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“All Things for the Good”

May 11, 2012

“Don’t worry. God works all things for the good!”

I want to slap the optimism right off her face.

Good? What good could come from terminal brain tumors? Why would God visit horror on us just to bring good?

I wipe the remnant tears I now regret sharing with my friend. I clinch my teeth and steel my face against emotion. It’s my superpower, hiding emotion.

I don’t want some vague future good. I want my mom. I want to keep weaving baskets with her. I want her proud smile at my grades and her witty, sarcastic banter with my brother. I want the mother-daughter fights and the girls-night-outs.

What good can come of this cancer?

*****

It’s been five years since the miraculously clean MRI. Since I first believed my friend about the good.

But I’m finding car keys in the fridge.

Bills pile up, unpaid.

She forgets my name.

And her dry humor has turned to harsh criticism.

I thought the promised good was that she actually lived through the cancer. But I’m in college, two hours away and my mother is living in squalor and forgetting to pay her bills. Who is this stranger?

What good can come of this?

*****

It is now twelve years since that clear MRI.

She is in a nursing home. She trades cans of Coke for packs of cigarettes, like prison. It would be funny if it weren’t killing her.

She missed shopping for my wedding dress. She missed the births of both my sons. She had five children of her own and cannot offer me any advice when I’m at the end of my rope. She doesn’t pick out the perfect wallpaper or sew beautiful bedding or weave baskets. Phone calls are filled with silence, or she abruptly decides to hang up.

She forgets I am no longer in Arkansas. She forgets me.

I find myself praying for a daughter until the sobs come, because I so desperately miss my mom and if I can’t be the daughter, then I want to be the mom. I want it all back.

And I want to stop hearing that good will come of it. It may be true.

But I want the good that could have been.

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33 Comments leave one →
  1. May 11, 2012 8:50 am

    We often remember Job’s friends for blaming and accusing him, but forget that they started by sitting and mourning with him for a week.

    Job 2:11-13 NASB

    Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, they came each one from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite; and they made an appointment together to come to sympathize with him and comfort him. When they lifted up their eyes at a distance and did not recognize him, they raised their voices and wept. And each of them tore his robe and they threw dust over their heads toward the sky. Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.

    How can we join you, Aubry?

  2. rayhollenbach permalink
    May 11, 2012 9:22 am

    Hi Aubrey:

    Of the many shallow statements we sometimes make about our faith, “God works all things for the good” may be the most shallow of them all. Yes, I know it comes from Romans 8:28, but those who pull this verse into nearly every conversation involving suffering are looking for the quick way out.

    Like you, I refuse to believe that “God visit horror on us just to bring good.” We would lock up any earthly parent who treated their children so. Nor is there an easy answer as to why sickness and suffering are visited upon us. I suspect the reason for our present sorrow goes all the way back to the Garden, but many are like those in John 9 who asked, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” This question is just as foolish as the pat answer that flow from Romans 8:28.

    Yet there is comfort, even if there are no answers. The sense of loss we feel is real; it is true loss, not some secret plan of which we know nothing. Still, in the cold dark corner we discover Jesus, present in the pain.

    Grace to you, and peace.

    • aubrygrace permalink*
      May 11, 2012 9:33 am

      Thanks, Roger and Ray. These are good, kind comments. Good insights. This phrase and others are surely “quick ways out.”

      I find comfort in knowing that Jesus is one who suffers with us. God is not far-off, but so near that His Son suffered for us and now intercedes for us.

      When others suffer, I think of the quiet presence of Mary, whose “soul was pierced” as she stayed by the cross as her son died. Unable to plea for his life, unable to make it better, unable to reason to the centurions. But she did the one thing she could: she stayed. She entered into his suffering in a way that no one else did. Like Job’s friends who sat in silence, as Roger pointed out. How we’ve lost the fine art of suffering with those who suffer!

      • May 11, 2012 11:51 am

        Suffering with those who suffer is the very definition of compassion. Com = with; passion = suffering.

  3. May 11, 2012 10:30 am

    Aubry, this is good stuff. I’ve recently been working through a lot of the same feelings. Struggling with unanswered prayers that broke my heart and suffering that God could have so easily healed. Wondering why sometimes he intervenes and saves and sometimes he just doesn’t. It’s hard. It’s not that I want answers as much I just feel like I don’t understand God like I thought I did. I’ve been trying to blog my way through it as well :)

    “A Grief Observed” by C.S. Lewis is incredible. Since you’re a reader, you may have already come across this. I didn’t even know it existed until a few months ago.

    And when I feel the most sad, I remember those verses about when Lazarus had died and Jesus came to the funeral. Even though people were confused and questioning him and he knew he was about to prove himself with an insane miracle, he still was so overcome with their grief that he wept with them. Before he brought all things to good again, he “stayed” in that moment and just wept because he was so deeply affected by their sorrow. …It makes me cry all over again. Like you said, he is not far-off from our suffering.

    • aubrygrace permalink*
      May 11, 2012 12:26 pm

      I’m headed over to your blog in just a sec :) I know exactly what you mean about not understanding God like you thought you did. It’s a hard realization. I keep meaning to read “A Grief Observed,” but I don’t know if I can handle it yet. One of those books that I know is going to be emotionally exhausting, you know? I will read it someday…someday.

  4. Courtney permalink
    May 11, 2012 11:03 am

    Your thoughts so often hit close to my heart, and while my experiences are not your own, what you’ve shared here does resonate with other sufferings in my life. I agree with you. All things are not good, otherwise there would be no need for Cross or Savior. To pretend otherwise is to minimize the depths of the brokenness of the world and the reality of pain, the reality of our great need. Sometimes there is no making it better, no aha moment of pain replaced by joy, only the sorrow and the knowledge that a different, more complex good is still not the simple good we wanted and hoped for. I wonder if God felt the same way in the aftermath of the Garden, feels the same way now, mourning the loss of our innocence all the while working to redeem the loss into something different. The more I experience the more I cling to that image, even thought I don’t fully understand why it comforts me.

    • aubrygrace permalink*
      May 11, 2012 12:28 pm

      Yes! A million times, YES, to all of it. Wonderfully said, Courtney.

  5. May 11, 2012 11:19 am

    Thank you for this. I recently lost my mom to cancer, so I know what it feels like. It’s just seems so unfair that other people get to call their moms and I don’t get to anymore. I wanted her to be able to hold my baby (when we have one) but I won’t have that pleasure.
    I’m making it through and I’ve seen God work a lot of good from it, but at what cost? The cost of my mom.
    People need to be careful when using Romans 8:28 because it downplays the pain that’s being experienced and chastises the hurting for not having the faith to see the good. It is dangerous all around.
    When someone is hurting, just give them a hug or tell them you love them.

    • aubrygrace permalink*
      May 11, 2012 12:34 pm

      I’m so sorry that you lost your mom. The unfairness of it all is especially painful on Mother’s Day. I keep thinking that “time will heal all wounds,” but it turns out that the wounds just change shape. My mom missed my college graduation. Then she missed the wedding prep. Then it was my sons. Every new event brings new pain, because she should have been there. I think many people fail to understand that grief is, in many ways, a lifelong suffering. I pray you have people who are brave enough to be with you in your pain, friend.

      I think people are often trying their hardest to bring hope to a bad situation, but it comes out as a quick fix that only brings more pain. A hearty “Amen!” to your comment about chastising the suffering for not having enough faith. Like personal strength is displayed by being perky and sunshiney about the hardest things in life.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

  6. May 11, 2012 12:42 pm

    You’ve left me breathless. Tears. Thank you for baring your beautiful and real soul, Aubry.

  7. Tim permalink
    May 11, 2012 12:48 pm

    Aubry, I am so sorry for the loss you have been experiencing all these years. I kind of understand, I think, and I’m praying for you.

    My mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor when I was 13. She had surgery, radiation therapy, chemo, convalescent home residence, home with us, more hospitalizations, more treatments, more home time, more convalescent home time. When I was 14, Dad got a call from the convalescent home. It was Easter Sunday. Mom died.

    Being in church on Mother’s Day is an odd holiday when you’re a kid who doesn’t have one.

    Tim

    • aubrygrace permalink*
      May 11, 2012 3:26 pm

      Oh gosh, Tim. I’m so sorry. Had my mom died when the doctors said she would, I would have been 14, too. It must have been so hard to lose your mom – at any age, but I think it’s especially hard when you’re young and haven’t had the chance to do all you should have been able to do with her.

      Thanks for sharing your story, and for your prayers.

      • Tim permalink
        May 11, 2012 4:25 pm

        “… it’s especially hard when you’re young and haven’t had the chance to do all you should have been able to do with her.” We have that experience in common, don’t we Aubry.

        You know what else has come to mind recently? My wife has been married to me for almost 25 years but has never known what it’s like to have a mother in law.

  8. Bernard Shuford permalink
    May 11, 2012 3:59 pm

    Can I be honest? I’m going to presume that I can, and that I should.

    It’s basically this question that leads me to a very non-Calvinistic conclusion, or at least a persistent admission of possibility – I’m not so sure that God is truly “sovereign” in the way most people interpret that word. I’m still not sure that God just watches from a distance, but I honestly have to question the logic that he intimately controls every detail of every storyline such that there is only one possible outcome. This challenges predestination, even prevenient grace, and definitely challenges absolute worldwide prophecy theories.

    Somewhere in there, absolute control fades and is replaced by complete power to do as He chooses, with choices being driven by complete knowledge and pure intentions. Yet, how can sinful people make sinful choices and still be doing the perfect will of God?

    I honestly don’t know how this stuff works. Clearly, I’m not alone, and I’m grateful for your wonderfully shared story here, as painful as it is.

    Many would challenge my very salvation because I question such as this. There are many things that happen in life where it becomes impossible to say “God is good”. When we do, we’re trying to impose “goodness” into a situation where, to be honest, it is not there. We’re lying. It is NOT good when a child is aborted. It is NOT good when a baby is burned in a fire and the mother can’t get to it to save it. It is NOT good when the mother of four or five kids gets cancer and dies. These things are NOT good. What is buried in my current theory, though, is that it IS possible for God to work these things out to somehow be good, but I refuse to buy into the idea that He caused the fires, that He caused the cancer, or whatever, because that is NOT a “good” God. That’s a monster. Is my faith weak in these times? You better believe it. Does God ALWAYS work these things out into some kind of “good”? I think the jury is still out on that. He did for Job, but there are millions of worldwide stories of comparable suffering where there is NO good outcome. Psychiatric wards are FULL of people who may NEVER find peace. People die every day, some horribly and painfully. To impose that God ignores the suffering of one to bring something awesome to another is, again, to invent a monster who is NOT the good God that we teach our kids about.

    Yes, my problems with this often cause me to come to a point of almost no faith. I’ve been around Christianity for all my life, I’ve given my life to Christ, placed what little faith I have in Him, so forth and so on, and yet I still look at this effed up world we live in and say “God, are you even THERE????” many times.

    And no, that little line about “He didn’t intend it this way, it’s our sin that causes it!” doesn’t change anything – because if our sin caused this mess, you’re going to have a VERY hard time convincing me that God is in control of ANYTHING.

    Which puts Him out there watching from a distance, and most evangelicals would send me straight to hell for even thinking such a thought.

    And that’s just my little bit of honesty. I’m so sorry for your situation. I do believe God is able to help, but what the heck does that really even mean?

    • aubrygrace permalink*
      May 11, 2012 5:47 pm

      Bernard, thanks for your honesty (which is always welcome here, and never means you’re a heretic or secretly not a Christian). I had been in that EXACT mindset for the last 4 years – much of it as a reaction against Calvinism and poorly-wielded Calvinistic cliches.

      My church is studying Deuteronomy this year, and the Lord kind of shook me up with one passage: “Remember how the Lord your God led(C) you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test(D) you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3 He humbled(E) you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna,(F) which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach(G) you that man does not live on bread(H) alone but on every word that comes from the mouth(I) of the Lord.(J) 4 Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years.(K) 5 Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.(L)

      My computer is acting weird and I can’t delete the Bible Gateway endnote letters. It’s from chapter 8. The phrase, “He caused you to hunger” threw me off. God caused suffering?

      I think we get freaked out by the idea of God causing suffering, so we react by demanding a god who is only kind to us and does what doesn’t cause us any harm. I was comforted for a brief time by such a worldview. But it doesn’t seem to hold up to Scripture, in Deuteronomy or elsewhere.

      I think:
      1) God causes some suffering (as discipline towards his children, or judgment)
      2) Sin causes some suffering
      3) Satan and demonic powers cause some suffering
      4) Other humans cause suffering

      And most times, it’s hard to tell which is which. And either way, it’s so hard knowing that God could end the suffering of anyone, but often doesn’t. And when we are that suffering one begging for God to make it stop, I think it’s helpful to remember that He is not unaffected by it all. He left His own Son on the cross.

      Sounds like you have had your own hurts to have wrestled with this as much. Thanks for your insights. :)

      • Tim permalink
        May 11, 2012 6:28 pm

        “He left His own Son on the cross.”

        I know what you mean about difficult passages, Aubry. Isaiah 53:10 says “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer.” That was the Father’s will? Wow. His ways certainly are beyond my understanding. Bu that same passage says it was so that we would not have to bear the suffering for our own sins, the suffering we deserve. “Amazing love,” as Charles Wesley put it, “How can it be that thou my God shouldst die for me?”

  9. blogofshannon permalink
    May 11, 2012 4:05 pm

    My heart hurts and breaks for you. I’ve thought about you several times since I first read tidbits of your story on your blog. Thank you for sharing pieces of it. Please know that even though we don’t “know” each other, I pray for and grieve with you.

    • aubrygrace permalink*
      May 11, 2012 5:49 pm

      Thanks, friend. I have loved getting to “know” people through this blog that I may never have met otherwise. Grateful for your friendship – even if it is cyber-friendship. :)

  10. May 11, 2012 4:21 pm

    Aubry, thank you for transparency and honesty about your grief. I do believe that if suffering never touches us, then we are out of touch with reality and numbing ourselves with other things – food, drink, sex, relationships, money, power, attention, whatever it is that makes one feel better in the moment. Unanswered prayers and losses drive us into the arm of Jesus, who is our only true comfort. People can make blind promises of miracles that could come, but then again, they may not. What it comes down to is God is God and we are not. But we must never underestimate that in his sovereignty, He is doing a million different things for good purpose that we cannot see.

    What is good about suffering is that it teaches us just how much we need God, how our salvation is not in our own attempts at safety, protection, or building castles in the sand, but our salvation is from the Lord. Suffering and loss give us an eternal perspective and remind us that the world is passing away – we are passing away – our loved ones are passing away. Our hope is not in what we can see. The myth of control is shattered by suffering.

    Like C.S. Lewis says, I have found that truth (while it may be hard to stomach at times – such as we) ultimately brings comfort. But comfort sought for comfort’s sake rarely brings real comfort and hardly ever arrives at the truth. Down with the power of positive thinking – reality will hit us square in the face and expose the futility of superficial “positive thinking”. I’m grateful that the gospel is gut-level, that it gives a reason for the pain, that it gives the promise of a living hope. The truths that Jesus is present with us in our sufferings, that the Holy Spirit groans for us with groanings too deep for words, that the Father holds us in His right hand bring comfort. While the pain remains, these truths bring comfort that God is with us and loving us in every moment. Even more so, He promises to keep every tear and restore the years that the locusts have eaten. Nothing is wasted. That brings me so much comfort. It doesn’t mean that the circumstances in themselves are good – in fact, they may be awful – but to know that if nothing else, He is good; He is sovereign; and He loves us. Also, in feeling desperate for and experiencing his comfort, we will be able to comfort others.

    Thank you for sharing a piece of your heart with us. I love you and am thankful for your life.

    • aubrygrace permalink*
      May 11, 2012 6:02 pm

      Thanks, Ash :) Loving your new website, by the way – looks like a really neat resource in the making!

  11. Beth permalink
    May 11, 2012 5:34 pm

    Aubry this sounds so hard, I can’t even begin to imagine how hard. It broke my heart to hear about what you’re going through. Personally though I have to thank you for writing this; ever since my Dad died I’ve tried to reconcile that happening with “all things for the good” and never been able to think of a good enough reason. That’s because there isn’t and I can understand that now, and understand God a bit better too. So thank you :) and praying for you (and a daughter!)

    • aubrygrace permalink*
      May 11, 2012 6:01 pm

      Beth, I think you of all people know how hard it is. I hate that you lost your Dad so young – it’s okay that nothing feels good enough to warrant that. It shouldn’t have happened. In the Bible, Death is an enemy, but Christians often talk about it like it’s this welcomed friend that ushers us to Jesus. In Revelation, God throws Death itself into the lake of fire. So we can overturn this guilt-inducing notion that we should be somehow grateful that our loved ones have died. I think that frees us to grieve, and to ask, “How long, O Lord?”

  12. Robyn P permalink
    May 11, 2012 7:16 pm

    It is really hard to lose loved ones, it is really hard to see loved ones suffer, it is hard to see anyone we love struggling to cope (and if our loved ones have a good, long life, it’s hard to see them losing their capabilities and dignity as they age). There will be “good things” that our Father works in these situations, but He understands when we can’t see them.
    The two “good things” that I’ve come to recognise over time are 1. We are drawn closer to Him and the comfort of His everlasting arms, and 2. We understand and can share the suffering of others who are hurting ie we become more like Jesus who has known the worst physical, spiritual and emotional suffering ever.
    I had a delightful childhood and sixteen wonderful years of marriage. I saw suffering around me but it didn’t really touch me until I joined the sufferers.
    It seems trite to count our blessings, or recite “all things work together for good” but I find myself content to trust, and wait and see.

    • aubrygrace permalink*
      May 13, 2012 1:39 pm

      Wise and true words, Robyn. Thank you.

  13. Ashley permalink
    May 11, 2012 9:23 pm

    Just soaking up all the wisdom in all the comments and crying and praying with you Aubry.

  14. May 12, 2012 4:41 pm

    Hey friend! My heart hurts for you, but it also hurts with you. I am right there with you. It was through sobs just a week ago I screamed the same words, “I want my mom!! Why does it have to be this way?” I am 30 years old. I never thought at 30 I would be dealing with the fact that my mom is no longer the strong, witty woman she once was.

    She hasn’t been the same in the last ten years, since I was halfway through college. It started with forgetting things, then it ended with her (the teacher of the year for many years) losing her job and being forced into retirement. Then, slowly, her physical problems came on. First, unable to walk straight. Then she began to fall a lot..sometimes a flight of stairs. And then, all of a sudden it seemed, she was wheelchair bound. And now, she is in a full time nursing facility. She pees all over herself all the time. She can’t hardly eat by herself. She hallucinates and gets people mixed up. And just last week, she had her phone taken away from her by the people at the facility because she kept calling 911. On the same day, a psychologist came to meet with her, and declared that cognitively she was no more than a 5 year old. My oldest daughter will be 5 this summer. That hurt! In fact, that almost put me in a depression.

    Just about 4 years ago I finally was able to convince my dad that her memory issues and her physical problems that were rapidly arising weren’t just a coincidence. He took her from doctor to doctor, all getting the same answer. “We don’t know what’s wrong with her.” Finally, a research doctor gave him some answers. He diagnosed her with something called Parkinsonism Plus Disorder. Basically, in a nutshell she has parkinsons disease and alzheimers meshed together. Both mimick the real disease, but neither respond to medicine. Her body systems are shutting down one by one. She can no longer tell her right foot to move forward because there is a disconnect there. She can’t pee (or the other) on command and has to wear diapers. She can’t hardly eat without taking a full hour to do so. She will continue to get worse over the coming months. The next step is her forgetting who we are all together. Within a year or two, her body will forget how to breathe, and she will die. Just like that. It makes me cry just thinking about it.

    I say all that not because I am looking for sympathy, but because I know exactly how you feel. I can’t see how God is going to bring good out of this. I’m mad, hurt, scared, and all I want to do is have a normal conversation with my mom….to be able to call her when I need motherly advice….to be able to laugh with her over stories we share….to be able to take a mother/daughter road trip…..anything other than what I have to see when I go visit her. I’m jealous thinking about my girlfriends who have such great peer/peer relationships with their moms. It just doesn’t seem fair.

    And my poor kids! I have to warn them (at 4 and 3) that Grandma might not remember who they are. I should never have to tell my children at that age that…shouldn’t have to tell them that Grandma can’t give them a hug because she might fall out of her wheelchair…

    I wish you were still in Arkadelphia and we could cry together!! It makes me feel horrible to know that you’re in the same boat, but makes me feel comforted to know I’m not alone. Does that sound horrible????

    But, nevertheless, God is sovereign, and He is in control. I have to hold fast to the verse in Psalms, that I will be lifted high on wings like eagles. That’s the verse I cling to during this mess.

    Alison

    • aubrygrace permalink*
      May 13, 2012 1:40 pm

      Oh, Alison. I had no idea you were going through it, too. I DO understand about it feeling better to know you’re not alone. Doesn’t sound horrible to me. :) Thanks for sharing your story here. I’m so sorry.

  15. May 22, 2012 11:30 am

    “And I want to stop hearing that good will come of it. It may be true.” – I think this bit at the end really nails something vital about how we react when people share their suffering with us – just because something may be true, it doesn’t mean it’s the most helpful thing for that person to hear at that moment.

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