I just finished leading an evening Bible study by Priscilla Shirer called Jonah: Navigating a Life Interrupted. When the morning Bible study teacher handed me the book, back in the spring, I knew it was a study I could get on board with. I was still reeling from the abrupt turn our lives had taken. We'd painted over the samples of pink with a bluish gray color. We'd started referring to "Kate's room" as the library. We'd disassembled the crib. We were muddling through each day as best we could. But sometimes, the grief was overwhelming.
I couldn't understand it. I still can't explain where all this grief came from and I felt like I wasn't entitled to it. I couldn't imagine how people ever live through the death of a child they've raised or a spouse taken too soon because, some days, I wanted to pull the covers over my head and sleep forever. My plans had changed. How would I move on? What would come of this interrupted life?
It was easy to know what life experience I'd be drawing from with my answers to the personal questions. Early on, Priscilla asked us to consider the following equation:
Insignificant Person + Insignificant Task = Interruption
Significant Person + Significant Task = Divine Intervention
I pondered this and decided that I believed it to be true. Our God asking me to walk through the loss of my child equaled a divine intervention and not an interruption. But that didn't seem to provide me with any kind of comfort. Instead, if I'm being honest with myself, it made me angry. He'd brought a situation straight to us, pulled us out of obscurity, selected us to be Kate's parents with the omnipotent foreknowledge that, once we were blissfully and joyfully all in, He would intervene and she would be taken from us. It was the hand selection that I couldn't reconcile. I asked over and over again what I was supposed to be learning and why the lesson had to hurt so much. Initially, I knew it was to bring him glory through my response but when praising Him didn't soften the blow, I struggled. I wanted the lessening of pain to be directly correlated to the amount of praise I sang out and that simply wasn't what happened.
I always complete the studies that I lead before I start teaching them. As such, the answers I give to the questions are relative to that precise moment in time. Months later, when I teach that particular section, the answers might be different. I hoped this would be the case with this Jonah study. I longed to return to each section, months after first completing them, with a new perspective. But, as the study went on, I found my frustration building. I was loving what we were all learning about Jonah but relating it to my own life was increasingly difficult. I was swimming through grief and my perspective wasn't changing. I knew in my head that our sovereign God is Lord of all and that His plan is always the right one. My heart was just struggling to accept it all. And then my eyes would become exponentially angry with my head or my heart or both and volumes of emotion would drain from them in stinging sorrow.
Through October and November, I climbed through Scripture and focused on what we learning and not on how it could effect me personally. On Tuesday, I began preparing for Wednesday's study. Closed in to a closet not more than two and a half feet deep or wide, I sat with my book on my lap and prepared the lesson. I turned, eventually, to the very last day of the very last week of the study, titled, A Fabulous Ending.
Jonah's final verses offer us a peek into the heart of God. He spoke more in this passage than He did throughout the rest of the book to share His thoughts and perspectives with the surly prophet. Whenever God's words are concentrated in a compact portion of Scripture, I sit forward to listen. -Priscilla Shirer
But God said to Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?"
"It is," he said. "And I'm so angry I wish I were dead."
But the Lord said, "You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Ninevah..." Jonah 4:9-11a
In her commentary, Priscilla writes, "Jonah cared about a plant. God cared about people." Then she says the following. "Consider your divine intervention. What has it revealed to you about God's perspective, and what should be important to you right now?"
My answer from several months ago was simply: People. I remember writing it. I remember thinking that instead of being so inward focused on myself and my own pain, I needed to embrace the role I have within the church and the unique position I am in to pour into the lives of so many. More pouring. Less soaking. That's what I'd thought.
And that's a fine thought to have. It's a great goal and we should always be more outwardly focused than self centered. But I let the tears stream down my face in my tiny closet with the space heater and the post-it prayers on the walls. And, next to "People" I wrote her name...
Kate's mama. It was her body that held and lost Kate. It was her heart that broke. She was going to give Kate to us because she loved her and wanted the best life for her. After Kate was gone, Troy and I saw her. I fought my own grief for those brief moments and tried with all I had to minister to her. She just kept saying that she was sorry. Over and over again. I hugged her, held her, and shared Christ with her. I'm told that, in the months following Kate's death, she was lost in pain and despair and sorrow. I haven't had the opportunity to have any communication with her but I know that godly women have continued to pour into her life.
Two weeks ago, she surrendered to Christ and accepted Him as her Lord and Savior.
Thinking on this miracle in my prayer closet, it suddenly became clear. It was never about me. It was never about Jonah. It was always about the Ninevites. It was always about her. Her life has been one enormous example of why we need a heavenly Father who loves us so much bigger and better than anyone on earth ever can. I am convinced that it took the pain of losing Kate to realize how desperately she needed a Savior.
I don't know why God chose us to be involved and to walk this journey but I'd like to think He believed that we'd bring Him honor through it and that we'd help to point Kate's mama toward Him. I'm not comparing Kate to the plant in Jonah chapter 4. God loves Kate deeply and intimately. The miracle for Kate was that there is a Heaven to gain and she avoided the trials and terrors of this world completely. But she is the plant in that I have been completely focused on her and entirely consumed with what I was supposed to learn from the sudden blessing and then loss of her life. I was so busy clinging to my small space and grief and miracle given and taken that I forgot about the massive city behind me full of people--or at least a pair of them--who need the miracle maker.
God used Kate to bring her mama to Him. And maybe, in some teeny, tiny way, He used me.
On Tuesday, I sent the following message to our adoption coordinator:
"I just wanted to share something with you. Tomorrow, I will teach the final lesson in Priscilla Shirer's Jonah: Navigating a Life Interrupted Bible study. I started prepping for this study in June. At the beginning, we were asked to choose something in our life where we could clearly see that God had interrupted our plans. The goal was to begin seeing interruptions as divine interventions. Obviously, it was clear what situation I'd be using. What was a little harder was realizing that He brought a situation straight to us, knowing He would greatly interrupt or intervene once our hearts were all in. As I prepped for tomorrow and went over the lesson again, I realized that it's all so much bigger than me. I'd like to think He used us, in some small way, but all of this, all the hurt and pain, eventually led to the angels rejoicing in Heaven over another soul saved. Yes, I want Kate in my arms instead of the ground...but she is safe in the arms of her loving Savior...And for the soul of her mama, well, a year of pain is well worth a life saved."
She responded, "I love you, Kate's mom. You bless me and so many others for living the way you do..."
The repentance of the Ninevites was never about Jonah. Jonah just got to be a part of it. May I always remember, in my grief and my pain and my frustration, that maybe my life is being interrupted so that someone else can see the glory of the Lord.