Friday, April 24, 2015

Beauty for Ashes

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.  Romans 8:26 

I suppose I have known of this verse for a long time, but it wasn’t until January 2011 that I really understood what it meant.  January 11, 2011 was a rare snow day in Clinton, MS.  My graduate school classes had been cancelled and I was at my then-fianc√©-now-husband Will’s apartment with a couple of other friends watching the college football national championship when my mom called.  I didn’t answer the first time, but I was worried that something might be wrong when she called back immediately.

“Whitney. Your daddy has had some sort of a spell.  You need to come home right now”, she told me in a voice that didn’t belong to her.  Absolute panic raced through my mind and body and I had a thousand questions that she couldn’t answer.  “It doesn’t look good.  You just need to come right now.  Give the phone to Will”, she told me. 

All I remember about that moment is that I wasn’t able to coherently speak to my friends to explain what had happened, nor could I coherently think.  A moment like this will make you realize what your faith is really made of, and I am forever grateful that my first instinct was to run into Will’s room and fall onto my knees.  I tried to pray and I felt like I was, but later my friends told me that I wasn’t speaking real words but just making noises.  When I look back at that moment, I am certain, absolutely, supernaturally certain, that the Holy Spirit was there, interceding for me when I could not pray real words for myself. 

My friends got me up and Will drove me two hours south to Forrest General hospital in Hattiesburg, MS.  When we got to the hospital we found out that my dad had suffered a massive heart attack known as the Widow Maker, a type of heart attack that immediately kills 9 out of 10 people.  He had been without a pulse when he got to the hospital, without oxygen to his brain for 45 minutes, and shocked over a dozen times before he somewhat stabilized.  The doctors at the hospital in my hometown of Picayune, MS had told my mom that he probably wouldn’t survive the ambulance ride to the cardiac unit an hour north in Hattiesburg, but that he definitely wouldn’t make it if they didn’t try.

Luckily, this story ends in the happiest way possible.  After the doctors told us that he likely wouldn’t make it, my dad started making tiny improvements and miraculously woke up a couple of days later.   That morning my mom woke my sister and I up from the bed we had crafted from ICU waiting room couches.  We ran, me accidentally barefoot, into his room where he was able to recognize us right away.  He left the hospital 7 days after arriving, rode his motorcycle for the first time 6 weeks later, and went back to work at the beginning of the summer.  He walked me down the aisle at my wedding that September, and I don’t know if there has ever been a bride more thankful to have her dad beside her.  Today he is healthier than ever with no lasting damage at all. 

My dad looking fine as ever!

If you happen to be looking for a Christian magazine, I recommend that you head to your nearest ICU waiting room because they are full of them.  I remember picking one up, while my dad was still unconscious, and reading “For we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28 

This is another verse that I’ve known of for a long time, but it didn’t really become personal to me until the months following that night.  For several different reasons those months were HARD, probably the hardest of my life so far.  Despite being so happy and thankful that my dad was ok, life suddenly seemed unpredictable, out of my control, and terrifying.  If something this terrible could happen what else could happen? What if it didn’t turn out so well the next time something bad happened? For months I suffered from crippling anxiety plus guilt for feeling the anxiety.  Nothing seemed to be going right and it was hard for me to find “the good” in my situation.

What good things did I eventually find?  Most significantly, after a lifetime of sometimes doubting my salvation, my faith took a very real turn that night.  It didn’t happen quickly, but I can look back and see that it was the turning point. The anxiety I experienced finally resulted in me turning to scripture as a last resort, and this changed a lifetime of knowledge about God into a real relationship with Him.   Second, spending many months in counseling helped me to be able to connect to the desperation that some of my clients feel the first time they meet with me—I wouldn’t understand that feeling if I hadn’t experienced it myself. Third, I now have a story to share that may encourage someone else.  

Why am I telling you this story? Because sometimes it seems impossible to find the good right away.  Let me be very clear about this—I am in no way trying to compare my experience to whatever painful thing you have gone through.  My dad made it, but someone out there has a dad who didn’t and that is a pain that I can’t pretend to understand.  Someone lost a baby.  A marriage.  A dream.  A job. Maybe you’ve made a big mistake.  Maybe you haven’t lost anything, but maybe you are just disappointed with life and with God about the things that haven’t worked out the way you hoped.  Each of us has had different experiences and we can’t compare our hurt to another person’s.

But whatever your trouble is, know this—as long as you’re living, God has a good plan and a purpose for your life.  God brings purpose from the good things—your talents, experiences, and successes--but He also redeems and brings good from your hard times and mistakes too.  It may not be in the way that you expect or hope, but God, in His timing, will bring something good from your deepest pain.  We can count on this promise, today and always. 

“To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.  In their righteousness they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.” Isaiah 61:3

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