I am SO excited that Joy Bennett is writing her story. I read her blog voraciously: she speaks truth, both the mess and the glory together, and it gives life to my soul. Over to Joy:
Thirteen years ago, I had all the answers, I thought. My life and new marriage was trucking along quite nicely. Then we had our first child. Elli was born with a life-threatening set of heart defects. Everything we thought we knew about parenting went out the window the day the doctors told us they had no good news.
When we finally brought Elli home, we had to care for an infant with a brain injury, artificial heart valve, and severe developmental delays. We lived packed for the next emergency run to the hospital.
Elli never learned to speak, so it was nearly impossible for us to discern whether her outbursts demonstrated sadness, rebellion, or lack of understanding. I constantly questioned whether I was failing her by expecting too much of her or expecting too little.
I was afraid and often cried myself to sleep as I imagined the devastation of losing her.
I also had to confront my ideas about God and Christianity:
- How should a Christian carry themselves among staff in the hospital and among teachers and therapists in the public schools and with in-home assistants? How should I be different?
- How do I trust God in the face of seizures, intubations, surgeries, and disappointing prognoses? What am I trusting God for? Where is my hope, really? A miraculous healing? A long life? Strength to bear what lies ahead? Wisdom to know when to call the doctor and when to stick it out, when to discipline and when to comfort, when to offer help and when to make her try it herself?
- If God is sovereign, does that mean that God did this to her and to us? How could a good God design an innocent unborn child’s heart not to work?
- If a Christian is one who confesses with their mouth that Jesus is Lord, what did that mean for my child, who could not speak?
- If God elects some to be saved, does that mean God chose all unborn babies and children who die young to be saved or to be damned?
Early one October morning in 2008, Elli slipped away in her sleep. The week that followed is a blur of tears, hugs from friends near and far, and the quiet shock of facing days no longer dictated by Elli’s breathing treatments, bus schedule, and feedings.
The rawness of my grief blasted away every last shred of pretense that I had answers. What I thought I believed about God and faith and life as God’s children didn’t work. This wasn’t supposed to happen to God’s children. My faith couldn’t accommodate this. It was irreparably flawed.
I decided to start over. I asked, “Is there a God?”
I prayed, “God, if you’re really there, show me. Find me.”
I devoured books, especially C.S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity.” I wanted to see if Christianity really worked in real life.
Piece by agonizing painstaking piece over several years, God answered. Sometimes it came through the affirmation of a friend that God really is in me and shines through me. Sometimes, words from a book, blog post, or the Bible jumped off the page. It never came from confrontations with people who insisted that demanding “Why? How could you do this?” of God was foolhardy at best, rebellious at worst.
It has been a good reconstruction. It gave me a bare-essentials faith, unmuddied and simple: God loves us. God sent Jesus to speak hope in language and form we can comprehend. God calls us to help the weak, the outcast, the helpless. We are partners in God’s work restoring and redeeming this broken world. Questions of heaven and hell, baptism and sinner’s prayers, election and predestination are all peripheral compared to the central message that God loves us and is working in and through and for us.
In her book, A Place of Healing, Joni Eareckson Tada compares this rebuilding to the sandblasting done in renovations of the Notre Dame Cathedral.
When I use the word “sandblasting” – and when I think of how that process changed that cathedral in Paris–I can’t help but consider that way God uses suffering to sandblast you and me. There’s nothing like real hardships to strip off the veneer in which you and I so carefully cloak ourselves. Heartache and physical pain reach below the superficial, surface places of our lives, stripping away years of accumulated indifference and neglect. When pain and problems press up against a holy God, suffering can’t help but strip away years of dirt. Affliction has a way of jackhammering our character, shaking us up and loosening our grip on everything we hold tightly. But the beauty of being stripped down to the basics, sandblasted until we reach a place where we feel empty and helpless, is that God can fill us up with himself. When pride and pettiness have been removed, God can fill us with “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
I would never have chosen this. It has been agonizing in every way. But I am thankful for the end result – Christ in me, the hope of glory.
Joy grew up in a Christian home, and should know the answers to all the usual faith questions, but she doesn’t. She has delivered four babies, handed two over to heart surgeons in the hall outside an operating room, and buried one in a cemetery just a few miles from her home. She has no idea how she managed to marry a man who would love her and their kids through all of the upheaval, but she did. She has been writing since the second grade, professionally since 1998, and blogging since 2005. She blogs at Joy in This Journey.
To read an extended version of the incredible story of how she rebuilt her faith, go here and follow the links at the bottom.
Over to you:
- Can you relate to Joy’s experience of being ‘sandblasted’ by suffering?
- Have you ever had to ‘rebuild’ your faith from the bottom up?
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