I had been on an organizing kick, per my usual stress response. Avery was at the hospital recovering from her tracheostomy and I had driven home for the afternoon to see my family and catch up on some work before I headed back to the hospital that night. The object of my attention was the table that sat next to my bed, stuffed with newborn diapers, burp clothes and those tiny, white, cotton onesies that ultimately die horrible, smelly deaths, stained by midnight, diaper blow-outs and reeking of breastmilk or formula.
I began tearing each item out of those drawers and packing them in giveaway bags. By that time, Avery had outgrown all of those diapers and onesies and I had rarely slept in that bed since she had been born eight weeks earlier - rendering all the contents and all of the preparation I had done before I knew who had grown in my belly - useless.
I felt that Avery was my last baby, so I had planned to really enjoy those newborn days. I had vowed not to put any pressure on myself to get back in shape or keep up with the laundry. I was going to take my time with this baby and nurse her till she was seven. Okay, not seven, but AT LEAST two!
And yet, there I sat, still very fluffy and postpartum. I smelled like the milk I had vowed to feed her, but only thanks to the hopsital's breast pump that I lugged around with me everywhere I went. My baby was not nursing. My milk was being forced into her belly through her feeding tube.
Useless. All my plans, all my preparations, all my best intentions. Like the white onesies that I clutched in my hand. Useless. Like the beautiful, newborn clothes that she would never wear because she lived in a NICU pod far from the wardrobe that I had purchased for her. Useless.
I crumbled to the floor and sobbed, accusing God in my heart and literally with my mouth as everything I felt I had lost with Avery came crashing down on me.
"You've robbed me. You've robbed me," I cried over and over, simmering in the lie that I believed - the lie that Avery was my possession and that the future and the face I had envisioned for her was my right.
I had no idea what He was up to. I only knew that my circumstances were not an accident, which made me both hopeful and angry. Hopeful, because I knew Avery was meant for something, but angry that God had chosen MY baby, MY family for this task, on purpose. I had been so happy, so comfortable. How could He choose MY tiny, innocent daughter for this life of agony (truly, up until this point, Avery had lived in agony for every second of her life outside my womb).
The truth is, God doesn't cause pain. He can't.
In the moment that blood gushed from your body, signaling that your newest little one had expired before he or she had even taken a breath, it's easy to believe that God had stolen your baby, but He can't. It's not in His nature. He doesn't kill babies. He doesn't kill anyone.
He didn't send those cancer cells to the pons nestled inside your child's brain. It breaks His heart that children die unthinkable deaths, ravaged by masses that grow behind their eyes, around their brainstems or in their bones.
God doesn't deal in pain in loss, but He does redeem it and He does have a purpose for the agony that loss leaves in its wake.
This is not the same as that unfathomable quip that well-meaning family and friends say when your guts have been ripped out and they simply don't know how to help. "Everything happens for a reason," they say, unknowingly driving the knife in your heart deeper and deeper.
No, everything does not happen for a reason. Some things are senseless and horrible, the kind of evil of which God is NOT the author. However, He is the Author of tremendous good that He orchestates, weaving purpose and redemption throughout our pain.
Like the children of Israel, after He had brought His people out of slavery in Egypt, God does some of His most intricate work in the wilderness.
"But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Dead Sea." Exodus 13:18
You see, God does not dole out the hurt that breaks our hearts, but He holds our hands in the wilderness that follows. Often, He leads us there.
The years since Avery's birth have largely felt like wilderness to me. I have been crushed, felt despair, felt loss like death, even committed her into His hands as she came horrifyingly close to breathing her last, but I have held onto the promise that there is nowhere I can go, that Jesus has not gone before. There is nowhere I can go where Jesus will not be waiting.
Sometimes, I could not see Him or feel Him and I had to believe in this promise, even when my heart told me that He had abandoned me, even when I believed He had gone quiet.
Looking back, I can say with all confidence that He led me into the valley of the shadow of death and walked me to the other side. I can see how the wilderness burned away the chaff of my soul, whittling out my character that was so lacking (and still is in so many areas! I will always be a work in progress).
God leads us into the wilderness to refine us. He takes the tragedy (or merely the stress of life) that drives us there and leads us into the desert that awaits.
There was a shorter journey to the Promise Land, but God chose the way of the wilderness for His children (Exodus 13), because He will always be more concerned with His childrens' character than our comfort, our calling, more than our current destination.
If you're reading this post, then you obviously woke up this morning, which means you're alive. You're still breathing. And if you're still breathing, you still have mountain tops to enjoy and wildernesses to walk, run, or even crawl through. You still have a purpose for your life. You can still have hope.
God didn't cause your pain, but He has a plan for it if you will lay down your weapons and accept the truth of His role in your life.
I know there are many seasons of wilderness left in my life, but the last (almost 😱) THREE years have shown me that there is no wilderness that I will be made to endure without Him, which means I can always endure, not in my own strength, but in the strength of the One Who reigns above all.