10 || Moving Mountains of Doubt
Tornado warning sirens will never again signal just weather danger to me. Two years ago, they were the soundtrack to the most memorable phone call I ever received in my life. Even as I write this, I feel myself going back to that day…
October 26, 2010, was a dark and ominous day in Huntsville, Alabama. I had left my 11-month-old son home with his nanny when I left for work, but soon found myself turning around as rolling, thick, black clouds started barreling toward me. Something inside me triggered the need to return home to the nest and resume my protective stance of my child.
Upon arrival, I let the nanny go home, turned on the TV, and began keeping watch over the weather situation. I did not have to wait long. Soon the weather radio started blaring, sirens started whaling, and forecasters started warning–all signaling impending doom.
Tornados–multiple tornados–were on their way! We were in the middle of a Particularly Dangerous Situation (PDS as the weathermen said) with deadly and ferocious rotating clouds touching down in unpredictable patterns and many locations. Several were heading directly toward our home.
With my heart racing, I threw blankets and couch cushions into our small, windowless bathroom and took cover with my baby boy, praying to God to keep us safe. As fears for our safety swirled in my head, I heard the phone ring.
The name on my caller ID struck fear, hesitation, and dread into my soul. I sensed what the call was going to be about. It was my brother calling, and he never called me. Eleven years his senior, I was just not around enough when he was growing up to really develop a close sibling relationship, and a phone call was a rare thing indeed. As I answered, I felt my throat constrict, my heart leap, and my eyes swell. Then, he said it. “She’s gone Rachael. She’s gone.” Mom had died.
I don’t remember my exact response. The news was not altogether unexpected. She had been very sick for a long time. As the overwhelming finality of her death began to hit me, I think I choked out the questions “How did it happen?” “Are you okay?” and “How is everyone?”
I was the oldest sibling, the rock, the example, and I had to keep it together. But my composure did not last long. As I called my husband to tell him what happened, my tears flowed and sobs shook my body.
Alarmed at the emotions overcoming me, my son was soon caught up in sympathetic tears to match mine. There we sat in a pile of cushions on the bathroom floor with sirens wailing, tornadoes swirling, and tears streaming. Soon, my husband’s strong arms were holding us both as he comforted and supported us. He reassured Aaron and explained, “Mama needs us now, son. She’s sad.” That picture will be forever etched in my mind and heart—my men surrounding me protectively as my loss overtook me.
The following days were filled with busy work. Packing for my little family, driving 13 hours to my mom’s house, planning the funeral, preparing paperwork for my mom’s final disposition, going through her home and dispersing her effects, and spending time with family consumed my mind and preoccupied my emotions. Then the day came for our final farewell. There was no busy work and nothing to focus on other than my mom and family.
As expected, I was overwhelmed by the scenes surrounding me in the church. Forever in my memory I will see my dad crying over lost hope and expectations, my husband sitting in the church pew with tears streaming down his face as I spoke about my mom, and multiple friends and acquaintances hugging my family members and me trying to reassure us that “she was in a better place” and that “we would all see her again someday.”
What I did not see coming was my reaction to the barrage of clichés that the well-meaning fellow Christians offered as their effort to provide solace. I knew the sayings and I had believed them at one point, but for some reason I could not find comfort in them. Instead, I found them rather empty. It wasn’t that I was angry at God for my mom’s death. I knew that it had been the result of her own choices in life. He had been nothing but a source of sweet grace and mercy to her.
However, instead of solace, that day and those comments began a series of questions that chipped away at my faith and at my heart – leaving me cold, unsure, and searching. Questions raced through my mind, even though I did not want to admit it, and they did not lose steam. Really? Really? Are you for real God? How is it possible? How can I believe in something I’ve never seen?
As a woman who loves God with all her heart, I have seen Him move in remarkable ways in my life and have experienced Him so personally on numerous occasions that I really thought my faith was rock solid, but those cliché’s had hit me hard and I could not ignore the question, “Do I REALLY believe?” The idea of life after death – the actual ability to resurrect and spend eternity with some unseen deity just seemed so inconceivable and so far-fetched.
In the hours that I needed Him the most, when you might think that I would be finding my solace in God, I actually turned away from Him. There was a definite wall of doubt resurrected in my heart. I went through the motions of the funeral and said all of the right things, but I had so many questions. It was just too hard for me to believe.
Desperate for resolution, my only prayer for a long time was, “God, are you real? Are you there? Please help me. Help me believe. Help me understand. Help me see you. Help me feel you. Help me.” I had come to depend on my relationship with Christ for everything. He was the cornerstone of my life, and as I questioned that, I felt the foundation on everything else start to crack. I needed answers, and I needed them from God himself. No one else had the words to say that would help make God real or to ease my fears.
As much as I wanted to, I could not do anything to help the situation either. Nothing I read or listened to did anything to prove to me or reassure me about the reality of God. Everything had a flip side to it. Everything I had learned and come to believe about God, I called in to question.
The next few months were critical. I carried on with life in general because I had to, but when it came to my relationship with God, I became very still. I waited. I watched. I listened.
Slowly, my heart began to soften, and my mind began to soak life in again. As I watched my husband, I was reminded of God’s provision of marriage and how sweet the Lord had made our union. With two strong-willed people like my husband and me, the fact that we grew closer to each other every day of our marriage was evidence of divine intervention. Both of us had needed numerous heart changes during our union together, and only God can change a heart –deep in my heart and mind, I still believed that.
As I watched my son methodically master more and more life skills, and then began to feel the movement of our brand new baby girl growing inside of me, I was reminded of the intricacies of human life and the divine hand in the creative process. Who did I give credit to for those miracles? I knew for sure that it was a thousand times harder for me to believe evolution could be randomly responsible for my children rather than a loving Creator.
I felt the Lord bringing to mind the memories of answered prayers. Direct answers from the Lord of the Universe had been the cement in our relationship. I had received so many confirming responses from Him in my life. He led me through seasons of anger, hopelessness, sickness, and depression to enjoy seasons of joy, hope, health, and freedom. He had made me stronger for Him through every trial and tribulation. Psalm 23 epitomized the presence of the Lord in my life. He had been my constant through the valleys, leading me to green pastures where He healed me and made me whole. He guided my path to my career, my husband, and my kids. He had protected me, healed me, and brought me peace. In the end, my experiences with Him proved to be the strongest evidence that could have been presented to me. I had tasted Him and known Him to be real, present, and good. I could not deny that.
As the days waded deeper and deeper into autumn, my most favorite time of the year, the Lord then began to use nature to reach out to me. With every bright orange and deep red leaf that peppered the landscape, with every orange streak across the sun-emblazoned sky, with every flock of birds flying deeper south, and with every waft of wood smoke scent floating through the crisp air, I felt my Creator speaking to me. He re-opened my eyes to His glorious attention to detail in nature and reminded me of His sovereign hand. He spoke to me of His care, His love, His compassion, and His gentleness.
Then the holidays were upon us–the season of His birth. He reinvigorated my faith and I found myself believing again. I knew within my deepest heart of hearts that He was real. For some people, facing the holidays minus their loved one brings a sense of dread and depression. The physical absence of one held so dear to us can cast an aura of “incomplete” over festive occasions. For me, as my siblings and my family gathered in our home, it became a time of meaningful celebration because I finally knew that I really would see my mama again.