Sunday, August 17, 2008

Kindred Brokenness

I keep up with a blog called Bring the Rain. The author is Angie Smith, wife of Todd Smith who sings with Selah, sister-in-law of Nicol Sponberg, who used to sing with Selah and sang that BCC Women's favorite song "Resurrection."

Angie's post tonight carried Jesus' voice to me loud and strong.

Let me tell you that her story is worth reading. Before you continue, let me tell you:
On April 7, 2008, Angie and Todd buried their newborn daughter Audrey Caroline. She lived for 2 1/2 hours.
On May 21, 2008, Steven Curtis Chapman's youngest daughter died when the car her brother was driving struck her in the family driveway.
On May 27, 2008, Nicol and Greg's 10-week-old son died of SIDS.
On June 18, we buried PawPaw Allen in Murfreesboro, TN.
On July 19, we buried Fidg next to PawPaw Allen.
Today, August 17, I realized that I can't remember ever hugging Fidg.

Now, read this (I used red font for the lines that seared my heart and brought me to my knees):

It's been four months today.

That's hard to say. I guess in some ways it hurts to think about the fact that time continues to move along without her.

I am broken tonight.

Todd and I are laying in bed, and we just finished watching the Larry King interview with Steven Curtis Chapman and his sweet family. I got goosebumps as I watched them boldly speak the name of our Lord in the wake of losing Maria. They were so honest about the way they have been angry and the way they have screamed to the heavens, "Why?" They also talked about satan, and their description of our enemy made me shiver.

I believe that satan is real, and that spiritual warfare rages all around us every day of our lives.

I believe satan is the enemy of God, and that his desire is to see the fallen world turn their backs on the God he wanted to overpower. I don't think he has a pitchfork, and I doubt he has a long red tail. I don't think he wears Prada, but I do believe he was an angel once. An angel with a beautiful voice who wanted to be greater than God. An angel who God rejected and exiled from heaven. The fallen angel who rejoices in our sufferings and our regrets. Who taunts us as we hold our dying children and who laughs as we crumble under the weight of it all.

The day after we buried Audrey, we went to breakfast with Todd's family, and we learned that Nicol was going to be singing that night at a showcase. If you have ever heard her sing, you already know why we wanted to be there, but immediately, it was more than that. I can only say it this way...God impressed upon me a desire to be there that was so strong that I would have moved heaven and earth to do it.

Later that night, as we were getting ready, everything started going wrong. The kids were upset, we couldn't find our shoes, we were late, and on and on. We almost decided not to go, but again, I felt like no matter what, we were getting in the car. We did, and almost an hour later, in the pouring rain, we realized our navigation system was seriously confused about where we were supposed to be. We could barely see the road, and no matter how many people we called, we couldn't get anyone to answer the phone. Over and over we called Todd's mom, Todd's dad, Todd's sister, Todd's brother in law. Nothing. Nobody.

I was angry.

Really, really angry.

Todd, his best friend Dan, and my dad were also in the car, and they will tell you that I was, by all accounts, being completely unreasonable as I huffed and puffed from the passenger seat. I felt oppressed. I felt like I was being sought out by the one who hates me the way he hates my God. I felt an anger rise up in me that was almost inhuman. What's the big deal? I kept thinking, trying to calm myself down. She will sing again. You'll see her next time. You'll get to support her next time. Still, regardless of my internal pep-talk, the haunting passion would not subside.

I must be there.

I asked the Lord to guide our car. I asked Him to delay the showcase so that we would see her even though we were 45 minutes late for a half hour set. I asked Him because that was all I could think to do. I felt like the devil himself was beside me, breathing on me, smothering me with his hatred.

We finally figured out where we were supposed to have turned, and we retraced our steps until the building stood in front of us. We jumped out of the car and ran, hands over our heads in a feeble attempt to protect ourselves from the downpour. As we entered the building, we heard nothing. Silence. I assumed we had just missed her. We walked into the room where she was, and saw everyone standing up and talking. I ran to Todd's mom and asked her how it had gone. She told me it hadn't even started and I almost starting crying right there. We found our seats and settled in. My heart was racing, and I remember thinking, OK Lord, we're here. Thank you. I don't know what you're up to, but I know You're in it.

Just a few minutes later, Nicol got on stage. She opens her mouth and Jesus falls out. Trust me. I was just starting to close my eyes and relax when I heard a tiny little whimpering. The day before, I had watched my fourth daughter be lowered into the earth, and that sound, that tiny baby squeaking...oh it broke me. I opened my eyes and saw my mother in law holding the baby. I need to be selfless. I just want to sit and listen and relax, but Lord, I need to help so she can stay and listen...

"I'll take him, Mom."

"You sure?"

Not really, I thought. I don't know what it's going to feel like to have that weight in my arms tonight.

"Yeah, I'm sure." I swaddled him up and walked out the back doors.

I stood in the foyer, ear pressed to the door for the next few minutes. Every few seconds I would stare down at his sweet face, and just feel his warmth. I couldn't run from it. I had to miss her the way I did in that moment, while he gurgled and shifted and turned his little head.

After a few minutes, a peace came over me. I just stared at him, every part of his face, and I started to whisper to him...Oh sweet baby...sweet baby boy...

The rain was pounding on the glass doors, and the sound of God was all around.

Weeks later, as I recalled this moment, I would realize what I didn't know during that storm.

This was the only time I would ever hold my nephew Luke.

I am crying now as I remember the words I said to him. I will never repeat them, because I believe that God allowed me those private moments with him to cling to for the rest of my life. Luke knows what I said. He knows to this day that I fought the rain, I fought the clock, I fought the devil himself because on that night, he was meant to be held in my arms.

The name of the song Nicol sang as I rocked Luke? I couldn't make this up if I was called "Downpour." I now have, forever etched in my memory, the sound of my dear sister singing to Jesus while I held her son, worshipping the God who would greet him in heaven a few short weeks later. She was singing to Him....singing sweet praise to Him...

Several people have written me over the months and they have asked me this question in many different ways. "Do you believe that God was responsible for taking your baby? How can you love a God Who would do that?" Here is my answer.

I don't know why she is gone, but I do know Who had the final say. And it wasn't the snake.

And because I know Who, I am willfully unconcerned with why.

I know that God will use this for good, regardless of who may have intended it for evil. If you are reading these words, and you know anything about my sweet Audrey, you will also know this.

He already has.

I listened to Steven tonight, and I thought about my sweet husband and my precious sister in law Nicol singing to the Lord, and I recalled a quote I read years ago in a Max Lucado book (ironically, I think the title has something to do with a storm...). It told the story of a very young girl who was playing her violin at a concert and there was no question she was a prodigy, gifted well beyond her years. But while her fingers danced on the strings, a man in the audience leaned over to his friend and said,

"Can you imagine how beautiful it will be once she's had her heart broken?"

The depth of sorrow has a way of changing the way you share your life, your heart, your God. It makes you want to shout the name of Jesus because you realize that after all, in the very midst of it, He is real. It isn't just a big book. It's the truth, and it has changed me. He has used this season to show me an image of myself, kissing His feet while the tears slip to the ground.

This week we will bury our sweet baby Luke in the same plot as Audrey.

I write those words and then I shake my head, anticipating the tent, the benches, the flowers, the tears.....again. It feels like too much to bear, and yet, I want you to know this.

There is much that the enemy cannot take from us.

He cannot have our memories, our pure love, the way we have held each other up...he cannot.

He cannot have our hope, nor our inexplicable peace. Never.

And this week, a sound most disturbing to satan will rise from a graveyard in Tennessee, where the echoes of loving praise will drift into the morning sky, ever sweeter for the brokenness.

Ever sweeter for the brokenness. I get the "brokenness" part. I'm craving the "sweeter" part.

The sound of God was all around. He showers it on me constantly:
a doctor in Nashville that ministered to my soul before he looked at my physical health
the breeze at Fidg's grave
a lifelong friend and her family being Jesus to me and my family
a caring vet's office staff
a hummingbird the day my dog died
girlfriends who love me and don't let me hide
girlfriends who listen to and sing with me the new songs of deliverance He's giving me
a daddy who calls me often just to tell me how proud he is of me
a pastor who won't let me quit on the Bible study I'm supposed to write and teach
a goldfinch today (the first I've seen all summer) as I noticed how all the trees are dying
a well-timed book by Nancy Leigh DeMoss entitled Brokenness
His Word, especially when He reminds me how He's fulfilling it in my life
my daughter
email blessings that touch my heart
blogs that I read
comments left on this blog

I commented on Angie's post:
Thank you for writing. Thank you for being authentic and transparent. Thank you for clinging so tightly to Jesus.

I have been slammed with grief this summer, and I believe that Jesus sent me to your blog, and Steven Curtis Chapman's manager's blog, to remind me over and over that I am not alone. To help me watch---and learn from---and be so encouraged by----your negotiation of this path called suffering. We're called to have broken and contrite hearts, not to be crushed under our circumstances. Honestly, I've been having trouble these past two weeks telling the difference between the two.

You remind me. When you share the stories of God's whispers and shouts, the stories of His perfect timing in the midst of this battle for our very lives, you remind me:

He is sovereign.
He is good.
He is for me.

In your blog today, I heard God call my name. I heard Him say, " I love you so much."

Thank you, Angie.

I will sing praise! I will sing praise!
No weapon formed against me shall remain!
I will rejoice! I will declare: God is my victory, and He is here!
All of my life, in every season, You are still God.
I have a reason to sing. I have a reason to worship.

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