When Gratitude Doesn’t Mean a Finished Story

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Photo 2016-06-02, 11 37 47 PM

Everything in me knows what I’m supposed to say: “It was great! We had a wonderful time!” But the words stick in my throat, because the truth is much more complicated than the socially acceptable one-liner.

Here’s the truth: I’m glad we got to go. It was important to have gone. But there is a lot about that story that is still awaiting redemption, and in honesty, I’m still not sure what the heck God was thinking in having it happen the way it did. Why was there a random traffic jam which put us an hour behind schedule getting to the airport? Why did the train to the airport break down, leaving us standing on a platform in the rain with our luggage? Why have our Bible study group and my pray-by-text-message-lifeline-group intercede desperately that we would make our flight, only for us to be turned away at the departure gate due to paperwork issues?

We had already sacrificed so much to get as far as we did: so why did God have us stranded in an airport at 11pm with three wailing children who understood little except that they would not be boarding a plane to see their grandparents? Taking comfort from the Psalms to pray—and pray honestly—I sent more than one “WTF?” missive heavenwards that night.

We ended up having to buy a completely new set of international tickets, flying through a different country, with different paperwork requirements. We had to juggle car bookings and cancel and rebook connecting flights. Our newly booked ticket departed 20 hours after our first flight was supposed to have left, and—heading onwards directly from the airport with nary a moment to change our shirts—we made it to the first of our scheduled appointments on the other side of the freaking world with six minutes to spare.

A voice in my head says I’m supposed to coat each of my stories with gratitude. I’m supposed to be thankful that a second set of tickets was financially possible and let that cover the sting of not being able to use the first lot. I’m supposed to be grateful that we had made our appointments at all, rather than forfeiting them. I’m supposed to be grateful that we got to go, that it could have been worse and it wasn’t. And honestly, I am grateful for all those things.

But my gratitude that it could have been worse doesn’t automatically expunge the feeling that I have a bone to pick with the Almighty. Really, God? Really? Wasn’t there something better and wiser and more useful we could have done with that money? Did we really need to spend an extra 48 hours in airports and dingy hotel lobbies rather than have that precious extra time with our loved ones? Why the detour, Abba?

I think of Job, and how much more he had to lament than I do. He lost not just hours with his family, but a lifetime. He lost not just a couple thousand dollars, but his entire livelihood. And to add insult to injury, he had a trio of smarmy friends singing “I told you so’s” and slinging barbs of unsolicited advice. And yet in all this, Job refused to curse God.

In the end, God redeemed Job’s story, but I can only think that the joy of new children could never assuage the loss of his first beloved sons and daughters. Redemption doesn’t mean the hurt didn’t matter. It means that in God’s economy, God made it count. Job’s suffering would be part of his and the Lord’s story: heartbroken words cried out in pain, deep truths learned in the abyss. “Though he slay me, yet I will trust in him,” he confessed (Job 13:15).

I yearn for redemption—not only of this story but of All The Stories. When people ask, “How was your trip?” I want to be able to tell it truthfully, but preferably with a shiny ending of How God Packaged It All Up Nicely. But the story is not finished, and it’s not ready for me to draw conclusions. Not yet.

So ask me how my trip was, and I will tell you a story that ends not with a period, but with an ellipsis … for God isn’t finished yet. I don’t know what God was thinking in allowing the things He did, but this much I do know:

God was with me.

God is with me.

Wherever the detours take us, God will be with us to the end.

And the end—no matter which route we took to get there—will be Very Good.

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Bronwyn Lea
Bronwyn Lea is a South-African born writer-mama, raising little people in California and raising eyebrows at bronlea.com. Fueled by grace, caffeine and laughter, she writes about the holy and hilarious in life, faith and family. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Bronwyn Lea
Bronwyn Lea

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Bronwyn Lea
  • Speaking of detours … 😉

    O, we need to sit together and tell travel stories some day, preferably at a beach.

    I love this: “I yearn for redemption—not only of this story but of All The Stories.”

    This sounds like a “I will not be shaken,” story. Strength, my friend. So much strength.

    • SO MANY DETOURS!!! I would love to sit at the beach and for us to have the time to sketch, in broad strokes, the outline of the journeys God has taken us on… detours and all.

      • Kate

        Oh yes. I know about this. 🙂 Sometimes I do wonder what God was protecting me from by making me wait. Would some other (worse) disaster have fallen upon me and my family if we had made our flight, or if the train hadn’t broken down? Or maybe I just needed more time to practice patience and the painful art of being sanctified. 🙂 Thank you for this post, Bronwyn!

  • Thank you for speaking all these words out loud.

    I find myself continually looking at snapshots of the ball in the air and longing to know its trajectory. “God will be with us to the end.” -> I know this, but I lose sight of Him in the snapshots.

    • Oh YES – that image of all the balls in the end and cringing a little wondering what a disaster it will be when they land and scatter…. But yes, He is with us to the end 🙂

  • Helene Burns

    I, too have come to know this is certain, though it often does not make sense…’God is with me…Wherever the detours take us, God will be with us to the end.’ Thanks for sharing wisdom learned from your story Bronwyn – it is such a strong reminder to keep our eyes focused on Him on our journey.

    • You’re so right, Helen. My eyes need to be on him, and not on the neatness of the story’s ending.

  • Yes, I’m learning, too, how very untidy our stories are. Waiting in the ellipsis is hard and faithful work.

    • Daily bread, my friend. we need daily bread 🙂

  • Sorry that the trip was so terrible! Yikes! I think we all have a desire to be truth tellers and that can be at odds with the full reality of the situation. I hope and pray that the purpose of the trip was fulfilled and worthwhile!

    • Thanks Joanna. In hindsight, I really am glad we went… but I have a feeling that only in eternity will be glimpse some of the hidden machinations God had going for us there.

  • This so resonates with me! I do not naturally sugarcoat stressful experiences and, even when everything “works out” in the end, I’m often grumpy with God for the process. Because the process can be draining and awful – like Job, new children don’t just replace the old…. But. The detours. They are pretty incredible – in hindsight. Thanks for that reminder.

    • Thanks, Annie. I’m not a natural sugarcoater, either… but gosh I hate to leave a story with gnarled and bleeding endings. God is teaching me to be patient.

  • Oh, my goodness — you really do have to wonder what God was thinking, don’t you? I appreciate you sharing this perspective. I think sometimes we assume other people’s stories always work out well, so we don’t want to admit that we’re frustrated and angry about our own circumstances. But sharing the truth is always so helpful to make us feel we’re not alone, living there in the ellipses!

    • Thanks, Jeannie. I wonder whether, one day, God will give me a glimpse of what has been at work through all this? But for now, we trust and wait.

  • This is such good stuff, Bronwyn. Thank you. And, of course, I can relate. Goodness. I just wrote in a blog post that life beat the shit out of me and it was there – at the lowest point, where I realized it’s all about the journey home – to ourselves, to others, and to a good God. Blessings on you, dear woman.

    • Big hug to you, my friend. Yes, we’re all on that long and oh-so-winding journey home, aren’t we? So glad to have your companionship on the journey.

  • I tend to cover up the questions with gratitude – that’s what we’re supposed to do, right? I love the honesty you bring and the permission to ask the questions, to not have to tie everything up with a neat bow to know God is with us. Thank you, friend.

    • No to neat bows!!! Thank you, Nicole.

  • Nichole Bilcowski Forbes

    Thank you!

    “But my gratitude that it could have been worse doesn’t automatically expunge the feeling that I have a bone to pick with the Almighty.”

    Yes! This!!!

    It doesn’t have to be either/or but both … I can be both grateful that things aren’t worse AND annoyed and frustrated that things are as they are. This is where I live these days … and it’s okay.

    Love your voice, Bronwyn!