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)