It’s seventeen days until Easter. I don’t remember much about last Easter, it was such a blur of searing pain and sorrow.
I do, however, vaguely remember standing in line at Target with my Easter baskets, and suddenly hearing the piercing cry of a newborn. Target is the absolute worst place to go if you want to avoid Babyland. Because Target is full of new moms who don’t know what to do with themselves, so they go there to wander the aisles. I know this, because I used to be one of those moms…about a billion years ago.
But a year ago, as I stood in the checkout line with my Cadbury eggs and my fractured heart, I absolutely couldn’t breathe when I heard that shrill newborn sound. It was one of the most excruciatingly painful moments of my life listening to that newborn wail. Because my baby boy…was buried in a dark hole in the ground. My entire body…was wrecked from labor and delivery, and there was no cooing bundle beside me in the cart. And my heart…was bruised and bleeding everywhere.
I heard that cry, and literally fled Target as the tears poured down. I remember getting to my car and crying out over and over again, “I can’t do this. I can’t do this! God, I JUST CAN’T DO THIS!”
That was last Easter.
And one of the worst parts of the 365 days in between then and now…were all of the times people told us that we could. I cannot tell you how many times people have told us over the last year, “I know that I could NEVER go through what you have gone through…God must have known you could handle something that I just couldn’t.”
I know that they meant well. I know this, because it was said by some of the people who have loved us the most. I know what they were really trying to say was, “I am encouraged by your faith. I am encouraged that you still believe, and I don’t know if I would.”
But there are just so many things wrong with that well-meaning statement. And it bothers me for two reasons…
Every time someone tells us that we have “amazing faith,” or are “stronger” than they are, or that, “God just knew you could handle it, and I couldn’t,” I just want to scream out, “But, I…CAN’T! We’re…NOT! We’re not “handling” it. We’re so broken and capacitated that we can barely even function!”
A few weeks ago, someone wrote to ask if they could nominate us as “Hope Hero’s” for a radio station contest. It was super kind and thoughtful, but the only words that came to mind in that moment was Princess Anna’s from Frozen, “But I’m completely… ordinary.”
And we really, really are.
In the last year we have had to bury three babies, lost almost everything we owned, and struggled daily with significant neurological damage and chronic illness. That part…does feel kind of extra ordinary. But, we…well, we’re the most ordinary people in the world. We don’t have extraordinary faith. We have ordinary, fragile, prone-to-wander-Lord-I-feel-it-faith…just like you do. And most days, we are barely hanging on.
This isn’t false modesty. I mean it when I say that we are just ordinary, messy, sinners who need Jesus. And I can start to feel all this pressure to suddenly be something extraordinary…something we’re just simply not, every time people tell us that they, “Just couldn’t handle this.”
Which brings me to my second problem with that statement. Some day…regardless what you think that you “can handle”…you just might have to.
I couldn’t “handle” any of this…and the hits just keep on coming. It doesn’t matter what you think you can handle…you may be called to endure infinitely more than that. January 28th, 2013 at 11:54pm when I sat alone in that hospital room and the doctor told me that my baby boy was dead…that was my breaking point. And all of the pain that came after that, well, all that just pushed me to way past broken.
You have absolutely no idea what you will be called to endure.
And you’re going to be in a really bad place when you get there, if you believe that, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
He gave us more. Infinitely more. More than we could handle. He gave us things that only He could handle, and then the grace to somehow walk with Him as He handled it.
And His deepest grace…was the daily reminders He gave us that we worship a God on a cross.
I have a very different appreciation for the weeks ahead of us…because of the year behind us. And a much, much deeper appreciation for the cross.
Last night…was date night. Since we’re new in town, it took us forever to decide on a new restaurant, and by the time we landed at one I was pretty wore out from the endeavor. But not one to waste a wonderful date night, simply because of a disgruntled wife…my husband started the night off with one of our “Five Questions.”
It’s our list of questions we ask one another on dates when we want to go to the depths together.
1. What has God been teaching you about Himself?
2. What has God been teaching you about Yourself?
3. What has God been teaching you about me as your spouse?
4. What has God been teaching you about our kids?
5. What has God been teaching you about lost people?
6. What have you learned in the last week that has caused you to repent?
7. What is God asking you to yield?
I know, I know..it’s not really five questions, but more like seven. But when we started this years ago it was five, and we hardly ever get to all of them anyways. Last night we only made it through two. But I was deeply encouraged by Reid’s answer.
We were talking about the cross. About the weeks coming up. About the Jesus who has seemed close to us over this last year of suffering…because of His suffering…in ways that sometimes the Father, just simply has not. There is a nearness that Jesus’ suffering brings, simply because it makes Him one of us on a deeply profound level. And as we talked about all of this last night, Reid said something that really pierced my heart.
He said to me, “You know…If someone asked me to endure the last year of suffering we have been through FOR THEM…I know I wouldn’t have done it. I wouldn’t have willingly gone through this last year for a friend, let alone my worst enemy. But that’s exactly what Jesus did.”
Sometimes we sing about Him, and call him “bud,” and act like we’re all chummy with Jesus of Nazareth. But the bottom line is that when He saved us…when He suffered for us…He was suffering for the enemies of God. Each and every one of us.
And when His Father watched in anguish as the one He loved most was brutally crucified in humiliation…He was watching His enemies at work. Some of them enemies who were about to become friends, but enemies nonetheless.
As we prepare for Easter this coming week, I know it’s going to be another holiday filled with pain. Holidays always are. They are painful because we had expected them to be happy, and yet now they are filled with aching reminders of the depth of all that we have lost.
I’ll be reminded of it…when I dress Fred in his dapper little bow tie…and there’s no baby boy with nut-brown hair, in a matching bow tie beside him. I’ll be reminded of it…when the kids get out their matching woodland bunnies, and Charlie’s isn’t there. I’ll be reminded of it…when we have our family sharing time on Easter…and Charlie isn’t there for it. Emma has this new idea that she wants us to confess our sins together at the table during Easter dinner. She told me, “That way we can be reminded of Jesus and all He did for us.” It’s kind of precious. And I so desperately wish Charlie was going to be there to drive his big sister crazy by making a racket during the special Confession time she’s planned. But… He. Just. Won’t. Be. There.
He missed all of it. The bow tie. The confession time. The bunny. And, even now, 14 months later, I can’t breathe because it hurts so much.
And maybe that’s why Easter means even more to me than it used to. Because without Easter, there would be no resurrection hope. Without Easter, I would never, ever get to see my babies again. Without Easter, I would not know the extraordinary God who walks with us through each long day of sorrow. The suffering God, who alone, got us ordinary souls…through the suffering of this last year.
A God who, I assure you, will give you far, far more than you can handle…and then give you the daily grace to walk through it. All the way to the end.
It is a deep comfort to me that Jesus struggled in anguish on the cross. That He cried out in desperation in the garden…checking in with Dad one last time to see if there was any possible way out of such horrific sorrow. That He wept as He looked up into the heavens and cried, “Why have you forsaken me God!?”
Because we have struggled. We have begged for ways out. And we have wept into the heavens.
But completely unlike Jesus…we didn’t choose any of this.
And He chose all of it.
Ever since date night I just keep thinking about Jesus and asking, “Who DOES that? Who willingly suffers such sorrow…for the very people causing it?”
Our extraordinary Savior.
I wish Charlie was here. I wish the next baby was here. And the next. I wish I wasn’t sick. I wish my kids weren’t sick. But for all the things I wish for that simply are not…there is something infinitely precious that is.
Easter is. Easter happened. And Easter is almost here again. I still have mornings where I wake up and have to ask myself, “Did all of the last year actually happen to us?” And it did.
But so too, did something else. Something precious.
God on a cross. Dying for those who put Him there. Dying to get us back.
Happy almost Easter.
To you beloved…
Who were once His greatest enemies…and are now His forever friends.