God Is A Better Protector Than I Am
Lately I’ve been having flashbacks. I’m not sure if they call this Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or not, but there have been multiple times over the past couple weeks where my mind almost involuntarily drifts to the morning I walked in and found Amanda. In fact, these flashbacks are worse now than they ever were immediately after all this happened nearly a year ago. Perhaps it’s because I began working on the book and publishing these blog posts. On some level writing about it has caused me to relive it. For whatever reason my imagination takes me from how I found her to what could have happened to her in those final 45 minutes. Every time I think about this my stomach seizes up, I feel a hotness course through my veins and I can sense my eyes dilate. Anger, rage, hatred, despair, and shock once again over-take me and it takes every bit of strength I have to tear my mind away from these thoughts.
I have found myself daydreaming of revenge. I hope this is ok to say. I mean I’m sure you expected no less. Like you, I’ve always been riveted by movies like Braveheart, Gladiator, and The Patriot. Sitting up on the edge of my couch, one fist in a popcorn bowl, the other fist clammy, nervous, and clutching my own side, I cheered the protagonist on as he cut down his enemies for what they stole from him. There’s a certain romance, a certain bravery, a certain nobility to the character that fights evil and avenges the death of a friend or loved one.
But this isn’t a movie. There’s no set, no producer, no actors, no popcorn. This is real life. I’m living the scenario and there seems to be no manual for how to walk through it, for dealing with these intense feelings in a way that would honor God and Amanda. There seems to be no reprieve for my hurt. Even revenge doesn’t seem like it could take it away. So I slip into feelings of guilt. Why wasn’t I there to protect her? Why couldn’t I have taken her place? Why her!? Why not me?!
After all, wasn’t that one of my roles as a husband? Provider, Leader, Cherisher . . . and Protector. I didn’t even get a chance to do so! I wasn’t even there to step in and fight, intercept, protect or offer my own life as a bargaining chip to save my best friend’s. The opportunity was ripped away from me. She was ripped away from me!
I remember sitting on an airplane a few months ago flying to Dallas to speak at a youth conference at Gateway Church. I was going to speak to over 4,000 students on the subject of forgiveness and all I could feel was anger! These thoughts suffocated in my mind and it was everything I could do not to began punching the plexiglass window I sat beside in a fury of rage, when a very familiar sound interrupted my thoughts . . . it was the beeping of the "Find my iPhone” app coming from a few rows behind me. It was like a jolt to my senses, like a bucket of ice water had just been poured over my head. This simple sound began to help me process my emotions.
I used to call Amanda to check in with her during the day. She always had her phone on vibrate or silent mode and wouldn’t answer. I would call a couple times, that sense of panic seizing my chest, and still get nothing. I would sit at the office and worry about her and at the same time be frustrated that she had a phone but didn’t respond to my call! Inevitably a half hour later she’d call and very sweetly apologize for not hearing her phone over the country music she was playing while painting furniture in the garage. Relieved I’d ask her keep her phone on ringer in case I needed to get a hold her. She was so cute . . . she never did.
So I began using the “Find my iPhone” app to alert her phone with an alarm until she called me back. It became the modern version of a pager for me communicating, “Hey! This is urgent! I need you to call me back!" It was the only way I could call and get her to answer immediately, page her with find my iPhone and wait for her to answer back.
Before Amanda went to Heaven, I would often use this as a sermon illustration for helping people understand the communicative nature of our God. That when we call on the Lord, he’s never too busy, too distracted, too absent to answer us. Psalm 18 says:
6 In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. 7 The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry. 8 Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it. 9 He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. 10 He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. 11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him — the dark rain clouds of the sky. 12 Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning. 13 The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. 14 He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy, with great bolts of lightning he routed them. 15 The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at your rebuke, Lord, at the blast of breath from your nostrils. 16 He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. 17 He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. 18 They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. 19 He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.
This passage describes EXACTLY what I long to have been able to do that morning that Amanda was taken from us! On the plane that morning I couldn’t help but wonder why God hadn’t been true to what He says in his Word in Psalm 18!
And then, “randomly” a worship song popped into my head. There is a song that became extremely significant to Amanda and me during the time that we were wrestling with moving to Indianapolis. It’s the song “Came to My Rescue” by Hillsong United. I’ll let one of Amanda’s journal entries explain to you why. This entry was written at the end of May 2011:
Jesus, you just blew my mind yesterday. Davey spoke at a start up church here in Greenville yesterday. They started about 9 months ago and are about 250.
As I was getting ready to go, I thought, well this will be good to see what it would be like if we started a church. Not really thinking much of it. But as soon as I came in and was greeted and someone showed me to my seat - my heart was just touched.
Then we started singing “I called and you answered and you came to my rescue and I wanna be where you are. In our life be lifted up, in our world, be lifted up, in our love be lifted up."
Jesus, I just wanted to cry. I feel like you broke down my walls and broke my heart for the possibility of us starting a church. I’ve never felt that way before. Honestly, I’ve never loved the idea because I KNOW how much work it would take, how uncomfortable it would be, and how risky it would be. But then Davey got up to speak about boldness. The one thing that really stuck with me was “‘safe doesn’t see movements of God.” Gut. Check. Father - I want so badly to be a part of a massive movement of you. But I also know that one of my biggest weaknesses is comfort.
But there was just something about yesterday that I’ve never felt before. Instead of dreading the idea and dreading the unknown, I got to see a glimpse of what it could look like and I honestly got SO excited.
Which is crazy because just two days ago I told Davey - “If you feel like God is moving us, I think I would be ok with that"
Because in just the past week - [she describes transitions going on with my job]
Jesus all that on top of the fact that we have done so many updates to our house in the past month (deck, roof, AC, plumbing) that were mostly unplanned … it just makes me wonder what you have going on.
I don’t want to try and assume what your plans are, Jesus, and I don’t want to manipulate anything.
I beg that you would guide Davey and his heart to your will … not to his agenda, desires, and escape. But if anything does come out of this, Father — I just want to praise you and thank you for the fact that you care so much about me and my heart that you would enable me and get me to the point where I would be ok with leaving or moving.
It brings tears to my eyes to think about that song - “I called and you answered” because Davey and I have been calling out to you for months for your direction and I feel like you are answering us, Jesus. I have never felt you so real and so sovereign before and I can’t thank you enough for it.
Again, Jesus - I don’t want to guess what you are doing … and if it ends up that we stay put for a long time - well then I’m gonna need your help.
You are good Father - your will is perfect and I just want to be IN it - no matter where it is. I love you and praise you so much for being all-knowing, completely sovereign and perfect.
This is my prayer:
Open our eyes, to see the things that make your heart cry, to be the church that you would desire … light to be seen.
Break down our pride, and all the walls we’ve built up inside - our earthly crowns and all our desires we lay at your feet.
There I was on the plane to Gateway and I couldn’t get this song out of my head. Almost as if the Lord was trying to tell me something through this song. I let my thoughts take a detour and I began to call on the Lord.
Hey God. Would you speak to me? Would you tell me why I wasn’t there? Why I couldn’t have been there to protect her? Do you even understand how this feels?! It’s hurts so badly!
Just then I felt the still, small voice of the Lord answer back:
Davey, I had my bride ripped from me too. I understand how you feel.
I had never thought about it. I suppose that’s true! Immediately I flipped to Genesis 3 and the story of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve. Genesis 1 and 2 portray this beautiful marriage relationship between God and his creation. The wedding, the honeymoon, the perfect communion, intimacy with God and innocence of man. And then one day something happened. Evil slithered it’s way in and fractured that communion. As I read about Adam and Eve eating from the fruit I was shocked by the next verse.
"Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden."
Wait! Where was God when this was happening? Was he not there? Was he returning from something? Where was he when his “house” was getting broken into and the apple of his eye was being exploited and ransacked? Why wasn’t He there to protect his bride?! Of all people He could have!
And then I thought about Jesus and what He endured! God’s one and only son! I can’t imagine loving someone so much that I’d stand by and watch Weston to be brutally tortured, flogged, and hung on a tree to die an excruciating death! On some level this had to feel like another home invasion to God, and He didn’t protect Jesus!? His one and only son!?
Davey I know how you feel! I sat and watched my son be brutally murdered. I witnessed my bride be stolen from me. But my protection came in a different form. It came not in the form of RESCUING as you see it, but in the form of RESURRECTION! When I rescue, I rescue for good. No more pain, no more sorrow, no more danger.
The thought nearly caused me to fall out of my seat. For a brief moment it all made sense. Eternal lenses had been dropped over my eyes to provide me a split second of understanding. I realized in that moment that we are all going to die. Some of us in brutal, senseless ways, some of us in accidental ways, some of us because of stupidity, and some of us as old and frail seniors. But nobody dies in a natural way. Death isn’t natural. It comes to us because of a supernatural battle that began between God and Satan. And on that supernatural battle front, Jesus took His revenge when He got up from his grave and conquered death once and for all. God’s greatest form of protection for us is sealing and securing our hearts and souls for eternity. The greatest protection that ever could have been provided for Amanda was the day she knelt down beside her bed at a young age and gave Jesus the keys to her life, surrendering her sin and receiving His forgiveness.
In the midst of her final moments her heart and soul were calling on the Lord, like she did every single morning, like she did that morning I spoke at that church plant, but this time with more urgency. This time with more intensity.
I called, and You answered,
and You came to my rescue and I
wanna be where you are
That was Amanda’s heart-cry. That was Amanda’s life-song. To be where Jesus is. The greatest of all places, sitting under the shadow of the greatest of all protectors.
I sat there on the plane, tears welling up in my eyes . . . but I wanted more from God. You ever been there? You think you’re hearing God’s voice but you’re just not sure. So I said, “Lord, will you just somehow confirm to me that you rescued her in those final moments?"
Two days later I got up from my seat in the greenroom behind the auditorium at Gateway Church. The next session was starting and it was time for us to take our seats during the singing portion. I opened the door to the greenroom, followed the entourage of speakers and staff members down the hallway and my ears perked. I fainty heard the chord progression and rhythm of a familiar song ringing out through the auditorium. The staff member at the front of the line opened the auditorium door and He might as well have opened up the gates to Heaven in my heart. There it was, ripping through the auditorium, 4,000 voices singing.
I called, and You answered,
and You came to my rescue and I
wanna be where you are
I completely lost it. Tears flooded my eyes. A supernatural shock jolted my chest. I couldn’t believe that God would answer me so clearly.
Davey, in that moment she called on me. And I answered. I was there. I was surrounding her. I made good on my promise to her and to you. And in that moment her only heart’s desire was to be with Me. It was no different than her heart always yearned for. To be with Me and now, son, she is. I was protecting her and I’ll be protecting her forever.