It began as a simple conversation with a vendor at our State Fair last summer. She and I talked over the dozens of hair barrettes at her booth and, eventually, got on the subject of Christian faith, which I discovered we both shared in common. However, at one point, everything turned deep and personal as she began to share her story.
I found out that a tragic loss had happened in her life not long before. She said that her second-born, a son, had died a couple of years prior - just months before she would deliver her third child...not that his death was unexpected, though. He had been born with part of his brain missing, and it was uncertain as to how long he would survive. As I listened to her speak, I was profoundly moved with sympathy but even more touched to hear what came next. She went on to tell me that she and her husband were actually not even there when their little boy died. They were selling their hair products at another fair when they got the call from their nanny who was watching the children at their home, saying that their boy had died peacefully a short time before. She described it to me as "one of the most peaceful feelings" she'd ever had. Because of their faith, she said, she and her husband believed in God's plan for them and knew that they would see their son in Heaven. Even to the day I talked to her, she said their oldest, a daughter, would tell people that she has a brother in Heaven. The lady then added that they are expecting again and that child #4 would be with them when they came up to our fair the next time. She said that her deceased son's life, as well as his death, was such a gift. I noticed that, while she acknowledged the sadness of her boy's passing, she was so filled with gratitude for the time they did have that her grief was over-ridden with Grace. She did say that, without the hope of her faith, she would never have been able to to move forward from such tragedy.
I thanked her for sharing her story with me. As I walked away from her booth, I began to wonder: if pain is an ever-present reality in our world, then our dealing with it is, perhaps, more a matter of choice than response. The longer one lives, the more one is forced to admit that they can never totally avoid pain and tragedy...Murders, car accidents, death, shame, despair, suicides...they're all part of the curse of a fallen world. To expect to pass through it untouched is to expect utopia - unrealistic. And the more we hold on to such an idea, the harder it is for us to accept life as it happens. Instead, we are always wishing for something that will never be.
But, if we acknowledge the existence of such tragedies, we find that we are faced with the question of what to do about them. Can we stop them from happening? Not really, because that would make us God (not that I don't try to be anyway). Can we avoid it? Well, we already addressed that as an impossibility also. So...where does that leave us? At the mercy of a big, bad world with no control? The answer is "yes" for those who fail to open their eyes to Grace, who make the decision to close themselves to the triumph in their tragedy - who say there is no hope of redemption and no purpose to their suffering except God's punishment. These are at the mercy of endless pain and sorrow with no means to explain such adversity. But, for the ones who dare to see the "Who", rather than the "why", for those who believe in the idea that in death there can be resurrection, in being destroyed, there is restoration, in darkness there can be light - these face such trials with a reason for their suffering. These accept both good and, at times, seemingly bad, as Grace, taking them from God's hand as gifts, accepting that which isn't understood. They still believe in the fact that there is redemption to be seen, even in the things which seem unexplainable at the time. It is people like these that truly grow through their pain because they have allowed themselves to be open to healing, to life.
This is what I saw in the lady I talked to that day: a willingness to let go of her son, to be thankful for time had, and to look ahead for eternal hope. And this leads me to the conclusion: Grace can come anywhere and it is in believing this that our healing happens. Life rises from the ashes and, often, our greatest tragedies can, in time, become our greatest triumphs. But the choice is really ours as to which way it will end: in despair or in hope.