This past June, while spending a few days at my parents’, my husband decided to take our five kiddos and our dog and my parents’ two dogs on a walk around their neighborhood. Sounds ambitious, I know, but they do it almost every time we’re there and they all love it. This particular day, however, would change that. They had made it about three-fourths of the way around the block, with Clay pushing the stroller and holding one leash, and our two older girls each holding a leash. Suddenly, a neighbor’s dog came running at them and attacked my parents’ miniature poodle, Midnight. I was not with them, so I’ve only heard bits and pieces of what must have been a terrifying few minutes for my children as they watched the attack. Midnight was rushed to the vet but his injuries were too extensive and he had to be put to sleep right then. That was a terrible day, and we are still dealing with the aftereffects at times, particularly when we are around a black dog and one or more of our children is suddenly terrified.
We held our children as they cried and tried to process what they had seen, we buried Midnight in the backyard, and we all cried a little (or a lot). Later that night, as I was thinking about it and just wishing that we had a do over, I was picturing my family starting out on their walk. The girls were probably skipping around, talking 90 miles a minute. Samuel was probably running ahead, pumping his little elbows back and forth in that adorable way he has. They had no clue that around the corner, trauma was waiting for them. My heart hurt as I pictured it. Then a thought struck me. They didn’t know what was coming, but God knew. I pictured God looking down on them and whispering, “Hang on, my little children. There is something difficult directly in front of you on the path, but I’m watching you, and I’ll be right here with you as you go through it. When you get there, don’t be afraid because I am still here, and I wouldn’t let it happen if it wouldn’t achieve something good in your life.” Of course, they didn’t hear Him then. They walked on, blissfully unaware. But that image stuck with me, and it comforted me.
I’ve written much lately on the recent/current trials in my life and in the lives of those I love most. But until today, when we were struck with yet another private blow–possibly more devastating than any of the rest–I had not applied the image God gave me the day Midnight died to any of the rest of the trials. In the days since my Granddaddy died, I have been almost numb. I knew that I needed to be seeking the Lord like never before, poring over His Word to find my comfort, but I just didn’t for many days. Only this week have I finally felt tiny pieces of my heart coming alive again. Yesterday I found myself singing for the first time since the night he died. Then today I found myself square in the midst of the next trial on my path. It almost felt cruel–here we are just barely beginning to breathe again after such a huge, heartbreaking loss, and already being struck again. What is God doing, I asked my husband. We don’t know, but He does, was his answer. And with those words, the image came back, and this time I saw it through all of the last so-difficult months.
He knew, last Thanksgiving, that it would be our last with our grandparents all in good health. Did He whisper to us that day, “Something is about to happen that will devastate you and change your family forever, but don’t be afraid because I’m working a good work through it and I’ll be right here with you the whole time.”
He knew, when our pastor left last December, that our church was headed into some difficult days and that many of our members would begin to grow weary amidst all the dissension. Did He whisper to us, “Do not grow weary in well-doing, beloved children. The next days and months are going to challenge your faith in my church but don’t give up. Keep serving and keep loving, and I will be with you and with my church.”
He knew, one morning this past February that before the week was out my sweet friend would watch her husband of not even two years pack up his things and move out, completely unexpectedly. Did He whisper to her during those last few days, “Something is coming that you will think is crushing you beyond healing, but I won’t let it crush you completely. Although you will be more broken than you’ve ever been, I will put the pieces back together into something more beautiful than you’ve ever been. Don’t be afraid when it comes, I am with you.”
He knew, one Sunday morning in August as my sister-in-law walked to church as usual, that instead of church she would end up in a hospital after a car slammed into her as she walked. Did He whisper to her as she left the house that morning, “You’re not going to make it to church today but I will be with you and you will be ok. I will let the car injure you, but I will not let you be injured more than you can bear. Do not be afraid when it happens, because I am with you.”
He knew, a few weeks later, that He was about to surprise us with an unexpected pregnancy that would momentarily freak me out. Did He whisper to me sometime before my suspicions began to grow, “I’m about to test your faith in a big way! When you get the news don’t freak out and don’t worry because I know what I am doing. Trust me, and don’t be afraid.”
He also knew, just five short days later, that He was going to take that baby on home to Him. Did He whisper to us, as we celebrated with joy that Friday night and talked about baby names all weekend, “Soon, my children, your joy will turn to tears but I promise I am working for your good. Your hearts will be heavy with loss, but I am still good and I will be with you–don’t be afraid.”
He knew, on September 6 as I visited my granddaddy before his surgery, that it would be the last time I would get to talk with him. He knew, those blessed two days after the surgery when Granddaddy was doing so well and we were all breathing a sigh of relief, that the end was much nearer than any of us realized. Did He whisper to us then, “Beloved children, your hearts are about to break. He is going home and it will devastate you. But even through the sharpest pain you’ve been allowed to experience yet, I will still be with you. I will hold you up when it hurts to even breathe. I will catch all your countless tears in the bottle I’ve prepared for you. Do not be afraid for he is going to the place I’ve prepared for him. If it were not so, I would have told you. Your loss is great and the pain will seem unbearable, but I promise it won’t be more than you can bear. I am with you. In the days ahead, when you become numb from the pain and you do not feel my comfort or even my presence, I will still be there. When this happens, do not be afraid. Trust me…”
And He knew, this morning, as I contemplated the spark of life springing back into my heart, that within a few hours we would be in tears again in the next trial He has prepared for us. Did He whisper to us, as we dared to lift our heads again, “Oh, my beloved. You’re not quite to the meadow yet. There is yet more confusion, more heartache, more tears in your path. But, my bruised reeds, I will not break you. My smoking flax, I will not quench you. You have been through much, you have been stricken many times, and another blow is coming but do not despair! No matter how dark it seems, no matter how hard your mind tries to convince you that it’s just too much, do not despair! I am with you, I have been with you through all of these heartaches, and I will be with you though this next shadow on the path. Do not be afraid. Trust me…”
We could never have known, at the beginning of last December, that so much was ahead of us on our path. If we had known, I think the knowing would have paralyzed us with fear. We didn’t hear His whispers ahead of time, but no matter how much our flesh, or our greatest Enemy wants to convince us otherwise, all of those whispers were true. He knew, and He has been with us through every shadow. We hurt, we cried, we experienced a wild range of emotions, but His presence has never left us and His grace is measured out in just the right portion to face each day and what that day holds. No more, no less. God knew His plans for us. He knew how those plans would hurt us. But He knew His purpose in allowing them. I don’t know His purposes. I have no idea what He has been doing and is continuing to do. I didn’t know on any of those days, what would happen before the day was over. But God knew. And for me, that is enough.