We got to church exactly on time that Sunday. I had asked that someone save our seats since I wanted to sit where we always sit. The church is getting full, so if you don't arrive early, you have to hunt for seats... I didn't have the emotional energy to arrive early and chitchat with people. We walked in and filed into our row. Now, I have problems concentrating if I sit too far back, so I usually sit about the third row from the front. Limits how many distractions are in front of me! But it also put us on central stage for this Sunday.
By this time, about half of the church knew what the situation was. Others didn't, but there would be a meeting at the end of church to update everyone and plan how to best meet the crisis.
I was unsure how I would do, but wanted to go on. My kids were in shock and were watching me to see how we would respond. I wanted to live out for them the truth that we can go on, and we will do that choosing to trust God. We won't waver on that trust even when the tears fall and our eyes widen in shock at what is happening to us. But that knowledge did not make walking in to church that morning easy.
It didn't help that the topic that week was suffering. It didn't help that each of the songs were ones I loved... but ones that pull emotions from me on the best of days. Singing of God's worth, His faithfulness, and our desire to follow Him no matter what... It was just that this particular Sunday, our "no matter what" was looking pretty big.
We stood to sing. I picked up my daughter to sit on my hip, her hands tangled around in my hair, her cheek resting today on my shoulder. My boys stood with me, one leaning against me on each side and one trying to be brave on his own. And we sang.
As we sang, the tears threatened again. I stood looking over the heads of my children, their little faces white with worry and stress. I wondered that morning if this is the beginning of the rest of our lives. Would I be raising these kids alone? Would we ever see their daddy again? If so, how long would it be - ten years, twenty... or never? I began to tremble at the thoughts. Where was their daddy this morning? Was he alive? What were they doing to him? Would he survive? The thoughts flew fast, I began to shake and want to collapse. Wanting to just sink to the ground and sob, to give up and cry. But again my eyes ran over the tops of the heads... I can't break down... I have to be strong for them.
One set of arms wrapped tightly around my neck, and three sets of eyes stared up at me. "How are we going to act, mommy?" I was aware of the eyes. I was very aware that what I did next would set the tone for these four who watched me.
So I stayed standing. My body trembled with the effort it took. I closed my eyes and sang. I didn't dare open my eyes. If I caught one glance of sympathy right then, I knew I would lose it. But I sang. Deliberately. Not stopping when it came to difficult things to sing that morning. It took effort to chose to sing, and at times when the tears came, all I could do was whisper the lines, but I sang.
We sang "Savior, He Can Move the Mountains". I cried... I know He can.... I know that well... I also know that He does not always chose to... mercy, compassion.. please...
We sang "Give Me One Pure and Holy Passion". My voice could only whisper "this world is empty, pale, and poor compared to knowing You my Lord". It is. It really is, but so different to sing that when you know how much we want to cling to this world and what it means to make that choice to follow "over there". When you don't know where your husband is.... is he even alive still?
But I stood and I sang. We gathered into a tight little bunch, and the cracking voices of my sons sang with me. Only Number Three sang confidently and cheerfully. The rest of us struggled. Tears snuck out of our closed eyes and snaked their way down our cheeks, but we stood and sang. My own private declaration to my children and to the unseen enemy who taunts that we will chose to trust - yes, even facing what we are facing, we will chose to trust God.
But it was not private. We were in church, surrounded by others. Halfway through the singing, I began to hear sniffles and quiet sobs spreading out around me. The private declaration of continuing to trust being done in a public setting. Others were watching. Now, if you knew me, you'd know that I am not all that comfortable with public displays of emotion. (I'm growing here, but still...) Part of me just wanted to run, to go hide... Part of me wanted to tell everyone to quit crying! I'm barely hanging in here, and you are not helping! But I didn't really have enough energy to deal with that right then.
We stood, we sang, and we cried. And around us, our church sang, sniffled, and cried alongside us. It was an awesome moment. A private choice - to trust God even facing the awful unknown - made public. And just as much as the awfulness of the moment sat in my heart, came the sense that this itself was a holy moment, a time when without planning to, we were bringing glory to God simply by choosing to praise and to continue to worship even in the face of this crisis.
When the singing ended, I leaned behind me and asked a friend's kid to go running for kleenex which we passed around. I think even the pastor needed some and took half a minute before he sounded normal again.
It was the right decision to come, even though it was hard. To share my pain, to be on display with our feelings, but then also to know that others are also crying. To collectively choose to know that God is good, yes, even if they never came back. I have always hated to be on display. But it was something special that morning, something I had not planned. I came to draw encouragement from those around us. I did. But what God called us to and how we responded that day brought others to a place where they rethought how they are living.
Later a few said to us, "I never thought about what it really means to be willing to follow. I never stopped to think. Now I am." Since that day, two young people have approached us saying they believe God is calling them into missions. But I did not know that that Sunday morning. All I knew was that my heart was breaking, and I could chose to run from God with my questions and fears or run to Him. What was that David says, "Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." (Ps73:25-26)
This is my God. The One who brings good out of the difficult. Who is there even when our hearts our broken. I think of all the things I did besides telling my children, this Sunday morning's worship time was the hardest - choosing to trust, and choosing to praise even though I thought I would never see my husband again.