“They Did the Best They Could”

The table was littered with crumpled napkins and dessert plates bearing the remains of a homemade strawberry dessert. Our bellies were full and we’d settled into some some real talk–the kind that happens when long after your done eating you sit around the table with those you hold dear and who trust you with the burdens weighing on their hearts.

One of my oldest and dearest friends sat across the table still grieving the loss of his father. As we reminisced I mentioned how much I loved a particular photograph of the two of them. In it, they were captured at a big box store in a town far away engaged in some very childish behavior. They were clearly having great fun evidenced by their beaming faces. Both were laughing. The reflected joy was palpable.

“I loved to make my Daddy laugh,” he said, wistfully, “but, now there’s so much anger.” I saw pure sadness in his lowered eyes. Some hard things had transpired leaving he and his family to suffer sorrow, betrayal, disappointment and an ongoing battle against bitterness that would have been understandable had they succumbed. They hadn’t, but these were hard times indeed.

“He did the best he could.” I responded, hoping to ease his pain.

His response was soft yet swift, “Oh, but, he didn’t.” There was no sign of satisfaction in his eyes over this proclamation. Only sorrow mixed with regret. This conversation took place well over a year ago and I confess it still rumbles around my mind and in my heart.

I don’t know that I will ever mindlessly use that phrase again. Even now if I overhear it somewhere, I hear his response in my head: “Oh, but he didn’t.” We are so quick to say “they did the best they could.” But, was my friend right or was I? Did they do their best? Or, in fact, is that just a trite response when we have no other explanation to soothe ourselves? Is it a myth we use for self-comfort when others have disappointed us with their actions or lack of them?

Do any of us consistently give our best, even to those people and things we love most? Likely not. For a myriad of reasons, we fall short. We fail to be the mothers, fathers, spouses, children, friends, etc that we’d like to think we are or want to be. Because, my friends, wanting doesn’t make it so. If we aren’t intentional about what we do, we too will fail.

I can’t become a master chef by watching the Food Network and wishing I could emulate their skills. Nor can I just post photos of beautiful dishes on Instagram under the moniker “InstaChef.” No. I need to go to the market, purchase the required ingredients, follow the recipe step by step and even then, I may not get the desired result. So, I’ll to try again until I’m satisfied. What may happen down the road is that I grow over confident and fail to read the recipe carefully. I may (because I can be careless) omit a crucial ingredient or use too much of another. I won’t have intended to fail, I just took my eyes off the recipe.

“So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. ” Galations 6:9 Holman Christian Standard Bible.

“We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.”
Hebrews 2:1

Growing up I spent many summer days at the beach, body surfing for hours with my cousins and siblings. Often, I would come out of the water to discover my carefully placed towel “missing.” Upon further examination, I was surprised to view exactly where I had left it. I had been oblivious to the fact that the current had subtly caused me to drift a significant distance from where I had entered the water. Unbeknownst to me I had veered off course without noticing that I had lost sight of my home base. We are strongly warned in the book of Hebrews that if we don’t pay attention, we are in great danger of just drifting away. When we do, we will inevitably fail to give our best.

I hadn’t intended to lose sight of that towel, but, neither had I kept my eye on it. I was distracted by the sun and the waves and my company. When that happened, I effortlessly drifted. When we get distracted by the cares of life, we can easily move away from doing our best for ourselves and those we love. My friend was right. His Daddy, though he most certainly loved his boy dearly, also failed him in some pretty significant ways. He could have done better. He didn’t always do his best. I think he drifted from the shore and lost his bearings for a time. The result for my friend has been some high hurdles to jump over. You and I all have, or will have, similar mountains to climb in our own lives. But our good God is gracious to heal our wounds, day by day, as we lay them before Him.

There will always be a mountain to climb
…and hurdles to conquer

So, what about that “unfinished business?” What about those for whom it’s too late? Too late to give their best, too late to give us their time, their affection, their encouragement, their unconditional love and faithfulness, their provision for our needs. What about that? How are we to come to terms with our disappointment, anger, sorrow and regret, knowing there will be no reconciliation here on earth?

Illustration by Margaret Armstrong from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s
Sonnets From the Portuguese

We can still love and forgive those who’ve failed us in their weakness. We can hate how they hurt us, overlooked us, put others ahead of us or responded from paranoia. Also, when they acted foolishly, selfishly, thoughtlessly or in anger. We don’t need to pretend things were other than they were. We can’t rewrite history. We can’t change what was or wasn’t done, but, for our own healing we can choose to release what we wanted and acknowledge what we actually had. In doing so, we can grow in grace and in mercy, with eyes wide open, to cross over the bridge of forgiveness to the solid ground of peace with God and with man. This is no way negates the wrongs done to us or the heartache we feel, but frees us to repent of our own sin of unforgiveness and to receive the peace that passes all understanding and the healing of our broken hearts.

How can I be so certain of this? Simply because, I’m a sinner, too. I’ve had to release others from the weight of my own unforgiveness, knowing that while I may not make the same mistakes they did, I will surely make my own and so will you. We may, in fact, sin by overcompensating where we were failed. If we were never told “I love you” we may well say it too casually. If we were punished harshly we may err on the side of permissiveness. If we were not adequately provided for we may be prideful in meeting the needs of those we love in a manner far beyond what is reasonable and healthy. Because, we, too, are still being transformed. For that, God allows us a lifetime. As we submit ourselves to His care and leading, He will lead us home where all our tears will be forever dried. In our own lives we can choose to be vigilant, to fix our eyes on Jesus in the earnest hope that others will recall that we did indeed do our best.

It’s a worthy goal.

Sidebar: Even healed wounds hurt from time to time, so, don’t lose hope when yours do. Press forward and through. In the meantime, may I suggest you look into God’s Word for comfort and guidance? Here are some verses to get you started on the road to forgiveness and healing. It’s not easy, but it’s simple.

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. Col. 3:13-15a NLT

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and agner, harsh words and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ forgave you. Eph. 4:31-32 NLT

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. Micah 7:18 NIV

And whenever you stand praying, you must forgive anything you are holding against anyone else, and your Father will forgive you your sins. Mark 11:25 Phillips

Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

It Hurts to Write These Words…

“Ben died…”

Those were the first  words I read  upon awakening  this past Friday.

“May he rest in peace and rise in glory”

I hail from a large extended family and some I know better than others.  Ben, not so well.  But, his father, my cousin, is like a brother to me, having lived in our home for a substantial  period of time when I was growing up.  He gave me my first Beatles album.  (Rubber Soul)  He let me drive his pink corvette one day.  He has an infectious smile and laugh.  I have a million memories of and with him.  Like each  of us, he has strengths and weaknesses.  Like me, He loves Jesus.   I have dearly loved him as long as I can remember.  Although he is miles away, I am grieving with him today and will be in the days to come.  There is a hard road ahead.

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Ben was his youngest.  His one and only son,  from a mother I have yet to  meet.  He was the child who most resembled him,  from where I stand. He was the husband of   a kind and  beautiful wife who loved him and a sweet daughter he claimed.  He had siblings who also grieve.  Shockingly,  his exit from this life on earth has been splashed across television screens which omit his name,  for now.  A devastating end to a sometime tumultuous life. But then, whose isn’t?

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In the wee hours of the morning while riding his motor cycle on a deserted street in a town I once  called home, Ben was struck by a car.  His broken body slammed to the pavement and abandoned.    A helmet lay on the ground near a single white shoe.   A lone witness called for help as the driver of the car fled the scene, no doubt fueled by sheer panic and fear.

Emergency crews arrived to  transport him to a local hospital, where a kind young woman tried to reach my sister, several states away,  via Facebook.  Having found Ben’s ID, she searched for his name there and and saw my sister as a friend and attempted to reach her in the hours before dawn.  The kindness of strangers. 

In a sterile emergency room, surrounded by the good people who worked hard to save him, Ben breathed his last breath.  And now,  we, his extended family grieve, praying that he crossed over to glory.

The witness at the scene of the accident shared information allowing  the police  to identify a  suspect early on.  He was urged  to surrender and  tell his story.  His  car was found, windshield shattered and other damage to the front.  But he was in the wind.IMG_1324Truth be told,  there was no where to run.   Adding more sorrow to an already tragic situation,  he was found dead,  from what is assumed to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  My mind shouts “senseless-tragic-why?”   But- I am not God, hence I cannot comprehend the whys.  But, what I do believe, is that God will somehow use it all for His purposes and our good as this sad story continues to unfold.

There is more “collateral damage” than is known to us.  Both of the dead  were 41 year old- young men who  were sons and fathers,  loved by those who suffer in sorrow  today and who will grieve for many days to come. No doubt many  will ask the perennial question, “why?”  1 Peter 5:8 reminds us  that we have a ruthless enemy, described as “a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” He is always anxious to tear us away from everything that is good, every  gift God freely offers us.   By all we can see, it would that the enemy and his lies seem to have  won this battle.

But, God… DSC02948

 

Here’s what I know for sure:

  1. In God’s economy, nothing is wasted or lost.  His Word says that when we submit ourselves to Him, we can move forward from any situation, confident that He will work every situation, every loss, every tragedy and every triumph for our good. Romans 8:28 assures us He uses all things- the good, the bad and the ugly, for our good and His glory.
  2.  God knew both of these men’s hearts and He was there with both of them in their final moments.   While I do know Ben heard the Gospel and acknowledged  the emptiness of a God shaped space in his heart,    I cannot speak for the other victim in this tragedy.   But, God. God knew and knows. By His grace, up until the final  moments of life, He hears the cry of a sinner surrendering to him and responds with forgiveness and mercy, just as He did to the thief on the cross beside him, when he said,  “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
  3. As we grieve we all  have a choice;  either to grieve as those who have no hope, (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) or to grieve in expectation of being reunited with those we have loved here on earth, changing a hard good bye to a confident,  “I’ll see you in Heaven.”  After his infant son died, David said in 2 Samuel 12:23 that “some day I will go to him, but he cannot come back to me.” 
  4. When we suffer such great loss, (and we all will)  we must never forget that He still has work for us to do.  We must war against allowing  our sorrow to consume us.  When it’s time for us to be reunited with those who have gone before us, He will then  bring us Home. too.  Until then, we can either be paralyzed by grief or we can use it for His good, by serving as He calls us, waking every morning with the mindset of a soldier reporting for duty, asking for marching orders.  This is our great challenge and the proof of our faith.  This faith trusts in Him more than in the emotions that might derail us from his plans and purposes for our individual and collective lives. It’s us saying, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)

A mere three days into what might  aptly be described as a nightmare,  I have seen God’s hand at work in so many ways…in  the kindness of strangers…in the emergency workers at the scene of the accident…in the  witness who acted so quickly to call for help and to share information with the authorities… in the  media professionals who withheld Ben’s name so as not to be the first to notify loved ones of his death…in the many who have reached out to both grieving families and– in the visit between a father and a son so recent  that it had the finger prints of God all over it.IMG_0960

It is no coincidence that come July, this extended family of Ben and of mine, will once again gather together for a long ago scheduled reunion.  We will  celebrate an imperfect, unpredictable family that reaches far and wide across our country and the love and legacy we share. Unbeknownst to us until now,   we will also  grieve and celebrate Ben.  Some of us  will come to  know him better in death than we knew him in life as we share stories and remembrances from those who knew him and loved him best.  It is going to be a glorious time of remembrance, sprinkled with some grief, but not without joy.

And I, for one, can’t wait.

 

P.S.

The joy of the Lord is our strength.  If you are grieving, and in need of comfort and encouragement, please won’t you open your Bible (or your device) to the following encouraging Words from the God of all comfort. It is  my experience that

| JESUS NEVER FAILS. |

Please Read This and let me know how I can pray for you today:

Joshua 1:9

Psalm 28:7

Psalm112:6-7

Nehemiah 8:10

Isaiah 41:10

Exodus 15:2

John 14:27