Thursday, October 27, 2011

An Ordinary Day About-Faced to Extraordinary

The peace and calm of the ordinary life I enjoyed changed on Friday, October 21 at 11:30 PM.

“Who’s knocking on my door?” I spoke out loud, my surprise at the sudden banging on my front door gave way to annoyance. “Probably someone with car trouble. If I ignore the knocking they’ll go away.”

Knock. Knock. Knock.

I pulled back a curtain just an inch or two, hoping not to be noticed as I peeked out. A man I didn’t know stood on my front step.

He saw me.

I closed the curtain and continued to ignore his insistent knocking. I wasn’t going to open my door to a stranger this late at night. If I just ignored him, surely he’d head to a neighbor’s house.

Then I decided to call the police. “Where’s my cell phone?” I felt a twinge of panic because I couldn’t sneak past my front door with its large oval stain glass window to retrieve my phone without being seen.

Feeling trapped, I looked out the window again. Two men stood outside. I spotted a patch on one man’s sleeve. What are the police doing at my house? I haven’t done anything wrong.

I walked down my stairs and opened the door. Two tall men in military uniforms stood on my front steps. Without asking, I knew why they were there.

“Is my son dead?”

“May we come in, ma’am?”

I asked again, dreading their answer. “Is my son dead?”

“May we come in, ma’am?”

They followed me up the stairs and gave me the news: My son died, killed by an IED – an improvised explosive device – in Afghanistan. I asked where, but quickly forgot the name of the district. The chaplain prayed for me and asked, "Do you have someone you can call?"

"No. I'm single. I've been to hell and back. I'll be fine. You can leave."

They refused to leave until I called a friend and asked her to come stay with me.

My worst fear had just come true: My firstborn son … dead. Every deployment, from the first until his thirteenth, heightened my stress level. I only breathed without anxiety when he returned home—safe.

It’s one thing to say, “I trust God.”
It’s another to entrust your child into God’s hands when your government declares wars and repeatedly deploys soldiers to carry out dangerous missions to capture terrorists who annihilate people for whatever reasons motivate their unadulterated mayhem.

As a lioness, I instinctively yearned to protect my cub, even though he’d grown into a full-fledged lion with impressive skills to take care of himself. The hardest thing for me, the mother of a soldier? Releasing my son to God. It was a constant struggle—seesawing between “I hope he doesn’t die” to “God, I entrust him to your care.”

On October 21 at 11:30 PM that struggle ended.

I had relaxed during my son’s fourteenth deployment, for the first time, confident that he would return safely. Instead of going out on dangerous missions, as a commander, he’d stay on the base to oversee the operations. But that fateful night, circumstances changed man’s best laid plans to God’s.

I can’t blame anybody or ask “Why?” because God numbers our days. (Psalm 139:16) This was part of God’s plan. Even so, when I hit the anger stage of grief, I’ll probably engage in some frank, in-your-face conversations with God. I’m not pleased with his timeline.

So how do we relate to the extraordinary we dreaded and never desired? With an over-arching belief in the presence of an unchanging God and the desire to find meaning in the midst of tragedy. When my son was three years old and my hopes and dreams for our nuclear family shattered, I clung to the verse “what man meant for evil, God meant for good.” (Genesis 50:20)

But what is “good”?
Man’s fleeting, self-centered and ultimately unsatisfying definition of “good”—stuff, more stuff, prestige, power, sex, money, winning—means attaining and obtaining earthly idols we crave. Maimonides, a medieval Jewish philosopher, Torah scholar and physician, considered “good” meant “reflecting God's light.”

When the light in this life dims to black, I can’t rely on an anthropomorphized god or theology reducing God to a bigger version of myself or to a magic genie god who gives me idols made of wood, stone, silver, and gold.

I did not want my son, my son’s brother, my precious daughter-in-love’s husband, and my adorable granddaughters’ father to die in a never-ending battle. With anticipation and excitement, I looked forward to enjoying future family times together. I miss him.

I want my son back to hug, to touch, for his wife to embrace, and for his daughters to know. The only way I can survive these demolished dreams is to turn to the Man of Sorrow, to Adonai, my Lord, Master, Owner, and my Strong Tower. (Proverbs 18:10, Psalm 9:10, Psalm 20: 1, 7)

Spoilt dreams either drive us to soak in God’s promises and the truth of who God says he is or to ignore or push God away and brine in a bitter marinade of lies and disillusionment. Intimacy with El Emet, The God of Truth (Psalm 31:3-5) entails abandoning my dreams, surrendering my stubborn grip on what I wish for most or think I deserve, and placing my confidence in Someone I can’t manipulate or manage.

My son’s body lies lifeless in a coffin. There is no more bargaining with El Gadol Gibohr Yare, The Great, Mighty and Awesome God (Deuteronomy 10:17) to protect him and bring him home to family. However, Jehovah-Sabaoth, The Lord of Hosts, The Lord of Armies, the commander with universal sovereignty over every heavenly and earthly army, deployed my son to Heaven and the safety I so desired for him here on earth.

In this dramatic stage in my family’s history, just as I could not ignore the insistent knocks on my door, I cannot ignore what happened. I need El Yeshuw’ah, the God of My Salvation (Isaiah 12:2), who is stronger and wiser than I, who will in time provide His story and meaning to this loss. Pain, loss, grief drives us to what really matters in this life—authentic relationship with a sovereign God and to reflect on and to trust who God says He is.

El Yeshuw’ah, the Light of the World (John 8:12), sacrificed his life to save, deliver and move us to eternal safety. I dread the grief and pain ahead. However, I pray that Jehovah-Shammah, the Lord is Present, plus the memory my son’s courage, character, and sacrifice, and my precious remaining son will spur me on.

I desire to mirror “good” and reflect God’s light. So that one day, when breath leaves my earthly body and my firstborn son embraces me again, I will stand before the Lamb of God to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.” (Matthew 25:21 NKJV)

Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him, Job 13:15

“For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD.” “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” — Jeremiah 29:11-13, Philippians 1:6 (NASB)

I flew to Dover Air Force Base to observe my son’s body being “repatriated” after being killed in Afghanistan. It was surreal watching the refrigerated coffin moved from the plane to the transport vehicle. Longing to touch, to hug my son, I could only watch as the truck drove out of my view to deposit my son in the morgue.

A General from Washington expressed the country’s appreciation for my firstborn’s sacrifice. He flinched when I said, “I’d have preferred you used a drone to drop a bomb to take out the target.” Apparently, those are reserved for “political” targets.

An Army Ranger accompanied my son’s body home and slept on the cold plane’s floor beside his casket. He’d listened on a headset during the mission. He related what happened, easing the torture of wondering, “Did my son suffer?” The explosion from the victim-activated IED was so powerful that my son felt nothing. I praise El Shamayim, The God Of The Heavens, [Psalms 136:26] who whisked my precious son away into his presence, sparing him from experiencing any pain—and his mother obsessing about until the end of her days.

The three Army Rangers, who attended the ceremony shared stories about my son and his character that reinforced my faith in Elohim—the father of the fatherless, the husband, provider and protector of the widows and the orphans.

When propelled into single parenthood, the vile statistics that religious leaders and sociologists spew about children from single-parent homes terrorized my heart. Yet, I clung to Jeremiah 29:11-13 and Philippians 1:6. What do men know? God is far greater than any societal myth, stereotype or statistic.

For twenty-six years, my daily heart cry to God was for my sons’ futures. Listening to my son’s buddies describe him, I realized God answered my prayers regarding his future beyond my wildest expectations.

When breath left my son’s body, God completed the good work in my son’s life that God began years ago. My son has attained his future and hope in eternal life.

Precious single moms and dads, trust God. Call upon Him. Pray to Him. He listens. Seek Him with all your heart you and will find Him and He will find you.

Who Is the God We Can Trust? He is…
Our father and husband: A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows is God in His holy habitation. Psalm 68:5
Our advocate: You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry and my wrath will become hot. Exodus 22:22–24
Our truth-teller: And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins. And He said, "Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on. Luke 21:2-4
Our guardian: For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:17–19
Our defender: Defend the poor and the fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and the needy. Psalm 82:3
Our protector: Learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. Isaiah 1:17
Our righter of injustice: Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow. And all the people shall say, “Amen.” Deuteronomy 27:19