Four years ago.
I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a post commemorating the Sandy Hook shooting. It said, “We will always remember four years ago: 12/14/2012.”
I stopped breathing for a minute. My back involuntarily tensed and my face flushed. I had to consciously gather myself and remember I was, in fact, at my desk waiting on my software to update. This is probably another reason why you should never open social media at work, even if you have legitimate dead time to fill.
Sandy Hook was definitely devastating, but the date is what knocked the breath out of me. December 2012 was four years ago. Four short years that have seemed like a lifetime a hundred times over. Four years ago was our last Christmas with the boys. It was the last time we saw them, actually. Four years ago, I thought I was losing the greatest thing that had ever happened to me. Four years ago, La Vega hadn’t happened. Four years ago, I still got a quick kiss and tight hug every once in a while from my husband, even though his eyes were empty and his mind had been a million miles away for at least a year. I had no comprehension regarding the strength of mental illness and addiction versus the strength of love. I still truly believed that as long as you had love, you had enough. Four years ago, I was praying desperately for a miracle, completely broke and struggling to pay for counseling and medication that Ren was quite literally flushing down the toilet. Four years ago, my body was in the best shape of my life, but my spirit was broken and my heart was grieving a best friend and life partner, physically alive but ravaged by meth, mountains of whores, false friends, mental illness and other drugs.
“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly, I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Mark 11:22-24.
Over the rocky terrain of 2013 and 2014, I shouted this verse at God. I was so angry above all other emotions. I told God time and time again how angry I was that He discarded my desperate, fervent prayers. I spent a few years distancing myself from God because I felt absolutely passed over and betrayed. I believed God had lost interest in me, but nothing could have been farther from the truth. In fact, God graciously and deliberately responded with the complete opposite of December 2012’s disillusioned, impassioned pleas. I received my miracle. Ren swirled down the toilet right behind his expensive medication and rejected counseling. That’s not what I prayed for and absolutely not what I wanted. I prayed for what I wanted, and received what was best. I wanted my husband back. I wanted our family Friday pizza and movie nights with all four kids to continue until they graduated from high school, then maybe beyond that when they came to visit with their spouses and children. I wanted the life I had planned, and I fought long and hard for it. I lost myself in the fight for my family, home and future. I lost the ability to define love for what it was, and was only able to define it by what it was not. Exodus 14:14 says, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” If you insist on fighting your own battles, God will step back and wait for you to get your ass kicked so miserably that you have no choice but be still. I am relentlessly stubborn, so I’ve taken this route more often than not. It’s taken my entire 35 years and about a million paradigm shifts to learn that I’d rather be still and ask God to fight for me at the first suspicion of battle regardless of how large or small. Life clicks along better that way, and aftershocks and post-traumatic damage are kept to a manageable minimum. Crushing defeats transform into growth opportunities before your mortal eyes. You can, in fact, teach an old dog new tricks.
Grace is the power we receive to live our life from the standpoint of victory regardless of the circumstances swirling around us. Grace is received only through faith. God’s grace is sufficient when we actively trust that His all-encompassing view is much superior to our ridiculously limited perspective. I am the tuba player marching in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and God is the blimp overhead. It is in my best interest to trust the blimp’s perspective instead of my own. The blimp can see everything for miles. I can see the sweat beading through the back of the ugly uniform directly in front of me. I’m learning. I am learning that what we want often looks completely different from what is best. In this season of Christmas, I am so grateful and humbled that I get what is best, even though I deserve what I want instead.
So many changes have violently elbowed their way into our world over the last four years, and I’ve come to appreciate and savor the value in them all. The process of absolute brokenness and subsequent rebuilding has made me unrecognizable to those who don’t know me deeply. But those who do say I just put the pieces back together differently.
December 2012 was bondage I didn’t recognize as bondage. December 2016 is freedom. I am finally true and honest with myself, which evolves into truth and honesty in all aspects of my life. I spend my time on people and treasures that make me think and feel and laugh so hard I cry. Freedom means pausing my Gabriel Garcia Marquez documentary to watch The Farting Preacher, then jumping right back into Marquez, but pausing once more to catch Jason Boland live on Instagram. Freedom means swiftly and completely disregarding opinions and advice of those who have no concept of what our world looks like. Freedom means putting effort into what I know is important instead of being obligated to extinguish petty fires every moment of every day. Freedom means having the courage to live in the present instead of being comfortably chained to the sinking bricks of the past.
2017, we are ready. Morning by morning new mercies I see.