavy like a suffocating blanket from which I couldn’t free myself.

 

In time, my anger began to abate, and I sought once again this God I have known my entire life. I expected the light to break through in glorious fashion and end my exile. What I discovered instead was the wisdom of a God who knew there were still more lessons for me to learn in the dark.

 

And so the silence lingered.

 

And the darkness grew darker.

 

It’s in the dark that we really appreciate the light.

 

In the dark, we see what we cannot see in the light. Once our eyes adjust to the dark, we begin to really see.

 

And truthfully, I didn’t like what I saw. In the dark, questions loomed large: is God still good even when my world seems very bad? Or is he only good when things work out according to my plan, and devastation doesn’t hit too close to my home? With the faintest flicker of light illumining me, I saw the warped theology I had fashioned: God isn’t good all the time; God is only good most of the time.

 

I had tangled up the sorrow I was experiencing over my son’s life and health with the goodness of God. Before I could step back into the Light, I had to settle this matter of the goodness of God.

 

Slowly, gently, I began to see that God is always good, even when life is bad and terribly unfair. I needed to be swallowed up in the darkness and in the silence to truly grasp the beauty of the Light. This Light never goes out, even in the darkest of nights and the most ferocious of storms. We just need to keep looking into the Light.

 

A Light has shined in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. ~ Saint John

What am I Leaning On?

 

Last week I buried my beloved father. The lone bagpiper stood sentry, beckoning us closer, as the familiar strains of Amazing Grace echoed in the open cemetery. The once cloudy skies gave way to a brilliant January sun as we approached my father’s final resting place.

 

The snap of the flag breaks the silence as the Major and the Captain begin the ceremony of folding my father’s flag.

 

Fold, fold, fold, tuck. Fold, fold, fold, tuck. Fold, fold, fold, tuck.

 

Until the stripes are enveloped in a sea of blue, covered in 50 brilliant stars of white.

 

The Major is on one knee before my sisters and me. On behalf of the President of the United States of America, we wish to thank you for your father’s service to our country. Piercing blue eyes lock gaze with each of us. Eyes that proclaim I offer you my thanks as well.

 

The flag is in our hands. The bugle is on the bugler’s lips. The strains of Amazing Grace have been replaced by the mournful notes of Taps. And it is finished.

 

Soon, my father’s coffin would be lowered into the same earth that, 55 years earlier, had swallowed the tiny coffin of his beloved and only son, Johnnie.

 

 

My father’s death was “in the natural order of things”; his son’s death was not. Taken at age 8 by a rapid onset of type 1 diabetes, and a shockingly fast decline of all of his bodily functions, my brother quietly slipped from this life into eternity and my parents began their lifelong journey of trusting God despite unfathomable pain and far too many unanswered questions.

 

As my sisters and I began preparations for our father’s services, we were asked this simple question several times.

 

Did your father have a favorite Bible verse?

 

The first time we were asked the question, we all three stopped, looked into the distance, and began what we assumed would be a time of quiet reflection. In less than half a minute, we all agreed that while he never said he had a favorite verse, he did have a life verse. He and our mother inscribed it in every Bible they ever gave us. And it was the verse by which he lived his life.

 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths.

~ Proverbs 3: 5-6

 

When my father lost his only son, he had a decision to make. Would he trust in the Lord with all his heart?

 

With all his broken heart?

 

With all his heavy heart and aching gut, pummeled by wave after wave of tears of anguish?

 

With every doubt and fear and sorrow that would rise up from the heart of a devoted daddy who would never again hold his precious son in his arms?

 

Or would he choose instead to lean on his own understanding of how things should have turned out?

 

Lean on his own understanding that a good God doesn’t let bad things happen to good people, to good little 8-year old boys with their entire lives ahead of them.

 

Lean on his own understanding that if this is what God’s favor looks like, then he didn’t want any part of it, thank you very much.

 

While my parents grieved terribly the loss of their only son, they chose to hold onto these words of the wise King Solomon, recognizing that God’s ways were higher than their ways. Even in their greatest suffering, they chose to acknowledge that God is God and they are not. Their trust in the Lord remained steadfast, and not even the death of their son would shake their belief in God’s character.

 

God is good. All the time.

 

I wish I could say that I had the same heart response when my own son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 5-years old. My response to his diagnosis was swift and deep, allowing it to settle over me for a long time.

 

I was angry.

 

I had lived in fear of this disease my entire life. It took the life of a brother I never knew and has afflicted one of my sisters since she was 16. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, and during each of my pregnancies, I did regular urine testing to see if diabetes was invading my pancreas as well. This disease was so personal, so deeply woven into the fabric of my family.

 

God, how could you do this to me?

 

Overnight I lost sight of who I knew God to be. With one finger stick blood test, every hidden maxim of my “since-then” theology was revealed.

 

Since I love God and try to honor him with my life, then he will protect me.

 

Since God is good, then he won’t allow really bad things to happen to me and to those I love.

 

I didn’t even know I was harboring this false theology. But there it was. Out in the open in all its ugliness. The trouble with “since-then” theology is that when pushed, it becomes a slippery slide to an even uglier conclusion.

 

Since my child was not protected from this bad thing happening, then God is not good.

 

It’s easy to trust God when things are going well. When things are going as we want and expect them to go. It’s another matter entirely to trust God when our world has caved in and we can’t imagine how this same world can even spin on its axis anymore. And when, for the life of us, we can’t imagine how anyone can possibly be smiling when we can’t even breathe.

 

But trust is a choice. It’s a daily, moment-by-moment choice not to lean into our heart’s immediate pain-filled response, but to choose to believe in the goodness of the One who holds our heart.

 

In the midst of this season of standing apart from God, judging Him from a distance for not being exactly what I wanted Him to be, a wise friend spoke these words to me,

 

Father is always good.

 

I recoiled at her words. I was not yet ready to receive them. Surely He was mostly good, but how could she say He was always good, since He allowed my son’s life to be forever changed? Forever challenging and never carefree again.

 

The issue of God’s goodness was one I would wrestle with for two years. Blinded by anger and by my indignance at how and when God chooses to act, I needed time to recognize and deconstruct what I thought I knew about God. And then with much study, prayer, and reflection, to rebuild a faith that was anchored on the unchangeable character of God, including his love and goodness, and not on my desire to control everything around me.

 

Ultimately, these words of the psalmist became my words. I hope they become yours as well.

 

Whom have I in heaven but You?

And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. 

My flesh and my heart may fail,

But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

  Psalm 73: 25-26

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