Earlier this year, Jason and I volunteered to take on the childcare portion of our life group's service project [objective: minister to the ministers]. Compared to the other less entertaining (albeit more adult-ish) options of preparing a lunch spread (definitely not up our [my] alley), lending a hand with the back massages (despite all of the experience I gained in SAGA, I'm still pretty sure the certified masseuse was better equipped for the job) or ministering to the leadership through conversation and prayer (there were definitely more than enough enthusiastic people filling that role), taking care of the short-in-stature energetic ones seemed like a no-brainer choice for us. And, turns out, I think it was the best choice.
Basically, we got to goof off for a few hours with a handful of the kids of our church's leadership. It was quite entertaining. I'm absolutely awful at guessing ages, but I would say the age range was from 1-1/2 years old to...12? Somewhere amidst the nonstop I'm-never-going-to-stop-running energy, the "look how loud I can make animal noises," and the diligently-worked-though-not-always-accurate math problem-ing [side note: almost all of this was produced by 2 rather engagingly cute sisters, made doubly fascinating by the fact that they were twins] were me and Jason. It was immensely fun. Of course, the youngest kids seemed to necessitate the most one-on-one attention while the older ones seemed to desire/demand it more. However, since we wanted to make sure that we could hand over all of our charges to their parents at the end of the afternoon in as close to the same condition that they were given to us, I think Jason and I definitely gravitated most of our attention towards the little guys since their potential for crying/getting hurt was obviously much greater than the older ones.
The littlest fellas were rather adorable. Eli and Ethan. Eli liked to color. Ethan liked to eat only half of each of his grapes. They were buddies.
Life is kinda like any book or movie (which makes sense since I'm pretty sure life is what book and movie writers are trying to portray [though that is a pretty generalized statement, and it sometimes seems like that may not be the case anymore, given the current trend of what is considered popular entertainment these days]). That first scene or chapter opens up with some scenario that captures your attention and you sit back and wait to be taken to all kinds of pleasant places. However, if you've read any number of books or watched any number of movies, it doesn't really surprise you when the plot takes a turn for the worse. In fact, you're expecting it. Because conflict is inevitable and it just feels like something that has to happen in any kind of successful [predictable?] entertainment medium*. You can usually figure out ahead of time what conflict the story is going to be centered around [with that amount of time being determined by a) how many reviews/trailers you've seen and b) how well it was written overall].
That's the difference, though, between real life and a movie: It's hard to predict when and how that terrible moment of conflict is going to raise its ugly head. (Perhaps that's an interesting indication that life is pretty much the most well-written-est story ever?) Life's conflict comes completely unexpected. Completely unwanted. Like in the case of the car accident that Jason talked about in his last post. Or like the movie theater shooting in Colorado this morning. Or, like in the case of the story above, when we found out that 1-1/2 year old Ethan had one day slipped into a coma and died.
You just never see it coming.
I can't quite wrap my mind around handling the pain that comes with your first and only child just... dying. Or how you can, as the mourning father, get up on Sundays and continue to lead worship as passionately as ever. I can't fathom being that strong. And yet, I can. Because of one rather significant detail: God is with us.
I suppose the harder thing to imagine is how those who don't have a relationship with God handle the grief that comes with those abrupt moments of conflict, those moments that give you no choice in the change of life's story. Yes, knowing God may not keep the bad from happening, but I so entirely believe that it is the most impacting factor in how we handle (and get through) the bad that does happen.
Knowing God doesn't immediately take away the tragedy itself or even the resulting pain or grief. He's not a quick-fix band-aid. But He does offer something that helps with the aftermath of it all: Peace. The peace that comes from His Presence.
Peace is an odd thing. You don't always know it's there at first. Sometimes you have to really dig deep to find it. Sometimes you just can't imagine peace possibly infiltrating that one particular chaotic-filled moment. But it's there, because He's there. Sometimes all it takes is re-acknowledging the fact that the One who made the world is entirely in control. No matter how out of control everything might seem.
If I was little Ethan's mom, I absolutely know that the only way I could get through the grief would be by daily reminding myself of the bigger picture. The picture that, compared to eternity, this life really is just a breath. That saying good-bye to someone on earth, as painful and heart-wrenching and seemingly life-shattering as it is, isn't a forever good-bye when God is in the picture. That's the neat thing about being friends with the Creator of this story called Life: Despite the absolutely pointless tragedies that cry out in injustice or those completely unexpected turn of events that cause intense moments of doubt and heartache, you can come to know peace in the midst of it all knowing that He knows the Ending. And even though, to us, it may feel like it's chapters away, I think it can sometimes be just enough to get us through knowing that the upcoming Ending most definitely is going to be a Happier Ever After kind of ending.
Sure, not all of life's conflict moments are death and grieving [thankfully], but even little things have the ability to shake you up if they're unexpected enough. I think the key [and, thus, challenge] is to think bigger than ourselves. Of course, this is easy to say when I'm more removed from the situation, when it's not my baby boy dying or my friends being shot at or even myself in the totaled car. But I hope that even with the [comparatively] less significant bumps in life that I can still remember to embrace the bigger picture in the midst of the tragedies. In my mind, the Bigger Picture is a numbered list, so...
- God is always in control, no matter the magnitude of the conflict.
- God embodies peace and justice, clearing the way for us to handle grief and pain in a way that allows for His healing in all of its forms.
- God wrote the story, so He knows the ending, and it's so much greater than we can possibly imagine.
The One the wind and waves obey is strong enough to save you.
- "Strong Enough to Save" Tenth Avenue North
As always, thus ends yet another rather roundabout rambling about... life. It's nifty how you can pretty much sum up any topic under the category of "Life."
And now, if you made it through this whole thing, feel free to take a nap. You earned it.
*I think I'd like to write a book that has no wait-for-it! conflict... perhaps have it run like a series of journal entries. Boring? Mayhaps. But I think it'd be intriguing in an odd sort of way.