Choosing Belief

People keep telling me how strong I am.

If they only saw the moments when I am alone, when I literally can't stand beneath the weight of my grief, and when I wonder if there really is a point in trying to carry on, I wonder what they would say then.

This week, I experienced some of my hardest days yet. I spent the weekend (after returning home from San Francisco) recovering from emotional exhaustion by sleeping. A lot.

It was Labour Day on Monday, which meant that Jason and the boys didn't go back to work and school until Tuesday.

I got up that morning and said goodbye to them all. Then I did something I haven't done in all their school years unless I was physically ill or severely short of sleep--I went back to bed. For hours.

Some people choose to use their grief to become the worst version of themselves.

The shock has mostly worn off. I hardly ever have those moments where I can disbelieve the current reality and pretend that I will wake up and Levi will be here. I dream of him frequently, now--granted, he is always dead or dying a horrible death in my dreams, but he's there.

Some of this, I hesitate to share--but so many have told me that these words are helping them, helping others going through grief, that I want you to know that you are not alone. Even those who lost a loved one through chronic illness can experience trauma--there are very few "easy" ways to die, if you ask me. All of them leave a mark on those left behind.

One of my first posts after Levi's death talked about the Biblical character of Job, and in particular about aspects of that book that I have always struggled with--but even more so at the time. I couldn't understand how Job could bless the name of the Lord after losing everything he had (except his wife) in a single day.

Maybe it was shock or fear--when you lose everything at once, in the ways which he did, it has to be pretty clear that the supernatural has intervened drastically in your life. I would probably be terrified about what would happen next.

This week, though, God has been revealing another truth to my heart.

Job knew that the divine had had a hand in his fortune, and had been grateful. It was also blindingly obvious that the divine had allowed his misfortune. The temptation in the face of such extreme loss would be to believe that God has abandoned you.

But has he?

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
— Romans 8:38-39 NIV

At first, I certainly felt abandoned by God. I couldn't sense his presence at all. A few weeks before that, while I had been questioning the Lord's plan for my family while being racked with grief over my sister, I had felt the arms of Jesus holding me tightly, and was filled with peace and knew that He was with me.

After Levi died, I remembered that feeling and longed for it--but I felt alone. Abandoned. I couldn't see a path or sense or light, but just kept moving my feet--because time forces us to whether we want it or not.

I still don't see the sense of my little boy dying at all, let alone in the way he did. Because of his death, I have been changed, shaken to my core, and broken into a thousand pieces. I am pretty sure those pieces are mostly laying around in random places. But slowly, perhaps, they are being reassembled, one painstaking fragment at a time, into a new form.

If God needed to reshape me into a better person, someone more suitable for the purpose he has for me, I wish with all my heart that he had chosen a different way for it to happen. But maybe there was no other way. Because grief, I am learning, is probably the most effective tool for character change that exists in the human experience.

Some people choose to use their grief to become the worst version of themselves. They dwell on the hurt, and the pain, and let it fester and boil and never see that their pain was an opportunity to become stronger--and gentler. In a superhero story, these people become the most evil of super villains. In real life, they are the people who isolate themselves behind walls of bitterness and hurt and unforgiveness, never really experiencing joy and love for the fear that it would open themselves up to further pain.

Every moment of Levi's life, I saw the hand of God directing his steps and loving him, and allowing so many people on this earth to love him, too. So there is no doubt in my mind that God knew what was about to happen on the morning of June 3, 2015--he had to have been standing right there. He had an angel waiting--but the instructions were not to intervene, but to carry Levi home. God would not have abandoned Levi at that moment. It must have been part of the plan.

Which means God hasn't done this senselessly.

So do I think I have been abandoned?

No.

Even though I don’t understand the reason, I still believe.

Even when I can't feel his presence, I know that I am not alone. Even though it hurts, I know that this grief is changing me in ways difficult to express, making me more like the person I see when I read about Jesus, with a capacity for love and compassion exponentially greater than I ever thought possible.

Even though I don't understand the reason, I still believe. Like Job, I choose to believe despite the uncertainty. And because I choose to believe, my grief is changing me for the good.

Grief, I am learning, is probably the most effective tool for character change that exists in the human experience.

I recently saw a post on Facebook from an acquaintance who lost his wife to cancer and who, to my knowledge, has no belief whatsoever in the divine. This is a paraphrase, from memory: "I believe the phrase 'Everything happens for a reason' has caused more strife and problems for mankind than any other."

I pondered this for a while. I can see why he would think that--when someone loses a loved one in whom so much of their life is invested, the wound is so deep that you feel like you are dying, too. How could there be any reason for it? Trying to reconcile that deep pain and loss to a greater good or purpose only hurts, and makes one question the "goodness" of whatever power you think may be responsible--or gives you someone to blame for your injury.

But on the other hand, believing that there really is going to be good that comes out of your pain gives you a precious gift--hope. Because even on the darkest days, when the entire world seems to be made of tar and the day turns as dark as the darkest night around you, there is still a pinprick light of hope--I will get through this. And even though I can't see it now, something good will come from it.

I get it now. That's what Job was doing when he worshipped God in the face of his enormous loss. He wasn't some superhuman who didn't grieve his children because he immediately reached perfect acceptance of his circumstances. He was choosing to believe in the goodness of a good God, even when he couldn't understand the circumstance he was in. Even when he couldn't feel God's presence. He was blessing the God who directed his life, knowing that he was not abandoned now, nor ever had been, nor ever would be. He was recognizing that God's work in him was not yet complete.

And I choose to believe that, too.

Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
— Philippians 1:6, NIV

Faithful

Words and music by Steven Curtis Chapman

I am broken, I am bleeding,
I'm scared and I'm confused,
But You are faithful.
Yes, You are faithful.
I am weary in believing.
God please help my unbelief!
'Cause You are faithful.
Yes, You are faithful.

I will proclaim it to the world.
I will declare it to my heart
And sing it when the sun is shining.
I will scream it in the dark.

You are faithful!
You are faithful!
When you give and when You take away,
Even then still Your name
is faithful!
You are faithful!
And with everything inside of me,
I am choosing to believe
You are faithful.

I am waiting for the rescue
that I know is sure to come,
'Cause You are faithful.
Yes, You are faithful.
I've dropped anchor in Your promises,
and I am holding on,
'Cause You are faithful.
God, You are faithful.

I will proclaim it to the world.
I will declare it to my heart
And sing it when the sun is shining.
I will scream it in the dark.

You are faithful!
You are faithful!
When you give and when You take away,
even then still Your name
is faithful!
You are faithful!
And with everything inside of me,
I am choosing to believe You're faithful.

So faithful...

When I cannot have the answer
that I'm wanting to demand,
I'll remember You are God
and everything is in Your hand.
In Your hands you hold the sun, the moon,
the stars up in the sky,
for the sake of Love, You hung Your own Son
on the cross to die...

You are faithful...
Yes, You are faithful...
When you give and when You take away,
even then, great is Your faithfulness!
Great is Your faithfulness!

And with everything inside of me,
I am choosing to believe You're faithful!
Oh, oh, oh...
Oh, oh, oh...
When you give and when You take away,
even then still Your name
is faithful!
You are faithful!
And with everything inside of me,
I am choosing to believe...

...You're faithful...