Have you ever felt like your most fervent prayer, the one you whispered at every red light, the one you needed as desperately as air, the one asked with the purest heart, yeah, that one…was stamped Denied?
I sure do.
I know I’m supposed to say something like His plans are not our plans or our ways are not His ways. We cannot possibly fathom His ways. I know those words are right and true, but their comfort falls short for me.
And if I hear the phrase “God needed another angel,” I’m going to scream. He has heaven; it’s perfect, with lush green lawns, gorgeous flower beds, and a choir of angels on high. God didn’t need her; her children needed her. God made a choice to take her.
Those mommas should be here to finish the job of raising their children, at least to adulthood, and in the wake of their deaths, those momma’s moms are broken. It is an unnatural order for parents to bury their children.
When we are forced to let go of something we have prayed for incessantly, not only as a family but as a community, grief is the natural response. The weight of disappointment in a God who rejects our pleas is crushing.
I sought the Lord. I asked for very specific healing. I asked umbrella requests, like please let it be your will to heal my sweet friend. I tried very specific prayers, as scripture encourages, and I tried the “move this mountain” type of prayer.
I tried bargaining. Please, God, if you will heal her, I won’t miss a Sunday service for the rest of my life. I promise, Lord, I will really start on that book you are nudging me to write. I will take her pain, if only she can live. I’ll do anything, God, just heal them.
In the end, they died. My prayers made no difference, except that now I worry that everything I ask, God will stamp Denied. All requests for healing and life will automatically end in death, if the request comes from my lips. I feel tainted.
At the funeral, the second in two months, grief held back. Instead anger filled my heart. Why God? Why them? Leaving so many children behind, to never again have the security of a mother’s hug and her good night kisses –how can that be for our greater good?
On the darkest days, my mind wonders why not me? Why leave me here, broken and worthless, but take them?
As I am still walking on this tightrope of confusion, heartbreak, and pain, the third death dissolves the tightrope. Shelly, my friend who loved life and taught us how to live it, left behind a devoted husband, Lee. I ached for Lee’s loss, for an empty side of the bed, for the knowledge that “growing old” held much less appeal when the “together” no longer followed it.
Lee and I had just texted the day before about how difficult is was to attend another funeral and to know that yet another of the community’s “dynasty” families was experiencing the same situation. It was a nauseating version of instant replay.
The next day, Lee died of a massive heartache.
Gone in an instant.
No months of preparation or settling affairs. Just here and then…not. More hearts shatter. The shock is an earthquake in our souls. Two children now not just motherless, but parentless. We all ponder what is God thinking? Why is he doing this to all these kids?
I go from heartbroken to full-blown pissed off. When a doctor’s wife can’t survive cancer or when the woman who best exemplified true Christ-like behavior is silenced, all before seeing their babies into adulthood, I just can’t understand. And to have Lee, a phenomenal dad, die of a broken heart?
It’s just too much.
It all seems so haphazard and surreal. Every bit of faith I’d summoned in the hard earlier days explodes in my chest, leaving me with a strange hollow feeling; I am empty inside, yet somehow I also have a belly full of anger.
I stop praying.
I stop seeking God’s love because it just hurts too much to be rejected.
I feel like the only answer I get from our Creator is ‘NO.’
Heal Shelly. No.
Heal me. Not for now.
Heal Cathy. Not on this side of heaven.
Please, God, don’t take Lee, too.
It’s so easy to remember and obsess over the no’s because they are huge requests. But as I look back at my prayer journal, I see that God has said yes many, many times. He saved and healed a friend in a car accident. He brought beautiful, healthy babies into this world. God has worked wonders. It’s just we expect babies to be born healthy; we are caught off guard when nature doesn’t go the way it’s supposed to in our minds.
These no’s dominate our memory.
Days turn into weeks, and still I cannot force my voice to speak. A perfect storm of changes in my medical treatment, drastic weather shifts, and this emotional chasm cause my body to crash. All progress I had made is lost. I wonder if God causes me sickness to push me back into His arms, but I remain silent.
The anger festers in my belly, poisoning all of me. I begin saying, “Jesus, remember me.” It’s all I can muster. I repeat it over and over.
Eventually, the pain drives me to my knees, and I beg, “God, help me. Help me physically. Help my ache. Help my unbelief.”
I still hurt inside and out. I decide the reason we live so long is so that we’ll be more comfortable with death. We begin to have more loved ones in Heaven than on Earth, and the transition from here to there starts to feel pretty seamless.
Nor do I understand God, but I have to believe that this cannot be it. There must be more to life that just this.
I remind myself that God did heal them, He gave Shelly the ultimate graduation into heaven where she belonged, so it is not a punishment that God took two daughters, a son, moms and dad, sisters and a brother. No, he rewarded them, and I think he was gracious to let Shelly and her husband be together again.
I know I have to accept this not as our loss, but is God‘s perfect plan and his perfect will. I force myself to find relief in the beautiful fact that Shelly and Lee are reunited. I witness their children hold their heads high and uphold their parent’s legacy by continuing to walk hand in hand with Jesus. They are able to resume the daily task of living, and I feel weak, unqualified in their paths. If anyone is entitled to a falling out with God, it’s them. Yet they have the quiet grace of their mom, the just-keep-going-ness of their dad, and the comfort of their Father.
I yearn for their unwavering faith.
So I return to prayer. I read my Bible. I seek peace and understanding in words. I talk to our pastor. I let my emotions consume me. I cry when the wave envelopes me, and I get angry often too. I try to make peace with this as best as can, and I pray for their children.
I am reminded of one of Shelly’s last videos for her students. She stressed that “my circumstances will not shake my faith.” Whatever your situation and your circumstances are, she said, do not allow your emotions and how you feel to dictate how you praise Jesus. Praise him in the storm, starting with a song.
But more than anything, I miss sharing life with my friend Shelly, my beautiful light. Before Shelly got terribly sick, she created these videos for the students at St. Patrick School. The kids loved it, and Shelly loved continuing to be part of SPS. Now these videos remind my of her soft voice, her wisdom, and her unwavering love of Jesus. Even in the end, she was not shaken, and there is comfort in the knowledge that she is where her heart longed to be all of her life.
This is a balm to my heart, but it’s still so darn hard and lonely and unfair. Our community and these teenage children whose lives have been turned upside down need your prayers. We need to be able to let go of how much this hurts and begin clinging to the good still here and the good left to come.
I know Shelly would insist on this.
But, man, I miss her.