At Parish Pres right now we are studying the book of James. We are now two weeks into it and only 4 verses deep.
This past Sunday Dr. Grant preached from James 1:2-4:
"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."
Now, this is a right Christian worldview.
At the end of the service one of the Deacons gave a benediction from
II Corinthians 12:9,10:
"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong"
Oh, my. Am I boasting in my weakness? Content in my hardships? Am I counting it all joy when I face trials? What about when Oliver is exhausting me, or the bills aren't being paid? What about when my baby girl is deep in the earth instead of my arms?
I have been putting off visiting Evie's gravesite since we buried her 3 months ago. I've been afraid and sad and unsure of what it might feel like to stand over the grave of my daughter.
Last Wednesday I grabbed my Bible, my tennis shoes and my courage and made the trip.
Some sweet friends of ours at church lovingly offered a place on their land for Evie to be buried. We didn't want to put her in a big cemetery, it just didn't feel right. She is buried high on a hill in a small, old, family cemetery in the most beautiful part of Franklin. Wednesday afternoon I sat with my girlfriend on her porch and we talked about Evie and lots of other things. I shared with her a short video of photos from her birth and our time with her and we cried and laughed together while it rained.
Then, it was time to face my fear. She set me up in their Ranger (?), complete with roll bars and a very tight seatbelt. (I figured it would be responsible to buckle in... so glad I did!) Did I mention that she was high on a hill? I wasn't kidding - it was an ADVENTURE to get up there by myself. Once I left the gravel road behind, I charged uphill through weeds and grass taller than the vehicle, all the while being pelted rain, branches and bugs that I tried not to think about. I got lost twice (there was no path to go by) and turned around the huge machine in the huge weeds and got pelted with more rainwater, mud and bugs.
Finally, I made it to the entrance of the woods. I turned on the emergency brake, grabbed (and wiped the mud off) my Bible and started on foot. I wandered around the woods for probably 10-15 minutes without finding her. I was trying to remember what things looked like on the day we buried Evie, but I just couldn't remember much about the scenery from that day.
I remember feeling a twinge of guilt that I couldn't find my own daughter. Why couldn't I remember where she was? I'm her Mother, I couldn't possibly have lost my baby! Fortunately, I remembered something Ryan had pointed out to me that day in April and looked for that. It worked! Before I knew it I just came upon the three trees and the other headstones and the lovely pink fabric hanging from the tree they'd hung for her burial. I liked that it was still there. And, the little white cross was there that her Daddy had laid on top of her before we left that day.
It was a lovely place. I had a hard time seeing it through my tears for awhile, but it really was a sweet little place.
I took a while to walk around and read the other headstones. It was important to me to know who was with Evie. Like I said, it's an old family cemetery. The Peach family (of downtown Franklin's former "Pigg & Peach" menswear store) is buried there. Most of them were born or died more than 200 years ago. There is an eight-month-old baby girl there with her Mommy. I somehow liked that. (The photo is of her headstone)
I know it seems like I have completely lost track of my first thoughts in this post, but stick with me, there is a point.
As I sat in the dirt under the tree next to Evie's grave, I talked to her and sang to her. I don't have any idea what people do at grave sites, but it felt nice to greet her and to let her know that we are doing alright. I still had my Bible tucked under my arm. I didn't have a plan, but I brought it because I knew that once I was up there I was definitely going to want it.
I thought it would be appropriate to read a Psalm. I opened my Bible to Psalms and a bookmark brought me naturally to Psalm 139 ("I am fearfully and wonderfully made..."). I love that chapter and it has brought me much comfort and truth in the past six months. But, I wanted God to show me something new. Psalm 138 was on that same page, so I began reading it aloud,
"I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart;"
I do give you thanks, Lord, but this is not exactly what I had in mind, (maybe something more sorrowful?) I'll keep reading...
"...On the day I called, you answered me;
my strength of soul you increased."
Oh, Lord, it's true. You have always been right here; answering me when I call. You have strengthened my soul.
"...Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life;
you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies,
and your right hand delivers me."
You have protected me Lord; you've preserved my life.
"The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of your hands."
I realized as I read that last portion of Psalm 138 that the Lord was doing a greater work in me. As I read at my daughter's graveside I was reminded that he will fulfill his purpose for me, not that he has.
This season of my life will forever shape me, but it will not define me.
It is not God's one and only effort to call me to himself and to mold me.
As Dr. Grant talked to us on Sunday about our "trials of various kinds" I immediately thought of Evie. But this is not the only thing that God is using or will use to mold me. James tells us to "let [our] steadfastness have its full effect that [we] may be perfect and compete, lacking in nothing". This is a part of my story. It is a sad, terribly sad, part of my story, but I can count it as joy because it is a part of God's greater work in me.
Dr. Grant said on Sunday, "It is not God's job to make us happy. It's his job to make us holy".
And, still, there is a great, unspeakable joy in trusting in Him.