“Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.”
Be careful what you read online as it pertains to things of faith - there are a heck of a lot of opinions out there and it can be difficult to separate them from teachings that adhere perfectly to scripture. This post is the former - my opinion. It’s not intended to teach or preach. This is just a little bit of insight into how my heart and head work around some of the profound questions in life.
Ten years ago today my world came brutally crumbling down, like a great nation devastated in the blink of an eye by an Earthquake hungry for death. It was a disgusting day; a terrifying day; a day full of sorrow deeper than any imagery could do justice to. Ten years ago today, my perfect baby girl died suddenly, unexplainably, in her sleep.
I’ve written here about some of the harsh emotions around that night. This time of year, the gruesome details come flooding back, against my will; details too horrific to post about here. I have nightmares that recur around this time of year; of me trying to breathe life into baby corpses or of finding my baby’s body buried under a pile of photographs and swearing I saw her eyes open, or her chest move with breath. Then I wake, and face yet another day of my new normal - a life without a huge piece of my heart. Perhaps the word “new” should no longer apply; it’s been ten years. But I’m not anywhere near used to it yet. I guess it takes longer than a decade.
But I would like to reflect today on the spiritual aspect of great loss. It is noteworthy that the darkest time of my life was a time I felt more surrounded by light that I have ever been aware of before or since.
I had been a 20 year old, headstrong, stubborn young woman, determined to prove the world that she wasn’t too young to be married, or to be a new mother. I was playing house, adamant that I would win the game. I was going to put them to shame with my excellence in parenting skills. I boasted that I had “been blessed” with so much (I called it blessing, but honestly, I attributed it to myself in pride); an amazing marriage, our own home in a great neighborhood, a secure job for my husband, and a perfect baby. I genuinely adored motherhood. I called my Peach “a little piece of Heaven here on Earth”. I felt on top of the world and there was no stopping me.
But then it stopped me.
Death ripped into my perfect world in the middle of the night and stole away everything I had built my pride around and left me screaming in the street, losing my reputation, tossing my self worth to the wind, practically naked and completely vulnerable. In time, my life spiralled completely out of control. I was left with a shattered heart, empty arms, a depressed and unemployed husband, a marriage on the rocks, debt threatening to take the roof above our head, relationships in shambles and my whole daunting life yet ahead of me.
A friend of the family who had always been an outspoken atheist asked me, “Where’s your God now?” I told her he hadn’t gone anywhere and I had absolutely no intention of leaving him now, when I need him more than ever before.
I want to talk a little about Heather’s funeral for a moment. There’s a brief account of it on her memory website. I want to discuss it in a little more detail now.
I walked into the church and saw my perfect baby smiling, grinning from ear to ear on a projector, while songs from Butterfly Kisses and Bedtime Prayers played. I had played the CD to her before, never realizing how perfectly the songs were to apply in such a dreadful context. I sat and listened to a couple of the songs while the church filled up to overflowing. We were surrounded by people, many of whom hadn’t even had the chance to meet her, but they wanted to make sure we felt their love and support and compassion. And we did.
Rene and I picked the worship music, which the band played beautifully. Here’s a disorganized excerpt of random lyrics from various songs we sang:
As your spirit moves upon me now, you meet my deepest need
You’ve broken chains that bound me
I give my life to you
I fall down on my knees
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Life is worth living because he lives
Yes Jesus loves me
Yes Jesus loves me
Forever I’ll love you, forever I’ll stand
He is our fortress, we will never be shaken
We will put our trust in God
Rest is found in him alone
We have a refuge
When sorrows like sea billows roll...it is well with my soul
Wait....it is well with my soul? How could it be? I’m standing in front of my offspring enclosed in a painfully tiny coffin, pure white with some little bits of fluff stuck on, which I’m desperate to fuss over and clean up as an attempt to mother her and take care of her to the bitter end. I’m holding myself back from declaring to everyone that there must have been some terrible mistake - sorry to bother you all, my baby’s fine actually, before scooping her up, taking her home and getting on with life as it should be. I’m fighting against the forces of nature, I want to just hold my baby and love on her. My breasts are engorged and I want to feed her instead of burying her.
But while we sang, I had a vision of Heaven opening and a beautiful glow beaming down and I honestly heard angels sing. Thousands and thousands and thousands of them. I can't write this and maintain dry eyes, the memory is so powerful. I don't consider myself Pentecostal (sorry Mum ;)), I’m usually quite reserved - but this was the real deal. God was showing himself to me in a very real way, in a way that I really, desperately needed. I felt like I was on fire. I felt so surrounded by love, by hope, by promise, by comfort, by peace. The hope of Heaven was more than just hope - it was so substantial I swear I could have touched it and grabbed a piece to put in my pocket. I knew there were angels surrounding the building, I knew God himself was present and embracing my daughter at that very moment while I was singing his praises.
Is it well with my soul? More than ever! I had sang these songs umpteen times before, but never meant them as much as I did in that moment. The great God, the big man upstairs who had created the whole earth at the uttering from his lips, was stooping down to reveal himself to me because I needed comfort, I needed hope and I needed reassurance. And he didn’t fail me even slightly. He was so faithful to console me and lift my head. I wanted to run away from the whole world and just run into his arms. Just crash with the One who understands my heart, to just cry and wail in his presence, wipe my snot on his shoulder and feel his strong hands hold me still while my body shook with the effort of weeping.
And we did. Rene and I. Over the next few months our car became a dwelling place for Jesus, as he sat there and held us while we cried and screamed and yelled and sang praises at the top of our lungs. Or we would go to her burial site and stare at the heart shape in the tree and breathe in the bitter air and sing to God, praying from our bared souls, feeling such a connection to the Spirit as we poured ourselves completely out before Him. Rene and Jesus and I would just stand there and cry and sob and sing, or sometimes we'd sit on the bench nearby and Jesus would hold us and surround us with peace. And it was amazing. I’ve never experienced anything as intimate nor empowering nor electrifying nor passionate. At a time when my life was crumbling to pieces, it would seem to many that I had lost all direction; lost my purpose. That conclusion couldn’t be further from the truth. I was closer to finding my true purpose in that moment than ever before or, unfortunately, ever since.
I was broken. Truly broken. The foundations of my world were in ashes around me. My marriage, my financial security, my family, my relationships, my future. It all seemed so meaningless. It was all a big mess and I was at the end of me. That is a scary thought.....what do you find when you reach the end of yourself? I wouldn’t have wanted to ever know. Yet here I was, at the end. And what I found there wasn’t terrifying in the slightest - it was the most beautiful thing imaginable. It was a God who adores me, who wants to hold me and wants me to simply fall into him. Just fall. Just let go. And I was so very ready to just fall and let go, so it was very very easy to do at that time. And it was so rewarding. I found myself carried, lifted, loved, doted on. I had been a Christian my whole life, this wasn’t an “I saw the light” moment per say. But I had never really experienced Jesus like this before. I was completely done with my own agenda, with my own desire to prove myself capable or strong. I was no longer defeated by the job loss or the crushing sensation of the debt or material things. I couldn’t stand to watch tv, even filling the car with gas felt so trivial. I just wanted to praise God. Constantly. Because nothing made me feel as amazing at spending time in intimate relationship with him.
And up from the ashes, God brought to flight incredible new life for my husband and I. We had a baby, then another, then another (and so on!). We’ve moved to the USA and have a secure job again and our marriage is stronger than ever. I’m surrounded by all the things a woman could dream of. Our needs are taken care of and our hearts are full. I am so thankful for all we’ve been given. Check out my brood!
Isn't that amazing? I am so in love with them all. Sometimes when Rene has one on his shoulders and I have one on a hip, two holding a hand each and one walking alongside while we make our way across the Hy-vee parking lot, I have to stop my husband in his tracks, make him turn around and observe us while I comment, "Rene, look at what we did?". I mean, wow. They're amazing kids. And we did that!
But see, that's the thing. Now here I am on antidepressants. As is my husband. And every day feels like a struggle. Because as time has passed I started to give myself way too much credit and lean a little more on myself and a little less on God. And then just a teeny bit less on God again, and a teeny bit less yet again. Until eventually I find myself running the rat race again, trying to find 10 minutes to sit and read the bible, working hard to focus on him at church instead of mentally resolving some task list or other. Because the stronger I build up a secure life here, the harder it becomes to let go and fall into Jesus.
Is this wrong? Not necessarily. Does God despise these things which my life are filled with and wish I’d lose everything again so I could be broken and enjoy the closeness with him that he so deeply craves? I don’t believe so. He loves us and he wants to bless us. And the things in my life that distract me from God are usually the very blessings he showered me with in the first place.
I believe that God grieved with me when my daughter died. I don’t see it that he necessarily “allowed” it to happen, or approved it. Death is a part of life. Of this life anyway (thankfully there won’t be any more of it in the next!) I don’t see it as “why me?” as much as “why not me?”. And of course he wants us to be happy, just as we love our kids and want them to be happy. He wants our lives to be rich and full of joy.
Here’s where it gets difficult to understand. Here I am; my life is rich, and full of joy, but also full of struggle and pain and pining after a relationship I once shared with my God. And he pines for me too. And he knows while I’m popping a pill in my mouth and trying to face the day, that ultimately, I was at my prime when I was broken. I don’t believe he wants me to have to suffer loss in order to realize my brokenness and come running to him. He wants to give me gifts of love and for me to not turn my attention away from him and onto the gift.
I want to demonstrate with some silly illustrations. I made this using strip generator. It may or may not be based on a true story *sheepish*
Misplaced Affection by anonymous
The dude in the third strip is supposed to be the same dude, but sadder and more dejected, not some totally different dude. Anyway, you get the picture, right? Sometimes God gives us lots of wonderful things, and instead of us praising him more and drawing closer to him through these gifts, we find ourselves focusing on the gift itself, instead of the guy who gave it to us as a token of His affection. And then we start getting so attached to these gifts, we can’t imagine living without them, we start to draw our identity from them instead of finding our identity in our maker. I bet the guy in the comic strip is thinking, “Man, I’m glad she likes her gift, but I wish it helped her fall more in love with me instead of coming in between us. I don’t want to be mean but...I miss the days when she didn’t have a tablet and we spent so much time together, loving each other..” I wonder if God feels like that too.
So then, some tragedy comes along and we lose our gift. He never promised we’d have it forever. But we decide to turn on him, to get mad at him and to ask, “Why me? Why would you take this away from me? Don’t you love me?”
So let’s imagine there are 2 potential goals in life.
Many of us will look at these and think, “well, of course I want intimacy with Jesus. That’s the goal”. But it’s so hard to stay on track, when we feel the pull of success. It has such obvious, appealing benefits. I'll list some benefits in orange (none of these are by any means exhaustive lists).
Well, yeah, come to think of it, that does sound pretty appealing. I have a family to look after - I could do with financial security, and there's nothing wrong with feeling self worth. We're talking about the American dream here. Many of us never quite reach the goal, but we still enjoy many small victories along the way.
But this system not without its drawbacks. Here are some listed in blue.
So, lets look at the other potential goal. Intimacy with Jesus. Much of the reason we fail to pursue this goal, is because of what we’ll have to sacrifice in the process.
Basically, the drawback to this whole Jesus thing, is if we pursue him, we are not guaranteed all those things we’re drawn to in the success model. All those orange labels above the blue box - they look so good to us. We want to feel important and secure. Letting go of that is profoundly difficult. Not that you definitely can’t be successful if you follow Christ, that’s not the point. He might very well want to shower you with ipads, but it’s what (or who) we actively pursue that makes all the difference. It's the heart, the attitude, the direction of momentum.
Now, have a look at the orange list above the pink box.
As I say, this isn’t exhaustive. But to me, as a parent, I know which of the two I want for my children. Of course, it’s always nice to think your daughter will grow up to be president or your son will be a world changing entrepreneur. But ultimately, I want what’s very best for my children and I am convinced that they would experience a deeper satisfaction if they take the path of intimacy with Jesus. God wants that for his children too.
So let’s throw around some ideas that can help support us towards these goals. Again, I want to stress that there is nothing inherently evil about success or some of the means by which we achieve it. I’m just trying to take a zoomed out look at the big picture.
Here are some things that can very much be considered blessings, and which are unarguably valuable assets in the journey towards success.
They are all reputable functions in our culture, but are not always easy to achieve. And then we can get into a whole massive political debate on whether success is fairly and equally available to all people, and whether our culture is helping build many people up with this system or whether this simply creates a system of many people crushed under the feet of those at the top of the ladder. It’s a whole other discussion and not one I am even interested in getting into (at least not on this blog!)
The fact is, for many people, these steps are often difficult to achieve. It certainly requires work to either get there or to maintain position there. Just one glance at the make up aisle or magazine rack will show how hard we work towards beauty, and watching stocks and shares will reveal the effort involved in trying to achieve and maintain ownership and wealth. It’s hard. The rewards are appealing and the methods to get there are highly esteemed in our culture, and there is a great pull towards it.
In contrast, what’s required to press on towards the pink goal is less about work and more about simply letting go. I think the hardest part is fighting the attraction of the blue, and trusting God to have your back; believing that in placing your identity in Christ you won’t lose yourself, rather you will truly be found. Authentically you. Not something you’re striving to be, but someone you were created to be, at the very core of you.
Now I’m about to finally get to the point of all this. (Thanks for baring with me). Lets have a look at what role brokenness plays in all of this.
When we introduce trials and messups and imperfection and brokenness into the blue model, it causes a bit of havoc.
This system of success is based on being whole and fit and capable, and it leaves much to be desired for those who are broken, who have failed, who fall short of the mark. Which, honestly, is pretty much everybody. So we try to clean it up and pretend we’re not broken, or fight to make the system more accommodating to people such as ourselves so we can just fit in somewhere. And we’re left spinning around trying to make sense of our place in this world, our purpose. Or we’re left shaking our fists at God asking how he could let this brokenness come into our lives and ruin everything. We feel like we’re fighting a losing battle. Frankly, it's a big mess.
How does brokenness look in our other model?
In this model, brokenness is a major player in achieving our goal! In getting to all those wonderful orange benefits. It is often the starting point, that gets us to the place of surrender and humility and falling into Jesus. And at the other side of that we find ourselves in incredible intimate, passionate relationship with Jesus, basking in unconditional love and feeling an inner peace when life inevitable throws more brokenness our way. It’s an incredibly, powerfully, satisfying sensation to feel like you are discovering your real purpose in life - to belong to Him. To fall into Him. To love and live with Him. We were made for this, and it will satisfy.
I’ve been there, I’ve felt it and since having a taste of it, I’m just not satisfied in the slightest to be surrounded by all this blue with brokenness again. How did I even end up here again? There’s a strong pull from this side.
And recently, there’s more and more brown and less blue. I’ve already written here and complained about my health issues. I’m going through chronic pain, thyroid, autoimmune and liver problems as well as depression and emotional pain. While part of me wants to have a pity party, to throw my fists in the air and ask, “why me?”; another part is reminded, on this anniversary of the worst day of my life which led to an amazing period of realizing my place in life and of living in beautiful intimacy with my creator, that the way to find satisfaction and peace is to simply let go. To surrender and fall into him. All this brown, brokenness is leading me there. And for that, I am so thankful. Because the more brokenness, the easier it is to just let go of striving, and come to the end of yourself and find Jesus there, arms wide open. I can't imagine a better prize!
I’m not trying to encourage anyone to quit school or pack in the job or give up on a dream or a goal. But I hope to make an impact on how we view trials and brokenness. They are not easy, or desirable or enjoyable, but can be the trigger that sets us on a path towards an enrichment that is out of this world - literally!
I don’t want trials in life, I don’t want pain in life. But if that’s what it takes to get me back to that amazing place, the only place I’ve ever felt so alive and on fire and in love - then I say bring it on! Let that be my daughter’s legacy. I know she is in God’s presence now, enlightened and would feel honored if her loss would be used to draw people towards him. And to draw me back into him.
He said, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord! Job 1 v 21