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.