Friday, April 20, 2007

A Test of Faith

Our family recently suffered a double loss, in the unexpected death of Mrs. Manly’s Mom in November, and the very sudden death of her sister Donna in February. This has been a very trying time for all of us. We now know at a very deep and personal level what people mean when they talk about experiencing a test of faith. We have been thoroughly tested, for sure. We walk together, closer now, and by faith, and sometimes faith alone.

Easter arrived. The observance of both the “passing of Jesus” on the cross, and His Resurrection that forms the absolute foundation of the Christian faith, clearly prompts us to think about the ways we recover from tragedy. How God brings good from bad, how He can help us find victory in the midst of defeat, how He can lead us to peace, even joy, after a season of despair.

Spring also arrives in the Northeast, finally, after several false starts. I think the Punxsutawney Phil has been, for several weeks now, on the Ten Most Wanted List in Upstate NY. But warmer weather and sunshine suddenly melts away the hard resolve of a stubborn winter. Outside, we look for signs of what we already feel, inside.

Hope reborn, in a cycle even older than man and woman.

Several family members dwell in grief and sadness, and do not see a reason for a faith they do not feel. There, but by the grace of God, go us.

One remarks that he can’t get motivated by any kind of Supreme Being, who can put his creations through so much of the bad things that go on, every day in this fallen world. Violence, vividly illustrated, if not celebrated. The sudden taking of the lost loved one, the peaceful, the kind, the good, and the cherished. He wonders if this is God’s idea of “Tough Love” for his creations, but instead condemns God as another absentee parent.

It is a hard place to dwell. It is a difficult place to gain a foothold, to reason with a brother, to point him to a faith that feels a cheat, before one even holds it close to heart.

We can share what life held for us, what God offered, what we grabbed hold of, and what happened next, for us. But we cannot pass our personal conviction to another like some kind of cloak, here you go, one size fits all, take mine.

The answers must all be personal, but they don’t need to be private. And so, we try to reason together, but always first and foremost, from the heart of one to another.

Here’s a letter Mrs. Manly sent to our hurting brother, as the only words she could find in answer to his indictment of a callous and uncaring, absentee God.
What kept going through my mind was that the two deaths, so close together (Mom and Donna), and the age of Donna, has certainly shaken my faith. But as I reflected back over my life and struggles, pains, hurts, I realized that it was through these times that I grew in my faith. Not immediately by far, but over time and I can look back now and see and remember.

The other thing that keeps going through my mind is that we do all die. Whether my Mom was 100 or Donna was 90, I would still be devastated by them leaving my life, especially since Mom and Donna were my stability from the day I was born.

There is not anyone in my family that I depended on, could talk to at any time, would not judge me, would love me just as I was and that I had so much fun with, and just loved the way they were. Through my growing up years, there are so many things that only Donna and I knew, that she took care of me in the midst of my Dad’s drinking days, and my Mom was always there for me no matter what I had to say.

Those pieces of my life are totally gone, with no one to take their places.

So for me, I know that Donna and My Mom believed that Jesus Christ lived and died for them, and they believed in eternal life. I'm going to keep asking God to give me truth, reassurance and belief. I need to keep seeking Him because I want to see my family again, and what they believed, is that we all will.

Again, this is me. I cannot make you believe it or see it. We spend so much time finding ways not to believe, and finding fault, than to embrace that this is not our permanent place.

I think back over all the things that I have seen and experienced that were good. I think back to a Mission trip I took with Jeff quite a few years ago. We were with people that had little or nothing compared to us, not even running water. They were happy and were so close to each other, and they believed in God! I left here, thinking I was going to “help” them, and they taught me things I will never forget. They did not know what they were missing, because they never had it.

Yet we question God, why He allows so much tragedy, etc. We are so spoiled compared to almost everyone. No one and nothing promised us this grand life or lifestyles. We are blessed to have had loved these two dear ladies, and they loved us. The gift is, we did have them, and some people never experience people like them in their lives.

I have nothing to lose by believing, I have a lot to lose by not. The devil is real, he gets a foothold in many lives and minds of very intelligent people. Deceiving them and telling them in their minds, “How can you believe in a God that does these things?”

God gives us free will and free choice. I have used this example before: if I'm speeding down the highway and I have a car accident and die from speeding, is it God’s fault, or mine? I made the choice, I had free will. Then, you could say, well what about all the terrible things that happen in the world?

Exactly, the world. From what I read, from what I believe, the Holy Spirit has spoken to my heart. This world is just a stopping point. The part that I need to hang onto, is that Jesus says in his word: in this world, you WILL have trouble, but I have OVERCOME the world.

There is good and there is evil. I don't like some things, I don't understand some things, but I know I'm here and they are not. I need to go on “somehow” and I'm not sure why, other than that God is real.

I have begun to pray again, and read the bible, and listen to Christian Music on my car radio, hearing comforting words, and peace is beginning to take root in my spirit. I will still doubt and wonder and question.

From where my life was before I believed, and how my life is now, that is my personal life, I have to say I would choose to spend the rest of my days living this way, rather than the way I used to, very destructive and miserable.

I know in time, the pain will lessen. I will always miss them and love them, I'm so grateful we all had them, and were together for the years we had. I know that generations upon generations upon generations have believed in Jesus. Why did they? Why did Christ not fade like a fad? Those are the things I need to hang onto.

I will NEVER begin to think that anyone should believe what I do, I believe it is very personal between an individual and God. I just encourage you, in the midst of your pain and sorrow, to cry out to Him and tell Him your disappointment in His taking Donna, or anything else that may be or have been a burden in your life, sorrow in your past, etc. Tell Him the truth, you don't believe!

That is what I did about 18 years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was standing in my dining room of where I lived at the time, yelling and screaming at God. (I was brought up Catholic, and taught to believe so I did believe, because I was told to believe growing up.)

It may sound crazy to you but I know that is the time that my life started to change, and I started to change in positive ways. I totally changed, totally and I know I did not do it myself. There is no way, the way I was living that I just decided to do it, because I did not think that there was anything I had to do, I just wanted this “God” to do it.

Now, I'm grateful for the people along the way who prayed for me, listened to me, loved me, helped me, directed me, guided me, hugged me, let me cry, and loved me just the way I was.
Mrs. Manly has a most precious gift, a God-given empathy and willingness to share, transparently, what fills her heart. It is a gift that brings great pain, but profound healing, as well. I watch her when she displays this gift. I see the Divine that will sometimes shine within, when one of His children acts in the center of His purpose. This is when we can touch God, when we reach out to others.

I completely agree with Mrs. D., that this is all about Free Will, what philosophers and scientists call “Agency.” Who is responsible for what. How much control we have, versus how much God has.

We are powerfully reminded of the human capacity for evil, chaos, and harm this week as people the world over struggle to make sense of the senseless.

I am reminded of the Serenity Prayer, cherished by members and friends of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 Step groups. One of my readers once shared what she called "the full version." Practitioners of the Roman Catholic faith also embrace this prayer, attributed to theologian Reinhold Niebuhr:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.

Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it.

Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; That I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
When I accessed a wonderful online source for prayer seeking the text for the Serenity Prayer, I found a very moving combination of elements.

Just below a soothing image and the Serenity Prayer, they included Proverbs 3:5-6 (New International Version):
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society
This carried special meaning for Mrs. Manly and I, as these are the verses that most touched her Mom in the hospital those last days. God has frequently blessed us with reminders of these verses in the days since Mom’s passing, Donna’s sudden death, and the many days of grief and healing since.

As long as we continue to insist that life can only make sense on our terms, life and all its ups and downs will never make sense. Another way to look at it, only God could make sense of what He created, because He has set in motion such complexity -- an infinite amount of interconnected pieces and parts -- that no human being could ever hope to comprehend.

This I know. God, and Faith in Him, can bring peace, because He is bringing peace to Mrs. Dadmanly, and to me, and to millions of others who have trusted Him.

They needed to trust Him before they found the peace. Without Him, there can be none.

Labels: ,