Stop your crying and wipe away your tears. All that you have done for your children will not go unrewarded; they will return from the enemy’s land. There is hope for your future; your child will come back home. (Jeremiah 31:16-17)
I wish I had a more elegant word, but wow is the best I can give you right now.
When I published my answer to my daughter’s questions stemming from the tragedy at our church, I did not expect the emails, all from mothers, telling me their stories. Each email was unique explaining why you struggled to answer those same questions. Each one told me that I’d never understand what my words did for them.
I replied to every email, saying that you were very welcome. I really meant it, but I didn’t say what I really wanted to say, because to me it sounded vain – “I do really, really understand what those words can do, because they did the same for me.”
To each of you who shared your story with me, here is my story (It’s long. I’m sorry.). Parts no one knows – not my parents, not my friends, not even my husband, but I’m ready to share, because I no longer have a reason to hide it.
I had fun, amazing parents and while they both believed in God and happily answered any questions I asked as best they could, He wasn’t a huge part of our daily life.
My grandma would drag me to church every Sunday. I say drag, because I dreaded it. In her defense, she never knew, because I was pretty sure telling her that would put one big tally mark in my sin column. At church, I’d sing hymns that I never understood and listen to sermons that didn’t relate to me, but that part wasn’t so bad. It was just something we were supposed to do.
You know how in sports they say that a team is only as strong as it’s weakest player? That’s true about churches too. It was here that I learned that things I did, things I loved, were wrong. I loved to read anything and everything, including non-Christian books. I loved music, even non-Christian music. The list went on and on. While I realize now this wasn’t the case, when I heard these things I started to feel like everyone in that congregation was judging me and I fell short.
Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven. (Luke 6:37)
I left each Sunday feeling more confused than fulfilled, like I thought I should be. Jesus loved everyone, even sinners. He even let a prostitute touch him and here we were turning our noses up at those who listened to rock ‘n roll?
Do not get me wrong, I don’t blame my grandma. In fact, I thank her, because if she had not dragged me to church each weekend, I don’t think I would be where I am now.
When I was 16 years old, I watched my grandma die slowly and painfully from cancer. In the end, we couldn’t even bring her comfort with our presence, because she didn’t know who were were. She couldn’t remember us.
It was at this time that a huge hole was punched in what little faith I had. God was our Father, right? If I was arrested for driving drunk, my dad would have probably let me sit in jail for my choice. He would have made me serve any sentence I received and he probably would have added his own punishment. However, if I was dying slowly and painfully, my dad would have done anything, even willingly trade places with me, to stop my suffering. As a father, why didn’t God feel the same?
I didn’t go back to church, but I never fully let go of God. It wasn’t until college that I felt like something was missing. I started looking for a church. I went with what I knew, trying churches exactly like my grandma’s. After a few tries, I gave up. It just wanted for me. Honestly, I didn’t realize there were other options. I didn’t know that each person had to find a church that felt like home to them and it wasn’t a one-size-fits-all situation.
When my daughter was born, I struggled. What if I was wrong? The last thing I wanted was for my daughter to miss her chance at heaven, because of me. I decided that I would take one for the team. That I’d sit through church every Sunday for her.
I didn’t want to drag her to church, because I knew you couldn’t drag someone to God. When I started looking for a church, I didn’t look for a church for me. I looked for a church for her. My friend recommended Grace Church. She raved about the children’s ministry, so I decided to check it out.
I didn’t look the way a church should look. It didn’t even have a steeple. It was huge and crowded. I knew, the moment I entered those doors, this wasn’t the place to find the sense of community that I wanted.
As I stood there, totally overwhelmed, I almost ran back to my car. Then an elderly woman, who was about to walk past, stopped. She welcomed me and meant every word. Then, she did something that at the time, I never expected. She walked me to the Welcome Center. Then, she walked me to my daughter’s class and she stayed while I dropped her off. Then, she walked me to services and when she knew I was okay, she left.
So many emotions were running through me. I was nervous. I was unsure. I was overwhelmed. I was shocked. With all of that, I couldn’t even remember her name. I couldn’t pick her out in a crowd. She’ll never know how much I owe her.
I stood there in that huge, crowded room and looked around. They weren’t standing there, singing their hymns. They were celebrating God. They were dancing and singing songs that spoke to me. Songs that I couldn’t get out of my head when I left. Then, Dave got up to speak. I felt like he wrote those words for me and I cried.
I could feel God in that building. I loved walking in those doors, because… well, I can’t even begin to explain the feeling that would come over me and I hope I don’t have to, because I hope you’ve found a church where you feel it too. I was never lost in the crowd. I never felt judged. And best of all, every time I told my daughter we had to go to church, she smiled.
The hole in my faith began to close. It was still there, but it was small. I tried to hide it. I always feared that someone would see. Somedays, I felt like a fake, because while I felt like I had found God’s house and I was standing at the door, but I just couldn’t bring myself to knock. That was 9 years ago.
This year, something changed. I really don’t know what it was, but I suddenly felt like I was knocking. It was quiet, it was hesitant, but it was a move forward. The changes were internal. I don’t really think anyone else noticed.
On Monday, a friend called. He told me he had horrible news. He told me that a man had lost his life at Grace. We had made so many friends there. All of those faces began to run through my mind and I sat on my couch with tears in my eyes.
My 9-year-old daughter, Ady, noticed. She asked. While I would love to stick her in a bubble, so she would never know that bad things do happen, I know I can’t, so I told her. She was amazing. She took her two younger siblings upstairs and put in a movie. She didn’t want them to worry and she knew I needed time.
We weren’t fortunate to know Doug, but our hearts still broke for our friends at Grace. It wasn’t until the next day, on the way to the bus stop, that she started to ask the questions, that as a Christian Mom, I feared, because I know the answer.
As I stood there, looking into my daughter’s eyes, I thought, “This is it. This is the moment that I will fail her. This is the moment that she will begin to struggle with her faith.” Luckily, the bus pulled up, and I told her we’d talk about it as soon as she got home.
I came back to the house and panicked. I knew I had to answer her, but I had asked this question over and over and never found an answer that soothed my soul. I had asked pastors, friends, and even strangers. I’d searched the internet, read the bible – I never understood. When each person answered, it always sounded like they didn’t really know either or they rambled on about stuff that just didn’t make any sense to me. To be fair, I never asked anyone at Grace, because I didn’t want the people that I looked up to so much, to let me down.
I have a wonderful women’s devotional bible, but I knew I wouldn’t find the answer there. I’d read it. I’d looked. So, I grabbed the bible I’d just purchased my daughter for her small group. It was just a regular bible, but I knew the answer was in there. I sat at the kitchen table.
First, I wrote my answer to her. It was a rambling collection of all the answered I’d heard. It didn’t make any sense. It wouldn’t answer her questions. So, I set it aside. I went through her bible. I sat at that table all day, because I was not going down without a fight. I was not going to let her down, without giving it my all.
I don’t know how many drafts I went through, before I saw it. It was right on the very first page and I’d heard it a million times before.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. (Genesis 1:31)
It was good? It didn’t say it was good, except for the little bit of bad over in the corner. It said “it was very good”. It sparked something in me. God’s world was good. It wasn’t God’s will for my grandma to suffer. He wasn’t punishing her for sins. He was suffering with her. So, why didn’t he intervene? This one was a little harder to answer.
I tried to think about it from God’s point of view, which felt wrong, since I’d been told so many times that I would never understand His mind but it helped. For us, our lives seem long. But, to God our lives are a moment – a blink.
I started again. This one made more sense, but it was full of big ideas that would be hard for Ady to grasp. They were hard for me to grasp. So, I thought about it as a mother. Why would I ever stand by and watch my daughter suffer? And I knew – I’d already done it. I watched my daughter get shots at the doctor’s. Her cries broke my heart, but I did it, because I knew that moment of pain didn’t compare to the healthy days ahead. Was that what our lives were like to God? I realized that I could even watch Ady suffer for 100 years, if I knew that when it was over, she’d have an eternity of joy. It would probably kill me, but I could do it.
I started again. When I was done, I read it to myself. In that moment, I got it. After, I sat and stared at the wall in shock. That hole was gone. I felt whole. Things just began to fall into place. Things I never understood made sense. Even fears I had deep inside of me, were gone.
After, I wrote my post and published it. The moment I hit that publish button, I freaked. I thought, “What have I done? Have I lost my mind?”. But, it was too late. When I hit that button, links went out on Twitter, Facebook, and RSS. I knew if I deleted that post now, everyone who clicked one of those links would get a “Page not found” message. It could hurt my SEO. I know many of you will never understand, but to a website owner it’s a big deal. So, I closed my computer and walked away.
I didn’t many people to read it, just like everything I write that isn’t related to saving money. I know it seems crazy to publish something that no one will read, but I did it for myself. I wanted it out there and public, in case I ever forgot. I expected if anyone did read it, they’d point out the flaws and I wasn’t sure I could take it. I wasn’t sure my answer was right and if people began to poke at it, would I doubt? Would that hole come back?
What I didn’t expect was to come back to find that my friends were sharing it on Facebook, not from my website, but from their friends pages – friends I didn’t know. I didn’t expect the emails from mother’s just like me. Someone may still poke at my answer, but after so many amazing words, I could handle it.
So to everyone one who wrote me, thank you. You’ll never understand what your words did for me.
If you haven’t done so, please feel free to read my answer to my daughter’s questions about God.
And now, here I go again… I’m hitting publish…
This post does include affiliate links to the bibles mentioned. I did not write this to make money, so if I earn any commission from purchases of those bibles through my affiliate link, 100% of it will be donated. Please read our disclosure policy for details.