Silence is never absence
“MOM, stop the car! Mom!? STOP!!!” Madeleine’s words echo through my memory, still fresh enough to produce stinging tears. If words alone could stop a moving vehicle, my nine-year-old daughter’s should have. Regretfully they didn’t and neither wishing nor praying would make it so. Nothing short of a miraculous intervention could undo my stupidity and my desperate prayer seemed to receive nothing but silence in response. “God, where are you?? I’ve worked my entire life to please you… and now that I really need you, you’ve got no help for my little girl and me? You’ve got nothing to say?!”
Born and raised in the buckle of the Bible belt, I was Bible-beatin’, church-goin’ and God-fearin’ since my earliest days. I have no memory prior to being in a church pew three times a week, and it was there that I learned to chew my nails, count linoleum tiles on the floor, make handprints in the velour upholstery and blur my eyesight by staring at candelabra flames. I quoted verbatim scripture as early as I could write my name, much to the delight and entertainment of my parents and their congregational colleagues. In high school I had perfected my stalwart religiosity and earned the exalted title of Miss Goody-Two-Shoes from my classmates. I relished the pronouncement. Confident that upon comparison and recognizing the err of their wicked ways, my peers would “turn or burn”, as the pulpit preacher used to say. Driving them to their knees, I would quote John 3:16 in perfect King James, pray together the age-old prayer of repentance and salvation, and chalk another one up on the eternal score card of righteousness for Miss Goody-Two-Shoes.
Life has an inevitable way of humbling the overtly proud or pretentious and I was both. It wasn’t long before I faltered and became wholly imperfect at preserving my perfect label. Accordingly and after numerous repeated blunders Miss Goody-Two-Shoes lost her shoe and in time lost yet another. During much of my young-adult life, I found myself altogether barefooted. Sufficiently humbled, I finally relinquished the Two-Shoes title, handed over my somewhat tarnished tiara and began a search for a real God; one not found simply in the scripture I could so easily quote and the pew I would never leave empty.
My journey led me to discover that perhaps scripture’s original intent was not just the knowledge of elegantly crafted words on a page, confined to an application of rote and memorization. I began to speculate that its purpose could in fact be to unlock the mysteries of my existence; to offer wisdom as a safe harbor during the inexorable storms and quakes life shamelessly heaved upon me. This day offered just such a tempest.
I never saw our puppy run in front of my car. Despite memories only seconds old of Millie sitting obediently by the front door, her lifeless body now lay silently in the grass. As Madeleine and I knelt down beside her, we watched as Millie took her last breath. I looked at the puppy and looked at my little girl and it was as if time suddenly stood still. I couldn’t believe the tragedy that was unfolding right in front of me. Madeleine began screaming with fear and disbelief, crying for Millie to get up and be okay. It was all I could do to mouth the words, “God, please help us”, over and over. Millie was gone and I knew of nothing else to do except pray. Yet in the midst of our agony, in the desperation of my simple prayer, God seemed entirely absent. “Mom, WHY weren’t you more careful?? WHY didn’t you see Millie beside the car?? WHY didn’t you stop??” I could hear blame and resentment in each of Madeleine’s words. I just looked at her, shaking my head, unable to think of anything more important to say or do than usher her into the house while I continued silently asking God for help.
Sitting on the couch, tears streaming down her face, Madeleine began pleading with God. “Lord, please bring Millie back to life. I know you can, God. Just please bring her back…” God didn’t bring Millie back, but the profound faith of my daughter in God’s ability to raise the dead brought an immense awareness of the kind of faith she had and the kind I lacked. I laid my head in her lap and began to sob asking for her forgiveness. To her, my words were because of Millie. To me, my words were because I desired the level of faith I had just seen in her and wanted desperately for myself. I rose from her lap and walked outside, hoping to hide my shame from my daughter. Millie’s body was still lying in the grass and I buried my head, unable to bear the sight of what I’d done. More so even than bringing Millie back to life, I yearned for Madeleine’s prayer of faith to undo the last few minutes of our lives and reverse my carelessness and lack of faith. She loved Millie so much…would she hold this against me forever? Why hadn’t I been more cautious? Why wouldn’t God answer Madeleine’s prayer and make everything right again? I didn’t yet know it wouldn’t take Millie being alive again to make everything right; it would simply take the uncomplicated, childlike faith of my little girl.
I walked back into the house expecting to find Madeleine still beside herself with grief. To my amazement she was sitting calmly on the couch, her head still fervently bowed. As I stood in front of her it appeared that my prayer for peace had been miraculously answered. Confirming my assumption Madeleine looked up at me and said, “I love you Mom. I forgive you. It’s gonna be okay.” Her words evoked joyful but still painful tears. Despite my shame, I suddenly realized that I sincerely believed her.
Later that evening as she and I were cooking dinner together we began discussing all the things we had discovered that afternoon. Madeleine realized that she wasn’t as fearful about the idea of death anymore because she had seen firsthand that birth and death are a part of life. “Mom, I was really tempted to let my sadness turn into anger at you and God, but when I started praying for God to help me, I could feel my anger melt away.” I sat awestruck listening to wisdom pour from my daughter’s mouth. It was then that she delivered one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received as a mother. She looked up at me, eyes brimming and whispered, “If Romans 8:28 says that God will make all things work together for our good, that has to mean he will make Millie’s death work out for our good, too. Right, Mom?” In her few short words, Madeleine had shown me that scripture meant much more to her than just written words on a page. It was a mechanism for her to connect with God and a conduit for communication in the midst of her internal storms. Romans 8:28 had become a foundation of her faith in God, and I was graciously given access into her heart to see how she made this ancient passage come to life and be her shelter.
At precisely 8:00 p.m. I tucked Madeleine into bed and couldn’t help but crawl in beside her, exhausted from the day’s events. Minutes later my phone buzzed with a text from a friend. Sending words of encouragement and offering a shoulder to cry on, she concluded her text simply, ‘8:28’. Intuitively knowing she was referring to Romans, I texted her that it had been the theme for the whole afternoon. As I started to send my reply, I looked at the clock on my phone. It said 8:28. Figuring that she had intentionally sent her text at just the right time, I told her that it was a perfect time to end this day. To which she replied, “I had no idea when I sent my text that it was 8:28.” In the final minutes of my bittersweet day, I knew that God had undoubtedly made this day work together for my good, and the good of my precious daughter lying peacefully asleep beside me. As I watched her chest rise and fall with each breath, I gave a silent prayer of gratitude for the peace with which she slept.
Parents are notorious for believing they can protect their children from hurt and save them from life’s painful disappointments; worse is when we are the source of their wounds. If not for God’s silent response to my cry for help, I would have never understood the depth of my daughter’s faith. “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you”… holds so much more meaning now than mere verse, for indeed God had proven to me that his silence was not ever to be misinterpreted as his absence.
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