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The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the Lord on me. I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Aviv near the Kebar River. And there, where they were living, I sat among them for seven days-deeply distressed.
~Ezekiel 3:14-15 (NIV)~
From where I sit, it is easy for me to say that God is in control and that there is a reason for what happened in Boston yesterday. It is easy because I didn’t lose someone. I didn’t lose my sense of security. I didn’t have the rug jerked out from under me as I attended an event that was intended to celebrate the endurance of the human spirit. The impact of this tragedy for those directly involved in it is in no way diminished by the fact that I know my God and how powerful He is and that I’m sure He has a plan for every single thing that happens in this world; the good, the bad, and the horrific. This fact only makes it easier for me to cope with hearing about what happened. But for those who were a part of it, God’s presence and involvement in the thing can be very confusing.
As it happens, there are many horrible things that happen outside the boundaries of my bubble of faith each and every day. People experience pain and loss and try to make sense of it from where they are at the time of impact. Sometimes they are at a place where they can trust that God has it in His hands; sometimes they cannot fathom how God could ever let something like this happen. It really depends on our perspective and on what we have come to know about Him and His desire for us when the thief shows up to kill, steal and destroy.
There have been many tragedies in my life; some that I have brought on myself and some that I was involved in through no real fault of my own. Through these times, I remember asking myself why these things were happening to me. I remember being very confused about why God would allow these things to happen to me. I also remember that these questions came at times when I had put such distance between He and I that it was as if I had entered the Witness Protection Program. How could I ever expect Him to find me when I spent much of my time and energy running away from Him or putting up roadblocks wherever I suspected that He was pursuing me?
When I came back to Him, I found that the things I had once blamed Him for and even hated Him for were actually quite necessary to bringing me full circle in my journey. Had I never experienced that grief and pain, I never could have appreciated the grace and mercy. I never could have seen the blessings that He had bestowed upon me even in my darkest hours. The very fact that I woke up every morning was no testimony to the life that I had lead. It was all due to the magnificent grace of an ever-merciful and patient God who wanted nothing more than for me to gain redemption. His tolerance of my inability to accept the salvation that Christ died to give me is unparalleled. And if He has been so forgiving for just me, what does that say of His willingness to wait for the whole of humanity to come around?
There are many things which we cannot know; we cannot see the reasons why things play out in the manner that they do without acknowledging God’s hand in all things. Yes, He wants us to be happy. Yes, He wants to show us His love. But by the same token, He expects our devotion to Him and He is angered by the lack of that devotion that He sees in this world. Undoubtedly, we are approaching a time in which there will be many unexplainable events that represent God’s wrath on a disobedient nation. But His wrath is reserved for the ungodly; for the evil that exists in this world. It is not God who seeks to destroy us. And for all who are caught in the crossfire between good and evil; know that He will protect His children. For those beautiful spirits who are lost in the darkness, He seeks to bring you out by any means necessary. If this be through grief or loss, then please know that this is necessary and that He will bring you beauty for your ashes.
My heart goes out to those who lost loved ones yesterday. I pray that you find comfort in the arms of the Lord and that you not seek to blame Him, but to see and understand Him in all of this. That you take solace in the fact that your loved ones are in God’s hands and that He will avenge your loss. To everyone who has witnessed yet another act of violence at the hands of the wicked, I say that it is time we start to see these things for what they truly are; signs of end times. Not so that you would lose hope; but rather that you would run, full throttle into the arms of Jesus and accept Him as your Savior. Because our tendency is to commiserate with one another when there is any sort of threat or attack; but in reality, the more effective thing to do would be to accept those things as a call to arms. It is time to rise up and fight against those things which permit evil to thrive in our society. He is waiting patiently for us to turn back to Him and allow Him to take us all home. All we need to do is trust Him.
What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—
~Romans 9:22-23 NIV~
But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
About ten years ago, my youngest sister Jennifer left us to move to Boston to attend Berklee School of Music. At the time, I was married and very busy with the life I was trying to build. All the same, I missed her terribly and hated that she was so far away. Sadly, she became ill and had to come back home and abandon her pursuit of a music degree. I hated that she had to give up on her dream, but at the same time I was relieved that she was coming back home. So much has happened between then and now. We both were married, both had a child, and both got divorced. We’ve been to at least six funerals, experienced a couple of weddings and the births of some beautiful children in our family. We’ve both gotten older and wiser over the years. A couple of years ago, she lost everything in a house fire but was able to get back on her feet relatively quickly. I’ve never known of anyone who is as resilient as my sister, Jennifer. No matter what life has thrown her way, she has bounced back from it and either gone ahead to pursue her goals or she has simply reorganized, regrouped and recovered. She’s definitely someone who can be counted on to step in and take control when everything seems like it’s in total chaos. I guess this is why I’m sitting here tonight thinking that I just don’t know what I’m going to do without her. I’m proud to say that she’s been accepted into law school, but deeply saddened to say that the law school is in Michigan and she will be moving away at the end of the week.
While I may not know how I’m going to get through the next ten years of my life without her here to offer her special brand of constructive criticism, I do know that I’m not really as alone as I’m feeling. I know that God isn’t really taking her away from me. He’s taking her to the next level so that she can fulfill the plan He has for her life. In doing so, He’s also pushing me to take some necessary steps in following the path He’s been trying to get me to follow for the last few years. There have been many times in my life when I’ve refused to do what God was telling me to do and He’s presented me with a circumstance that was not exactly what I wanted to deal with. When she left for college all those years ago, I was so caught up in my job and my marriage that I had no time at all for Him. I wasn’t in church and I had no real direction or thought about anything other than satisfying my immediate needs. It was not the best time in my life, though I was certain at the time that I was as happy as I was ever going to be in this lifetime. I was wrong then and I’m pretty sure that all of this wallowing I’ve been doing lately is not exactly the right course of action either.
Jennifer has helped me through alot of things. We have shared so much of our lives together and I can tell her anything without worrying that she will judge me unfairly. She may judge me, but at least I know that her opinions are generally not sugar-coated and that she will always be completely honest with me. When I can count on no one else to offer the truth, I know that she will always have the answer that I need to hear. After all, it was Jennifer who told me several years ago that if I was missing God in my life, the first thing I needed to do was to get back in church. I don’t believe I have ever received better advice than that.
When I turned forty just a few weeks ago, I was sure that this was going to be a turning point for me. I was certain that this was going to be the beginning of a time in my life when I could actually make some progress. But I haven’t really given myself credit for everything I’ve already accomplished. I haven’t really looked at the experiences I have had in an objective way. Rather than seeing how it all fits together, I’ve simply pushed the list to the back of my mind as I checked off all of the happenings that weren’t yet what I wanted to see. As though I was going through my “to do” list of undesirable activities. Depression, check. Anxiety, check. Miscarriage, check. Health problems, check. Bankruptcy, check. Divorce, check. Loss of loved ones, check. Unemployment, check…you get the idea.
I don’t want anyone to get the impression that I’m so disgusted with my life that I just can’t bear one more thing. That’s far from the truth. I still have joy. I still have peace. I’m still very thankful for all of the blessings that I have in my life. But I’m also still a human being. I’m still a person with feelings and I still hurt from time to time. There are still many things that happen that I just don’t understand. I’m hoping to understand them later, but for now it makes for a confusing and difficult season. God doesn’t promise that we won’t have times like these, in fact; He promises that we will see trials and that there will be more times than not when only He knows why something is happening or not happening in our lives. At times like these, we have got to learn how to lean on Him. We have got to release our hold on the things we are trying to control and give it all to Him. So this means that no matter how much I try to hope someone back to good health or pray that someone will decide they want the same things I want in a relationship or even pray that someone I love changes their mind about leaving, it isn’t likely that those prayers will be met with the kind of fulfillment that we are seeking. The only thing I can pray for with any expectation that it will come to pass is that God will change my focus and help me to accept the things that are happening in my life and to hold onto Him when it feels like I can’t accept them. And so, the best thing for me to do when I feel defeated or when I feel like I have no control over my life is to accept that this might truly be the case. It is possible that I’ve lost that particular battle. But it’s more likely that it wasn’t mine to fight in the first place.
The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”