In the early hours of Easter Sunday 2006 (April 16th that year), I gave birth to my older son–the one I call Woodrow on my blog. He actually arrived 6 days past his due date, which happened to be my grandmother’s birthday. But I felt more than a little overwhelmed at becoming a mother and didn’t mind waiting a few more days for his debut. Plus, Mike and I felt elated to welcome a new little life on the day we as Christians celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus.
A few days after our holiday baby was born, a lady in a Bible study I attended sent me an email message listing all the upcoming years in which Woodrow would again celebrate his birthday on Easter–since the date itself changes from year to year. Every 11 years, his April 16th birthday would coincide with Resurrection Sunday. At the time, his 11th birthday felt eons away.
Well, those eons passed quickly, because Woodrow turned 11 on Easter Sunday this year, just a few weeks ago. We threw Woodrow a party on Saturday, April 15th…a full-to-the-brim day that began before dawn, when we arose early and then ran a 5K together (the boys and I). Then I gave all 3 of my menfolk haircuts, and then we hosted the party, complete with water balloons and water games. So on the 16th, our day was a bit more low key: church service and then brunch with our church family, but there was more on my mind as well.
Last fall, for Garfield’s birthday, I baked him a red velvet cake from scratch. Only he wanted it to be blue instead of red–so I set out to give him that. I didn’t, however, have enough blue food coloring and ended up with a color more akin to olive green (the cocoa powder overwhelmed what little blue dye I did have). Since my boys love camouflage, I tried to convince Garfield the cake color was actually sort of kind of almost camo. But I topped it with a homemade ermine icing–also called boiled milk icing–and we all enjoyed the cake. Garfield was satisfied, despite the fact that I didn’t buy candles–and thought we’d already had some but apparently didn’t. Instead, I lit several matches, placed them atop the cake, and let him blow those out. Mom fail, I guess?
This year, Woodrow didn’t even want birthday cake–he requested ice cream sandwiches, so I bought two candles in the shape of a number 1, poked them into the ice cream sammie, and we sang “Happy Birthday.” At least I had the candles this time, right?
Cake and ice cream aside, there are many, many parents who remember and reflect on April 16 in a very different fashion than my family or I do. Because on Woodrow’s first birthday–April 16, 2007–parents of almost 3 dozen individuals lost their children in the Virginia Tech shootings. I recall that day with great clarity. Woodrow hadn’t begun to walk yet but was taking steps as he passed from one piece of furniture to the next. We went grocery shopping that weekday morning, just he and I, and I bought him a big, helium-filled balloon. I have a picture from later that day of Woodrow holding onto the coffee table in our living room and reaching for the balloon as it bounced across the floor.
But even as we rejoiced at seeing our chubby-cheeked, bald little baby turn one, I ached for the parents who would never get to celebrate with their children again. Who would never throw birthday parties or buy balloons or go to the grocery store together again. There were several students killed that day at Virginia Tech who’d been involved in the Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ) movement on that campus. Later, I read a book about the life of one of those students, Lauren.
Now that Woodrow is 11 and has officially crossed over from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts, he’s begun to go on camp-outs without us. When he does, I pray off and on all weekend for him. I know that I can’t spare him of every hurt or protect him from every disappointment, and I pray for myself, too–that I will trust God with what He allows to hurt my child. I will safeguard my children; I will set healthy boundaries. And I will also seek to trust our Father with what I can’t control. I don’t know how that ultimately plays out; neither did the parents of those killed at Virginia Tech ten years ago.
I do not in any way believe that God causes this type of evil, this kind of tragedy. But I do believe that there are times when God could stop some kind of suffering but chooses not to do so. I don’t understand all that and have no good answers for the “why?”, but if I’m humble enough to acknowledge that I am not all-knowing or all-powerful and certainly not perfectly loving, I must acknowledge also that I don’t see the whole picture. That I’m called to trust God more than I can see or feel. That He will ultimately bring all things to their rightful end.
If asked where God is when the ones who love Him suffer, I would say–He’s right there with us. When I was bullied at age 16, He was with me. When I was sexually assaulted at 21, He was with me. Although there have been times I’ve doubted this (and times in the future when I’m sure I will wrestle with this, too), moments when I’ve cried out, “God, do you SEE me?” Yet I’m learning to say, like Hagar in the book of Genesis, “You are the God who sees me.”
He is with His people when we suffer, and He suffered FOR us. That’s what Easter embodies–the Son of God willingly giving up his life, in agony and torture and execution, to reunite us with the Father who loves us and made us for Himself. That Father who, like the parents of those shot and killed at Virginia Tech, also mourned the death of His own Son at the hands of sinful humanity. Indeed, it was MY sin that held him there…
Revelation 21:4-5… “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
*A helpful book dealing with the question of why God allows suffering is The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis. Another is Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts, by Jerry Bridges.