Last night, as Mike and I sat on the coach reading, I heard a soft thump, and the scratch, scratch, scratch of a tiny body fluttering against the wall. Immediately, I turned my head, holding my breath, waiting for the sound to repeat. For you see, this sound is all too familiar to me. You don’t know this sound, you say? Ah, let me enlighten you. It’s the haunting sound of a stink bug free-falling from its unwelcome perch on your wall to the ground. A sound that will make your heart sink for two reasons: one, you now know that a stink bug, and most likely its friends, have invited themselves into your home; two, said stink bug has now moved to the floor, meaning it could be headed anywhere, including your shower head, bedroom pillow, or oven (and I’ve seen them all).
I know this sound very well because of the stink bug infestation we had last fall when we lived in D.C. (and because of my consequent obsession with stink bugs and their demise.) And lest you think I’m exaggerating when I say obsession, let me tell you, there were many days when I sat on the floor in the middle of the room, legs awkwardly crossed around my bulging pregnant belly, clutching the vacuum cleaner in my hands, just waiting for the familiar sound of a stink bug falling, upon when I would crawl to the wall and suck him up, not-so-secretly loving the sick sound of his body hitting the inside of the vacuum bag. Pretty sad, I know. But since we had just moved, I wasn’t working or doing much of anything, unfortunately. I was merely awaiting the arrival of John Paul, crying daily as I imagined stink bugs crawling all over his tiny body in his crib.
My obsession? It was bad. But the thing is, it wasn’t about the stink bugs (of course). Don’t get me wrong, I still shudder when I remember the stink bug falling off of the shower head and into my hair, or the stink bug sizzling underneath my freshly baked raspberry-oat bars in the oven. But the reason I broke down and sobbed when Mike and I returned from a weekend away to at least fifty stink bugs crawling all over the inside of the windows in the sun-room? It was the loss of the control they symbolized. We had just moved, from a place I loved to a place that completely overwhelmed me. Pregnancy had caused my body to change in some strange, uncomfortable ways. My husband had a new job that necessitated much longer hours than his previous job had required. I was in seemingly inexplicable, constant pain that seemed greater (and was) than normally comes from carrying a child. And I was terrified – of what our life had become, or what it might be in the future, of the pain I was in, and of becoming a mother.
Yet, despite my despair, I had no idea what was about to happen. I had no idea how completely I was about to be asked to relinquish control over my life and over the life of my unborn child. I reached that point, the point of no turning back, the point when I had to literally put everything in God’s hands the night before my high-risk c-section (which was scheduled for eight a.m. but ended up happening at ten a.m. because the doctor’s needed two more hours-after two weeks-to continue a round table discussion about whether giving me a partial epidural or putting me under general anesthesia would give me and John Paul the best chances for survival.) That night, Mike and I lay in my hospital bed, holding each other close, too terrified to speak save for our simple prayer of “Come, Holy Spirit.” That night, for the first time in my life, I completely let go of my anxiety and desire for control and gave it all to God. I don’t mean just in words, while still holding onto slivers of fear in my heart. I mean completely. For, what other choice did I have? And you know what? I’ve never known such freedom and joy.
And now, I sit on the floor, cross-legged in the middle of the room, watching my son desperately try to reach the wire of my computer that’s trapped behind a barricade of my camera bag and desk chair, and I know God’s goodness is unfailing, unchanging, and unending. But what if that sound I heard last night had been a stink bug and not just a spider? Or much more terribly, what if my sweet John Paul hadn’t survived that frightening day? Or what if I hadn’t survived cancer? Would I still believe what I know today to be true?
Thankfully, I do not know the utter grief of losing a child, or the fear of knowing chemotherapy has been unsuccessful. But somehow, I believe that no matter how my story ended, I would still know, in the depths of my soul, that God’s goodness is unfailing, unchanging and unending. For, the sense of freedom and joy I experienced that night came before the dawn, not after. Surprisingly, it came in the darkness, in the moment I realized that happiness and contentment didn’t come from the circumstances of my life. I can never control everything that happens to me. And some times, bad things, like stink bugs or cancer, just happen. We don’t know why. And perhaps we never will. What I can control is how I face these bad things. I can try my hardest to completely control them, and cry and give up when I come face to face with my own weakness and limitations. Or, I can do all I can to control them, up to the point where my weaknesses and limitations reveal a beautiful truth: that where I fail, God is there. God’s promise isn’t that bad things won’t happen, for we live in a broken, fallen world. But His promise is that even in the bad things, He will be there. For nothing, nothing, can separate us from Him.
“What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8: 35-39
My prayer for you today is that you might dare to truly let go of the anxiety and fear living in your heart. Trust in the unfailing, unchanging, and unending love of God, and instead of bemoaning your weakness, look forward to meeting God in the places your own strength fails.