She awoke in a hospital room and the memories flooded in. How the bleeding had increased, her blacking out, and his frantic, midnight phone call to a neighbor. How he carried her like a limp child to the car and drove way too fast, and how she lay in the ER, not sure if this uncontrollable shivering was from the full-throttle IVs in both arms or the look on her doctor’s face. Then there was the rush to the OR, the agony of a D&C without anesthesia, the arrival of more doctors, seven units of blood, and then oblivion.
She was twenty-seven, and she awoke in a hospital room after an emergency hysterectomy. It was the only way they could stop the bleeding. The only way to save her life. She had a ten-day old baby and two toddlers under the age of four at home, and she didn’t know if the baby was hungry or the children were frightened, and as her mind processed all these things, she was acutely aware of a Presence. Like a thick cloud, the Presence filled everything, and it banished fear, anxiety, and the need to know. The logical part of her said she should be upset and worried, but the Presence simply wouldn’t let her.
“This is what grace feels like,” she whispered aloud. “I need to remember this.”
Eleven years later she stood beside her fifteen year old son’s unconscious body in ICU. He’d been under water at least ten minutes and it had taken another twenty minutes of CPR to revive him. Science said if he lived at all, he would remain vegetative. Her pain was so raw it hurt to breathe, but the Presence said, “I’m doing something beautiful and I want you to see it,” and she leaned all her brokenness on that hope. The road was long and exhausting, and the agony was deep, but the Presence wrote redemption into every weary, heart-worn step.
She learned to look for purpose in the ripples.
She learned to believe.
And then one day a tornado cut an aching gash through schools and homes and people’s lives, and she saw the images and heard the stories, and her mind and heart reeled. Reeled and spun with the horror of it all until she landed right in the arms of Love, and she remembered the Presence. She remembered, and with her prayers for the hurting she offered a sacrifice of praise, because she knew that He who is only good always acts with eternal and loving purpose. He was there, and He would redeem and beautify.
But there were some who disagreed.
She’s known him since he was in college, and now he wears ministerial robes and claims to speak for God, and his words filled her with heavy sadness. “God didn’t do this,” he wrote. “If you think that is how God works, you have a very narrow view of God. Pray. Act. Give. Don’t blame God.”
She didn’t respond except to pray for him and his listeners. Because how do you explain grace? She knows her faith doesn’t make logical sense. Especially not when almost every definition of “good” begins and ends with the temporal happiness of human beings.
She knows he thinks his words offer comfort, but all she sees in them is hopelessness and despair. If God didn’t do this, then where was He? And why pray to a God who is either distant or has no power over His creation? “God didn’t do this” either means God dropped the ball, or nature holds cards that God can’t or won’t trump. Where’s the comfort in that?
It’s vain and empty, and she can’t go there. Not when God reveals Himself as the One who knows our thoughts before we think them and our words before we speak them. The One who formed our inward parts and numbers our days and from whose presence we cannot flee. The One whose thoughts toward us outnumber the sand.
She can’t escape promise after promise that He sees and knows and does according to His will in heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. That not one word He has spoken will fail but all will be brought to pass. That He is enthroned in the heavens and does whatever pleases Him, and that He covers us with the shadow of His wing, holds us in the palm of His hand, and accomplishes plans formed long ago with perfect faithfulness. The cross is the measure of how much He loves those people in Oklahoma and how intimately He is involved in their lives.
God didn’t do this?
She can’t go there. Not after tasting grace.
And in her mind she sees a Savior. He receives word that His dear friend is sick. This Savior, He loves His friend and his two sisters, but He knows this sickness is for the glory of God. And knowing this, He waits. Waits until his friend is dead and buried and those who begged Him to come — His own beloveds — are crushed by grief. And when He finally does go, He tells His disciples why He waited.
“So that you might believe.”
And the sisters, when they see Him, they both say, “If You had been here, my brother would not have died.” They love Him, and they know He has miraculous power, but they’re disappointed. All this pain and suffering. It couldn’t be God’s plan.
He tells them plainly, but they still don’t get it. They can’t see past their grief enough to grasp that the Resurrection and the Life is right there, looking them in the eye. So He says it again. “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
And yes, the scripture says He saw them weeping and was deeply moved, but He knew He would embrace his friend again in a few short moments, and He knew He was about to turn all this sorrow into joy. So why was He troubled, and why did He weep?
Seven times in the passage, this one word. Believe.
* * *
She tasted grace in a hospital room at twenty-seven. She watched the Potter unmake and remold her son after His own inscrutable plan, and she learned to look for beauty. She learned to breathe an unseen, fairer air.
She learned to listen and trust when a Savior says, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” I Am. Unchanging. Was, is, and always will be.
Three weeks before Moore, Oklahoma, she stands alone beside the lifeless body of her mother. Alone but not alone, because the Presence is there, quiet, calming, and infinitely real. And she bows her head and lifts hands to heaven, and she sings softly,
You take my mourning, turn it into dancing
You take my weeping, turn it into laughing
You take my mourning, turn it into dancing
You take my sadness, turn it into joy.
She lingers, breathing deep this amazing grace, and she knows again that He is always, only good, and His purposes are always, only loving.
Even when He takes, He gives. So she bows low to receive.
And she believes.
That’s why, when people ask, “Where was God?” she has only one answer. She looks past the tornado and the images of horror to the unseen. She looks past the pain to the Presence. She doesn’t minimize the tragedy or loss, because she bears the scars of her own, and she knows healing is a long, slow process. But she sees Him there, holding the dying child, comforting the bereaved parent, lifting the heads of those who’ve lost everything. Taking only to offer them more.
She remembers the cloud of grace, and she knows there are people breathing that air for the first time, and their lives will never be the same. There are people who never before had reason to receive or give compassion, discovering for the first time the beauty of true community. Eyes are opening and hearts beholding the power of the cross and the mysteries of the upside-down kingdom, and this above every other thing is good. Even as she weeps with those who weep, she knows the God of all grace will take their loss and turn it to gain. That He already is. That resurrection has already begun.
Where was God? He was there. He went before and was intimately with and will remain, the faithful redeeming God whose steadfast love numbers the hairs on every head, whose faithfulness reaches to the skies, and who always chooses well for His beloved. Even when He waits.
Even in this.