I put my friend’s name in a plastic bag and taped it to my shower wall so when that door shut to my makeshift prayer room she would be the first person my heart would mention before the throne of grace.
Stage IV colon cancer. She’d already battled breast cancer…more than once…more than twice. And she’d won.
So we prayed. With hands clasped. With hearts of faith. With tears. We prayed.
As the months dragged on, we knew God was calling her home. Our prayers shifted. We prayed for no more surgeries. We asked for no more complications. We pleaded for good days.
The complications continued. The surgeries and procedures began to sound like torture. Every good day was followed by bad days…just so many bad days.
As I walked to my car after her funeral I felt numb. Disappointed. Angry. Mostly hurt.
The weeks that followed my prayers felt forced. Fake. Shallow. I grew cynical. I wondered if maybe it would’ve been better had we never prayed so fervently. Maybe then I wouldn’t have to try and process why God hadn’t answered any of our pleas. The silence between God and I began.
I refused to take down my friend’s name from my shower wall. Not because I didn’t want to forget her, for she will always be in my memory, but rather because I wasn’t ready to forget how utterly broken I was over all that had transpired. My prayer room was no longer my refuge, but a reminder of what stood between me and my Father.
So I kept Him at a distance. I hid my shattered heart.
A few weeks ago I sat in a pew the pain in my head mirroring the pain in my heart.
My pastor walked to the pulpit and said, “Have you ever prayed and wondered where God is? Have you felt like He let you down so you pushed Him away and are now keeping Him at an arm’s length?”
My heart beat a little faster. Those were exactly the thoughts that ruminated through my mind. The thoughts that I’d invited in and then allowed to stay. I was afraid if I thought about it a minute longer the tears I refused to let fall would burst forth and I wouldn’t be able to stop them.
My pastor’s voice cut into my thoughts. He was reading Isaiah 49. The Jerusalem walls were in ruin and God’s people wondered if God had forgotten them. If their prayers had fallen on deaf ears? Pastor began reading God’s response:
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are continually before me. (Isaiah 49:15-16)
“You are my tattoo. You are what I choose to permanently remember. Like your friend’s name on your shower wall, your name is etched into my hands where I can always see you. I know you are hurting beloved.” They were whispered words and I know Who spoke them.”
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27)
I quickly shifted my thoughts to lunch, my grocery list, anything else. His words threatened to undo me. They were words that could heal me. I fought the truth in them.
But He continued to pursue me. Through friends that showed me His love, through verses I came across in the Word, through the lyrics of songs that focused on His steadfast love and on His unfailing goodness.
The wall of isolation I’d constructed between us began to crack. The light of His Presence penetrating my darkness. His familiar warmth gently warming me like the sun on a crisp autumn morning.
I’m still healing. I still struggle some days to reconcile all that transpired this summer. I take a few steps into His presence and then make a hasty retreat.
He has not moved away from me through this whole ordeal. He remains faithfully steadfast. He is patiently waiting for me to fully trust again.
And it deepens my love for Him.
I don’t think I will ever fully understand why my friend had to suffer like that or why she was called home so young. I am learning in situations like this I must trust His character.
I’ve had enough of the silence. I miss Him. I’ve walked with Him long enough to know that there is no substitution for a relationship with Him. He is the one who gives meaning to my life.
He was with my friend. He heard our prayers and answered. It just wasn’t with one of the choices we had come up with. He didn’t forget about my friend because just like a mother can’t forget her suckling child neither can He forget one of His children. Her name is tattooed on His palm.
My name is tattooed there too.
And so is every believer who has called on His name. Even on the days we struggle to trust. He remembers.
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