Monday, February 9, 2015

in Dark and Empty Spaces

I wrote the same story for 2 years.
I used different words, different metaphors, approached it from new angles but essentially it was the same story. I wrote it because I didn't know if I would survive if I didn't get it out of me. I wrote not because it would change what happened but because I thought it would change me. I wrote because I didn't know what else to do.
For 2 years I told the same story: the story of earth shattering loss and unthinkable horror and unimaginable brokenness and destruction.
Every step I take forward in my life is a loss of something in my life and I live the waiting: how and of what will I be emptied today?
The past week has been heavy. Looking back I knew it. On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. I could feel it. And then it happened.
On Thursday morning I found out a good friend from high school had lost her dad in an accident.
I was in care groups when I found out, and after we prayed together desperately I excused myself.
I barely made it out of the room before my legs gave out and I fell to the floor.
I know what it's like to lose your person. And while I am still lucky enough to have my own father with me I so easily could be in her position. My dad is still here but I do know what it's like to lose a person you love more than anything.
Hearing of her loss instantly transported me back to the day when I found out L had died. The first words that passed my lips were, "Why God?"
I want to take both fists and splinter that door with an ungrateful demanding for more. Why can't we be allowed days indefinitely? How can God ever expect us to say goodbye to the eyes, ears, hands of those we cherish more than our own?
 This is not the way I would have written this story.
 I say it over and over. I skip class and stay buried beneath a mountain of blankets and cry and write and listen to music and the whole time I feel as though this is not the way the story should go.
How is it possible to find true joy in a world filled with such brokenness? Is all we have been blessed with just some fa├žade and this honest, gut wrenching, unthinkable pain all that really is?
My heart is broken by the lack of understanding, the inability to see the good. Death is not fair and the grief still bites me like the bitter cold and robs me of all my oxygen.
There are still moments when I whisper "I don't know how to keep living in a world where he doesn't."
I don't understand why my beautiful, brave friend is walking this journey. I would do anything to save her from the unspoken agony of bearing this story of loss inside of you.
What I would do if this wasn't the story we both have to tell.
And I won't shield God from my anguish by claiming He's not involved in the ache of this world and Satan prowls but he's a lion on a leash and the God who governs all can be shouted at when I bruise, and I can cry and I can howl and He embraces the David-hearts who pound hard on His heart with their grief and I can moan deep that He did this - and He did. I can feel Him hold me - a flailing child tired in my Father's arms. And I can hear him soothe soft, "Are your ways my ways, child? Can you eat my manna, sustain on my mystery? Can you believe that I tenderly, tirelessly work all for the best good of the whole world, because my flame of love for you can never ever be quenched?
All day I feel like those I love are nudging me.
"Hey, are you alright?" They ask. "What do you need?"
And in this moment I feel lucky to have friends who understand my brokenness so well for a loss that isn't mine but still carries the sting of that fateful day nearly 2 years ago.
In a moment of raw honesty I cry out to God. I flail and weep and question, and my questioning almost feels wrong.
"How dare you?" I say to God in a moment of weakness. Not just for this loss that has shattered my friend's world but for my own.
I inwardly rage and say no to death, no to illness and injury.
How can this be from the hand of God? How can this be good?
How, when my heart is broken and people die too soon and injury and illness become my delirium, can I look at what is being extended from the hand of God and declare it a gift?
That is what a shadow is, an empty space, a hole in the light. Evil is that - a hole in the goodness of God. Evil is all that lacks the goodness of God, a willful choice to turn away from the full goodness of God to that empty of His goodness.
The last few weeks I feel as though I've been submerged in grace. God is good, I would say over and over, because I truly felt it. I felt and experienced God's goodness, and it became my song. My heart sang over and over "Let us praise the Lord for all the good things He has done."
And then I got the phone call. And then I felt the sting of all the losses and the injustice and I fought against God and I said over and over that this isn't right and how God and why and what about grace now?
Is grace still proclaimed when there is a horrible accident that causes a father not to return home to his wife and children? Is grace still proclaimed when a mysterious monster lies dormant inside my body waiting to pounce? Is grace still proclaimed when 18 year old cousin's die and relationships crumble and dad's lose their sight, the eye destroyed by a mere nail? In these moments of unthinkable trauma and horror is there anything good and gracious about the things that passed through God's hands?
What of God's grace then?
Can I ask that question?
What in the world, in a world of certain loss, is grace?
I wish I had answers.
As I hold my beautiful, brave friend as she collapses in my arms I wish I had words.
As I spend all afternoon wearing my memorial sweater and crying and fluctuating between needing to be held and needing to be alone I wish I knew.
What is grace when everything crumbles and life becomes just another bad dream you can't wake up from?
This past year at PRBI God has been teaching me to listen to His heartbeat. I've seemed to run head on into every major thing I've struggled with and in all of it I've felt God tenderly whispering to me, "Do you trust me? Do you see how much I love you?"
And since the New Year it's felt like His blessings have abounded and it almost feels bitter when in my relentless raging against God I hear a tiny reminder in the back of my mind:
"Sweet girl, do you trust me?"
Trust? Trust that God is still good even when the brokenness feels like it's all consuming? Trust in God's plan when everything around me is chaos? Trust in God's sovereign power when I have lost so much?
In the moment I say no. I say no God, I can't accept this, this isn't good.
But perhaps there's a bigger picture, one I can't see because I am clinging to the pain and brokenness that is real and consuming.
I don't to accept this reality, that maybe my discomfort and pain is for some greater purpose. I don't want to believe that God would allow pain in my life for some great plan.
"Is what I feel not enough?" I sob.
When I realize that it is not God who is in my debt but I who am in His great debt, then doesn't all become gift? for He might not have
It could have just as easily been my dad not coming home from work one day. Instead delicate surgery is being performed on his eye with the hopes of restored sight.
In these moments of darkness we are learning to see.
And when the sickness rages inside of my body and I scream at God through the longest nights that this seemingly unending pain and suffering has become too much, I see it could have just as easily been the other way around. I wasn't supposed to survive, but on the third day... there is God's providing hand stirring tiny miracles in the darkness
And when the cousin dies and the world feels empty and inside of me is an unspeakable story, it is here that I learned forgiveness, and the beauty of love that holds together and that story, my story, has made the way for me to reach out to others and to experience healing.
I used to say that I would trade all I'd learned for a chance to be well, to not have gone through this loss.
And maybe I still feel like that. What I wouldn't give for a tiny glimpse of heaven, of completeness and wholeness.
I don't understand, and I question still.
but maybe that's the point.
Maybe all these traumas strung together create in me a greater longing for the beauty and completeness of heaven. Because of that maybe I greater appreciate the tiny gifts I've been given here on earth And maybe it is through all these things that the Father is knitting me closer to His heart.
The suffering nourishes grace and pain and joy are arteries of the same heart - and mourning and dancing are but movements in His unfinished symphony of beauty
In naming the things that so called manifest the goodness of God, I have separated life into two camps. There is good, the blessings, and there is bad, the ugly.
I praise God for one and rage against Him for the other.
And God, in His bigness and might, lets me in my humanness fight against Him. He knows that when I'm done running, done fighting against that which I declare not good, I will become still.
He will remove His hand from the rock and there will be glimmers of light in the darkness and when I look I will see His back.
And so in my grieving, in my no, God, I begin to name these ugly beautiful blessings.
The beauty of vulnerability and friendship that becomes sacred in the split open moments and friends who call me just to check in and hold me up when I am weak and moments of rest and people who understand and little encouragement notes and the beautiful sound of laughter
I'm not always quick to see it, but this time I was. Last time it took me over a year and this time it took me an hour but I can see God in this place.
I had a thought a few months ago, when I was standing over His grave.
"What will you name this place?" I thought. We had been studying the Old Testament in class, most recently the study of Abraham and Isaac.
I barely had a chance to think before the words left my lips: "I will call this place 'God will provide'"
God is always good and I am always loved. Everything is eucharisteo

All quotes in italics from 1000 gifts by Ann Voskamp

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