July 1, 2015

The Potter's Hands

Sometimes the news seems to come in waves.  The last few weeks there has been an onslaught of news regarding the tragic loss of children - the baby born lifeless, teenagers in a car accident, more than one child run over by a parent.  Even writing the words feels wrong and harsh and yet they are reality.  These families are struggling right now to cope with the path they've been put on but didn't ask for.  Each phone call, text, or news passed on to us was like a punch in the gut.  I know all too well a bit of the journey ahead of these families and one minute everything in me wants to spare them the path and in the next I am begging God to meet them on it and that they would see Him more clearly through it.

It is interesting the timing of this latest string of tragedies.  I am receiving the news of all of them knowing that just a few short days from now I will wake to the morning of the day that I faced my own similar tragedy 11 years ago.  As I have prayed for these hurting families, talked with some, and pondered each situation, I have had two thoughts swirling.  Today I will tackle one of them.

Many times I have written on the topic of our loss and what God has been teaching me over the years but I have never fully shared the story in writing. Today I will do so not to point to the events of the story but to point to the Author of it and the hope we have in Him.

The 4th of July was always one of my favorite holidays as a child.  For years my family celebrated it at the home my great grandparents lived in on Lake Movil in MN.  I can still smell the scent of the water, hear the tinkling of the wind chime, and see the many flowers they had planted and were growing on their property.  Those were innocent days in my young childhood. There has been many a 4th of July since where I wished I could journey back to those times and enjoy the simple pleasures and the carefree days they brought. We all grow up though, and the road of life begins to take unexpected turns.  Eleven years ago, the 4th of July and life as a whole changed forever when we met a huge, unexpected turn in the road.

I was a young, happy mom with two little boys only 17 months apart in age.  I wouldn't have wanted life any different.  Not only was the 4th of July coming up but also an all school reunion in the little town where we lived.  We were preparing to host my husband's family for the weekend's festivities, making our house home base as we ran to various events.

When the weekend arrived it was fast paced and busy.  I distinctly remember a lot of running around and busyness, especially on the 4th itself.  It was a Sunday and there was a community church service followed by lunch at our house.  I can remember running all over getting food ready for the whole crew and looking up to see someone was holding our 4 month old son, Micah, who had been napping.  He was all smiles but I had no time to stop.

The afternoon flew by and we set out for my in-laws' farm to grab a quick supper and then we would be off to a huge fireworks show in another town an hour away.  After we had eaten, everyone was getting ready to load the vehicles when someone noticed that my husband and one of the boys had on matching sweatshirts and me and our other son had on matching sweatshirts.  It was suggested we take a family picture so we did.  What we didn't know was that it would be the last one we would ever take with all 4 of us.

The family was a pretty big group so we drove to the show in several vehicles, one of them being our van.  Upon arriving, the vehicles went in different directions on either side of the road to find a place to park.  It was dusk and it was busy.  Thousands of people attend this show so there were cars and people everywhere!  We parked in the ditch just like we had the year before and then we all flew out of the vehicle, hurrying so we could go get a good spot to watch the show.   We never made it to that show.

  Sometimes in life you look back and wonder why you made the choices you did and there is no great explanation.  Unfortunately, on some occasions those choices are life and death.  In my haste to get us going to find good seats that night, I took Micah in his car seat, out of the van so others could get out of the back, and I set him on the grass.  Then I proceeded to grab the stroller from the back and begin to set it up.  While this was taking place, my husband had never gotten out of the van.  Someone had come up to him and asked him to move the van somewhere else. He asked if it was all clear.  All of us assumed he would backup and gave him the go ahead to move.  He backed up a few feet.  My father-in-law was in the front passenger seat and had his head turned toward my husband driving and back to see out the back.  Before he could turn around, and without any of us standing around realizing what he was doing, my husband switched from backing-up to pulling forward and to the right.  I had my back to the scene, my father-in-law never had a chance to get turned around,  and my husband had never left the van so he did not realize Micah was there.  He ended up placing the front right wheel right on top of Micah in his car seat.   Nothing quite prepares a person for a moment like that one.

We happened to be standing just a couple hundred feet from a door directly into a trauma room in the hospital.  I vaguely remember someone scooping up his seat and running it in to that room.  My husband and I followed and for the next couple hours we found ourselves watching a wonderful team of individuals fighting to save our baby. We were eventually told that he had to be airlifted to the next bigger town, they didn't have room for us, but they needed someone to get there (an hour drive at normal speeds) to sign papers.  At that point we decided that a friend would drive my husband to meet the helicopter at the next hospital and I would stay with Micah and my in-laws would drive me once he was on his way.

It ended up taking quite some time to stabilize him so he could be airlifted.  Once he was on his way, I began what felt like the longest drive of my life.  There was a long conversation in that car that night but none of it was audible.  The conversation consisted of me pleading with God to heal my son and God clearly impressing on my heart what was about to happen.  "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..." (Psalm 23:4a) kept running through my mind.  I would tell God over and over that I didn't want to go there and I would know without a doubt that He was telling me repeatedly that is where we were going.  There was also a song that kept coming to mind.  The song had a line in it that said, "Sometimes He calms the storm and other times He calms His child."  I asked God many times to calm the storm this time and heal my baby, and again, I knew He was speaking to my heart that this time He would be calming me and not the storm.  There would be no healing this side of heaven.  God used that drive to prepare my heart.  I knew with certainty that not only was I about to lose my son but that he would not be alive when I arrived at the hospital.  It wasn't that I doubted God's ability to heal Micah. God met me in those dark moments in that car, helped me to understand where we were headed, and gave me the opportunity to trust Him even on this hard journey.  God could have healed him but He had different, better plans for us.

While I was driving the doctors came to my husband and said they were sorry but there was nothing more they could do.  He went in and held our baby boy as he died.  At some point that night a chaplain came to him and fumbling for words for my grieving husband the man told him that now is the time we find our faith.  My husband looked at him and with confidence told him that now is the time he could crawl into his Father's lap because he had his faith.  We both knew what we believed at this point and still believe now.   We believe in a sovereign God who doesn't make mistakes.  We believe He loves us and has good plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11) and that He is working out good things even through this tragedy (Romans 8:28).  We believe we each have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and that because of that we have hope that this life isn't all there is and that there is a heaven waiting for us where we will see our son again.  (1 Peter 1:3-9)  He didn't need to find his faith because he already had it.  He and I both needed to trust God to be who He says He is in His Word and to keep His promises.

By the time I arrived at the hospital, Micah had already passed away.  I found Todd holding him in a side room and had a chance to hold him myself.  I remember looking down at him and realizing that I had a choice to make about how I would move forward in life.  Would I get lost in grief, anger, bitterness, or guilt?  Or would I choose to trust God and walk with Him through this valley.  I know God used my husband to help me confidently make the choice to trust God even if I didn't fully know what that would look like.  He told me he knew God had prepared us for this and was so sure of God's care and sovereignty in that moment.  He instilled me with confidence as well.

That night was the start of a journey we have been on ever since.  We have been learning how to fight for joy.  We have worked to cling to hope.  We have learned to understand what God means in Romans 8:28 when He said, "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."  The key to that verse is the one after it.  "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers." (Romans 8:29). This life is about God and His glory.  He uses situations like this to make us more like His son, Jesus.  The life of smooth roads does not teach us to depend on God and does not help us to become like Christ.  That is the "good."  It is not Good as we define it which would be everything just like we want it to be.  The good is making people like Christ for God's glory.  The rough roads that go through deep valleys show us how much we need God, show us who He is, and shape us to be like the Son.

The name of this blog came as a result of the story God is writing with our lives.  He took us down a hard road we would not have chosen and we learned what it says in Isaiah 64:8 to be true.   He is the Potter and we are the clay.  He is shaping us to be who He wants us to be and for His glory.  We have learned to trust the hands of the Potter.

The tragedy we faced was awful.  Eleven years later I still have times where I have to battle lies and guilt over the events of that night.  To me though, an even greater tragedy would be for anyone to read this story and walk away with the thought that we are strong people.  If you do, you missed the point entirely. We are not strong at all and that is what we learned through all of this.  We are desperately in need of God.  We were before this event and we are today.  Everyone on this planet is.  God proved HIMSELF strong and big in our lives. I want anyone reading this to walk away wanting to know that awesome and great God.  You can, and He can give you the same peace and hope He gives us everyday and certainly in the midst of our loss.  We are all sinners and that sin separates us from God (Romans 3:23, 6:23). However, God made a way for us to know Him and live with Him some day when He sent His son, Jesus, to the earth.  He lived a perfect life, was killed on a cross, and rose again 3 days later to pay for your sin and mine. We each to need to recognize we can never do enough good to pay for our own sin (Ephesians 2:8-9).  We need Jesus and are saved by God's grace when we trust in Him as God's Son and that He died for you and me to pay the penalty for our sin. (John 3:16).  That is how you can have a relationship with Christ and what will give you the hope that you have an eternity with Him ahead of you.

To the families who are grieving the loss of their children even as I write this, the ones we have recently heard about, my heart has been broken for them.  My prayer is that as they walk through this valley they would find God to be the big, faithful God we know Him to be.  I pray they would find rest in the hope of a relationship with Christ.  And I pray that they could trust the hands of the Potter as He shapes them for His glory and their good - not good as defined by this world, but the good of God's economy which means either working to bring them to a relationship with Him or working to make them like the Son.