It was somewhere between three months and seven and a half months into Christiana’s short, but dramatic life that I remember dully listening to another mom gushing about her daughter. Words meant to be encouraging landed like slaps to my heart. “We just had a lot of faith,” she said. “We prayed, and prayed, and our daughter made it home with no ventilator, and is so much better than they ever thought she would be. You just have to have faith.” I remember smiling politely and walking away. Have faith echoed from my footsteps down the hospital hall. It chuckled mirthlessly in the silent elevator. It jeered at me from the back seat of the car driving home. We had faith. We prayed. And then we picked our in home nursing care, installed electrical outlets for a ventilator, learned to change a trach, and memorized emergency procedures for keeping a baby alive. You just had to have faith after all.
It was my turn to go to church that night. We always had to take turns to go anywhere with a ventilator dependent baby at home. I was six months pregnant and had been told this little guy on the way was either going to die or be critically ill. I sat on the pew and listened to a women give her testimony about God rescuing her from a terrible life of drug addiction. She had a healthy little baby. God had been so good. I love stories like that beyond words. I love that God’s mercy is huge and freeing and life changing. But that night, Satan filled my ear with poison. Like a torrent the thoughts gushed in…I hadn’t ever done drugs…I hadn’t ever lived a wild life…I had sat on a church pew nearly every single week of my life…I had done what I was supposed to do. There I sat, not with just one, but with two babies unexplainably and horribly unhealthy. God had been so good to her. God had been so good…to me? It wasn’t that I asked the question, so much as the question asked me, it beat on my brain and pounded through my heart.
That afternoon I felt absolutely nothing at all looking at the screen showing a few small arrows pointing at nondescript spots an the blob of gray fuzz in the picture. This was a picture of my baby boy’s liver, those arrows pointed to masses that should not have been in the picture. A voice to my right droned facts and information that I neither heard, nor cared to understand. “We’ll have to run a biopsy,” the voice said, “You should know something in about three days.” I was left in silence, the little bundle on the bed didn’t move, the room settled to stillness except for the quiet beeping of this or that machine. A text message rolled across my phone screen in response to the news. “God wouldn’t let him get cancer now, after all he’s been through. I just know it,” the message read. Only, I did not know it. I did not know anything of the sort. Three days later I bit back the inappropriate urge to laugh at the face who confirmed the wild, fantastic absurdity that my one year old with renal failure was now a cancer patient too. God wouldn’t let him after all.
The truth of the matter is that I could go on. And on. This loss, that disappointment, this sorrow, that pain. We all could. We could make that list of the shocks of life, the things that should not have happened to us, but did. We can tape our list to the front of our brain, and worship it daily. The list can become the deciding factor for any life decision. I can’t be expected to do that, don’t you know this has happened to me? I can’t commit to that, it scares me because of this. I can’t be held responsible for that, because clearly this decides my actions for me. I cannot find joy, speak kindly, be grateful, or care about those around me because this has wounded me, disappointed me, or caused me loss.
It is this list that Jesus Christ’s death on the cross ripped to shreds. Accepting soul freedom when I became a child of God meant accepting freedom from this list. The list looses the authority to define me, it cannot hold me as its victim. The list is not my excuse, the list is my reason. If you look at my list, you can clearly see my sin and selfishness, it proves the strength of my Savior’s love. You can clearly see my failure, it proves the richness of my Redeemer to willingly buy it. You can clearly see my pain, it proves the power of my Healer to treat it. You can look, and look at that list, and what you see will be the proof of everything that God has ever said was true. He has not made one single mistake with my life. God never once promised me, or you, or anyone, a life absent of “a list”. He did promise that He can, and will, trump absolutely anything and everything on that list if I allow Him to work in my life. I do not have to prove that my salvation is deserved, and my sanctification is earned, because the list is the undeniable proof they are gifts, given to me freely, and worked with a power beyond me. I do not have to wait for a better story. I do not have to wait to catch a break. I do not have to envy someone else’s life. I do not have to exhaust myself to create perfection today to validate my existence. I not have to wander through life in an endless haze of waiting for things to get better. They are better right now. Not because I am in denial, but because I know the truth. Not because of who I am, but because of who I know. Not because of what I see, but because of what I do not see. Not because I have an excuse, but because I have a reason.
Each and every single line of the list has to snap like ropes holding a boat when hope gushes into the sail and forces the boat to move. Sail on, hope demands. Grace’s current catches the moving life, it bounces it towards the horizon where mercy’s rays are shooting over the edge. There is a Captain to a course charted, there is a purpose to a craft moving, there is freedom in the absence of the list, and there is pristine beauty in the entire picture.
II Cor 4:17-18 “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory: while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”