Tarnished

Recently, I’ve read a number of blogs from various people sharing their tragic real-life stories. A couple who lost their baby late in pregnancy. A young mommy-friend who is battling cancer after already having buried 2 of her babies. A mommy and daddy who said good-bye to their baby girl as she went to be with Jesus. And another mommy, her son buried, at the hands of a drunk driver. There are others, too. Stories from friends or from people I knew once upon a time. Blog after tear-jerking blog.

As I’ve read each of these heart-wrenching tales, I’ve been struck by the calm. The peace. The joy amidst heartache. All of the bloggers referred to the grace of God sustaining them. All of them are choosing not to ask God “why?” but to thank Him for His unending love, praise Him for His sovereignty.

And I am completely amazed.

Because I, too, have been on a journey with heartache and tragedy. Had I been a blogger just six years ago, readers would have experienced our highest peaks in life as we learned – despite having been told we would not be able to conceive naturally – that my 22-year prayer for twins was answered with no medical help whatsoever, immediately followed by our lowest valleys as we said good-bye to our baby girls in this world. I could have written out the details of our story, only my blog would have been different than those I have read of late. Mine would have been full of whys, full of anger.

Let me just say that I know the loss Matt and I have experienced is not even close to what some people in this world face. I don’t think, by any means, we’ve had the worst tragedy, the biggest heartache, or that we deserve some medal for our suffering. It isn’t like that at all. We have much to be grateful for. I also don’t think that the suffering of one can be minimized when compared to the suffering of another. For example, I don’t like when people say, “I’ve had a couple miscarriages, but that is nothing compared to what you’ve been through,” insinuating that just because our loss was further along, their loss was no big deal. We all have trials. Suffering is suffering. Loss is loss. Heartache is heartache.

And to be clear, I am not bringing up this heartache to gain sympathy. I don’t need it or want it. What I do need is to fix some wrongs. To redeem some of what was lost. To hopefully bring some glory to God and His unfailing love.

It’s just that if I were a blogger 6 years ago, you would not have read my thanks to God for His unending love. While I likely would not have been brave enough to write it for all to see, the words in my head and sometimes on my tongue would have (and did) curse God and “his plan.”

Or, if I wrote at that time, I may have written off God completely. Who needs you, if you even exist at all. Had you read my thoughts at that time, my view of God would have mirrored our roller-coaster circumstances.

…I guess it’s a good thing I wasn’t a blogger 6 years ago…

Apparently, I did not have a strong anchor to withstand the crashing waves we faced. Oh, I thought I did. I thought I trusted God fully, even while knowing that didn’t mean I was protected from heartache. I grew up the daughter of a funeral director. I saw heartache. Lots of it. I knew trusting God meant trusting through the good and the bad. I knew it meant believing God is a loving God, even when prayers aren’t answered the way we’d like. Knowing the anchor exists isn’t the same as grabbing hold, trusting it in the midst of the storm.

But let me back up a bit…

Immediately following the loss of our girls, I decided God did not exist. I mean, how could he? How could a god exist and allow such heartache?

Only I couldn’t swallow that thought. I knew God existed. Without going into the details here because it would take too long to explain each occurrence, I knew God existed because I had experienced Him in my life. It was not a question of if He existed, but why He would allow such pain.

And there were many whys. Why us? Why this miracle? Why give miracles only to take them away? Why answer a 22-year prayer only to destroy it? Why give hope only to crush it? And yet again? And then again? You are our Father, why torture your children this way? Why ignore the prayers of thousands of believers from around the world and let these babies die? Why not save them and bring glory to Yourself through this string of miracles?

The big “why” that I couldn’t swallow was: Why twins???? Having prayed for them since I was 5, and I mean really prayed for them – it felt like a personal attack. Me against God. He was out to get me where it hurts, and he succeeded. And I hated him for it. H-A-T-E. I had all sorts of things to say to this God, cruel ruler of the universe.

But God is not to blame, many people reminded me. Oh yeah? Well, God could have done something, yet he didn’t. In my mind, that made him guilty of murder. Murder of my two babies. The analogy I shared with my family and close friends was that of a lifeguard watching two girls drown. If this lifeguard – the only one capable of jumping in and pulling them to safety – just stood by and watched them die, he would be to blame for their death. Guilty of murder. God was the lifeguard that stood by and did nothing. And I was done with him.

For two years I felt this way. For two years the “why?”s and the anger towards this God that was supposed to be good stirred up hatred inside of me. By now, we had a little girl to raise. An amazing little creature, who trusted us for her well-being. Who was entrusted to us, and I knew I would be responsible for teaching her right from wrong and things of eternal value. I didn’t want to screw it up, only I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t sure what to tell her about a God that I wanted her to love, but that I hated. I didn’t know how to explain the suffering I felt while teaching her that God is sovereign and good.

I asked Matt if he would see a counselor with me. We visited with a pastor from our church at the time, and I told him my feelings towards God and my view of him as the life-guard that stood by. He asked me about God’s promises… did He ever promise to protect us, to keep us from pain and suffering? No, I said, “So that means, we just live in a cruel world. Satan is real. Evil and pain exist. God didn’t promise to protect us from it, but he can use it for his glory. It’s not his fault, it’s Satan’s fault. It’s Adam and Eve’s fault.” The pastor agreed. God is good. Satan is bad. Sometimes life sucks.

For another two years, that became my new answer. Why is there suffering? How do I reconcile this pain and heartache with a loving creator? God is sovereign. But we live in a cruel world with sin, suffering, and heartache. So life sucks sometimes. But God can use this heartache for His glory.

And then we began to attend Sunrise Baptist Church, where for the first time in my adult life, I feel like I was really truly stretched in my faith. I was confronted with verse after verse that contradicted my current view of God. The problem was, my mantra “God is sovereign, but we live in a cruel world so life sucks, but God can use it for His glory” contradicted itself (not to mention the Bible.) Because if God is sovereign, as in in-control and all-powerful, then isn’t he all-powerful-all-the-time? Meaning, God is sovereign, all-powerful, and in-control even when a mommy lies on her back for weeks, begging and pleading with him to save her babies; He is in-control even when those babies are born, suffer, and die in the hands of their broken mommy and daddy; He is in-control even when that mommy watches her husband carry a pink gingham casket containing their precious girls and even when that casket is buried along with her 22-year dream for twins. So if he is all-powerful and in-control all the time, then he isn’t just using the crappy stuff that comes about because of this cruel world –  for his glory, but He is in the crappy stuff. He is there, in it, allowing it all to happen in his all-powerfulness. God can’t be sovereign if crappy stuff just randomly happens in a crappy world. That would be Him not in control. But if He truly is sovereign, then He is in control. All the time.

And here we come to the problem. That puts God right back in the life-guard seat. Watching my babies drown.

Not only that, but my viewpoint – the “Satan exists, so we live in a cruel world so life sucks” viewpoint – gives Satan way too much power. He is not the one in control. God is. So while Satan really truly exists and really truly is out for evil and to destroy, while life may be very painful at times, I don’t really like the idea of giving Satan the satisfaction of winning here. He exists only in a world that is ultimately controlled by God. 

So wait, God is in the suffering? As in, he allows it, in his great plan? Well, if you read the book of Job (which everyone will tell you to do when you experience loss. Seriously. Everyone.) You will see that Job experienced tremendous suffering. In fact, in just a few minutes time, he learned he lost all he owned – 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 oxen, 500 donkeys, many servants, and all of his ten children. (Job 1:14-19). Satan was the cause of all this, but he only was able to destroy all of Job’s belongings and family because God allowed it (Job 1:12), God was the one in control. In fact, Satan could not harm Job’s person until God allowed it (Job 1:12 and 2:6). And what did Job do when he learned of his great loss? “He fell on the ground and worshiped God, saying “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:20-21)

I’ve read this account of Job’s life a lot in the last 5+ years. Lots. The thoughts that usually came to mind when I read it in the first few years were, “Whatever, Job. All perfect and holy. I hate you, too.” No, I’m not kidding. That’s really what I thought. Then in the following years, “Job, you seriously can’t be human. That kind of response just doesn’t happen when people experience that great of loss.” Except it does. Because as I said in the beginning, I’ve read peoples’ accounts, their testimonies, their worship and thanksgiving in the midst of their greatest suffering.

I vividly remember the first Sunday we were finally able to talk ourselves into attending church after burying our babies. It was months later. I didn’t want to be there. I still hated God. I went. I stood during worship. But I didn’t sing. One of the worship songs that morning was the Matt Redman song, “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord.” You know the one. We had sung it a thousand times before.

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I’ll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

I left church even angrier at God. YOU give and YOU take away. Again. His fault. He did it. Even Job says so.

Except Job didn’t say so. Job said, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.” But he didn’t say, “It’s God’s fault.”  “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” (Job 1:22)  So Job knew the Lord was in his suffering, allowing it, but he didn’t blame God or charge him with wrong. Even as Job continued to suffer physically as described in chapter 2, he knew it was allowed by God. God didn’t create the suffering, but He allowed it to happen. He had his own purposes in mind for doing so. Ultimately, HE was in control, and Job worshiped Him.

Fast forward to about 10 months ago…

It was around this time that I had been confronted with so many verses and Biblical truths that I could no longer deny that: 1) God exists. 2) He is in control. 3) He is good. And 4) All these are possible at once. Even though I suffer and you suffer and people have tremendous heartache.

It was a series of puzzle pieces that were getting put together before my eyes. A quick summary of a few of them, which won’t even scratch the surface of how all the pieces fit together:

  • Every sermon Pastor Phil preached seemed directed at me. Every. Single. One. I can’t possibly summarize them here. But they were all for me. (God the Holy Spirit is working inside me. Apparently He’s not done with me yet.) Thanks, Pastor Phil, for being a vessel to be used so mightily by God.
  • I had a conversation with our pastor’s wife who has experienced great loss and suffering as well. She made a comment that sticks with me. Something along the lines of, “I can’t help but be happy for people who suffer, because it’s only then that they can truly experience the Joy of the Lord.” Thank you, Lisa, for always sticking the right words in my mind to fester in my heart.
  • The women’s Bible study I attend spent time focusing on how experiences God gives us are used to shape us and our relationship with Him.  (i.e. No longer can I be content with “Life just sucks sometimes, but at least God can use it for His glory.” God is in the hard, using it to shape us, and allowing it for His glory. Remember Job?) See also Romans 8:28
  • I was put in a Bible study group with the perfect women to encourage me. They all did in one way or another, but wow… Amy and Judy, the encouragers. Every question I had, frustration I felt, fear that welled up, you combated it with the exact Truth I needed to hear. I am so grateful.
  • I decided to focus on Joy and began a blog to help me to remember to do just that. (Thanks, Matt, Amy, and others for encouraging me to do so.) I decided to believe what the Bible says and shows over and over. That God is good. All the time. And that He is the giver of all good gifts. There are countless verses to reference here, but just to name a few: Psalm 136:1, Psalm 100:5, Psalm 119:68, James 1:17
  • I began reading (again) a devotional my parents got me over a year ago. It sat unused for quite some time, but suddenly I felt compelled to read Jesus Calling. All about remaining in His presence. All about being reminded of His sovereignty and goodness. Ok. Got it. YOU are in control. All the time. And YOU are good. All the time. And just in case I forget, I have a daily devotional leading me right to the perfect verses that I needed to hear that day. Every day.
    Thanks, Mom and Dad, for praying faithfully and encouraging lovingly.
  • I attended a women’s conference where the focus is on Joy. I already mentioned in this post how awesome the conference was and how I left feeling full. Everything I heard there fit in perfectly with everything God had been working on in my heart already. The topic, the challenges, and one of the recommended books? Jesus Calling. Check. Already reading that one. Thank you, Sandi, for your encouraging messages.
  • We finished our Bible study on Experiencing God and began studying Philippians, a.k.a. The Joy book. Of course we did. Because apparently Holly needed to be beat over the head with the same topic until she finally figured out how to experience joy amidst suffering, how to be thankful and trust in God and His sovereignty no matter the circumstance. Read Philippians.Not just in one night. Study it carefully. Take a chapter a week. I dare you not to change your outlook on where your joy comes from.
  • In our Sunday School class, we’re studying 1 Peter. A question of suffering came up. Why is there suffering? Our fearless leader, Jeff, turned the question around. Does God suffer? While I knew the answer, I hadn’t really thought about it before. Or at least not at a time when I was willing to listen. We looked up a number of verses that pointed me to the same conclusion: While I suffered, He too suffered. (Isaiah 63:9). A simple thought, maybe, but it helped me turn my “heartless lifeguard” view of God around for good. As I ached, He ached too. My heart was broken. So was his. I am His child. A Father grieves for the pain their child feels. God suffered with me. Thanks Jeff and Renee for reminding me. At just the perfect time.
  • A Facebook friend posted this story about Malachi 3:3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. The point of the story is that a refiner of silver knows it is pure when he sees his image on it. So God is working to purify me – help me to be a reflection of Him. Only as I read it, something else struck me: While he waits, He is holding me through the entire process. Feeling the heat from the flames. Waiting patiently for me to reflect His image.
    Thanks, Karen, for posting that when it had touched you. You have no idea how many others you touched by sharing it and making yourself vulnerable on FB.

And that’s where I am now. Realizing that I am about the most tarnished impure silver there is. While others have suffered and continue to thank the Lord for his faithfulness and love, I threw tantrums. I hated. I name-called. I kicked and screamed and denounced God. And all the while, He held me and suffered the pain I suffered. Patiently waiting for me to reflect an image of Him. Oh, how He’s waited. (And by the way, He will continue to wait. Because I will always have more to learn, ways to grow.)

Thank you, Lord, for your grace. For your patience. For your forgiveness of my stubborn and selfish ways. I want to be a reflection of You, for your glory. I’m just sorry that it’s taking me so long.

If you’ve read this far, you’re likely one of the people who love us and prayed for us during our loss nearly 6 years ago. Likely, you’re someone God put in our lives to help carry us through the storm. Maybe you were a person who reminded me on more than one occasion that yes, God still sits on the throne. How blessed I am to have had people in my path gently do just that; countless family, a friend, a co-worker, even my boss. Thank you. Thank you for your unwavering faith, for not giving up on God as I did, and for not giving up on us in prayer.

So now, it’s about time I grab hold of that anchor. More storms may come. They likely will. I cannot allow every wave to send me overboard or capsize the boat. It doesn’t mean it won’t be hard. I’m not saying there is no longer hurt with our loss. It doesn’t mean I don’t have any more questions. It just means that I have decided to trust the anchor I knew was there all along. It means I understand now, finally, that God is in control, and He does all things well. He doesn’t make mistakes. Our twins, their births, their death, wasn’t a mistake. He oversaw it all. And yet, He is good. I have to trust that. I’ve decided to follow Job’s lead and say, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”

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15 thoughts on “Tarnished

  1. Holly, what an amazingly honest, blow-by-blow account of your journey! This is by far, I believe, the longest blog you have written so far. And you must be exhausted for the amount of energy you have put into this! I arose early to read and pray, as is my custom on a daily basis. But I read this instead, and I now have run out of time. However, I feel sufficiently drawn into an awareness of His Presence through this anointed writing that I am now ready to pray with real conviction and direction–to thank Him for what He is doing in all of our lives and to know that–no matter what comes–He is over all. Mom and I love you and Matt and the kids and continue to pray daily for His blessing in your lives. Love–Dad

  2. I don’t know you, but I have tasted of the grief that you share. EVERY single time I sing the line “You give and take away”, my heart feels like it is breaking all over again – like I have to surrender anew and realign my self with the truth. Sometimes this washes over me like a spring rain, leaving my heart renewed and refreshed, and sometimes it still breaks over me like a crashing wave. But the truth is still the same – God exists, He is good and He is in control – and all this works together for His good purposes. Blessings to you and thank you for sharing your journey. M

  3. Thank you all for your encouraging messages. Melissa, I know exactly what you’re saying. The phrase that I keep having to focus on is, “My heart will choose to say.” I have to CHOOSE to say “blessed be your name” every time. It’s hard… every time. Hang in there!

  4. Hi Holly. We’ve never met; my husband is on staff at our church with Adam Fox and I saw this link on Erica’s facebook page. What an honest accounting of your journey. I think many more people are angry than let on…for some reason we hide it because we think we aren’t allowed to be angry at God. I appreciate your willingness to be so transparent and I believe God will use you to help so many people find their way from hating God to trusting God.

    On the day you posted this, a friend of mine lost her 41 year old husband in a tragic accident. She is still reeling and in shock. Also her heartache is multiplied by having to watch their four children grieving their father as well. I will be sending her this link so she can read about your journey.

    Thank you!

    • Heidi, thank you for your encouragement. I am so sorry to hear of your friend’s tragic loss. She – and her kids – will be in my prayers. Unimaginable grief, but God knows. Thank you for sharing this with me. I will pray.

  5. Holly, I went to high school with your Dad, and have twin granddaughters who were born May 17 six years ago. I cannot begin to imagine your pain. But I feel your debilitating anger because I felt the same way toward God becuz of losses that happened to us, and I have felt Him pull me back to Him, as He has with you. I pray God’s unswerving and limitless love to surround you and bless you and encourage you for the message He is building in your heart and mind, a message so needed in this day and time in history. with love and thanksgiving for your honesty and your journey, Becky

    • Thank you, Becky! How blessed you are to have your twin granddaughters. Hug them tight. I so appreciate your prayers… I so want this story to bring a message of Hope. Thank you!

  6. You are a beautiful writer, Holly! I LOVE reading your blog. I can only begin to imagine how God will use yours and Matt’s story from here to eternity to minister to others and glorify our great God!

    • Holly: It is so good to read of your light at the end of the darkness. You are such an answer to many prayers and your honesty and healing will help many others find their healing. It is such a miracle that our sorrows are opportunities for God to use and bless us.

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