Surprised by God (Boot Straps Not Included)

Jan 30, 2014

Rhode Island roads are almost this bad…

I watched an interview with an earthquake survivor recently and I was intrigued by something she said;

“If an earthquake wakes you up, you never think This is an earthquake. You’ll think it’s anything else.”

We are reason-able creatures, therefore a dog probably would understand (in dog talk) This is an earthquake, before we would. There’s a long list of things we check off the worry list like; 1. Ground we stand on  2) sun coming up etc..Then we can spend more time worrying about the things we think we can control; our kids’ friends, our bank accounts, our hair. But somewhere on a hidden cosmic bargaining table, we draw lines for God. If I do this for you, then you’ll never do THIS to me… You can have this, this and this…but not THAT.

I distinctly remember feeling a strong sense of betrayal after I lost my son. When I thought it through, I felt foolish. Who was I to make demands on an Almighty God…a God who can cause the earth to tremble, the stars to fall, the ocean to swallow up a nation? Yet I admit I was stunned by God’s action or lack of it and it felt like a backhanded slap. Then for a long time, all of the former boundaries and reference points had to be questioned. The day after I buried my son, one of my other sons left to fly back to college. Terror gripped my heart. If God can take one, then He can take two…

I told God a long time ago that I couldn’t live like that; a life ruled by the What-ifs of every circumstance, which seemed suddenly beyond all control. I felt as if every mooring on my life had busted loose and I was spinning like a rogue satellite. I was sick with fright. Which way was up? Which way is down? There is nothing to rationalize about your child’s coffin. You wonder why the ground just doesn’t open up and swallow you too.

This is why the “Pull yourself up by the bootstrap” model falls short at times.  Some things come with no bootstrap, no rope to tie yourself to. No therapy, no directions, no doctrine will help you find your way. You sense there is no turning back but you’re hopelessly lost and your compass broke. Straining your eyes in the darkness there is no light on the horizon. Job 7:13-18 says,

When I say, ‘My bed will comfort me,
 my couch will ease my complaint’, then you scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions, so that I would choose strangling and death rather than my bones.

I loathe my life; I would not live forever.
 Leave me alone, for my days are a breath.

What is man, that you make so much of him,
 and that you set your heart on him, visit him every morning and test him every moment?

 When I read these words spoken by Job thousands of years ago, I realized I was not alone, and I was not a bad Christian for being disappointed in God and telling Him so. In our frailty and human weakness, He understands. We don’t get it. We can’t. Yet I love how the Bible describes God “inclining His ear “ to us when we cry. The same God who is terrible in His power and to be feared is the same God who gathers us under His wing. In the midst of what seems like a great betrayal, we find His love is more magnificent than we could ever hope for.

I wondered if the woman who was awakened by an earthquake was afraid to go to sleep afterwards, or startled by any movement or sound. She could no longer trust the ground. I know how that feels, even though I’ve never lived through an earthquake. How do you make peace with knowing nothing is secure?

This time of year is sad and dark to me. January 26th marks twelve years since the last time I saw my son, saw him pronounced dead on a gurney in the ER and the earth opened underneath me. Sometimes I still feel the ground tremble, there is a sorrow that encompasses my soul. I cannot pull myself up by the bootstraps. I can’t think of a soul on earth who can understand what I have to accept as a part of who I am now. I get restless, I call my granddaughters so I can hear their laughter, and I cry a lot. The earth rolls gently under my feet and I struggle to find balance. I go into huddles with Jesus and ask him to keep me from self-pity and wanting to quit. I suggest he finds me something to do. And I make myself do it.

Psalm 46:2-3 God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar and foam, Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. Selah.…

On a Skype call last week my granddaughter, Brooklynn, showed me a “book” she wrote, holding it to the camera and turning the pages. The first page said, “God is good” and there was lots of yellow and light. Then she expounded on this theme and wrote God is WOND-R-F-L. There was more, because then she sang the whole thing, with great passion I might add. And on the last page, she belted out the last line, which was: I know He loves ME!” And I thought, there it is. Everything we need to know in a book by a five year old.

If you feel the earth shifting beneath your feet, or perhaps you are sitting in the smoking rubble of profound loss and devastation, remember you have a refuge, a shelter and ever-present help. In the sanctuary of His mercy there is peace, yes, even joy unspeakable and full of glory. To quote one of my favorite authors:

God is good, He is wond-r-f-l. And He really loves you.