I have 4 kids under the age of 6, so finding time to write is often hard, but I wanted to share how Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering has helped me.
I grew up in a pastor’s home. I have always considered my dad to be the wisest person I know, and I often tease him that (like the old red Batman phone in the tv show Batman), that he has a red phone to God. He has been practicing praying the Psalms and prayer meditation for over 30 years, and he just seems to be in tune with God in a way that most people I know are not. My childhood was perfect… ideal in every way. I grew up on a cul-de-sac, and my best friend (who happened to be my Dad’s associate pastor’s kid), grew up across the street from me. I would never EVER have considered myself a “name it and claim it” kind of Christian. My parents taught us sound theology, and they lived what they preached. I often think pastor’s kids go “wrong” because they see their parents doing one thing at home and doing another thing in public. My parents never allowed their congregants expectations to guide them in the way that they raised us, but rather their own convictions. As a result, I never strayed. I have loved Jesus my whole life, and I have experienced Him in some deep ways.
As I said, I would have never considered myself a “name it and claim it” kind of Christian. One of my closest friends is the daughter of a well-known Christian pastor and author, and like me, she had grown up having deep discussions around the dinner table… We connected deeply because of deep spiritual upbringings, and we used to get together and talk such deep theology that we would laugh about how we had solved the world’s theology problems over a bowl of salsa or a swim in the pool.
Three days after my 31st birthday, on May 24, 2014, my world came crashing down on me when I had a terrible and traumatic delivery of my premature (29 week) twins. Ironically, not even 12 hours before I had sat with my feet propped up on the dashboard of my husband’s car, talking about a “birth plan”, and I had said, “I have been praying about this delivery since the day I found out I was having twins… and I believe that God, who gave me these twins, will get me through this delivery.” It seems kind of arrogant now looking back on it that I assumed that I knew that God wanted me to have a smooth delivery, or that I knew what was in His plans… but somehow, along the way, despite being a Christian well-versed on the shipwrecks and imprisonments of Paul, the sufferings of Job, the crucifixion of Jesus… I had without realizing it become a Christian who believed that if I prayed about it, then God would do it for me.
Later, looking back on my attitude, I realized that I thought that when God answered one prayer (i.e. to get pregnant… and he had shown me his will lined up with my will on this issue) that it would mean that His will for the entire process would line up with my will in the same way. When 12 hours after my declaration of “Him getting me through…” I had a very bad and traumatic delivery, it felt as if God had abandoned me. Well, not immediately… but in time, after we got our twins home from the NICU, and we began to realize that one of our daughters had some motor problems (and was eventually diagnosed with cerebral palsy), my confidence in God’s provision felt stupid and naive, and anger set in.
I had without realizing it become a Christian who believed that if I prayed about it, then God would do it for me.
I knew ALL the right things to say to my friends and family… I could talk all day about, “finding purpose in the pain of the NICU, and the blessings of the girls not being worse off…” I had grown up so immersed in Christian lingo, that it was easy to pretend that I was okay, despite the fact that I felt that my heart had been stabbed with a knife and I could feel the blood and my life spilling out of it. And the thing was, I wanted to be angry. I could barely talk to my Dad, because he had been the figurehead that I had most seen God reflected in. I could not bear to hear him insist on God’s goodness despite his granddaughter, my daughter, struggling to learn basic movements and motor skills. I held on to the anger, and lashed out at those who encouraged me to find beauty or hope in the situation.
After months of feeling like I was suffocating in anger and grief, two things happened to start my process towards healing. The first was that my sister said to me one day while we talked on the phone, “If this handicap is her fate, you can not fix it or control it, but the one thing you can control, and the one thing she deserves for you to give her is a joyful Mom.” And I knew she was right… and so I began to try. I began Christian grief counseling, and began to try to let go of the bitterness that was beginning to define my attitude.
The second thing that happened was discovering the book, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. I have an acquaintance who has twin daughters with a genetic mutation that has caused a severe handicap in both of her girls. One of them passed away last year, and the other is currently in hospice, at the age of 7 years old. She had shared some quotes from this book on her Instagram page, and I had bought it within seconds of reading the quote. As I read and processed the words in this book, I began to peel away at the false theology that I had unknowingly come to believe. So much in that book is just basic Christianity, but I realize now that when you grow up hearing it, you can almost become dulled or unimpressed by the true sufferings of Jesus.
I began to try to view my situation through the lens of the cross. It has not been an easy road, but I owe so much of my healing to the way the Holy Spirit used that book to work to help me recognize some of my false thinking. I do find grief to be like an ocean… vast, strong, and unpredictable. You may think you’ve found a sweet spot that you can kick back in, floating on your back, and out of nowhere a wave can crash down on you. Sometimes the waves are rough but quick, and sometimes they can be strong, and suck you down until you are not certain if you will ever stop spinning, much less be able to rest. But thanks to the new clarity and renewed love and appreciation for Jesus’ wounds and sacrifices, over the last 5 years since I first read Walking With God…, the grief has stopped making me feel angry. I am capable of seeing the pain through the lens of the cross.
I do find grief to be like an ocean… vast, strong, and unpredictable. You may think you’ve found a sweet spot that you can kick back in, floating on your back, and out of nowhere a wave can crash down on you.
My daughter is now 6 years old. She is very smart, bilingual, funny, musical, and joyful, and other than walking with a walker, she is a “normal” 6 year old. If she were sitting talking to you and you could not see her braces or walker, you would not know that she has cerebral palsy. I believe that God’s hand is on her life. People are drawn to her. She has an incredible attitude, smiling through her many therapies. She recently told me in regards to a family member having a dream where she walked independently that, “I am working to make this dream become a reality.” She has a depth to her that doesn’t seem natural. I do not know how her story will unfold, but from a very early age she showed interest in Jesus that seems very unusual for her age. I have come to believe that someday many will know HIM because of her. Thank you for touching my life, and as a result helping me to be a better Mom to her.
– Jessica Oldham
I have reread Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering and recommended it and bought it for many other friends.
PS — My daughter’s name is Annika (pronounced ANNE-uh-kuh). Like I said, she has a depth about her that is very unique. We attend a church in Nashville called “Church of the City,” and this past Sunday we learned about orphan awareness month and day. Annika after the service said that she wanted to adopt kids when she grew up… an hour later she was lamenting that she wanted to “give them their homes now!” and even later that evening she said, “Have you heard of ‘Orphan Academy’?” I said I had not, and she said, “Well, when I grow up I am going to help orphans like this.” And I said, “Oh? you want to work for Orphan Academy?” and she said, “No, I am going to start my own academy and I am going to call it ‘Widows, Widowers, and Orphans Academy’… and I am going to put them together and help them all have families…”
I am far from a perfect parent, but I am trying to be a really good one. I feel like my ability to raise them loving Jesus and with great values I owe to my own raising and great parents, but also to the Holy Spirit’s use of Dr. Keller’s words that helped to bring me out of the deep, darkness I had found myself in.