Earp Takes Aim | Faith, Culture, Life

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There Will Be a Sequel

I am writing these words three days after packing up the house my wife and I had made our home. 

Cindy passed away in early 2010 after a courageous but also very expensive battle against metastatic breast cancer.  Compounding our already difficult economic woes was the fact that the beautiful, master-planned community where we lived had become the vanguard for everything that’s wrong with our economy— and the poster child for the housing debacle.  Mix those realities in with the fact that I no longer benefitted from Cindy’s income and, well, I wasn’t able to keep my home.

The home we had purchased together. 

Our home— that also doubled as an office for our baby church’s first 3.5 years, the church we launched together in 2005, and the place where we found both refuge and mutual comfort during her battle. 

It was also the home where we welcomed our first grandchildren by decorating a playroom/nursery just for them— and the site of countless family “seafood grill nights” and pancake smorgasbords on our patio.  It was where I wrote my best books and where Cindy taught “Elton John wannabes” how to play piano. 

I had no recourse but to pack that home. 

After everything was distributed, I asked everyone to leave so I could say my private good-bye.  As I looked around, I realized that our now empty home had suddenly become just another house.  Suddenly strangled with panic, I wept…but most of all, I felt so very afraid. 

What was I afraid of?  After my extended crying session, I texted my adult children in a frail attempt at explaining myself:

“I’m sitting on the kitchen bar about to leave for the last time.  My heart is flooded by so many wonderful memories as well as devastating battles lost.  I am SO afraid as I sit here all alone.  Afraid that I will forget even one morsel of the joy and love and faith and hope Cindy showered on me.  I have found reasons to live on— and today I must move on— but I leave forever changed by an amazing woman I had the privilege of calling, ‘my bride.’”

I tell you that because I strongly identify a woman whose story I have come to love.  We don’t even know her name, but we do know:  

She was a widow, having lost her beloved mate, too. 

She was experiencing a desperate economic adversity and so desperate that when we first meet her?  She’s gathering sticks to build a fire so she can bake her son’s final meal.  She’s got just enough oil and flour left to bake one last loaf so that “we may eat it— and die.”[1]

Talk about afraid!  She had no money, no food…and now, defeated and disenchanted— she was also flat out of hope! 

So when a stranger shows up and asks her to help him— of course she lashes out!  When you’re hurting like she was hurting, the last thing you need is anybody needing anything from you.  She can’t even cover the needs of her own family so…, “Get your own water, jerk!”  {Yeah, an admittedly loose translation.}

 

DON’T BE AFRAID

Thankfully, this stranger turned out to be a prophet. 

God had sent the prophet to help her— because God knew she was destitute.  He knew she had no resources— no money in the bank, no food in the pantry and no extended family to turn to. 

And when she blurted out her desperate plan for one last meal, Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid.”[2]  And then he said this:    

“Go home and do as you’ve said.  But first, make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to methen make something for you and your son.  For this is what the LORD…says:  ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.”[3]

Ever wonder how Bible characters could so readily obey such bizarre commands? 

I don’t.  ‘Cause I know [the hard way], if you’re desperate enough?  And if your wallet is empty enough?  You’ll listen to just about anybody if it means keeping your family fed! 

And when that VOICE comes from God?  And reverberates with confidence and a tone of convincing authority— you just knowThis Is From God! 

So you do it.  Whatever “it” is— you do it.

That’s why “she went away and did as Elijah told her.”[4] 

Then God made sure the jar of flour never did get used up and the jug of oil never did run dry!  And not just for two days or even two weeks— we’re talking two years!

 

GIVE ME YOUR SON 

But then, her son got sick.  And like Cindy, he never got better.  Instead, “he grew worse…till finally…[he] stopped breathing.” 

And that’s when mom lost it!  She scooped her son’s dead body into her arms and then asked a question everyone asks in the face of unspeakable loss.  She asked Elijah, “What do you have against me?”[5]

She addresses this question to Elijah, but she’s really asking it of Elijah’s God.  ‘Cause that’s what you do when your heart is broken.  You can’t imagine any rhyme or reason to such devastating loss.  You’re angry…and feel disillusioned.  So you say things that later you can’t believe you said.  You question God’s wisdom, you doubt His love and you even deny His goodness.

But it’s more than anger.  She wonders, “What do you have against me, man of God?  Did you come to remind me of my sin?”[6] 

Is that why this happened?  Is This Some Kinda Judgment From God?

Not long after Cindy’s brain seizure, she walked into the study I kept in our home and asked that same question of me. 

“Honey, is God punishing me by giving me cancer?”

Your mind goes such places when the rest of your life is unraveling.  You wonder if this “thing” is some divine edict declaring you as a reprobate and unworthy of a life free from chaos.

That’s exactly what was tracking through this woman’s mind.  Faithfully nursing him at his bedside and consoling him— even as she tried to find some explanation for their misfortune. 

Then it clicked!  “God IS judging me!  He’s taking my son because of my sin.”

I’m so impressed with Elijah’s response.  He doesn’t rebuke her or correct her.  He doesn’t quote 47 Bible verses to her.  He just says, “Give me your son.”[7] 

“‘Woman, this thing is bigger than you!  And your need is far greater than you could ever hope to fill.  So…just hand him over, okay?  Release him to me.  The Lord and I will take it from here.”

 

Stop Focusing on What You Don’t Have:  ACCEPTANCE

Those two phrases Elijah are the same words you may need to hear— even as I needed to hear them in the backwash of my heartache.

First, “Don’t be afraid.”

I’m sure he said it tenderly— without even a hint of condemnation.  

“I know you’re overwhelmed— and all you can do is bake bread, then curl up and die.  But here’s what I want you to do instead:  Stop focusing on what you DON’T have— and focus on the bit of oil and flour you DO have!”

I’ve learned that THE key to surviving suffering— is ACCEPTANCE.  Not somber resignation.  Not whine-filled and endless rehearsals about all the garbage you’ve been forced [by God] to sift through.  No!

Acceptance is the only attitude that can sustain you through great loss. 

Not bitterness.

Not self-pity. 

Certainly not FEAR. 

But a courageous, God-focused acceptance! 

“Lord, if this is the song You’ve written for me?  I will sing it— not matter how devastated I may feel in my loss.”

That’s what I did— once again— as I drove away from what was once our home.  I decided that I am not going to be a vict-im, I want to be a vict-or!  I want to be an overcomer.  I want to be that faithful man who decided to rise above and that the only way I was going to get to “above” was if I humbly ACCEPTED the sad circumstances of what is now my story. 

I had to choose to refuse to not stay stuck in the muck of my terrified and broken heart.  I had to decide to not “be afraid.” 

Start Handing Over What You Do Have:  RELINQUISHMENT

Elijah’s second word is equally powerful.  “Give me your son.”[8] 

“Just hand him over.  I can help you…but only if you let me.”  Trouble is, she couldn’t go there, so Elijah “took him from her.”[9]  He gently gathered the boy into his arms, and prayed.  And then— he prayed again.  And again. 

And lo and behold, that kid started BREATHING again!  Can you imagine that moment?  When Elijah said to her, “Look, your son is alive!”[10] 

 

I wish every story ended that way. 

But they don’t. 

Mine certainly didn’t.

Sure, I’ve had my moments.  Tiny cracks in an otherwise impenetrable wall of grief.  Hairline fractures that let in just enough light so I can see my way through another mortgage payment or that huge stack of medical bills. 

Such moments didn’t happen daily, but they did happen.  And sometimes, it felt like God was waiting till the last possible moment before He’d come through.  But…He Always HAS Come Through!

That’s why relinquishment is also essential during your suffering season.  Because, like it or not, God will accomplish His purposes.  And in those moments when He seems most absent, that’s when He is most present— right there with you in the middle of your circumstances— even though you may not yet have recognized Him. 

 

There Will Be A Sequel

I really do wish I had a neat ending to my story like the widow of Zarephath had in hers.  But here’s what I can tell you:

God is writing a sequel.  I can’t yet discern how the end of my story will read, but here’s the way my current chapter reads:

God has compassionately sent me another amazing woman. 

And perhaps, in some future chapter, He will also provide me with another house that she and I will eagerly transform into “our home.”



[1] I Kings 17:12b

[2] I Kings 17:13a

[3] I Kings 17:13b

[4] I Kings 17:15a

[5] I kings 17:18a

[6] I Kings 17:18b

[7] See I Kings 17:19

[8] I Kings 17:19a

[9] See I Kings 17:19b

[10] I Kings 17:23

 

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