I love the beach. There is nothing better to me than sitting in the sand, Bible in hand, heart wide open, looking at the beauty around me and contemplating my smallness in light of His big, gorgeous world. I find myself being drawn to the Psalms in these moments, and it seems easy for me to say along with David, “From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised!” (Psalm 113:3). I have not been to the beach since we have known that there is something going on with our girls, and as I breathed in His goodness around me the first morning, I couldn’t help but also contemplate the mysteries of His creation. It’s interesting how much I enjoy relaxing by the ocean, because as far as the waves go, I have never been a fan. Of course, I love looking at them and hearing their glories as they are preached to all within reach, but I am somewhat afraid of going out in them. It isn’t what is underneath (I grew in jumping into the muddy, far from clear waters of the Hiwassee River, and had no problem touching ankles with a fish or two). What scares me is the unpredictable tossing to and fro of the waves themselves; the lack of control I have with the size of the wave that hits me. And here I am, being thrown into an ocean of His mysteries in our life, not having any say-so in whether I wanted a wave as tall and mysterious as the one I am now swimming in.
Of all the things I am grateful for in this life, my family is at the very top of the list. This beach trip is a perfect depiction of how they have handled this new season of our little family’s life. They have not treated the girls’ condition like an elephant in the room; but they have also not made it any sort of focus. They do not talk about ways that they see the girls “getting better”; they just love them where they are without reservation. They are also well aware that while it has been challenging for everyone involved; no one hurts or struggles more deeply than Hugh and myself. They do not ask us any medical questions unless we bring them up ourselves, which in ways that have been unbelievably refreshing, Hugh and I have chosen not to do so much this trip. It is not that we want to deny a second of it, nor is it that it isn’t on my mind at almost every waking moment. It’s just that sometimes, it is nice to just live life with people and rejoice in the here and now. Slash that, it is always nice to just live life with people and rejoice in the here and now. Tomorrow has enough trouble of its own.
My sister and I sat on the beach yesterday, waves crashing around and within me, and I tore through a layer of my heart that I don’t tend to get near. The anger and bitterness that creep up in the midst of our somewhat unusual circumstances. I don’t write about these emotions often, not because I want to cover them up, but because I simply cannot find the words for them. I believe and celebrate God’s sovereignty, authority, and overall goodness in all of our lives. Hand and hand with that, I grieve and I hurt in ways that take my breath away if I think about them too much. As tears stung my eyes, my sister patiently and sympathetically waited as I tried to flesh these gut-wrenching feelings out. The truth is, I don’t know how to process the fact that I trust God and mourn reality all at the same time. How can you explain the paradox of knowing that if you could do it all over, you wouldn’t change something in light of the glory God has been given; while also knowing good and well if you had a magic wand today and your flesh was weak, you might bail out? It’s hard. It’s messy. It’s God’s plan for humanity wrapped up in our small piece of the puzzle.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”- Romans 8:18-24 (emphasis mine)
Ann Voskamp in her book, “One Thousand Gifts”, talks about a moment she had with her brother-in-law when he was about to lose another child (his second) to the same genetic disease that killed his first. She says it this way,
“If it were up to me…” and then the words pound, desperate and hard, “I’d write this story differently.” I regret the words as soon as they leave me. They seem so un-Christian, so unaccepting- so, No, God! I wish I could take them back, comb out their tangled madness, dress them in their calm Sunday best. But there they are, released and naked, raw and real, stripped of any theological cliché, my exposed, serated howl to the throne room.”
There they were. The same words I have uttered to God in moments of weakness, exposed in Ann’s writing and already written on my heart. As I thought about them this morning, I was brought to these verses in Romans and my soul felt relieved and understood yet again. Paul said it himself! The Lord knows that we would not have been subjected to suffering willingly. That’s why, in His wisdom, He suffered for us. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19), and just because we are choosing to trust Him and accept His plans for us today, doesn’t mean we aren’t stumbling through it in our flesh. My soul cries out, “Yes!” to God while my flesh writhes in the frustration.
I see little pieces of the anger and bitterness in my interaction with others, sometimes more often in those I love most. At times, it is subtle and not noticeable. Other times, it appears blatant. I shamefully talked to my sister about this, telling her how I hated it but felt like it was inevitable at times, and she freed me up to give myself grace in the midst of my humanity. There is pride in fear in the fact that I do not want to go there.The prideful part of me wants sin to be dead and gone in all this, and is ashamed that I can’t seem to be sanctified in all things at all times. The fearful part of me is afraid if I stare some of these hard emotions in the eye, I will be consumed by them and unable to see truth. Here’s the reality: until I meet Jesus face to face, until we who believe meet Jesus face to face, there are going to be bits of sin mixed in with loads of His limitless grace. That’s the thing about Jesus. He is most aware of the continued rebellion of our hearts; but His love compels Him to toss it as far as the east is from the west. So goes the cross. He died so that we could day to day choose to live for Him. He was slayed on the cross so that in moments when we feel slayed, we can look to Him and see it nailed and finished. A glorious paradox: suffering and brokenness around and within, but righteousness constantly making all these new. Beyond that, because of this love we are not consumed. Nothing can separate us from Him, not even ourselves and our own messiness.
This vacation will be over in a few days, and we will all go back to the day to day routine. This upcoming week has pieces in it that take my breath away, and hards that I would like to pretend aren’t coming. But you know what? In all of it, He will meet me there. In the anger and bitterness. In the happy and easy. In the questions and what-ifs. He meets us in all of our moments.
So where does that leave you? What are the parts of your heart that you wish didn’t exist? What are the things that you are afraid of approaching out of fear of where they might lead you? Friends, God’s word promises us that nothing can separate us from Him. Not ourselves. Not the opinions of others. Not those awful emotions we try to keep locked deep inside. All is exposed to Him, and instead of turning away, He looks on us with compassion and asks us to give it to Him. As we do, He takes it, puts it back up at the cross where it belongs, and continues to clothe us in the things that only He can produce in us. He is working in all things, dear reader. All is grace. Let’s allow Him to love us in the midst of it all today.