Crap Happens

What’s a car accident?” she asked, as I turned onto a side street to avoid the traffic ahead.  It was long past bedtime for my three-year-old, and I was eager to get her home.  But a bad car accident left us searching for a detour.  “It’s when two cars bump into each other and get hurt,” I explained.  “Why are there ambulances?” she asked.  “Because sometimes people get hurt, too.”  A long, thoughtful silence followed.  Then: “Mommy, will we be in a car accident?”

I caught my breath.  My mind started racing through all the statistics about the perils of driving.  I thought about how it is dark, and I’m tired, and please, dear Lord, get us home safely.  But still, I did what most parents would do…I lied.  “No, honey, we’re safe.”  And as I lied, I experienced the most uncomfortable reality of parenting: I can’t protect my children from all the crap in the world.

As a pastor I am invited into the most sacred moments of people’s lives – from births to deaths and everything in between.  And every time I find myself in one of these moments, I am reminded of how fragile life is, how fleeting, how precious.  We have no idea what will happen today, let alone what will happen tomorrow.  Just around the corner for any of us is frightening danger, or supreme goodness, or both.  We have no choice but to keep walking around the corner, come what may.

I was sitting in the hospital a few months ago with a little infant boy battling a rare form of brain cancer.  His parents had vigilantly sat beside his bed all day, and they needed to step out to have a bite to eat.  “Will you sit with him?” they asked.  I gladly pulled up a chair and gazed upon his sweet face, his tiny body, the tubes and cords that were helping him survive.  Never before had I been so overwhelmed by the stark reality that horrible things befall the most innocent people, and that I am powerless in the face of it.  Save praying for a miracle (which I did), there was literally nothing I could do to stop the cancer.  So I did the only thing I could think of – I reached out to hold his tiny hand.  All I could offer was my love.

But then something happened.  From deep within my heart rose a song:
          My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness…
The words and melody bubbled out of me.  With each verse my song grew stronger, more confident.
           His oath, his covenant, his blood support me in the whelming flood.
          When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay.
I didn’t have just my love to offer.  I had my source of strength, too.
          On Christ the solid rock I stand.
          All other ground is sinking sand.
          All other ground is sinking sand.
So I sang with all my heart.  I sang it for him.  I sang it for me.

Jesus spoke of the uncomfortable reality of suffering when he said that God makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good, and God makes the rain fall on both the righteous and unrighteous (Matthew 5:25).  This was Jesus’ way of saying, “Crap happens.”  In fact, sometimes “crap” isn’t a strong enough word.  Sometimes “insert expletive here happens.”  Sometimes life is just a nightmare.

So, no, I can’t really promise my daughter we’ll never be in a car accident.  Because crap happens.  I can’t protect her from all that this world will throw at her.  Crap is just part of being alive.  And to me, as a parent, that is a miserable burden to carry.

I know; I know.  I’m expected to say: “everything happens for a reason” or “God’s plan is for us to go through this trial so we can have something better.”  But I won’t say that.  Ever.  Because I don’t think that’s what Jesus would say.  From what I know of God, God will not send you crap to wade through so you can later appreciate the crap-free air.  God is just too good and kind for that.

The truth is, I don’t know why a baby got cancer, or why a hurricane destroyed a whole island, or why car accidents take so many lives every flipping day.  But I do know this: whatever crap we face, we don’t face it alone.  Jesus never told someone “everything happens for a reason,” but he did tell his friends: “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).  We may not know what’s coming around the corner – good or bad or anything in between.  But we know that Jesus will be there, too.

This is what I have seen in my own life: In the darkest moments and hardest trials, Jesus wades waist deep through the crap with us and helps us trudge our way out of the darkness into light.  It’s messy work.  It’s stinky work.  But, it’s God’s work.

And the good news is when Jesus walks through our crap with us, our crap will not be meaningless.  It may take days or months or years, but eventually Jesus will use our crap to fertilize healing and wholeness and hope.  From the crap of our lives God will plant, water, and tend a bountiful garden.  So this is what I hold onto when I fear for my children: The crap my kids face will not define their lives.  God’s garden will.

The same is true for me.

When I finally got my daughter home that evening of the car accident, I tucked her into bed and read her favorite stories.  I privately lamented that I cannot keep her from all danger and suffering and sorrow.  But then a still, small Voice within reminded me: you cannot protect her from all the crap in the world, but you can give her the strength to face it.  So I started to sing:
          On Christ the solid rock I stand.
          All other ground is sinking sand.
          All other ground is sinking sand.
I sang with all my heart.  I sang it for her.  I sang it for me.

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