I tossed and turned last night with fitful sleep. Nightmares made me squirm and nearly cry out for the first half of the night. Nightmare, actually. One dream that dragged on and on and seemed never to tire of itself.
I was in a hospital waiting for surgery for my son, Jack. He hasn’t had an open heart surgery in years now, but somehow I was back in that place again. In my dream, I walked the past the long row of infant beds, cradling flushed heart babies whose chests rise and fall so quickly it steals your own breath away. Beneath each bed were tentacled beasts. Creatures all a part of one collective beast. Beasts which delighted in the agony of the innocent.
Here it is morning. The sun is just rising over the rooftops of my New England neighborhood. My heart is aching with the remembrance of the little babies and particularly my little baby who could do nothing but lay and pant for air. My heart is aching for the parents who stand by each tiny child and can do nothing but think fierce and desperate prayers for the deliverance of their innocents. They watch their precious ones sink, they see their hearts hammering like a small rabbit wrapped in blankets and wires. My heart this morning is something else, as well. My heart is on fire with rage against the beast who delights in this painful torture. He is real. And he adores our suffering. Hot tears are rolling down my face even as I write this.
I am thinking of a family who just left Boston Children’s Hospital empty handed. After fighting and fighting, their little girl is now in heaven with Jesus. Sweet Jesus who adores her more than any of us ever could. I am glad for her safety, for her peace. But I am shaking with anger for the brokenness of creation. The malformation of a pivotal organ in this tiny child’s body has caused untold pain to those who love her the most. This morning they are back home and the faces of their girl’s stuffed animals makes them physically ill. Her things are at home but she is in the arms of our Good Father.
What I did not see in my dream, but which I know to be true, is that posted by the side of every one of those breathless children is an angel.
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”
The curse of this world produces broken children. It wasn’t God’s plan. But he knows what to do with it. He knows how to take the most gutting tragedy and make something so stunningly beautiful come of it. When I was a science camp instructor, I would take my classes out on trails and point out a particular tree to them. “See that tree, guys? That tree can only grow after a fire. Only once the waxy coating on the seeds have been melted by the flames can this plant grow.” That is how God takes devastating damage, like a forest fire, and makes something surprising and special come of it. The pain is still there. The earth will wear its blackened char marks and the tall, sad trees will stand scorched like naked sentinels pointing to heaven, but at the foot of them something is growing that otherwise would have remained dormant.
Each time I have been in the hospital with Jack, God has awakened in me growth that would have remained dormant. I dreamed dreams, I had visions, I prophesied. I understood things in the Bible that were contrary to me before. Things like Abraham offering his only son to God. The physical and emotional pain was my forest fire and it was destroying me. But God took the pain I was feeling and accepted my yearning for his comfort as a pleasing offering. In turn, he became my near friend and constant companion.
To all of you who are sitting in the ashes right now, know this:
God is there, he is covering his head in ashes right with you.
In his good time he will take those ashes, stir them into the air with his breath of life, and make something beautiful; something you have never seen before. Know this in your mind, because I know that you cannot know it in your heart right now.
“Behold, I am doing a new thing: now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
Your wilderness is so very wild, but it is not without a hope. You can’t imagine what is coming. New things. Alive things.
Dear reader, bless you in the middle of your wilderness.
Do hard things.