The Truth my Sister Taught Me
In college, a few of my friends lived in a house we affectionately referred to as the "Gingerbread House," and that is where I was the night my brother called to tell me my sister had died. That scene is etched in my memory. I remember the stunned silence as I wondered what I was supposed to do and then quietly excused myself. Death is always shocking. Most of my friends didn't even know I had a sister or that she had already outlived her life expectancy by almost two decades. My younger sister, Marie, was born with an extra 13th chromosome - most babies born with this condition never leave the hospital. My sister was blind and remained infant-like in her abilities for her entire life, but she lived in our home and then in a care facility for 18 years.
As far as we could tell, Marie didn't know or recognize us, but we loved her and cared for her, and today I would like to honor her life by telling you about the wonderful truth she taught me: God is good ALL THE TIME.
"He has done all things well."
I have met many people who struggle to believe that a good God could allow such suffering in the world. I have known people who believe God is good when He is making everything good for them and who doubt His kindness the moment they experience pain. For the most part I have not had to wrestle with this dichotomy, because I was fortunate enough to grow up in a home that proclaimed a loving, good God while sleeping down the hall from a sibling like Marie.
If you didn't know and love my sister, then seeing her would have probably scared you. We didn't leave the house very often because we were never sure when Marie would cry or moan loudly, and her physical appearance was so far from normal that people weren't sure how to respond. It was hard for my mom to find a babysitter because no one wanted Marie to die on their watch, and Marie was supposedly going to die at any time...for 18 years. I would like to pause here and say that my brother and I had a fabulous, idyllic childhood which was not at all hindered by the special needs of our sister. She gave us far more than she took. I only paint this picture for you in order to demonstrate the severity of her condition and the way it affected our family - especially my parents.
When we find ourselves in hard or painful places the first question that so often springs to our mind is "why?" but for followers of Christ the more productive question is "Who?" Who orchestrates the unforeseeable, uncontrollable aspects of our lives and what do I believe about Him?
"Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?"
Now, when you grow up with a sibling like Marie, you grow up in an ongoing conversation about the sovereignty of God. To say that God is Sovereign means that He is the Supreme Ruler over all and therefore has supreme command or control over all. When you follow this statement to its logical conclusion, to believe that God is Sovereign requires the belief that anything and everything that happens in or around us has come with God's approval. Whether He sent it or simply allowed it, if He is Sovereign then everything passes through His hand. The Bible also teaches that God knows us before we are born, and knits us together in our mother's womb, and has plans and good works for our lives, and when Marie entered our family all of those truths still applied. Marie was planned by a good God, knit together without eyes and with an extra 13th chromosome by faithful hands, and placed in our family by a Sovereign God.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Discussions of sovereignty and faithfulness were the types of conversations that naturally arose every time someone new came into our home or learned about our situation. I vividly remember a friend from high school, who thought I had the perfect life and perfect family, staring at a picture of my sister on our living room wall - eyebrows raised, jaw dropped in surprise. I remember that moment because that is the moment my faith held water in his eyes. He assumed we believed in God because everything was perfect, but the truth is life is hard AND God is good. These realities coexist quite nicely - especially if you've had the benefit of growing up in the middle of them.
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be glory forever. Amen.
When we are in the middle of trials or tribulations, or when we turn on the evening news and see the new terrors that are plaguing our world, it is easy to believe that sin and the effects of sin are winning the day. But when I look at my own life and at the miraculous redemptive patterns of nature in my backyard and the graces of beauty still to be found in a sin-scarred world, I find overwhelming evidence that God is good. The Bible tells me He is good. My own life experience shows me He is good, and if He is good then He is good ALL THE TIME.
The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
I've given the credit to my sister for teaching me this truth, but I am also deeply indebted to my parents, who had the faith to believe that God is loving and kind and that His ways are higher than our ways, even as their dreams for their life and family swerved off course. I am forever thankful to have grown up with parents who showed me that faith propped precariously on our own understanding is no faith at all. I am grateful to have learned early on that our Savior doesn't owe us explanations. God's Word promises that He is "working things for good" and "reconciling all things to Himself," so who are we to stand before the Maker of heaven and earth and say "You're doing it wrong"? Marie was not in our plan, but she was always in God's plan, and God's plans accomplish His glory and our good. Always.
"You are good in what You hide and what You show
You are good when You say 'yes' and You say 'no'
You are good in what you give and you withhold
You are always good. You are always good."
I had the great honor of singing this original song for my dear friends who buried their daughter last night.
I pray it will stir up and strengthen your faith in our Faithful God.
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him,
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
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