The sunny, hot days of August have arrived with all the beauty of such seeming peace and summer loveliness. Yet as they do, I find myself still picking up the jagged pieces of a very tough July, not really sure of what this next month will bring.
Life– just like July was–is unpredictable, with very high highs, and very, very low lows. Left in the wake of some harsh realities, our instinct is to immediately search for answers, to find God in adversity. And sometimes we do.
Still, sometimes we only get little glimpses. And sometimes, we may never understand at all what God is doing, though we believe– even when we don’t “feel” it– that He is still at work in our lives’ stories for our good, and for His ultimate glory.
As my sister Connie walks into a new month and a whole new chapter, she is having to learn a completely new definition for “normal” in her life, after my brother-in-law died very suddenly–within four short minutes– of a heart attack on July 19, as I wrote about in my last post.
This shocking news didn’t just come “on the heels” of a previous grief, but right in the middle of deep grief we were already carrying for our friends Jon and LaDonna Vietti.
Dan and I first heard about Jon and LaDonna through our daughter-in-law Annie, who shared an office with their son Anthony at a Christian camp she worked at when she and our son Justin were dating. Annie had enjoyed the amazing experience of climbing Mt Hood in Oregon with Anthony and another mutual friend, Luke and some friends.
But in the beginning of December ’09, both Anthony and Luke, along with another friend Katie, died tragically when they fell while again climbing Mt Hood. Luke’s body was recovered immediately– but neither Anthony’s nor Katie’s, buried in deep snow, were found until the following August, the result of Jon’s persistence in returning to Mt Hood with his brother Tom to search for them.
Though we had not yet met Jon and LaDonna, we were blessed and amazed at their testimony to the glory of God that we read in newspaper reports of the accident. And to our amazement, we learned through Annie that they were moving from Montana right here to our town, so Jon could devote himself to continuing the rigorous training program for young men that Anthony had originated– “GMIT” http://www.yd.org/stonewater/gmit (pronounced “Gee-Mit”, for Godly Men In Training.) And for us, that was the beginning of friendship, dinners, Bible Studies, and great discussions.
We’ve continued to be amazed at their testimony as we’ve come to know them, and amazed at the work that Jon has so diligently continued, even as they have walked through the grief of their loss of Anthony, an outstanding young man of character and faith.
Anticipating a return to Mt Hood later this month to scatter Anthony’s ashes on the first anniversary of having recovered his body, Jon and his brother Tom were hiking the trails on the edge of our town on July 16, rekindling their love for hiking and enjoying the togetherness they had shared as teenagers, when Tom slid from the trail, falling several hundred feet into the rocks below. He was dead when Jon got to him.
Shock and grief have been unfathomable. All who know them have struggled to “find God” in such tragedy. For me, this was clearly one of the times when God’s answers appeared to be a blank wall. For days, I could only ponder over and over the words from an old hymn:
“When darkness seems to hide His face, I rest in His unchanging grace. In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the vale…”
Now, several weeks out and at the beginning of a new month– and possibly a new chapter– I’ve been thinking so much about two Biblical accounts that bring hope right in the middle of such intense grief. One, of course, is the story of Joseph who had no clue about what God was doing through very long, very hard years of adversity. Yet ultimately, Joseph himself was able to see the fulfillment of God’s amazing, incredible plan that came to pass through him, and through his story of grief and despair.
The other is the story of Ruth, as I was reminded of so acutely in a recent sermon. Only in this story, neither Naomi nor Ruth herself lived to see “the end of the story,” how God had been at work indeed, in such an unbelievable way– in their story, in their adversity– to establish the lineage that would usher in the birth of Jesus Christ Himself!
Naomi could only see her intense adversity. “Do not call me Naomi [meaning ‘sweet’ or ‘pleasant’] call me Mara [meaning ‘bitter’] for the Lord has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty…”(Ruth 1:20,21) only she was not empty– she still had Naomi, who was exactly the one God was going to work His plan and purpose through.
I confess that sometimes I only see the apparent emptiness of adversity that totally eclipses what’s still there. It’s so hard to maintain hope in those unfathomable times when we may never see the full picture of what God has planned, as He works His Will and His Purpose through intense adversity.
Still, as we move onward into this next chapter–I choose to believe that God’s Hands are still holding tight, even when we don’t feel it, and when nothing looks like God at work. I choose to believe that God has plans and purposes that are going to be fulfilled through Jon and LaDonna. I choose to believe that their commitment in moving here to carry on Anthony’s vision of GMIT will bear incredible fruit. And I believe we may even live to see it.
“His yoke, 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. On Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand…”
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