*Post by my husband, Jeff Swanson, who was able to process this event and our current situation in words better than I.
June 18th came and went – the anticipated events unseen.
One way or another we knew our lives were going to change after June 18th; at least we were right on that account.
For those in Rachel’s blog community who may not understand the depth of meaning behind the June 18th date; suffice it to say that Rachel and I had been walking in faith for quite some time, in a direction we felt certain God was leading, only to see God not move. (See previous post here!)
After spending not-a-small-amount-of-time reflecting on this, short of God simply not existing, I’ve found three conclusions that encapsulates every rabbit trail of thought I’ve had.
- Conclusion #1: God is not as advertised.
- Conclusion #2: We are crazy – overzealous religious people who overstepped the bounds of scripture and let our imagination get the better of us.
- Conclusion #3: God did move in a significant way on June 18th but has concealed those movements for the time being.
While Conclusion #1 is a possible option, and I’d be lying if I said that we have not considered it, we don’t see that as a viable conclusion. That conclusion assumes Rachel and I heard from God correctly, but he did not come through as promised because He was either unable to come through, unwilling to come through, had malicious intentions to not come through, or something to that affect. While this is, of course, a possible explanation, nothing except my raw emotions persuades me toward that conclusion. The testimony of Gods character and power are overwhelmingly in his favor. It would seem the height of arrogance to assume that Rachel and I are the first two people in the course of known history whom God failed.
So we are left at the preverbal crossroad between conclusion #2 and conclusion # 3.
It is here that I find my experience at odds with my faith, my wisdom at odds with my emotions, and all four at odds with each other, and even at odds with themselves. Each (experience, faith, wisdom, emotions) desires to lead me toward a different path, for different reasons, at different times; the vacillation nauseating. Additionally, the “voice of truth” that I was growing accustomed to listening to for guidance, specifically in uncertain situations such as this, is the source of all this confusion and has lost all credibility. It is to this place of confusion and uncertainty, on the rubble of my shattered faith, that I invite you to sit and muse with me.
I knew that one way or another my life was going to change after June 18th. I had hoped it would change in different ways, but now, sitting on the rubble of my shattered faith, I am faced with some very difficult questions. Questions that demand answers, answers that will demand actions, and actions that will bring change.
Amidst this confusion and chaos, I feel an overwhelming temptation to rush this process; jump to conclusions, race to action. Yet I find myself unable to do so at the moment – perhaps it’s paralysis from the vast implications of choosing either path ahead of me, or perhaps there is even more to it than that?
The overwhelming evidence available at this time clearly points to Conclusion # 2 – Rachel and I are just crazy.
We knew we were already way out on a limb of faith in the first place. In many ways we felt uncomfortable out on that limb. Yet, to borrow from the language of Proverbs 3, our discomfort seemed to only come when we were “leaning on our own understanding.”
In many more ways we felt a deep comfort out on that limb, a comfort that seemed to be continually affirmed through prayer, scripture, and other times spent with God.
Countless times over the last two and a half years as we’ve walked this faith journey we started to pull back, only to hear Gods call to come further out on the limb. Through this process of give and take, give and take, we slowly moved out further and further on this limb of faith. Our faith drastically stretched each time—our fears seemed to be calmed through what we thought was the assurances of God himself, gently yet persistently calling us out to “walk on water.”
But the branch snapped… The waters engulfed us… In the end the truth was revealed; God was not the author of this story, we were.
Yet, despite what seem to be the clear cut facts, I can’t seem to embrace conclusion #2 yet. What is preventing me?
Stubbornness? Perhaps… ?
Hope? Yes, that’s it – but perhaps not in the way you think.
My experiences over the past few years made it seem that the abundant life Jesus told us about in John 10:10 might actually be true. I’ve experienced so much more peace, love, and joy in my daily life than I have ever known before. Something that I (and the bible Gal 5:22) attribute to the Holy Spirit. That may not sound significant to you but it is very significant to me.
The most succinct way I can summarize my biblical upbringing was that I was told to have faith in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Scriptures. Of course I knew it was Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but it didn’t practically work out that way. The role of the Holy Spirit had almost no functional role in daily life and was, for all intents and purposes, inactive after the canonization of scripture.
In no way do I intend this to speak negatively of my spiritual upbringing. I have much to be thankful for in so many ways. I have no doubt that any shortcomings have more to do with my deficiencies than others.
However, through my spiritual upbringing, I came to see God as benign yet distant. A God favorably inclined toward me (benign), who I could learn about, but never really interact with (distant). I would have never explained it that way, in fact I would have said that I had a “personal relationship with God,” but how that practically played out in day-to-day experience was akin to saying I have a “personal relationship” with someone on Facebook – whom I’ve never actually met. I might be able to tell you a lot about that person, perhaps even boast about a few private chat messages, but any level of Facebook intimacy is drastically anemic compared to a real in the flesh relationship.
The anemic state of my relationship with Christ was not an easy thing to recognize or accept, however, it was precisely this realization that stirred my soul and was the catalyst for so much change in my life. I think it was first exposed by reading John 16. In some twisted way, I could understand how the spirit inside me was better than Jesus beside me because, honestly, what other option did I have? Jesus wasn’t physically on earth anymore, so something had to be better than nothing right? But that passage was first and foremost spoken to the apostles, it had to be true for them before it would be true for anyone else. So, how could the spirit inside them be better than the Jesus they actually had beside them? How could a Facebook style relationship be better than a personal in the flesh relationship? It couldn’t, unless of course I drastically misunderstood the role of the Holy Spirit and settled far short of the intimate relationship available to me with Christ.
Convinced of the truth of Jesus’s words in John 16, I began to earnestly seek God (Hebrews 11:6) asking, seeking, knocking (Matt 7:7-12) and it seemed that God was true to his word.
My once stagnate, dry, and exhausting relationship with the Lord began to blossom with new life.
What I once thought was the fruit of the spirit in my life was revealed as little more than self-made imitations when compared to the real fruit now effortlessly growing from the streams of living water within my heart. I began to ask simple questions that I knew the answers to, questions like, “God, do you really love me;” which God obliged to answer, YES, thus acquainting me with his voice. Over time my questions grew more complex, questions like “Lord, what do you think about me?” And the words of affirmation I received back sunk deep into my soul, healed deep wounds, and set me free from some heavy baggage.
In short, I began to experience what it seemed Jesus meant in John 10:10 about the abundant life.
And the most beautiful thing was that this was not a one sided relationship where I asked all of the questions and he mumbled a response while half distracted by the TV in the background. On the contrary, He was more engaged than I! I was asked questions. I was given thoughts to ponder. I was instructed as I read the bible. It seemed as though I was experiencing the truth of Jesus’s words in John 16:12-13, Jesus did have much more to say to me and the Spirit was guiding me into all truth.
And somewhere amidst all of that our faith journey began, as God seemingly called us out, inch by inch onto that limb of faith. And it’s here that my story comes full circle, except now you have a glimpse of the implications of what accepting conclusion #2 would mean. Accepting conclusion #2 (we are crazy) means that all of that goes up in smoke. The voice I heard at the beginning affirming His love for me is no different than the voice I heard telling me that he has a little girl waiting for us in the foster system, physically born on December 18th, 2013, and proverbially born to us on June 18th, 2016.
If this is the fork in the road where God has shattered my world in order to bring me back to reality, I at least need time to sit here a while and mourn the death of not just one, but two beautiful dreams before I move on down that road. Not only has my heart been shattered like expectant parents with a stillborn child, but my heart has also been shattered like a man betrayed by his closest and most trusted friend. Real or not real, those are the emotions present within my heart.
For those of you, with well-meaning hearts no doubt, who wish to instruct us with systematic theology discourses about the role of the Holy Spirit, how sign gifts have ceased, and that our error was even entertaining that the spirit moves in such ways during this dispensation; hold your peace for now.
There may come a time for that, but the time is not now. If conclusion #2 is the path we must follow, if we must begin to disentangle the truth from lies, fact from fiction, imaginary from real — we will in time. For now however, like the loss of a loved one or cherished relationship, the loss must be mourned first (Rom 12:15).
And perhaps that offers enough explanation as to why I can’t, just yet, close the door on conclusion #3 (God did move).
In grief, it feels far easier to hang onto any shred of hope available, rather than immediately accept that which will crush your heart.
But is this salve of hope to my grief the only thing that is preventing me from closing the door to what seems so soundly disproven and illogical at this time? I’m not sure, but if it’s not, what else could be?
Faith? Yes, that’s it – but again, perhaps not in the way you think.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still hold some measure of hope that perhaps God did move as promised on June 18th and the details are just concealed to us?
Perhaps our girl was moved to the hospital on June 18th and is expected to be there for a long enough period of time, that no attempt has been made to find a foster parent yet? Something akin to watching Gods promise literally grow through a long pregnancy, only to have the child stolen away instantly to the NICU, and all of the questions, doubts, confusion, betrayal, and turmoil that ensues as a result.
Or perhaps we did hear it all correctly from God and June 18th was a stillbirth experience where God intends to prove once again that he uses all things together for good to those who love him and are called according to his purposes (Rom 8:28)? This most certainly could be true and is testified by the work our friends say God is doing in their lives as they walk this journey with us. (Stories which have been such rich encouragements to us by the way so thank you for sharing and please continue).
Or perhaps some other explanation will be revealed at some point showing how God did in fact move as promised?
However, the honest answer is… faith in that scenario has been shattered and what’s left is better labeled as hope which is insufficient to confidently declare that God is not done with this story.
The Faith I am referring to however is the faith that allowed Shadrick, Meshach, and Abednego to say that God could save them from the fire, but even if He didn’t that He was still good (Dan 3:16-18). It’s the faith that allowed Job to accept both good from God as well as bad (Job 2:10). This faith is birthed when we actually sit still, regardless of our circumstances, and rest in the truth that He is still God (Ps 46:10). And it’s this faith and this faith alone that provides Rachel and I hope and an anchor to cling to amidst this storm.
And so, as we cling to that one and only anchor, we are learning that wisest thing we can do right now is not rush to conclusions but to simply sit and wait.
Be still and know that he is still God (Ps 46:10).
Oh, but that is not easy. As I said earlier, there is an overwhelming temptation to jump to conclusions and race into actions. Left to ourselves I have little doubt that we would have done just that; shutting down our heart with every step we took, walling it off to never be accessed by anyone or anything every again.
But that way has been literally blocked to us, even when we intentionally try to go there.
Lacking any better explanation for that at this time I have no other choice but to credit it to Gods faithfulness to answer the prayers of so many of you praying for us. So many have said they are praying that God would give us his peace that surpasses understanding, and there is no other way I can explain what we are experiencing other than it surpasses understanding. And so for that, I say thank you for your prayers, they seem to have been heard and answered.
So this is where we sit, at this fork in the road. Broken-hearted and mourning in one sense, yet open handed and opened-hearted in another.
Questions must be asked. Conclusions must be arrived at. Actions must be taken… but not right now. Not right away. There is no rush.
And as we sit in this place of stillness, we get to learn afresh how to abide in Proverbs 3:5-6.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
All bets are off as to what that will look like, but even in our current uncertainty—no, especially in our current uncertainty—we CHOOSE to have faith in Him, to TRUST Him, and WAIT on him to make this fork in our broken road straight.