I cried through most of my twenties.
Who am I kidding? I’m still crying in my thirties, but for very different reasons. Thirteen years ago, dreams were coming true. I had my college diploma in hand, the handsomest fellow by my side, and a wedding ring on my finger! “God is good!” said the preacher. “All the time!” said the congregation.
I grew up in a church that said it a lot. We were taught when anyone from the pulpit said, “God is good …” in response, the congregation should echo back with exuberance, “All the time!”
As my life of ease and dreams was on its way to “happily ever after,” I easily joined the echo: Yep, God is good … all the time! (Even if I didn’t chant it out loud, I gave the pastor a good head nod.)
But a year later, I felt like I was Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, trying desperately to tap my heels together three times to get back home. Shoot, forget tapping, I was banging those things together until all the ruby glitter became a pile of dust. Because somehow my life got all jacked up, as a massive “tornado” ripped through my land.
My new reality was heartbreaking.
My dad—who had just walked me down the aisle—was gone … he died at the age of 49. Nine months later, I stood over my husband’s casket. James—the funny one, the kind one, the one with so much potential, and the one I was ready to share babies and dentures with (not at the same time) … gone at the age of 22. And on top of that, the same canoeing accident that took my James, also left its mark on my sister Holly. She experienced the same loss as death ripped her beloved husband, Scott, away.
What in the world?
Three widows, one family … now under one roof.
I’m not going to lie; our household was a scary place, people. Not a place you’d likely want to visit. (If you ever hear of a house where three widows reside, just bring them cookies … they like cookies.)
I want to highlight the nine months between losing my dad and losing my husband.
Go back with me for a moment to the days following my dad’s death. The truth is, this professing Christian, who went to church and asked Jesus in her heart, was now asking herself, “Is God good … ALL the time?” Because it sure didn’t feel like it.
During this soul-searching season in my life, I stood quietly as the others professed God’s goodness. Internally, I conversed with myself. “I thought I knew God. I thought I could trust Him. Why did He let this happen? If He was/is the Creator of ALL things—if He can usher in the rise of the sun every morning, if He designed my heart to beat at a rhythm, if He created birds to automatically know how to fly—then He could’ve healed my father.”
In my mind, I could not reconcile my pain with His all-the-time good. I was broken. I was sad. Indeed, in hindsight, I was prideful to think that He owed me a life of ease—of no hardships. But if I were to be honest, that’s what I believed. My response to my father’s death flushed out this belief: I knew better than God. He should’ve healed my father, for crying out loud! He messed up.
Here I was, a newlywed. I was supposed to be embracing this season of possibilities, and yet I was becoming a very angry, pessimistic adult.
I was mad at God. I was wrestling with all the things I had always been taught about Him. This anger led to bitterness, and this bitterness was seeping into every area of my life: my marriage, my relationships, how I ate, what I thought about, how I responded to the normal ups and downs of life and how I spent money. This question was eating me up.
James struggled with how to help me. He listened to my rants and then pointed me to Jesus. He was concerned, “Sweetie, you grieve as if you have no hope.” It was true. I had no hope. When I had placed my hope and faith in Christ, I had obviously attached a few conditions of my own to the deal.
God was not silent during this season, yet I did everything I could to silence Him. He still offered me His divine comfort, but I refused it.
After nine months of licking my wounds and telling God what I thought of His will, I received news that James was gone. This was my breaking point with God. I was ready to once and for all denounce my faith in God. I didn’t doubt that He existed; I was just done. I didn’t like Him and didn’t want to have anything to do with a God like this.
I remember standing alone on a hillside in Vermont. Well … not quite alone. The Creator of the universe was there. I was broken and dealing with the kind of pain that makes me want to throw up even now. Today, 13 years later, I still struggle with putting words to this moment, because something happened to me on that hillside.
I stood before God, feeling justified in all my accusations, but as mad as I was that He would let this happen, I could not deny that God was near and that He cared.
James had drowned that day. And the fact was, the previous nine months, I had slowly been drowning as well—in my bitterness. But on that hillside, I started experiencing new waves. God’s love was like the ocean. Wave after wave pulling me away from shore—my security, my reasoning, my stability. And His rushing water—not violent—but intense nonetheless, ushered in peace and comfort again and again. Grief had her own waves and fought to take me captive into her embrace. The waters battled for my soul.
Yet, His nearness—in that moment—spoke of a love that was real—as real as the stars that hung overhead. As real as the grass underneath my feet. As real as the tears that fell from my cheeks. He loved me. And His heart was broken over my pain There were two roads before me: run from Him or run to Him. I saw my death before me as I contemplated the first. Wave upon wave, grace upon grace, washed over me. The God who has the “whole world in His hands” was grieving with me on that hillside, and mixed with the evening breeze, a still, small voice spoke into my soul, “You can trust Me.”
Even though I didn’t like my new reality—not one bit—I couldn’t fight the truth that was staring me in the face: He is good.
Some of you are asking, “So, you’re saying that God is good?”
“All the time?”
With tears streaming down my cheeks—YES! He is. There are things we will never reconcile in our minds. The sin that is prevalent. The depravity. The disease. The head-shaking-mind-wrecking stories we encounter every day. We don’t get it. I don’t get it. But that doesn’t change the truth—God is always good.
I walked away from that hillside different.
Sad? Absolutely. Still distraught? Of course. But I was free. The anger I had been nursing like a bleeding wound was no longer holding me. He was holding me.
I, maybe even for the first time, understood a fraction of His love for His created, and I was humbled. My choice to bow to His Lordship—come what may, with no terms and no stipulations—ushered in a peace despite my pain. I was all in.
Like I said before, I cried through my twenties. Now, I’m crying in my thirties. I’m a crybaby. So what.
I’m not ashamed. Dwelling on His unconditional, ever-pursuing, never-changing, patient, out-of-this-world love makes me weepy.
I said some horrible things to Him and about Him. He forgave me. I wanted nothing to do with Him. He sought me. I was chained to what could-a-should-a-been. He freed me.
You can call me a crybaby. I don’t mind. Because my Heavenly Daddy has whispered the same thing to my heart, “Cry, baby, cry. Your joy came in the morning! I have turned your mourning into dancing. I have clothed you with gladness. There will be a day that your tears will be no more. Your faith will be made sight. But today, cry away. Cry for the hurting. Cry for the lost. And cry knowing you are loved beyond measure. My love is like the ocean without a shore. Go and tell others about My healing waters.”
So take it from the widowed, the cancer patient, the adulteress, the sexually assaulted, the fatherless, the betrayed, the lonely, the addict, the weirdo … (and that’s just my immediate family): He is good—all the time.
Start where you are, and chase after Him as fast as you can.
Want to hear more of the story? Holly and I wrote a book about our journey called Dancing On My Ashes. It’s a beautiful picture of restoration, and recounts God’s faithfulness on every page. Prepare yourself to weep and rejoice with us.You can also watch our story here.