A job promotion.
A beloved friend, stopping by for a visit.
A college degree.
Aggie football games (sorry Longhorns).
Date nights with your spouse.
These are the things for which many of us find joy. It’s so easy to see God in them, isn’t it? When you’re happy the whole world dances along.
Except, to quote Dr. Seuss, “When it doesn’t.”
Last week, during our priest’s homily, he reflected on the parable of the Prodigal Son. It’s a famous one, and a poignant one, at that. “Slaughter the fattened calf,” the father announced. There was a celebration to be had. For always and forever, upon hearing that parable, I’ve thought of the times God welcomed me back after a period of discontent. I was reminded of friends who forgave me when I could not forgive myself.
But last Sunday was different. As I heard those words, my mind wandered to the heartache of last fall and even beyond, to my time in the neonatal intensive care unit. And I was, daresay, grateful. Of course the gratitude didn’t come because of the heartache and suffering. None of us wish for grief and pain to be poured out like that on anyone.
After all these years, though, I finally understood the joy of the prodigal son’s father. If life had worked out the way he planned, both boys would’ve stayed, honored the family name and loved God completely and unequivocally.
But they didn’t.
Luke’s birth didn’t go the way I wanted. His life hasn’t been easy and carefree like I prayed it would be. The strain on our family – financially, emotionally and physically – has been greater than I ever dreamed.
Yet, I look at all the things, good and true, that have transpired since Luke made his entrance. I see the amazing moms I’ve drawn strength from, moms I would’ve never met otherwise. I see my altered life perspective, one that only comes through suffering. I see all the good that surrounded us during the depths of hell.
And I was grateful for the person I’ve become because of it all.
It’s more than the “God has a plan” BS everyone talks about (please never say that to anyone). This is real. What our family went through and how we came out on the other side is nothing less than God’s grace. He never planned for Luke to have the roughest of starts. He threw us life preservers along the way and often, we looked up just long enough to grab one.
People often ask me if I could go back and change the course of events, would I? Would I take away Luke’s suffering and the hell he endured? In a heartbeat. But would I take away the family we’ve become as a result? Not likely. It’s utterly impossible to separate the two. For one doesn’t come without the other.
To all of you in a deep valley – a job loss, a child’s death, a devastating health condition, dire financial circumstances – I’ve been there. I know that pain. The kind that brings you to your knees because you do not have the strength to stand, the tears that won’t depart and the suffocating feeling of despair. Know this. Your soul is being purified through the fire.
Don’t fear it. It will come for all of us. Go against your instincts and lean into it. For it was at my lowest where I found a true, abiding and authentic relationship with God. It doesn’t mean you’ll get your earthly miracle, but that’s not what we’re here for, is it?