Last year, our kids attended Awana Cubbies on Tuesday nights. Every week, the teacher would chose someone new for the high honor of bringing Cubbie bear home and, though I don’t remember much of 2013, I distinctly remember Fred’s excitement and anticipation of being the one to “win” Cubbie Bear. When you’re an almost-three-year-old, the honor of taking home Cubbie, and spending a week doing everything together is HUGE. And Freddo was SO ready for his day in the sun with Cubbie love.
He had waited for weeks. Months actually. I could see his big brown eyes fill with hope every time his Cubbie teacher would stick her hand in the big jar and swish it around to pick a winner. (Imagine Effie Trinket pawing around in the glass bowl at the Reaping, and you’ve got the image pretty much right). It started to feel like torture for my Mommy-heart to watch my sweet Fred have to wait week, after week, after week…for the teacher to call his name. And the worst part…was that every time a new kid joined Cubbies their name would get thrown in the pot anew, and suddenly poor Freddo had to contend with a whole new group of little people beating him to the Cubbie punch.
I’m normally not bothered by things like this, but there was something about watching Fred’s name never ever get chosen, something about seeing the crushed and forlorn look on his face, of seeing how deflated his little soul would be on the drive home from Cubbies every week…that started to gnaw at my soul.
And then, to make matters worse…the kid’s started praying about it. Every week on the drive to Cubbies, they would pray that Freidrich Uriah’s name would get chosen that week. “Dear God, Please let me get Cubbie bear tonight.” Which meant that I also had to start praying. “Dear God, please comfort his heart if he doesn’t get chosen. Please show Him you are kind and loving and good…even when you don’t give him exactly what he is trusting you for. Oh, and please, please…give him Cubbie bear!”
And then it happened one night. I watched as his teacher dug around in that big bowl, pulled out a name, and announced with all the bravado of a child-care worker, “And tonight….Cubbie bear is going home with…Uriah!” You should have seen Freddo’s face. He lit up like a Christmas tree when he heard his obscure middle name called out! Unfortunately…so did the little boy next to him. The new kid. Uriah Some-thing-or-other. Who took home Cubbie Bear.
I mean…WHAT ARE THE CHANCES! Who name’s their kid Uriah anyways! New kid Uriah went home with Cubbie Bear. And our little Freidrich Uriah went home crushed once again.
And that’s when I felt the snap in my soul. I couldn’t believe it was over something as dumb as a little brown bear that honestly, is kind of a public health hazard. With all of the lice and germs and viruses floating around kinder-world, it’s a wonder we’re sharing bears in the first place. But…that dumb little bear came to symbolize and prod at something much deeper in my heart…
I couldn’t draw Fred’s name.
I couldn’t GIVE Fred his much anticipated and longed for Cubbie bear.
I couldn’t give him exactly what he wanted, when he wanted it.
I couldn’t protect him from the pain.
And most crushing of all…I had to stand there and watch as the God who could… didn’t.
And then, a few weeks after that…on January 28th, 2013…life was changed forever. And our souls were utterly decimated, when our sweet baby Charlie’s heart stopped.
We didn’t go to Cubbies that week. Suddenly, all of the longings we had ever had about anything, seemed like nothing.
I couldn’t GIVE our kids their much anticipated and longed for baby brother.
I couldn’t give them exactly what they wanted, when they wanted it.
I couldn’t protect him from the pain.
And worst of all…I had to stand there and watch as the God who could… didn’t.
And the simple lesson of “The Cubbie Bear”…became the lesson of our lives.
In all those months I had sat at Cubbies, feeling the dull ache of not being able to make my little boy “happy,” of not being able to protect him from pain, of not being able to “make God do” what I had hoped He would do and show Himself faithful in the way I had hoped and thought He should…I HAD NO IDEA, that that was about to become the story of our lives. That we were about to be decimated utterly incomprehensible level of suffering.
And even now, almost two years later…the pain is excruciating.
A few weeks ago, I was visiting Emma’s school for a special Pie Feast her class had planned for their Mamas. We finished the pies, and I noticed that Emma’s whole class had gathered together around her friend’s brand new baby brother. The baby was sleeping in his little car seat, and it was so precious to watch Emma’s friends circled around the baby, marveling at how cute and sweet he was. Her back was to me, and I could see her smiling and chatting with the other kids. But I knew.
As I looked over at her, her shiny Mary Jane’s pointed in just a little at the toes, her tiny shoulders stooped down just ever so slightly, and I saw the weight of this entire broken, ugly, devestating world…weighing down on those precious little shoulders. She was talking, and smiling, and doing one heck of a job being kind and affectionate and social and deeply full of graciousness. But I knew.
And then, all of my knowing came to be…as those shiny Mary Janes spun around, and those tiny shoulders walked slowly towards Mom. And then…I saw the tears pour down. And she ran to me, and began to weep. And in between sobs, she got the question out. The one I knew that would follow. The one that seems to follow all of my tears too. “Why Mommy? Why! Why can’t WE have a baby? Why couldn’t we keep baby Charlie?!”
I just wanted to dig a hole, right there in the middle of the school courtyard, crawl into that big hole…and die from the pain of it. Because I am so incredibly sick of suffering. I am sick of being in pain. And I am really, really sick, of seeing my children suffer. Of seeing them have to be strong and brave and full of faith and hope and love and grace, as they have to watch literally everyone and their mom…get what God took away from them. Get what they prayed for. Get what they longed for, and long for still. A healthy mommy. A living, breathing baby sibling. A happy, carefree life.
They waited for eight long months for a baby brother to come home to live with them. And. They. Are. Still. Waiting.
And as I held those tiny, sobbing shoulders in my arms while her entire class looked over at her in confusion, I realized something. The American dream isn’t so much about houses and cars and vacations and things…it’s about being happy.
Can I get what I want, when I want it? And even more…can I give what I want to those I love most? Can I make my kids happy? Can I make them feel safe, and comfortable, and always loved? Can I give them a childhood that will yield unwavering trust in the God they are learning to pray to? Can I give them the Story I want for them?
And as I looked at my precious little girl, crying in the middle of the school courtyard, over our deeply broken life…it was like I was right back at Tuesday Night Cubbies. Only something, much, much bigger was at stake.
And the truth hit me all over again…I can’t give them anything.
Sure, I can brush their teeth, and pack their lunch boxes, and teach them the unsurpassable value of learning how to say “I’m sorry” and actually mean it…but at the end of the day…I am in ultimate control…of absolutely nothing.
I look back on the old me standing in the back of the Cubbies room, and I realize that I used to care so very much about keeping them safe and happy and comfortable and loved. And what I realized as I watched ALL of that slip wildly beyond my control with each new wave of loss…is that NONE of that was given to me to do.
All I can do…is sit helpless.
Like a paralyzed and mute spectator in a Potter’s shop.
Watching Him work.
He, who cares far more about who they are…than how cool their clothes, how big their smiles, how good their grades, how many their friends, how awesome their social skills, how secure their psyches, or how certain and safe their futures. He cares about WHO THEY ARE.
He cares that Emma is being formed by Him…into a little girl who has the capacity to smile upon a friend’s baby brother…even as she grieves her own.
He cares that Emma is being formed into a little girl that doesn’t grow up with a perma-smile pasted on her face…but who actually feels things deeply, expresses them well, and loves others out of the overflow of a lifetime of sorrows.
And most of all…He cares that Emma grows to know her Potter…as more than just a vending machine to order around…but the very Lover and Shaper of her Soul. Who happens to be smack in the middle of a very big Redemptive story, which most definitely includes her.
Because in the end, it doesn’t matter if she has the happy childhood I had wanted for her, filled with endless smiles and every heart desire met the way she wanted…
If she misses out on WHO HE IS.
And as I watched my little girl, bearing this ugly, dark, scary, aching, and deeply unfair world…on her tiny, slumped shoulders, I knew that for all that He has taken away…there is much that He has given. He gave me a little girl who walked right over to me in a moment of deep, deep pain, and said, “Mommy, can we go visit Charlie’s grave today? I want to remember him, and talk to God there together.”
We wept all the way there. I thought my heart would break from the pain of it.
And then the song came on. The one that stops me in my tracks every time, even on my maddest of days. The days when I feel so deeply crushed that this is the story God chose for us. The days when I am honestly not sure I am going to make it. When I am not sure I am going to walk with Him all the way through this broken story He is busy scribbling away on. Not sure I even want to anymore.
God our Father, Lord of all
Great Creator, You hear my call
God our Healer, God our Strength
Loving kindness is Your embrace
It’s who You are
Jesus, Friend above all friends
Laid down Your life that I might live
Faithful Shepherd of my soul
Savior, You have made me whole
It’s who You are
Holy Spirit, Comforter
Your eyes are filled with laughter
You are wisdom, You are life
My every need You supply
It’s who You are
Every time this song from Bethel Worship comes on in our carpre, I feel undone. It is so simple. It’s just a list of who He is. Who He is…as our Father. Who He is…as the Son. Who He is..as the Spirit who lives in us. But it is unapologetic in it’s simplicity.
This…is who You are.
It. Just. Is.
And I’m going to worship You for it.
It’s so easy to believe these things about Him, when life is good and you’ve gotten everything you’ve ever wanted, and all of your babies are alive, and you are healthy, and all is well.
But it is so very, very hard to believe it…when you are watching your broken-hearted child, watch everyone else get what she most wanted.
It’s hard to believe it in a graveyard.
And it’s really hard to believe it…when you look down in the graveyard, and see that broken-hearted little girl’s Mary Jane’s standing there too. If I had my way…I would have written this whole thing different. Our life would have been a beautiful song, filled with joy and laughter.
And only the good notes.
But I am quite certain of one thing and one thing alone. It’s when it’s hardest to believe it…that you need to believe it the most.
To cling to the promise that the Father who created all I see…and all I’ve lost…hears my call.
That Jesus IS a friend above all friends, and the faithful Shepherd of my soul…even though most days I have absolutely no idea where in the world He is shepherding us to.
And that somehow…though it is so incredibly hard for me to believe this in our life filled with so much sorrow….the Holy Spirit who lives inside of me has eyes filled with laughter. Laughter? Honestly?
But I think here in America, where people absolutely stink at dealing with grief, and where we are utterly obsessed with our own security and happiness and health…we perhaps need to hear this the most.
God, the real one…cares more about WHO YOU ARE…than what you have or do.
And that same God…is calling forth worshippers. Ones, dare I say, like little Emma…who look up at Him even as the tears pour down on the grave of a baby brother so desperately wanted. And who say,
“I will love you and I will worship you. EVEN now. Because It’s who You Are.”
It is my prayer that her faith will challenge you. She who has lost so very much. She whose many prayers have been left unanswered. She who has lived a lifetime of pain, in her seven short years.
Because she challenges mine. So. Very. Much.
It has been hard to write this post. To share a very unfinished and deeply broken part of our life, with so many total strangers. I don’t even know most of the people who read this blog anymore. But I have been reminded a lot lately through Emma’s deep and child-like faith, that one of the first things the American Dream strips us of…is our willingness to be bold. To risk much. For the love of God and others.
But my precious kids…help shatter that dream. And invite me to one far better.
As were were driving away from the cemetery that day Emma said to me, “Mommy, I would like to tell my class why I was crying at the Pie Feast. I want them to know. And I think that my friend in my class whose Mommy died…well, I think she is pretty sad too. And maybe it will help her share that she is sad…if I share that too.”
I was speechless. And all I could say, as I sat mute…watching who the Potter is making her through this endless song filled with so very many bad notes is,
“Yes Emma, I think you should do that. Because it’s who you are.”