As a parent, I have spent a great deal of time making sure that my kids have all that they need and much of what they want. It’s what “good” parents do. We want to give them things that perhaps we did not have, or the good things that we did have and want to bless them with also. We want to limit harm, hurt, and struggle. But I wonder if that is really always for the best. My kids will be thinking I’ve finally gone around the bend just now in even pondering these things.
I’ve been reading a book called David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell, and I have thought some about these things. How, at times, heroes and champions rise from the ashes of tragedy or loss. How, at times, those risings might not, dare I say, have happened without the related horror that begat them. Heady stuff, I know.
Years ago, I used to live in a house of cards. I was a bit of a fearful sort. What if this happened or what if that didn’t happen? What if tragedy lurked just around the corner and I was caught unawares? How would I cope? What would I do if my fragile life suddenly fell apart?
You see, I had been brought up in a model home. My parents stayed married. My dad always had a job. We were all healthy. I had pets, toys, friends, and opportunity. I cannot think of a single time, growing up, when I had to struggle for anything, really. I appreciate what lengths my parents went to in order to provide this life for me. But when you have everything, you can have an ingrained fear of losing it all. If you have never lost much, you don’t know how you will deal with loss if it happens.
I grew up and got married. Matthew and I had some of the usual newlywed struggles and some of the more unusual ones, but for the most part, we fared pretty well. After about three years, we had our first son. Not too long after kid number one arrived, news of kid number two was announced. And soon after that, we discovered that the blessing was doubled and we would be having twins. We did. Too early. Justin and Ryan were delivered at 28 weeks. Just a few short weeks later, Justin died. It was the first real tragedy of my life.
As horrible as it is to lose a child, it was cause of the greatest growth spurt of my emotional and spiritual life. I became someone else after that loss. Someone I likely would not have become if I hadn’t gone through it. I found I was no longer afraid of much. I learned that if I am knocked down, I can get back up again. I learned that short of losing my husband or another child, there was little the world could throw at me that would top what I had already been through and survived. I cannot tell you the freedom I gained from that tragedy. It was a complete game changer for me. It still is.
Matthew was pastor of a church after that tragedy. That church struggled with unresolved issues- ungodly things that had happened before we arrived on the scene, and those things were coming home to roost for that community of believers. My husband had tried to walk them through to healing, and in the process had taken quite a beating. Had that been one of Paul’s church plants, we would have definitely had another epistle in the Bible addressed to them.
I can remember sitting next to an older woman in church during that very hard time. With tears in her eyes, the lady looked at me with just a bit of disgust and said, “This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me!” I looked at her and said, “Well, this is certainly not the worst thing that has happened to me. And this is going to be fine, one way or another.”
I’ll never forget that day. It was rough, but I had lived through worse. I had risen from the ashes of tragedy and gained new sight, and in doing so had realized “that there are real limits to what evil and misfortune can accomplish”. (Gladwell) No one welcomes tragedy or misfortune, and I would be a really bad mom if I wished it on my children, so I don’t, but I know that if it comes, God’s promises are true. He will trade beauty for ashes (Isaiah 61), and it is possible to rise up better because of it.