“Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.”
-Romans 8: 17
It is hard. It just is. That’s the reality and the road we walk. It is also wonderful, and we feel incredibly blessed. But I value honesty, believing we can all benefit by sharing in our weaknesses and trials, trusting God is strong in them. Yes, I’ll say it again (mostly to myself): we can be weak. Life can be hard. God is strong in our weakness. And that is okay.
This is NO fault to my parents, but I grew up thinking if I admitted anything was hard or even just a little “off,” it was only okay as long as I immediately jumped to the positive. Have lemons? You better talk about how you’re making lemonade! And you must throw a lesson in there from the Lord, highlight the situation with some Bible verses, and certainly proclaim how this cruddy thing is actually a good thing. A “God thing” even. Nothing can really be bad or truly be hard. Tears, if they come, are wiped and we move forward in victory. Because “if God is for us, who can be against us?!” Sound familiar?
I’m going to share a few instances that have been difficult for me recently, not out of a desire to complain (but if we are honest, we all want to at times!) but rather in hopes of giving you an intimate glimpse into at least one person’s story, our story— and telling you that you are not alone in your struggles and grief triggers. After all, it’s the most
wonderful trigger-loaded time of the year.
Instance 1) We were at Daniel’s final baseball game a few weeks ago. When someone saw all of our kids (we all made it to that game! Score!), he inqiured, “4 boys— any twins in there?!” I’m sure this man wondered about my hesitation, the fact that I probably seemed a little tongue tied to a seemingly straightforward question. I get this question a lot, mostly because John is always in a wheelchair or stroller of some sort, making him appear younger, and he is the same size as Daniel, our 5 year old. And yes, they all look a lot alike.
I KNOW these people don’t intend any harm by their comments, and I have certainly inserted my feet into my mouth more times than I’d like to admit! But yes, it is a grief trigger nonetheless. And it stings. Because the answer is neither yes nor is it no. Yes, there are twins among my children. No, they are not represented in this current, earthly moment. Yes, I carried and gave birth to beautiful, identical twin boys; I belong to that club! I want some recognition! But no, you cannot see it outwardly. And you are just a sweet stranger and neither want nor need to hear my whole story while enjoying your hot dog at the ballpark! Additionally, whereas I may have felt the need in the past, I don’t always feel the need or desire to go into the full history these days unless it is one of those special, God ordained moments. Or I just share off the cuff and out of context about my twin pregnancy, delivery, or something like that.
Instance 2) The next incident happened at Bible study last week. We were discussing the questions and answers from the week’s homework among our small group. One lady piped up and said that she used to teach special education and that they emphasized speaking, hearing and seeing everything they were teaching or learning. I love that; ware sensory creatures and require specific sensory stimuli to learn! She tied this in by sharing that she had to read and look over this one question again and again. Another lady chimed in, saying with a laugh, “I think we are all ‘special ed’ when it comes to this!” Pointing to the Bible on her lap, she said it again.
Similar to the first instance, I know this lady meant no ill will, but once again, triggers ensue, chest palpitations even, and flight/fright/freeze kicks in. And before I know it, the moment has passed and I have neither stood up for my son nor educated these kind albeit clueless folks on the reality of special education. (Now you can add guilt over a missed opportunity to the equation!)
The implication of these types of comments, which breaks my heart, is that we are all “special ed” when it comes to the Bible because we are slow to understand and absorb these truths— that we are somehow limited, lesser, thick skulled or dimwitted. That we need “extra” help due to our struggles, just like the special education population. But heaven forbid that we are “special ed” in any other area— just when it comes to faith and understanding God’s Word. The reality is that special education is about learning differently, not about being less than.
Instance 3) On another family outing, this sweet old man was attempting to interact with all of our boys. John and Michael, our youngest, were the in the double stroller together. As this man tried engaging them both, he was not get a lot of feedback from John but instead elicited smiles and coos from baby Michael. John can be very smiley and outgoing, but oftentimes he withdraws when we are out in public, it’s loud, or he is in an unfamiliar environment. It is just too much sensory input flooding his system. This even happens at almost every family holiday gathering which about kills me, because I want all of my family members to know the John we know. To see his vibrant spirit and sharp mind. To hear his amazing laugh. To see he understands despite his limitations. Instead, he typically glazes over, stares off, and disconnects. This was probably happening on this particular outing. Anyway, this man, no lie, starts talking about Michael specifically, stating with a big smile on his face, “Now this one… this is the one I like. I like this one.” Dagger in my heart. The man’s response and preference were based on what he was able to extract from my boys, what made him feel good, what benefited him.
Did any of the people in the above encounters set out to be insensitive in their remarks? No, I am certain they did not. However, life does give us lemons. And sometimes, it is just bitter. There is no lemonade, or at least there isn’t any yet. We cannot perceive how God is possibly for us in our circumstances. Instead, there is anger at times. And even judgment. Our own harsh words in return. Or withdrawal and self-pity.
The root is sadness, shock, hurt, disappointment, PTSD, and grief’s complex triggers. Pain is a universal reality. And I firmly believe that sometimes we need to sit in that reality… that it really is the healthiest thing we can do. And the most spiritual at that! We need to share. We need to be weak. We need to seek God’s comfort. We need to come alongside each other. We desperately need to admit that life is a mess. Admitting that God Himself suffered when He took on flesh and died on the cross. That He meets us in the pain. That He uses bad for good. That bad is NOT good. Bad is bad. But He uses bad for good. Every time. Just as He did on the cross. The greatest evil was transformed into our greatest good. Into our only hope.
So we will keep on. 2,000 years ago, God came into our world and submitted Himself to this broken and raw human experience. He took on flesh because He is Emmanuel: God with us, God suffering with us, God passionate for us, God loving us. You are seen in the pain. He sees you.
Thank God He doesn’t pursue, choose, like, or respond to us based on our charismatic initiative, merit, or positive response to Him. In stark contrast, there is no hesitation on His lips as He looks at you, His beloved child, and proclaims, “YOU are the one I like. You. Simply because you are mine. I came into this world for you. I love you. You are the one I like.”
This song (click here) is adapted from Psalm 126; please listen and take these words to heart.
“For many years, the people have forgotten, they’ve fallen asleep.
Tonight your pain and longing roused them, helped them to begin to remember something they lost along the way.
Look out there… see the faces of the men and women, aglow, alive.
Your doubt-filled trust called them to life.”
-Patched Together by Brennan Manning