One day my college roommates and I were feeling especially victorious after figuring how out to hook-up a portable DVD player to the stone relic that was our VCR/TV combo. In one of the many glittery episodes of Sex and the City that followed, Charlotte consoles her friend Carrie’s annoyance over a disastrous date, perkily declaring not to worry because “everything happens for a reason.”
“That,” I thought, is “so true,” granting Charlotte and her stilettos as much wisdom as the Dalai Lama. It’s a comforting thought, that every stumble is a necessary compass guiding our life’s path. Like most of us, I was well-acquainted with struggle, but most of my tougher life experiences fell under the milder categories of that’s too bad or such a shame but none were truly tragic or traumatic.
I had only known the sting of secondary sorrow but had never actually endured it first-hand.
Justifying such events by some sort of divine or cosmic reasoning seemed simple and wise.
I cringe now at how I tried to console friends who were grieving, thinking it was comforting to dole out the all-too-familiar “everything happens for a reason.” Even when distant, senseless tragedies skated around the outskirts of my life, I clung to the notion that there really is a reason this is happening, we just don’t know it yet. It’s much easier to say this when you’re not directly clutched in the iron fist of crushing grief, wrestling against the hardest question of all: WHY?
Until you are.
This realization was as vivid as the autumn leaves on October 29th, 2018, on what should have been the happy day of glimpsing our third child during the first ultrasound appointment. But when there should have been a galloping heartbeat, the silence instead was deafening; the stillness of the little form dizzying.
In the fog that followed, I tried to illuminate my own visibility of understanding why this happened. Answers are comforting; uncertainty agonizing. If I could figure out the why, I could prevent it from happening again. I could be back in control. But there weren’t any answers from my phenomenal doctors about why this happened, other than the fact that sometimes it just can.
Sometimes cells that we want to thrive don’t, and we hear miscarriage.
Sometimes cells that we don’t want to thrive do, and we hear cancer.
Sometimes the laws of gravity and force that are necessary for our existence have life-shattering consequences.
Sometimes minds blessed with the ability to freely think and love choose to follow a dark path instead, devastatingly intersecting with the innocent ones.
Sometimes, there just isn’t a reason for suffering.
Saying that there is only makes the question of WHY scream louder, echoing constantly off the darkened chambers of a broken heart.
“Am I being punished for something?”
“Why does the loss of my loved one’s precious life need to be the reminder for others to cherish theirs?
“What if I did something differently that day?”
The two syllables and six letters that comprise “what if” perhaps hold more damaging power than any other words.
When we are bombarded by this despair, the wake of destruction left behind can feel too sprawling to ever fully restore. But as the skies clear and the dust settles, a lone structure remains towering over the mountains of rubble, perhaps weathered and smoldering but still standing nonetheless. Something not man-made, but created by God, which can never be demolished despite how many times anguish attacks. A pillar of hope, quietly illuminating the haze.
Hope that God deeply loves and cares, cradling us in the darkness and lighting the path as we stumble out of the tunnel. Hope that His promise of “plans for a hope and a future,” applies to us too and we aren’t forgotten; that His powerful hands are still delicate enough to sculpt beauty from the ashes. Hope that Jesus’s words “I am with you always” means that we are not treading against a tearful current alone; that He is crying with us because He fully knows and understands sorrow and pain. Hope that the Holy Spirit is granting us the strength and grace we need to press on when we don’t feel like we can; to eventually smile and laugh and feel joy again. Hope that angels aren’t just amongst the clouds but are also amongst the broken; extending their loving influence to the gracious people who help us see good prevail after we saw evil rejoice.
Hope that those who mourn are indeed blessed, those who fall are indeed carried, those who are sick are indeed healed, on earth or in Heaven. Hope that we will see our loved ones again in a joyous, eternal reunion.
Hope that while our life’s pages may be dog-eared and tattered, our story only begins on earth and the divine epilogue is better than we could have ever written ourselves.