Dear Jack

Dear Jack,

We’ve never met but our lives collided on March 29th, when you made the choice to drive under the influence of your prescription drugs and struck the bus my father was driving head on. That day has likely haunted your dreams; I know it has haunted mine.

The police report indicates that my father saw you and pulled as close to the guardrail as possible while slowing down. Knowing my father, he was also laying on the horn. Did you hear it?

My mother weathered the storm; continuing to serve and love and lead, even as she suffered the loss of her husband and 12 other friends. But she neglected herself in the process, eating poorly and losing sleep. Just three days after dad’s funeral my mom died from a blood clot in her lung and my world was shaken yet again.

Now I am an orphan. But you already knew that. How could you forget?

Monday you will stand before a Grand Jury but society has already proclaimed you guilty. Court is now mostly a formality as those who have lost so much seek justice. And justice is good; it creates a stable and secure society. We can’t have security if everyone makes their own rules.

But justice is external; forgiveness is about the heart. You’ve got a difficult life ahead of you and I want desperately for you to know that you are forgiven. I know I can blame you for the loss of my parents and I know that society wants me to hate you and relish your suffering.

But my heart is broken for you. My dad invested his entire life in fathering, loving, and mentoring boys. How would your life be different if you’d known him in your youth?

I’ve forgiven you from the beginning, since the day I first learned your name. I am sad and grieve the loss of my parents but you don’t owe me anything.

How can I forgive you?

Because I’ve been forgiven myself.

God blessed me with a strong, healthy body. But I didn’t appreciate it. I spent 20 years abusing my body with an addiction. When I wasn’t doing that, I was eating everything in sight in a quest to fill the void in my heart.

And every day I would repent.

And every day God forgave me.

God sent his only Son to earth to be born of a virgin, live a sinless life, and die a criminal’s death. He did this so that Jesus could absorb the wrath that I deserved; the wrath we all deserve. Everyone sins. Everyone fails God’s standard of perfection. And that failure always hurts people around us.

“The wages of sin is death,” isn’t just a verse in the bible; it’s a fact. When we mess up, it brings death into the world. For you, the death your sin caused is easily seen. For some, it’s harder to identify but it’s still there.

My lifestyle was hurting myself and those around me. And the guilt of my failures was a prison around me that kept me locked up for years. My hope and prayer for you is that you’ll discover the freedom I’ve found in forgiveness.

When I accepted God’s forgiveness and learned to forgive myself, my heart was set free.

It’s in that freedom that I can love and forgive you even though you’ve taken so much from me.

I forgive you.

Jenn

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Questions Welcome; Answers Not Guaranteed

One of the hardest things for me has been answering the question, “How are you doing?”

There are a variety of factors that make this hard. What is my relationship with the asker? How much do they know? When did we last speak? How much time do I have to answer this question? Do they really want to know or are they just being polite? And so on…

My initial answer was always, “Making it one day at a time.” But there are people in my circles who know about the death of my parents and others who don’t and are asking innocently enough because it’s just a normal thing to say. This answer confused the second group. More than that, this isn’t really an answer.

I recognize that there are people who follow my blogs and people who don’t but, for those of you who read this, I will endeavor to give you the best answer I can. It really can be summed up in three words: I don’t know.

That’s not a cop out… let me explain.

This week marks a shift for me. Most of the stressful, easy days are behind me as we prepared and ran two memorials, packed up the house, and had an estate sale. There is still work to do but I’ll be making two trips to New Braunfels this week instead of going every day.

Meanwhile, I don’t start work until Monday and this is not because I am lazy or just wanted a week to rest. The delay is because I must slow down and do the much harder task of coming to terms with the fact I will never see my parents again.

While there were tasks to do and people to call and boxes to pack… there was a comfortable numbness that settled in. Other than one snap on Thursday the 20th, I haven’t really cried since my mom’s service.

Don’t misunderstand me, crying is not the goal… but it is healthy. And I am smart enough to know that if I don’t deal with this now, it will come back later in some form that will be harder to address.

So, I planned this week to be that pause to create space to process what just happened.

But I kept hitting a wall.

I would start to question and I would start to hurt and I would begin to cry… and something would snap and the tears would end and the questions would be silenced. After a few times of this, I started to wonder what is going on. Upon mental inspection, I realized, I didn’t want to question God.

God has been so good to me and so consistently faithful, I felt unjust in my questions of what He was doing or why He let this happen. There isn’t really anyone to blame; it’s just one of those freak things that happens because this is a fallen world that has not yet been redeemed.

(Some will say Jack is to blame. I will write about this more at length someday, but for now, I just say Jack was a victim before he created victims. Hurt people hurt people, whether they mean to or not.)

I asked my pastor for a verse “for when you want to question God but you can’t because you know He’s all powerful and all loving… but He doesn’t feel very loving right now.” Chris directed me to Psalm 88, which is incredibly depressing. In short, this is 18 verses of someone saying “God, I have been praying and you are not answering. Where are you? Do you want me to die?” on repeat.

What struck me on the first reading is that there is no “turn” … like God never answers and the Psalmist never says “but I know God will come through.” That’s typically how I will write if I have difficult things to discuss; I’ll spell out the struggle but then turn to the hopeful or positive at the end. This Psalmist just lets it end with

You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
my companions have become darkness.

So yeah, “I keep crying out and You are not answering me. Now You have left me alone in the dark.”

Not exactly the verse you put on a coffee cup. And not exactly how I feel right now, since I have been surrounded by a community of help and support. But I knew Chris recommended this for a reason so I read it again.

On my second reading, I realized that this Psalmist’s words are recorded for eternity… like people sang this song after his death. I know that’s a bit obvious, since it’s in the Bible, but think about that. A song that declares “God has not come through for me” is recorded in the Bible… not something I would do if I was making up a religion.

But scripture tells us that the Bible is God breathed… literally the words of God. And every word was included, or excluded, for a purpose. That means it is OK to question God because when this man did God didn’t smite him or punish him for his insolence. Chewing on these thoughts, I grabbed my journal and pen and went for a hike.

A few weeks ago, Chris used a sermon illustration about his son’s desire to have a lizard and how God cares about the little things, even lizards. While I was out hiking, there were lizards everywhere. Rather than a comfort, this just made me more confused. God, if you care about silly lizards, I can’t doubt you care about my parents and my future… but why didn’t you do something?

About 2 miles into the hike, I made a realization… I am not questioning God because I don’t trust Him, but because I do. I know without doubt that God is powerful; He saved me from a wreck that should have killed me and I walked away without a scratch. I know without doubt that God loves me; He has many times proven that He even cares about my own ‘lizards’ … those little things that aren’t that important.

I know my parents were doing great things for God and were impacting many lives. Countless stories have come in over the last month of how they played a part in shaping an entire generation in New Braunfels.

My questions come because I know these things are true.  I know that He could have prevented the death of my parents and I know that He loves me.  What I don’t know is how to reconcile those thoughts into a picture that makes sense. What could God possibly want to do in my life that is of more value than my parents?

I don’t know what God is up to.
I don’t know why He let this happen.
I don’t know what the next year will look like.
I don’t know how anyone can help or what to ask from God.

I just don’t know.

I may never know.

God didn’t answer the Psalmist and He may never answer me on this side of heaven. God doesn’t owe me an answer and more than He is indebted to me for allowing my parents to die. But God welcomes me to question; He wants to hear from me even when my words are filled with confusion.

Because questions are welcome but answers are not guaranteed.

Not-So Good Friday

Yesterday was a very stressful day. I started at 5am to be on the road by 6 for New Braunfels. Then I had an 8am meeting with Kens 5 followed by a 2-hour family meeting to make decisions ranging from what to do with the house to what we’ll do with mom and dad’s ashes.

We met with the expert who set up my parent’s annuities and living trust to understand what the upcoming process will look like. A brief stop for lunch only to begin the room-by-room discussion of who is taking what and what is being sold or donated.

Fortunately we made it through the entire house with only a few bruised feelings but that process went on long enough that I wasn’t able to shoot up to Austin for my workout. Instead the fourteen of us went to Montana Mikes, since that was our family restaurant, and ate way too much food. (Because, what better way to replace a workout than eating ridiculous amounts of unhealthy food?)

By the time I was back in Austin, about midnight, I barely paused to change clothes before dropping into bed. The day had been productive but I was disappointed to have missed my church’s Good Friday service. One of my anchors in this storm has been my church family so I have driven to Austin every chance I have to be with them.

Since I missed the service, I took some time to think about Good Friday and what it really means. To make it personal… how did the disciples feel on that Friday night as they fell asleep?

Imagine being one of the 12… Imagine being Peter. About 3 years ago, you were out fishing and a rabbi calls you to follow. You, an uneducated fisherman, had been selected by a rabbi? You left everything and followed, developing a brotherhood and friendship with this man who spoke like no one you’ve ever heard before.

He spoke of the Kingdom of God like he’d already seen it and you shared many nights laying out on the grass and looking at the stars. He was wiser and kinder than anyone you could imagine. One day he asked, “Who do you say I am?” You declared confidently that he is the Messiah.

Then your friend began to make strange comments; he said he must suffer and die for crimes he never committed. A member of your brotherhood cut deep with betrayal and delivered your rabbi into the hands of religious elite. They had him unjustly tried, beaten, and hung on a cross to die while you, fearing for your life, denied you even knew him.

Everything you thought you knew and understood about the future and what your life was to look like was shattered. Peter’s hopes and dreams were crushed and he was left with a dread that he would be killed as well. Now try sleeping that night. Not such a “Good Friday” after all, huh?

Peter had tried to rescue Jesus by cutting off a man’s ear … clearly he didn’t understand the plan for Jesus’ death and resurrection. Alone and brokenhearted, bearing the weight of denying his Rabbi, Peter searched for answers in a new reality that didn’t make sense.

I feel for Peter more today than I ever could have before. Like Peter, I had dreams of what I believed my future held that will never be reality. My world has been flipped upside down twice in the last two weeks and, at the ripe old age of 29, I am now an orphan.

Fortunately for me, I have something Peter didn’t have; I have the rest of the story. Where Peter most likely slept that night with hopelessness and fear, my grief has been woven beautifully with the confidence and joy that I will see my parents again. I know without doubt that God is up to something in me and through this trial. The pain is there: I wanted dad to walk me down the aisle and I wanted mom to be there to welcome her grandchildren one day.

But I know my parents ran their race well and I know that they are now celebrating in heaven with the Lord. Difficult as it has been to plan a memorial in four days, we wanted it to be today because our hope in mom’s death is the resurrection we will celebrate tomorrow.

Good Friday didn’t get its name because we are glad for the torture and brutal killing of an innocent man. We celebrate Good Friday because it is followed by Easter Sunday and Jesus didn’t stay dead.

Friday sucks.
Saturday is dark and lonely.
But Sunday is on the way.