I’ve never been a critical thinker or considered myself an intellectual. Introspective? Entirely, but asking the hard questions has never been my forte. Growing up, in the early days of school and in college, I never quite cared to ask questions unless the topic was currently relevant to me, and even then, my probing was practical, surface level.
I’m a pastor’s daughter. I spent my early years playing hide-and-seek in darkened church buildings while my parents worked after hours, skating on the concrete outside the front doors, shoving my face with Shipley’s donuts every Sunday morning and fried chicken on Wednesday nights. God was always a part of my life, and my bedtime stories told of familiar names: Noah, Moses, Ruth, Abraham. I accepted what I was told as truth but allowed it to have little influence over the course of my life. God existed, but that was nothing new.
I had accepted Jesus into my life and was baptized at a young age, but my faith really evolved during my high school years. God was real, it turned out, and not on the same level as characters I could read of in my favorite Dickens’ novel. He had real impact on my daily life, and He wasn’t just a good example of morality.
It wasn’t until I was newly married, a college senior majoring in Theology, young and naive, that I faced my first great bout of suffering. I fell into a period of deep anxiety brought on by my young marriage being battered with verbal and emotional abuse. This is when I first uttered the word.
Why this? Why me? I have never faced any suffering. How could this cruel joke be played out in my own life? The life of the good girl, the perfectionist, the one who cries in class if she gets anything less than an ‘A’? Me. I haven’t done anything wrong, and yet still, here I am. Are you kidding me? How am I supposed to do this? How am I supposed to carry on? Why the hell is this happening to me?
The answers came, not like I wanted, but they came as comfort, as if a hand took mine gently, and said, “Trust me,” and then proceeded to pick up the shattered pieces of my heart and mold them into something new. I became something new, and that’s the first moment I realized that when you encounter suffering in your life, you aren’t meant to stay the same.
I certainly was not the same. The bad things: a tendency to cynicism, a little bruised and carrying open wounds, a little less tame, a little more gritty, and a little more prone to the one question I still didn’t seem to have an answer to…
There were good things. After battling deep anxiety for four months, I could almost feel Jesus fusing himself to my core, as if the very heart of me, all the broken pieces were now being held within me, not by my own strength, but by Him. Brokenness can do that to a person, I suppose.
With Him, I carried on, praying for miracles in my life, and committing to every single day begging— if He could make a mountain move, surely He could transform my situation.
And yet, a little over two years later, my second son was born, and he was horribly ill.
“Why? What the hell? Are you kidding me?”
And after two hundred days of holding his hand, begging for a miracle, falling more deeply in love with his big blue eyes and easy smile, I kissed his little face goodbye for the very last time this side of heaven.
This time, it came out as a single, hoarse word.
Through every step of my son’s life, I remembered God’s goodness to me, and His unwavering faithfulness. I remembered the whispers of “Lexi, trust me.” I remembered the hope of heaven, and that even if my son, my Charlie was not cured in this lifetime, that I would hold him forever in eternity. And even with these assurances, the one thing that could not possibly make sense is why this would happen in my mess of a life— in someone who was already holding on by sheer will and faith. In a woman, who was still just a girl, who was already carrying more than what she had ever hoped.
And yet. This was my life, and for better or for worse, it was the only life I had been given. And for better or for worse, I was damn sure that God was going to stand beside me and bring every ounce of good from every last ounce of heartache. Bringing good, bringing redemption— it’s what I made him swear to me that He would do. It was what I made Him swear to me as I faced a struggling, toxic marriage, day after day. It was what I made Him swear to me as I battled the deep darkness of anxiety and panic for four months straight. It was what I made Him swear to me as I held my son in my arms, hours after his last breath… And it was what I made Him swear to me through my subsequent divorce, my sitting on the floor of my life, all the pieces seemingly hopeless and scattered and far beyond the grasp of redemption.
I was faithful. I maintained integrity. I was true. I was good. By every checklist my mind could concoct, I could not, for the life of me, understand the severe punishment that had been inflicted upon me. That was my only possible explanation. Punishment. Or some sick turn of events that allowed everything to spiral, and no amount of comprehension or strength I had could make sense of why these events would happen to me.
It doesn’t seem fair. It doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t seem possible, and yet, I’ve watched, moment by moment, as each splintered piece of my story has been gathered into His hands and redemption has unfolded, slowly at first, and then like a flood.
Suffering engendered bitterness and bitterness in my heart, when softened, engendered empathy, so much so that I can look into the eyes of a stranger, take their hand, and swear to them that no matter what they face, they are never alone. I can stand in dark places, without flinching, because hope has become the light that goes before my every step. I can hold my head up, not allowing shame to dampen the work of redemption, but allowing God to assure me that no story is beyond His reach, and no amount of feeling like I am “damaged goods” or beyond repair is possible for the One who created my very heart.
It’s easy to listen to lies, to pain, to allow them to silence your voice, to allow them to knock down your worth and reduce you to a story of a life that could have been, should have been, but is now beyond reach.
I am not that. You are not that. Not for a single second have we been.
We have always been held, even in the moments of our greatest pain, even when God felt like the farthest thing away. Our prayers have always been heard, even if they haven’t been answered, and they’ve been heard by a good God, not a distant, cruel, or powerless one. Our stories have never ended, even when we maybe wanted them to, when we wished our hearts to stop beating but they carried on.
The cold, hard truth is that this side of Heaven, we may never understand the answer to this question. I know I still don’t. I call out this question every time I face judgment from other humans— who are also broken and flawed— but maybe their stories are tamer than my own. Why? Why couldn’t mine have stayed within the lines? Why did it have to look like this? Why can’t I be more whole? Why can’t my story be easier to tell? It’s too bruised, too broken, too difficult for others to swallow.
I don’t have definitive answers, but I know this. Last week, I met a woman, and within thirty minutes of meeting her, we stood, tears filling our eyes as we shared our stories, so very different, and yet so similar by the way of heartache. I stood, on the other side of much of the pain that I have faced, yet my heart is now permanently splayed wide open. I stood, and I listened, and I saw her heart with eyes I never had before my own suffering. I saw it, and I felt it, fully knowing that the “Old Lexi” may have felt compassion but nothing to this degree. I was able to love that woman, in that moment, in a way that would not have been possible if I had not understood pain.
But I do understand pain. And I do understand lives lived messily, not within the lines, and heartache that might silence another who doesn’t understand. And in that moment, I felt something, almost like a whisper:
And it wasn’t a bandaid, and it wasn’t an idea that all my suffering was for a reason, but it was a gentle touch of redemption. That these things happened to me, to my heart, to my life, and my story is irrevocably changed. But. Good. Good arises. He makes sure of it.
I’ll probably never know. But this is what I do know: I can be damn sure that good is going to come, that from the splintered pieces of my life, beauty can arise— and it’s not because of me, it’s because of Him.
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