I assume most people, or at least any who listen to Christian radio, have heard the song Thy Will from Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott. It’s beautiful and it’s haunting and it’s written from her soul and her struggles in the wake of a miscarriage. To me, I hear echoes of other great songs. It is Well (with my soul), comes first to mind, written by a man after he lost everything—his business, then his son, then his daughters. Also Psalm 22 where the psalmist wrestles back and forth with his feelings and his circumstances, but also with the character and nature of God. (For more on this, see Quick Thoughts on a “Bi-Polar Psalm”.) And of course there are others, but Thy Will is fresh for today.
I remember reading Hudson Taylor’s biography when I was young. After suffering some terrible tragedy, he wrote this quote, which I think I still remember verbatim, but forgive me if time has altered it some. “I have come to consider God as the Great Eternal Circumstance, and of all lesser, external circumstances as necessarily the kindest, wisest and best because either ordered or permitted by God Himself.” (Strange perhaps that this quote would have stuck so clearly in my mind while the story behind it was forgotten, but such is the power of hope and truth.) Oh to get to the point where we can truly trust that ALL of life’s circumstances aren’t just good for us, like bad testing medicine may be good for us, but are also a result of God’s kindness. It’s not just His wisdom but also His tenderness and kindness through which all things come into our lives.
There is a chorus we sing in church, “You are good. You are good. You are so good.” Sometimes when we say that it’s like we’re hugging a teddy bear and eating cotton candy and we are rejoicing in the goodness of God. But then there are the other times, the times where we say it through tears and gritted teeth. Those times it’s more of a battle cry as we fight against circumstances and the enemy and our own feelings that would tell us otherwise. It’s an argument where we dig our heels in and refuse to be moved. We say it not with joy, but with deep and painful conviction. “You ARE good. You ARE.”
I’ve found myself singing that chorus a lot lately, actually, unbidden even… It just is there, through those gritted teeth and tears as I’ve been facing a few struggles which seemed so big in the moment. Then I heard the news that a dear friend of our family, Janice Huffman, was suddenly killed. It put my struggles in perspective. I only have this little challenge to face. I am not burying my mother today. So I was tempted to say that God was good because I had it easy. But NO, in either and in both cases, God IS good. He is no less good to my friends who have lost their mother, grandmother, wife…than He is to me. He IS good. ALL the time. To ALL of us. They know it, too. You can hear the same tears and gritted teeth declaring His goodness in what her tender, beloved husband writes in the obituary.
My heart is broken, but my faith is strong. I know she entered heaven with a deafening victory celebration. I’m sure she’s saddened by the grief of her family, but wanting to tell us how wonderful it is there and what we have to look forward to. We KNOW our God loves us with an everlasting love. We are CONFIDENT that His plans are for our welfare, and not for evil, to give us a future and a hope. And we KNOW that ALL things work together for good to those who love the Lord, and are called according to His purpose. MY Baby loved the Lord with all her heart, and therefore, we know she has been called. In the darkest times, His love shines brightest. Our family is praying with anticipation and thanksgiving for the lives that will be changed as a result of her untimely death…. Only the grace of God and loving, caring friends will get us through this. I feel like I’m going to die of a broken heart. I wish I was with my Baby right now. I can’t bear to think of facing the rest of my life without her. We were supposed to grow old together.
I love his honesty but I also love his hope. Really, what is hope if it’s not in the face of something? He has hope in and despite his pain and suffering. It’s what is so touching in the Hillary Scott song I first mentioned. (I’m getting to it, I promise.) Today I went into the jail to teach Bible study and again, they asked me to put everything on hold to play “the video” (Thy Will) again. “It helps us, Miss. It really does.”
How I love those women. I had been wanting to play that song for them for ages, but I didn’t have it downloaded. The last few weeks, however, we have been in a different room for programs, a room with internet capabilities and I was able to play it for them, finally. They loved it.
The next week we had a new girl in the room, Samantha (not her real name), who the chaplain had said he particularly wanted me to notice – she’s in a hard place. She lost a child a few years ago and now is facing losing custody of her other. She’s absolutely broken and so hungry for Jesus. We had a full agenda for the day and a video that would take the whole time, and then some. (Dr. Caroline Leaf – a neuroscientist / Christian who has some fascinating teachings on how science is proving the Bible about how our thoughts affect our brains… Google her. It’s fascinating stuff, and it’s actually exactly what the song is about…taking thoughts captive and choosing, wrestling even, to believe God’s Word for your life.)
Anyway, the girls don’t often interrupt my plans with their own requests, so when they do, I listen. And I get it; sometimes what you need is something that touches your heart. Sometimes what you need is worship in the form of music, and in the jail, they don’t get much of that. So I briefly explained the song’s background again (she wrote it after losing a child) because we had so many new girls in the group. And as I did so, having completely forgotten what I’d heard about Samantha, Samantha (who I’d never seen before) silently pointed to herself, a painful, vulnerable, teary confession, letting me know that she, too, had lost a child.
Sometimes I’m just amazed at how God moves in there and gives the girls what they need, despite my cluelessness. I had this whole plan for the day, but probably what they needed most was that song.
I’m so confused
I know I heard you loud and clear
So, I followed through
Somehow I ended up here
I don’t wanna think
I may never understand
That my broken heart is a part of your plan
When I try to pray
All I’ve got is hurt and these four words… Thy will be done
I joke that I feel successful at the jail when everyone’s crying. This was one of those days, but it wasn’t me teaching. I was there with them, tears in my eyes, just listening and letting the truth sink in. This week it happened again. They don’t want to start the “lesson” for the day until they’ve heard that song. Because it helps them. It helps them because the raw vulnerability of emotions comes face to face with truth in a fierce wrestling match. It helps because it chooses to believe the truth about God despite what things feel or what they look like or what we think we understand.
I know you’re good
But this don’t feel good right now
And I know you think
Of things I could never think about
It’s hard to count it all joy
Distracted by the noise
Just trying to make sense
Of all your promises
Sometimes I gotta stop
Remember that you’re God
And I am not So… Thy will be done
The holidays are coming. My friends are facing them without Janice. My girls in jail are facing them without their children and loved ones. One girl tells me today her child is sick and in the hospital and she can’t be there, doesn’t know if he’ll make it. This same girl once asked me how to deal with the fact that she was gang raped. What can I say to that? I don’t know… I have only the same truths Hillary Scott offers in her song.
I know you see me
I know you hear me, Lord
Your plans are for me
Goodness you have in store
So, thy will be done
They We were all crying again today, some quietly raised their hands, others bowed their heads, some just watched the video, but all were surrendering to the power of the words that declare that God knows, He is powerful, He is good, and He sees us.
Dedication: To the Huffman family, I grieve with you and for you. I loved Janice, as did ALL who knew her. She was one of the most radiant, fun loving, delightful, positive, uplifting and godly people I’ve ever known. She was a gracious host. A wise mentor. A faithful friend. She was delightfully childlike and yet beautifully mature. She was so like Jesus. I am so grateful for the time I spent in her presence and in her home as a child, (I have particularly fond memories of playing in the creek behind your house, and Calico the cat who bit me on occasion.). And I am doubly grateful for the unexpected opportunities I had to spend a little time with her in the last few years—hiking with her and my mom at the PFS reunion as well as eating lunch and riding horses in CO. I regret terribly missing the last opportunity to spend time with her and Ashley in CO, though it couldn’t be helped. My life has been significantly marked by conversations we have had and wisdom she has shared. Her spunkiness and her tender heart were good matches for each other, keeping each other in balance. I think of her when I read Psalm 34:5, “Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.” I love you ALL. You are like family to me. And I thank you for your honest and vulnerable and yet faithful examples even in the midst of such horrific shock and pain. The world was a better place because of Janice, just as it is a better place because of EACH of you.