It was what we still call our horrible year, the year when virtually everything that could go wrong went wrong.
It’s still hard to talk about it.
On a Saturday in early March, I had gone out on an errand, likely the local hardware store. It was a lengthy errand; I was home in with an hour. When I arrived, I found our next door neighbor sitting with my crying wife. The call had come from New Orleans – my father had had a stroke. I was able to get a flight that evening, but the plane was late leaving, the connection was missed in Memphis, the airline got me to Baton Rouge and arranged for a taxi to take me to New Orleans (airlines did things like that back then).
Within 24 hours, the family had told the doctors to remove from father from the machines keeping him alive. He left behind him a business that was a mess, and I was the executor of the estate. I stayed there a week, returned home, and then we drove down two weeks later. Mess had to be taken care of for months.
In June, the church we were attending erupted, largely because of an ill-designed building program. I was an elder, and had raised questions about what was planned, making a lot of people angry (things aren’t easy when you’re on the losing end of a 14 to 2 vote). I ended up resigning from the elder board. While it caused an uproar and harmed several relationships, the uproar did eventually result in structural problems coming to light, problems that would have likely bankrupted the church had the building program gone forward.
Then in October, work blew up, politics of the kind that was so naked and obvious that the entire organization I was working in was upended. I had been working almost feverishly for four years, only to see the wrong person get an unexpected promotion a few months into the job. I left the division, even after being offered “anything I wanted,” including a promotion, to stay. But the situation was broken, and it was time to leave.
Father, church, career. My world had turned upside down in six months. And my wife was pregnant with your youngest, who was born that December.
It’s easy to write and talk about the refining fire of affliction. It is another thing altogether to love it. Christians know there is always a point; we also know that it may be years before we understand what the point was.
In The Fire of Delayed Answers, Bob Sorge says this in answer to the question, why does God allow affliction? “In His mercy, He allows other fires to put the heat on our lives: financial stress, physical distress,…family distress. Without the heat, so often our love grows cold.”
That sound likes a one-sided answer, one that would likely not offer much comfort to someone suffering a serious affliction, at least while they were experiencing it.
But, in retrospect, that’s what happened with us in 1987 (and some years before and after that, too). We came out of that year changed, but during that year it often seemed that all we could do was hold on. Just hold on.
I think that was the point, too. Just to hold on, hold on to our faith.
And today I can talk with people who lose loved ones, experience job upheaval, and see their churches blow up, and can empathize in a way someone who hasn’t experienced those things simply can’t.
Led by Jason Stayszsen and Sarah Salter, we’ve started reading The Fire of Delayed Answers. To see others’ comments, please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact and Sarah at Living Between the Lines.
Photograph by Junior Libby via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.