Sunday, January 22, 2012
Piggybacking on Jim’s wonderfully written blog “God, do you validate?” I wanted to share my similar yet different validation journey. The news reporter from USA Today, Dennis, also asked me the same question, “What was the moral? What did you learn?” I found it hard to answer that with one simple statement. Jim will attest that I find most things hard to answer with one statement. I believe men invented the term TMI (too much information) to categorize how we girls like to go “on and on” and give all the details to what they have no need for. Jim taught me what a BLUF was (Bottom Line Up Front). I had never heard that before. He explained that sometimes he just needs to hear the point up front and then he can ask details after. I enjoy taking the meandering route and word walking all the way to the take-the-yellow-brick-road- see–the-wizard-of–Oz-path-approach to story telling. I have tried it Jim’s way but probably still don’t adhere to it as a general practice. Ha. Thus why I am still lingering on this subject in the first place. Ah, the beauty in the differences of men vs. women….
My journey with Jesus through the death of Troy has been anything but simple. So there isn’t exactly a simple way to answer the before-mentioned question of what did I learn? But in honor of Jim I will begin with a BLUF: I learned that without Christ being my own personal Savior and without believing the Bible as the absolute authority on who my God actually is, I never would have come out of the darkness alive. Literally? Well, I doubt that. I have told others the honest truth ; for quite some time after Troy died, I HAD NO DESIRE TO LIVE ANYMORE. I know some of my family and friends were aghast a bit by that statement but truly there is a difference between wanting the earth to swallow you up whole and wanting to take your own life. I NEVER would have killed myself. I knew that would not please the Lord and the last thing in the world my kids needed was to lose their only remaining parent. But I hope by me being honest enough to make that statement that I can help others be real with themselves and with God (He knows it all anyway remember?) to seek spiritual and often medical help. And honestly, to remind those that might see my life, our lives now, and think “Oh, that Ginger (and Jim), they couldn’t possibly know what I am going through. Look at how happy she is, how happy they are” that, trust me, I carved my initials on the bottom of the bottomless pit. I figured at 36 years old I probably had 40-50 more years to live and the thought of feeling like I felt for 40 more years was enough to make me crater when I was alone with my thoughts.
There are numerous patriarchs of the Bible, David and Job just to name a few, who felt exactly the same way I did and God still considers them heroes of faith in Hebrews 11. So even when I wondered if I was losing my mind, I remembered God still did a major work in their hearts and they went on to be true examples of saints.
So, I found my struggle was to not not live but to not live as the walking dead. Not live empty, purpose-less, or bitter. I didn’t want to even want to settle for being apathetic or eternally grumpy. I didn’t want to be separated from God but I couldn’t help feeling like He simply did not hold up His end of the deal. By no means had Troy and I “arrived” spiritually or any other way. But we were faithful to each other, serving God, giving 110% to raising our children in a loving Christ-centered home where the Truth was lived and taught. We had led a life group. I was helping with women’s Bible Studies and women’s ministry at church. Troy was single-handedly developing a new Welcome Ministry at church. Not to mention he was a stand-up, strong Christian fighter pilot refusing to submit to some of that world’s worldliness. We were doing ALL that and all we were asking from the Lord was a little safety for Troy in Iraq and strength for me to hold the Phoenix fort down for 4 months. We even met together with a group of Christian friends right before he deployed and together as a church congregation and laid hands on Troy begging God for His protection. My point: “We did our part, God, so You go ahead and do Yours.”
All this to give you the background of me feeling God had just let Satan pull the rug out from under our lives on the fateful November day. Sooooo, I rode the rollercoaster of my emotions that maybe God wasn’t such a loving Father after all mixed with the Truth of Scriptures which all told me otherwise. Each day that I walked through grief, anger and suffering of monumental proportions, I couldn’t help but see that EVEN STILL in the darkness I had to trust Him. His Hope was my only way out of the long dark tunnel. I saw Him everywhere as He provided for us. And literally I can honestly say once I truly “felt” the Lord so close behind me that His breath was on my neck. It may sound crazy and I don’t think I even journaled about it at the time but I can picture it right now vividly. I was in my bedroom, maybe a few months after Troy died, lying on the floor crying my eyes out. That from your gut crying that makes the world stand still and leaves you breathless with despair. I remember the feel of the carpet on my face and between my fingers. I remember wanting to dig my fingernails deeper into the carpet, below the level of the floor because I wanted to physically be in the depths of the emotional pit I was in. And then in this wave of well, the Presence of Jesus, I felt Him on my back weeping just as hard as I was. To this day, I still get teary-eyed and a knot in my throat as I remember thinking, “He has compassion. He does care about me, the kids, all this scrambled mess, this Grand Canyon-sized hole in my heart. This is actually hurting Him too.” Don’t get me wrong, I grew up in the church and had been a Christian since I was 9 years old and I knew Christ was the compassionate type but never until that day did I feel His tender loving care for me so tangibly I could feel it all the way through my broken soul.
Nehemiah 9:28 “…and when they cried out to you again, you heard from heaven, and in your compassion you delivered them time after time.”
Nehemiah 9:17 “…But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them…”
James 5:11 “…the Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”
My first description of those many many months of agony after our loss would be to say God and I did this dance of “trust Him, fear Him, follow Him, yell at Him, fall into Him….” But in hind sight, really He was just standing still rock solid, listening to my cries of grief, collecting my tears of loneliness and holding me up so I could have the strength to do the hard work of grieving with the goal of healing and still be a mom to all my little ones. At times I honestly thought I danced alone. But He was endlessly pointing me in the right direction like a good dance partner always does. Nope, Ginger, don’t lean to far that way you will get hurt or hurt someone else. Nope, Ginger, don’t get ahead of Me, let Me lead you so you don’t make a monumental mistake that you will always regret. Nope, Ginger, this or that is going to spin you around but I will not let you or your children go.
Psalm 73:21 -24 “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; You hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel and afterward You will take me into glory.”
May sound crazy to you but there were days I just lifted my right hand in the air to reach for His and held on to that promise that He was unseen but holding mine too. I knew Christ had been to that same point I was at in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before He was crucified.
Matthew 26:37-38 “He (Jesus) took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee (James and John) along with Him, and He began to be sorrowful and troubled. The He said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”
The Greek term that was used in the ancient writings was “perilypos” meaning “grieved all around, intensely sad; a sorrow so deep it almost kills.” Well, there in the Word, Jesus knew about what I was going through. He dreaded what He was about to face but in His trust of God He said:
Matthew 26:39 “Going a little farther, He fell with His face to the ground and prayed, ‘ My Father, if it possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”
So, back to me feeling like God broke our little “contract”. Well, I didn’t feel like the kids and I got what we deserved to say the least. So, I buried my head in the Bible to study more so I could know Him better so I could get to the bottom of why none of this added up. Equation: Godly Christian Husband and Father obeying and serving God+ Godly Christian Wife and Mother obeying and serving God + Precious Growing Family full of Innocent Children who Love Jesus already and not to
mention who ALL have a long life ahead of them minus the worst nightmare imaginable = God loves us as Himself and works all things together for good? I thought, well God’s definition of “good” must be way different than every other person in the world. Indeed, it is.
My prayerful studies, everyone I knew praying for us and all the wise friends, family and followers of Christ that sacrificed to pour into all kept leading me back to this same conclusion: God is good. God loves us. God is to be trusted. God’s plans are not always ours but He is sovereign. God is merciful to save us. God does heal. God is listening. God is real. And finally, that even though God was the one I wanted to blame and wanted to push away in my anger, He was the very One I couldn’t go through the fiery furnace without.
We prayed for safety. Jim and his family prayed for healing. Our prayers were heard but not answered in the way we wanted. Can we change God’s mind if we pray hard enough or believe more? Well, I have read a lot about that topic and know we all have a slightly different take on that. But I think my spiritual hero, Beth Moore, put it best when she said “God does indeed hear our prayers and reserves the right to relent if the change does not compromise an eternal necessity.”
Though I still do not understand it, I believe that Troy and Andrea dying so young and in the way that they did was of “eternal necessity”. Even in understanding that, I still felt a little like God had targeted my sweet little family with a giant bulls-eye for His purposes and glory which made me feel “good” but still like “Lord, couldn’t you have chosen someone else?”
Over the years there have been so many ways the Lord has proven Himself faithful to us that I couldn’t begin to recount them all here and now. Tiny miracles. Gigantic miracles. Clear protection and direction when I needed it most. He didn’t need to prove Himself trustworthy to me, He is the God of the Universe after all. But, still He did….
Fast forward some years to last fall. I took Beth Moore’s study “David, Seeking a Heart Like His”. I felt I already had a personal relationship with David just through reading the Psalms he wrote. I remember sitting next to the boys by their bed, just days after Troy died, and asking them “What do you think David and Daddy are talking about right now in Heaven?” Those two heroes I knew had some stories to swap. I can’t say I related to the hero stories of David in the Bible but I can certainly say I related to the desperate stories David of the Bible. I learned so much more about him through studying with Beth (I like to call her Beth like we are fast friends because she did personally pray for me, write to me and sent me a book after Troy died. Long story how that happened but ever since I have just feel a connection to her, much like thousands of women all of this country I am sure do. She has an amazing way of being all of our best friend!)
I couldn’t possibly go over all of what I learned. But again, so many things about God and the ways He validates Himself to us were the same ways He validated Himself to David (mind you before Jesus walked the earth and the Holy Spirit came to indwell in us – which made things a whole lot more complicated for David than us).
David had highs and lows. Actually David had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. He was a passionate man who loved the Lord with his whole heart but struggled with pride and selfishness. Much like I always have… hmmm.
The fallen world and man’s sins are often what let us down the most. Not God. Man can leave you (by choice, by betrayal, by death) which leaves a void that truly that “man” was never intended to fill. We are created with a God-sized hole in hearts that we fill with both good things (loving godly husbands, happy healthy kids, security) or bad things but either way only God can truly fill it.
David was promised he would be king but found himself living off scraps and hiding in caves from his enemies who persecuted and pursued him relentlessly. Until it was just he and God alone against the world. (Been there!) It’s a painful place to get to but it’s a beautiful place to stay as Beth put it. I lost all my identity in this world – as an Air Force pilot’s wife, as half of the term “parents”, as Troy’s love. But Troy couldn’t be my god. He was a great guy but he simply couldn’t be my god. Wasn’t supposed to be. I never really thought of him that way until he was gone and then it struck me that I was only who I was because I was his other half. All I wanted to do was run away from the fact that I was no longer Mrs. Troy GiIbert, wife and I was Mrs. Troy Gilbert, widow. I jotted in my notes during this recent Bible study on David that Beth said, “We can’t run from life and find refuge in God instantly. TRUSTING God is what you do on the pavement – it’s the path – to get you to that refuge.” Like my good friend Marlo told me, (Marlo was a widow too at one point) she said you can’t wait till you feel better before you get up and start walking, you just start walking and the feeling that you want to live will come later. Beth says, “We can’t just trust our feelings. We must entrust our feelings to God!” I learned time and again over the course of these last five years, that I cannot always trust my feelings because they can come and go with the wind.
Beth said the goal of crying out to God is to come to a place of rest and trust (in Him) not just crying for the sake of crying. He won’t fill our hearts if our hearts are already full of bitterness, turmoil and rage… And the clever observation that right in the middle of WRESTLE is the word REST. Wow that hit home!
That was a determination I had to pray about daily. I wanted to keep my heart open and empty so God could fill up with the righteous things, with wholeness and healing and the ability to forgive and to love again. Believe me there were days I could almost see Satan trying to fill it with the poison of doubt, anger and bitterness. He kicks us when we’re down. That’s pretty much his MO.
Like Jim said and like I am still learning, this life is not about getting what we want but getting what we need, which is ultimately doing a work in us to make us more Christ-like until we see Him face-to-face. That goes totally against what we call the “prosperity gospel” that God will just give us everything we want if we believe enough or pray enough or are good enough Christians. Sometimes He simply says “no, my child.” And what we do with that pretty much holds the key to what the rest of our days on this earth are like. Believe I have not gotten to the place where I am excited about pain but I am a believer that through it (just like childbirth) He can give you a treasure to hold close to your heart afterwards. I am thankful that I got all the earthly treasures I did (security, friends and most of all Jim) but I also received the confidence to know that God had validated His love for me on the Cross by sacrificing His precious and only Son. He had already given me what He loved most to prove that He loved me too. To quote Beth, “We’re going to win, but victory is going to take blood, sweat and tears – His blood, our sweat and tears from both of us.”
I am still trying to come to the place where I can shift my thinking from wanting what I want to wanting what God wants, when what God wants from me might hurt. That is where the crisis of faith comes. The rubber meets the road. I owe the Lord way more than He ever owes me. That was a process that took me a lot longer than I think it ever took Jim or Andrea. I guess that’s why they intrigued, inspired and encouraged me so much.
All this comes down to, after all the suffering and the pain, I can tell you I still believe God is good and as the Natalie Grant song says : “I know what it is to be held.” God’s showed me His ID through His Word and He validated it as “authentic” when He proved Himself faithful and held me through it all. He was my anchor. He didn’t give me what I sought but He let me see Him in a way I never could have imagined.
Posted by Jim Ravella