Her face was pretty, and so young that I wondered at the age of the man beside her. A couple, new to the area, attending our church for the first time. When I introduced myself after the service, I saw that her face and her eyes did not match. Expressionless eyes, numb, windows to a soul that was absolutely shattered. She fumbled for a silver key chain frame that was attached to her purse. “This is my baby boy. He is gone.” The “older” man was her husband, his visage and bearing bore the ravages of the loss of his son and the burden of worrying for his wife.
As time went by I learned the story, and realized that both of them were still in their 20's. That she, a happy and hopeful girl, had been changed into a broken woman. A year and a half of uncertainty, a year and a half of mother-love and determination to sustain her medically fragile child, ended in crushing grief. That his demeanor was from the shell-shock he was trying to function through.
Grief, anxiety, depression, these loads rode heavy on this couple. Still reeling from their grief, came the pain of secondary infertility. Then pregnancy loss. Outwardly I hugged and comforted them; inside I screamed, “Lord, how much can someone bear? "
Fast forward and there are two other beautiful children now. He grows younger as the years go by, humor and wit in his eyes, a grin on his face, a spring in his step that befits a young man. And yet, a depth, a wisdom that comes only from having spent so very long in such a very dark place. She can laugh again; there is life again in her, adoration in her eyes as she holds her treasures close.
Still, there are days when the waves of anxiety come. I may get a text or a call. I tell her I love her and to hold her breath, to come up for air on the other side, this wave will pass.
There is no “fix” for this. No miracle that will turn her back to that young woman who assumed that life and family was neatly laid out, full of dreams, confident in the future. That girl died when her child did.
But I have been privileged to see over the past 7 years this broken woman turn into something else, something deeper, richer. A woman who can see pain, whose heart can break with others. I have seen her grief go full circle, and where I have held her in her brokenness, she has, in turn, held me in mine. She has a capacity for compassion that can only be born of being crushed.
She has not been “delivered” from the grief, from the emotional trauma; but has allowed (and is still learning to allow) that trauma to be the very place from which her redemption comes.
“God, I've given you this over and over.”
“God, why haven't you delivered me yet?”
“God what am I missing? Am I supposed to be learning something?”
“God, did I do something wrong? This still isn't fixed.”
What if the answer isn't ever going to be what we want or wish for, or even what we have been taught to expect?
What if the miracle is not rescue, but it is redemption?
We so enjoy a good rescue story. We thrill to a testimony where God changed a person and then returned all that was lost. We term that situation, “success.” We seek that, strive for it, and when it doesn't happen, wonder why God did not move. But striving for this version of healing tends to make us focus backwards, trying to get back to where we were, who we were, instead of forward to where we are going.
My friend lives with anxiety and depression. She suffered a significant loss that changed her.
A false understanding of redemption could lead us to believe that without a “full” reversal - no more anxiety or depression- that this woman is not a success story, that she has not been restored.
We are shaped, sometimes irreversibly , by what happens to us, but that does not make us unusable. Redemption is not reversal, but it is restoration.
You might say, “but my pain was self-inflicted, my damage is from sin, from bad choices.” To that I say that the redemption is there for you too. Scarred, misshapen, it does not matter. Forgiveness and restoration does not always reverse consequences or negate the law of reaping what is sown. Reaping and sowing is a universal principle, both natural and spiritual, but redemption is far more powerful. Redemption is the idea that all of this can be used for good.
There are amazing stories and testimonies that can happen, and sometimes do. They should be honored, but they should not be elevated as the expectation. Because not every baby is healed, not every straying spouse comes home, not every bankrupt family finds a check in the mailbox, not every addict is instantly delivered. We rejoice in those stories, absolutely. But I suggest that the healing of a shattered mother is also a miracle; that the divorcee who remains faithful to God though their world has been rocked is also cause for praising the Lord; that the family who continues on, day after day, in the midst of financial crisis is also worthy of noting; that the addict who gets up, and gets up, and gets up, is reason for celebration.
God may, sometimes, write our story as a reversal, but he always, always writes it as restoration and redemption. Let us live and prosper where we are, instead of feeling like we have not yet arrived. Embrace the redemption that God has for you, focus not on the scars that remain, but the healing that they represent.