When God Only Knows

This unseasonably warm epilogue to November is an unexpected Thanksgiving treasure.  A comfortable breeze soothes my skin into a writer’s reflection despite the music and laughter drifting from my neighbor’s front porch.  Their careless banter about work seems out of place now that I’m lost in thoughts of last Saturday morning when Charming got the text.

Some of his best friends were travelling overseas.  They’d planned to return to the States, but they miscarried while abroad.  The significance of this permeated the holiday mood, and rightly so.  This couple is inspiring.  They have faced and overcome unthinkable, undesirable situations, both as individuals and together.  They are brilliant and funny, and they value family, faith, food, and friendship much as Charming and I do.

The road to this pregnancy was difficult to navigate, details aside.  Just weeks before we had been prying them for baby names at lunch after church watching the Redskins play.  While we were enjoying Thanksgiving dinner, they were spending four days in a foreign hospital.  They didn’t speak the language or have friends or family to hold them up.  So Charming texted encouragement, and then we prayed.

Because all I could think was that where they were, stranded in Portugal, God would have to be the one to hold them up in that moment.  I’ve seen them trust Him before.  I am confident they’ll trust Him again.  Trust.  Google it: “Firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.”

Bad things happen.  Our fallen world is wretched with tragedy.  Scared, unsupported teens are aborting their babies while faithful friends like Charming’s and my friend Mulan struggle to bring one to term.  We see the trust in our marriages tested, sometimes destroyed, by infidelity and deception.  Cancer claimed lives at our Thanksgiving tables indiscriminately.

What, then, can we ultimately trust?  Not the future.  Not each other.  Often, not even our own choices.  A miscarriage overseas doesn’t just change the holiday plans; they’re returning to a different tomorrow entirely.  My heart breaks for them.  There is no logical persuasive argument for why this happened, and it’s futile to linger there.

For a logical argument, we’d need a bigger testing pool.  In my immediate circle, I’d say each of us has at least one demon from the past that likes to rear its ugly head in our present.  But our losses are unique.  We found ourselves broken by varied circumstances; when it was the result of a broken trust in someone or something, we find that it comes reticently afterward.

At some point, I lost the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of my husband.  And then I lost that firm belief in my marriage.  This was my life.  My husband.  My marriage.  It was the only one I had.  It’s the only model on which I can judge a husband and a marriage.  It’s one occurrence where trust in one’s spouse and one’s marriage failed.

And while, to me, the weight of this failure discolors my frame of reference on marriage, it is only one occurrence.  There’s no testing pool.  I can’t make a formula to avoid a second failed marriage based on my first.  There are too many variables in the equation: the men, the timing, even me.  I chose the wrong man, or the right one and let it fall apart.  How can I trust that I’ll make the right choice next time, if there’s a next time?  I can’t, not based on that one experience.

Trust is defined in terms of the object of that trust.  We trust someone or something when the recipient is reliable, true, able, and strong.  If I have only had one marriage, then I, my husband, and my marriage failed 100% of the time.  If I apply those odds to my future, I’m doomed out of the gates.

I don’t trust the past.  I choose not to.  It may be true, but it’s only as reliable as my frame of reference.  The more distance I gain, the further I am from the woman who experienced those demons.  My gym mentor Chuck really struggled after being hit head on while driving at night.  For months afterward, he’d see headlights on the other side of the road and brace for impact.

At some point, perhaps after there was a much larger testing pool, Chuck could drive at night without half-expecting another head-on collision.  He couldn’t trust that driver on that night, but if he treated every car like that driver was behind the wheel, his wife would become a permanent chauffer.  His fear wasn’t logical.

When I look back at the photos from this weekend, my favorite is a selfie on the Waterfront at King’s Street.  We’d shared some of our own fears the night before, the fears that keep us from trusting ourselves and each other.  Charming had asked me how I could be so confident, so sure that he was the one for me.  I had spouted off a different version of the same reassuring speech I gave the last time we had a relationship defining talk.

If I could answer again, I would answer with this picture.  Charming snapped it before I accepted an offer from a Peruvian gentleman for a full-length photo.  In the second, Charming noted that we were blocking the pier.  In his selfie, he’d captured it.  We were smiling at the foreground.  The pier sprawled out behind us, leading to the frigid waters of the Potomac.

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I wouldn’t trust those waters, even in an unseasonably warm epilogue to November.  I can’t trust the past.  I can’t really trust marriage, a man, or myself.  But I am smiling.  We are smiling.  Because we want to trust that the next pier we walk leads into a sunset and a happily ever after, but we’ve no formula or percentage likelihoods or poll data to give us a reliable, true, able, and strong something to believe in.

It’s the position of the camera here that matters, set before us.  It has perspective we are missing when we take a selfie… it sees what lies behind us, but puts us always in the foreground.  When Charming holds the camera up that way, it’s like the God’s eye view.

With so much loss and hardship, unexpected tragedies, and our own brokenness and failures, what then can we trust?  If trust is defined by the object, the recipient, then the reason that I can smile in this picture is that like Chuck, eventually I stopped applying the illogical frame of a single occurrence to the rest of my life.  I saw the vast testing pool that was my life, the collection of moments, my marriage and divorce among them.  Graduations.  Friends.  Births.  Deaths.  People changed.  I changed.  Circumstances changed.

I want to live in the foreground of this photograph, not swim in the cold, murky waters of shattered hopes.  I don’t know when it happened, but to be smiling in the face of fears and loss, it had to have happened.  I trust God.  He sees past, present, and future.  He orchestrates my life.  My plans will change.  Bad things will happen, as I’ve experienced.

But good things will happen, too.  We have a constitutional right to the pursuit of happiness, but happiness is not guaranteed.  Happiness is not reliable.  We cannot trust happiness or expect it in our futures.  I cannot write a formula to avoid another failed marriage. Even the best doctors cannot ensure the outcome of a pregnancy.

Asking why bad things happen is futile, yet often our first response question.  We rarely ask why when we’re blessed, like when a man like Charming finds me and somehow loves me in spite of myself.  When I open the worn pages of my Bible, my fingers glide over verse after verse of promise.   Over and over again, the scriptures remind me, “Trust in the Lord.”  Trust is about the recipient.  He alone is reliable, true, able, and strong.

And ultimately, He’s going to continue to command my future just as He commands me to trust it to Him.  With or without my trust, my future will unfold.  God sees me on the pier.  He sees the river behind me.  And He sees beyond the lens to all the moments we’ll capture in time to come.

It seems illogical, then, not to trust Him.  I trusted Him to hold up our friends across the globe.   He holds me up, too.

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