I stood at a window, buried into the curtains as far away from prying eyes as possible. My hand touched the ice-cold pane currently streaked with rain that would soon change to sleet. I prayed into the storm, willing with all the might of a 15-year-old girl that God would hear my silently-mouthed plea: “Please God. Please. Let my brother be alive. Let us find him.” Some 36 hours later, he would be found, but not alive. Instead he would be recovered by rescue divers at the bottom of a central-Kansas river.
I’m sure to his 10-year-old self, the light glaze of ice over the river behind the home of our distant relatives carried a siren-call of temptation to skate. I’m sure to his youthful eyes it looked like a secure adventure: step-glide, step-glide, step-glide. But in Kansas, the cold doesn’t go deep enough nor last long enough to tame wild waters.
As the search party grew, my mom alternated between looking and parenting her three daughters. My dad refused to rest, walking the wooded area around the clock with various shifts made up of friends and strangers. Mom eventually took my sisters and me home, an hour away. How harrowing it must have been to not only leave, but to see an empty seat in the van, an empty bed at home, wondering if they would again be filled. Hours later we would know. I was in my upstairs bedroom when I heard the creeping approach of a Sheriff’s car followed by our pastor’s sedan down our long driveway, tires creaking through newly fallen snow. I peeked through my mini-blinds, heart sinking. I didn’t go downstairs.
God’s “No” reverberated through the floorboards.
The visitation, funeral, burial came and went and I developed an aversion to all three. Though young, I now knew death was real and that it came for people, even people I loved. Sitting under the tent that contained casket and kin, bone-shaking chills wracked my body. All the coats and blankets thrown my way did nothing to stop the chattering as the quakes worked their way toward my heart. The God I had been taught was capable of the impossible refused my prayer. He could have done something so my brother would live, but didn’t.
What began as grief became clouded with anger and disillusionment. I was ripe for being picked off by the very line that tempted Eve: “Did God really say…?” I took a bite and decided I could have done things better. With a chip on my shoulder, I raged at my maker. While I never denied God’s existence and my prayers continued, the years to follow found my faith placed more in my bloated pride than in his all-sufficiency. But God. By his grace and in his time, I became softer, then one day the book of Job brought me to my knees in confession of my prideful spirit:
“Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.” (40:4-5) “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Hear and I will speak: I will question you, and you make it known to me. I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (42:2-6)
Tears spent and pride fallen, I stood, soon discovering that after that day knelt behind the door of my closed bedroom, I would never be the same. I would walk with a hope-filled limp.
Author David Powlison, in his book Good & Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness, writes, “A significant experience will mark you for life; it should mark you.” I won’t forget the traumatic loss of my brother. I don’t want to. Nor do I want to forget the other pain-filled valleys I’ve been through. Losses run deep.
Powlison continues: “One of the effects of being marked by suffering is learning to value the future. Not all the crying or pain goes away now, but he will make all things new.” I am proof of this. Every year on my brother’s birthday for instance, I’m struck by dissonance. What once was a day of celebration has now become a somber day of reflection. Even though I age, my brother remains 10. All I have are childish memories---he liked Ninja Turtles and his Nintendo Gameboy. Where I have matured, he has not and will not. Not on this earth anyway.
A short month and a half later, as the world relishes in the end of a year and the rolling in of the next, I force myself to breathe as my body relives that one horrific New Year’s Eve when everything changed. I used to approach these days by mustering my strength. But now, I’m not afraid to feel every bit of my frailty and weakness. I am certain of God’s promised strength. I am certain that, though I now see dimly, someday I will see face-to-face.I am certain that Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, my Lord, is the chosen Way for this future clarity and life free of tears, death, mourning, crying and pain.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:4-5)
My pain now helps me look forward. It helps me long for the day when I will know fully, even as I am fully known. All the while, my bruised, wounded testimony of loss and redemption helps me see the miraculous care God has taken, through Jesus Christ, to redeem and transform my heart.
Cover image by Elia Clerici.