“Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands, while you smile on the schemes of the wicked? Do you have eyes of flesh? Do you see as a mortal sees?” -- Job 10:3-4
He can see it all. He weaves the events of our lives together and we do not see how the threads of our existence are tied to all those around us. Sometimes it may feel very lonely to be limited in what we see. Does He know?
It is difficult to see the pictures of children in Haiti making their food for the week from dirt and shortening. It is heart breaking to see into the eyes of a woman holding her dead child after a calm ocean has suddenly turned into a wall of water that sweeps thousands of lives away. It makes me angry to see a man sitting in the heat of an African sun breaking big rocks into little ones, wearing out hammers so he can sell the gravel to the road builders to buy bread. We ask ourselves why.
Brenda is having a very difficult time. It seems that life has treated her roughly. Abused as a child, thrown into the role of a caregiver for her mother before she was a teen. Unable to bear children (her greatest wish). Our first child died (see posting: A Starting Point). The adoption of two war orphans has recently led to new challenges (see the last three postings). Two and a half years sober she is struggling in ways that I do not. Now we are learning to deal with the day to day reality of raising two children who are mentally challenged.
She was nearly killed in that fire (see “Chapter 2”). If she and Norm (one of our church’s elders) had chosen to go through the old sanctuary instead of out the nearest door things would have been very different. The sanctuary did not look dangerous. The flames had gone up the banners in that storage area and were licking along the ceiling, but there did not appear to be any danger beyond that. They did not know that the gases produced from that fire had filled the sanctuary and the temperatures in that vaulted ceiling were approaching a flashback point.
Outside that sanctuary, perhaps 30 feet away, Pastor Tim was trying to turn the fire alarm off. He did not yet know that the fire was real.
At the back of that sanctuary at another door I had just stepped inside calling for one of our children. I saw Tim punch in the code at the alarm. It paused for a moment and then started up again. I stepped into the sanctuary. It was still dark (I couldn’t see the flames behind the door to the storage area).
“Isaac?” I called.
Tim heard Mel, another of our elders, yell.
“Fire! There really is a fire!”
Tim could see through the sanctuary and a side door on the stage the flames in that storage area, and quickly went into his office to call for help.
I didn’t know yet that there was a fire burning on the other side of the door at the end of that room and that the gases above me were heating up to an ignition point. I turned around and went out a side door to see if Isaac was in the parking lot. I found him milling about.
Norm and Brenda exited the door nearest the fire. As they stepped away from the building Norm saw a fireball flash throughout the sanctuary, starting from where they were back to the point where I had just been. Tim says that the air suddenly turned black and he felt pressed down to the floor.
Tim crawled along the hallway, and turned left toward where the door was supposed to be, but he couldn’t see it. Confused, and growing muddled he crawled along in the darkness.
I started toward the side door where Mel and another elder were at the doors toward which Tim was crawling.
Suddenly the door flew open and Tim sailed past the porch, over the steps, and landed in the drive. The smoke blew through the door like the exhaust of a jet. This horizontal column of smoke roared over his head. He stood up, his upper body hidden in the soot and smoke blowing out of the church. Surreally I noticed papers from the office blowing around the parking lot as he staggered to the neighbor’s lawn.
Brenda, Norm, Tim, and myself had all been near the sanctuary when those heated gases exploded. Tim was literally on the edge of it.
We stood in the drizzle for a couple of hours while the firefighters worked. Engines from five communities responded. Finally they sent us home.
That was a very difficult night. Jeremiah’s denials, eventual confession to the police, and his arrest seems like some sort of bad dream. We have been trying to wrap our minds around the idea that our church was so damaged and that we are somehow connected to this terrible thing.
And Brenda is having an especially hard time understanding why we have children who are less than what they might have been.
This is a great surprise to us. We have lied to ourselves about the extent of their disabilities. I think every parent wants their children to be exceptional in other ways. To be scholars and athletes and cheerleaders and class president. But that is a topic for another posting.
Today I wish to look at Brenda’s grief and her question of “why?”
Does God know what it is like for us? Does an omnipresent God see the world as we do? We are limited. We see but one thing at a time. Does that limit make our lives more painful? I think it does. We cannot see all the implications, all the stories of who an event might touch, all ways that we are spared what could have been worse. What we see is the abusing stepfather, the dying child, the nervously smiling boy who does not understand why we are so upset.
Jenny has been the secretary of our church for the past few years. Her husband has been diagnosed with a very serious cancer and given a pastoral position near Sacramento. She sent me an email:
“. . .I wanted to share a beautiful and interesting piece with you. I became acquainted with a shirttail relative about 2 years ago -- my brother-in-law's brother. He had been estranged from his family for many years, but has reconciled and shows up at many family events now. He lives in a hermitage in Sacramento and lives a life of poverty, service, and prayer. He has been a wonderful prayer supporter and encourager through Bob's cancer. His monastic background adds many interesting notes to our evangelical life! I've often copied his emails for Tim -- usually many weighty things to chew on!
I sent an update about Bob to him a couple of weeks ago and mentioned the fire. When he responded he said that the fire confirmed a dream he had had! I quickly wrote back and told him he piqued my curiosity, and asked if he'd please share his dream if he was comfortable with doing so. I received another note from him a few days ago, which included this paragraph:
‘Your curiosity is up! Apologies, did not mean to do this. Dreams & Visions have been part of my life from conception. I have learned to accept them as gifts from the Divine Father. I dreamt several weeks prior to the fire and then just several days before your message of a fire in God's House, an apostle of the Lord was crawling and the Holy Spirit carried him out of a door way. In the beginning the dream showed a [special] young person with fire. The "specialness" is of mental/emotional capacity. There was absent any intent to be destructive or cause damage. In fact this young person & his family has a very special place in Our Father's heart. Our Father was pleased by the unity of His church and community. Life flows from and through the ashes [used for fertilizer in many cultures, that is -- to produce growth and life.]’"
Here is a monk living in solitude 600 miles away and the LORD sends him this message. Since I have been writing about these events in this blog I have been getting messages from people all over the world (the comments on this blog are a few examples).
Perhaps there are benefits to people out there from this. But that does not help us much. Brenda has been so depressed. This event is calling up all sorts of memories emotions for her. (I have been very concerned for her. It frightens me.)
But regardless of what happens to other folks, I can’t help but be most concerned about how this affects us.
I feel steady in my love and affection for my children. I love that boy who nervously smiles at us, uncertain of things because we seem so upset. I love Jeremiah now as always. I will love him even if he must live with me for the rest of my life and he always has the mind of a four year old.
I am concerned about the reality of how we must now supervise Jeremiah. I know things will be difficult, but I also know that He will guide me. It’s been a rough path now and then (now being one of them). But He is my shepherd and I will trust the path that He chooses for me.
Though He is not limited with human eyes, He understands it. Jesus took the form of a man and experienced the mortal life. And he spent that life understanding how we suffer, how we feel, and at every opportunity He stopped to give kind words, comfort, and healing. Even on the cross He stopped to reassure the thief dying beside Him. He knew what it was like to suffer, and He cares about us. What happens to us is small compared to the suffering I see throughout our world.
I believe that life is very short. Consider eternity. What is a hundred or less years in the face of billions? What is unique about this life is the limitations we have on our understanding. Not being able to see the whole picture puts us in the refiner’s fire. What we experience and learn on the spinning glob of dirt in this corner of the universe are mortal experiences, experiences that will shape us for eternity.
Jesus lead on, I will follow.
“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” -- Job 23:10