I just spent five days at a women's retreat in Kenya, held annually for East African missionaries. Before we left for the retreat, Mona Lee, the woman who would lead the teaching/discussion time, asked me to be part of a discussion she would facilitate on the topic of suffering. No problem, I replied. Except...there was a problem. As I counted down each day of the retreat, I realized that the discussion was going to take place on March 24th. Oh.
[For those of you who don't know me, the "suffering" I would be talking about was the loss of my son, Tai, fourteen years before, and some pretty difficult associated fallout, involving my grieving husband turning to cocaine, and my daughter and I eventually having to literally sneak out the back door one day to get away while he was sleeping.]
March 24th happens to be Tai's birthday. It's one of two days of the year during which I consciously avoid any stressor that might make me dwell on that time in my life. (The other being March 7th, the day he died.) And when I say "avoid any stressor," I mean it. Just visualize me like a little kid, closing my eyes and putting my hands over my ears, saying "lalalalalalala" nonstop for, oh, say, about twenty-four hours. Or maybe an ostrich, sticking my head in imaginary sand for a day. I used to take those days off work and spend the day in a hidden location. Well, perhaps not so much hidden as unfindable. It usually involved, if possible, my daughter and shopping and chocolate and the avoidance of looking at anything with the date on it.
Take my word for it, it's a wise decision on my part. For instance, at the women's retreat last year, I was blindsided by not one but TWO rather sad songs sung during the worship time, and I broke down so completely I had to leave the chapel. What day was it? March 24, of course. Talk about embarrassing. By the way, I neatly took care of that situation this year by asking the worship organizers to avoid singing those two songs. Of course, then I spent the whole worship session worrying if there was another song that might set me off. Oh, well. I was so busy brooding over that, at least I didn't cry. Whatever works, right?
Obviously, the thing to do here was swallow my pride, go to Mona Lee, and explain that not only would I not participate in the discussion, but I would not even be with the group during that session, and would instead be hiding out in my room listening to music with headphones so as to make sure NOTHING of that particular powwow wafted its way to my ears. (This, even though the dialogue would be held in a separate building a hundred meters away from my bedroom.) After all, what good would I be during a discussion on suffering if all I did was sob uncontrollably? Which would no doubt make all the other poor women suffer, but I don't think that's what Mona Lee had in mind.
Good, sensible decision. Whew. Glad that's settled. No problem. Except...there was a problem. It was the wrong decision.
Why? Because the one thing I have learned is that sometimes God has a reason for me to share a little about the plain old awfulness of that period. God is amazing and awesome, and he worked for his glory during the most heartbreaking, sad, even scary time of my life. And he worked for victory. Not all victories involve jaw-dropping healings or visions or amazing stories of wicked people becoming incredible Christians. Some victories involve just getting up every day and continuing to breathe in and out when you really don't want to even wake up. Some victories involve thinking you've lost almost everything and thinking that your ten years of prayer and fasting for your family have come to nothing, but deciding still to trust God. Some victories involve the quiet realization many years later that God answered your heartfelt prayers, and that someday your family will be completely reunited in heaven. And some victories involve being willing fourteen years later to sit in a room with thirty women on March 24 and risk making a fool of yourself so that you can tell them this.
To talk or not to talk. Guess which I did.
[But don't you all dare give me any special credit. Nope. Linda Tyler and Carol Maples, you were incredible in your openness and willingness to also talk about what had happened in your life and in your giving all glory to God. You are amazing women, and I was so blessed to hear you.]