That was the verse of the day on my father-in-law’s calendar for February 1, 1995, my oldest son’s 7th birthday. Although I had read that verse before, it never stood out to me like it did that day. It echoed what my wise friend Maura told me often: God has a plan, and it’s a good one. Although I had put my faith in Christ several years before- during the summer between high school and college, after reading John Stott’s book Basic Christianity– the idea of God’s plan and our part in it was really just taking shape for me then. That verse, along with Romans 8:28 which says “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” has provided the comfort and strength I’ve needed so many times.
Back in the earlier days of my walk with the Lord, those verses fit in nicely with my “made for TV movie” kind of faith. What I mean is that problems in life seemed to follow the formula of movie plot. Some trouble would come up, everyone would gather together to pray, and just when it all looked hopeless, God would jump in, take care of business, and life went back to normal. Roll credits.
When life goes like that for you, it’s pretty easy to believe in God’s plan and that He knows best, trusting that happier days are just around the corner. It’s a different story when things don’t resolve in the time span of a movie. Or even a bunch of Harry Potter length movies.
My brother went off to Iraq in January 2003 as a reporter for the Virginian Pilot embedded with a Marine unit. It was his dream assignment; he served in Operation Desert storm in 1990-1991 as a Marine, and became a journalist to right the wrongs in reporting that he observed while he was there (you can read his capstone story here: A Reporter’s Journey to Iraq and Back). He fought the darkness of depression for years before he went to Iraq, but when he came back in June of that year, he was much worse and clearly in trouble. We reasoned with him, we encouraged him, we begged him, we got everyone we knew to pray for him, we did everything we possibly could to keep him alive.
By January 2004, we were at the part of the story where God swoops in and fixes it all and we wait for the happy ending. Only the happy ending didn’t come. He took his life on January 31, 2004, leaving behind his wife and a beautiful two year old daughter whom he loved very much. This ending, it didn’t make any sense. It wasn’t right.
Before I even had the presence of mind to question God’s plan, the words of Romans 8:28 filled my mind and opened my eyes to see so much evidence that God was in the midst of this, carrying us, comforting us, and somehow bringing about good from this tragedy. Not that God wanted Dennis to die, but sometimes in this world we live in people get sick and die and very bad things happen, but yet He can redeem those circumstances and bring about good for His purposes. I clung to Romans 8:28 like my life depended on it- I’m quite sure my emotional life did.
A few years later, my then 16 year old daughter got a migraine that didn’t go away. I fell back into my TV movie faith mode, rallied the troops to pray and took her to every doctor I could think of to get her well. But still, she suffered greatly for not days, not months, but years. My faith in God’s sovereign plan did not waver, but she and I both lost hope that things would get better. I knew there was a purpose, I knew there was a plan, but I refused to let myself get my hopes up that it would get better in the earthly sense. This was my crisis of hope.
In the spring of 2012, God began to tug at my heart, nudging me that if my daughter couldn’t have hope, I needed to have hope for both of us. He spoke to my heart through teachings in our church, through things I read in the Bible, and through His still, small voice. It wasn’t long after that that her doctors suggested trying a different treatment, Botox injections, and I had the courage to hope that this might actually work. And lo and behold, it did. It was nothing short of miraculous that the injections raised her up from a bedridden state and gave my daughter her life back.
I realized through that experience that my faith, while strong, had been too full of “realism.” I went from expecting everything to be resolved in a timely fashion to the opposite extreme, a resignation that life will always be difficult. But the truth is, while many times things don’t work out here on earth, many times they DO, and, it’s okay, even good, to ask God to work out a happy ending and to hope for that, as long as we still seek His good and perfect will above our own, even if that means it’s not the same happy ending we were looking for. Because His endings are ultimately far better than any ending we could dream up on our own.