As I stood at the wake, I wondered, from a family breakthrough to a family member’s funeral—who would’ve thought that this would be how our January would turn out?
My family spent the first week of January going over last minute errands for our family vacation to South Korea. There was again that buzzing excitement I felt as I waited for the day we flew out.
For three years, my mom and my siblings would huddle to a family meeting at the beginning of the year to share and pray for the things we’re believing God for (also known as faith goals), and every year my mom would always include a family vacation to her list. Then, last September, I receive a call from my mom telling me about this cheap flight we had to book.
“Are you sure about this?” I kept asking her, as I was purchasing the plane tickets online. It was so unlike her to spend so eagerly on something like this.
“Yes! Book it! Book it!” She kept saying. And this was how we ended up going to Korea.
Now the Korea Trip comprised of a lot of eating, sightseeing, and wandering in the coolness of winter. And although it was an answered prayer for me (I always pray for travelz), I could tell that Korea was really God’s gift to my mom after three years of praying.
Then next day came, and it was back to reality.
I woke up to check the time, and I noticed that my mom still hasn’t started getting ready. She was, in fact, taking longer than usual at breakfast.
But she came in minutes later, holding her cellphone. The first thing she said was, “Lola (Grandmother) Tala died this morning.”
Now Lola Tala was one of the last two remaining siblings of my lolo (grandfather). My mom went on to explaining how lola Tala had what was suspected to be cancer for a couple of years now; and just that morning (or, in California time, that afternoon) she collapsed, and never made it out after.
To lose a loved one so suddenly is one thing; but what was even more heartbreaking about the timing was that my mom was set on visiting her for the summer.
And just like that, the events didn’t seem to line up.
As I stood at the wake, I wondered, from a family breakthrough to a family member’s funeral—who would’ve thought that this would be how our January would turn out? There we were, welcoming the new year, celebrating my mom’s breakthrough after three years, and barely 24 hours back from vacation, we find ourselves in grief, as we received the news of death.
I can’t even begin to imagine how worse it may have been for others. I’m thinking of a friend’s sick loved one who seemed to be improving, but turned out to be getting worse. Or another friend who got a dream job that turned out to be a lot less than dreamy than she thought it would be.
Maybe this is your story today. Or maybe this was your story a few months ago. And you’ve given up, as I have, to try to rationalize events that just didn’t seem to line up.
As I write this, and if this speaks you, I don’t have a lot to tell you really. Because sometimes words aren’t enough to take away the disappointment or pain. It would really take time.
But reflecting on the events that transpired just last month took me back to a phone call I received from my former boss a couple of years ago. At that time, I found myself going through my first work transition. I had just come from a meeting with my then-new boss when he called.
This pastor wanted to check up on how I was doing. “Who would’ve thought,” I said. “That this would happen two years after we met?”
He laughed at this before asking me, “Do you know what’s up in store for you?”
I was intrigued. “No,” I replied.
“Turn to Romans 11:33,” he instructed me. I put him on speakerphone, as I opened my Bible mobile app. He asked me to read it out loud.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“Life is not linear,” he said.
“The moment we think it is, we end up blocking all God has in store for us.”
I used to try to explain the things that didn’t go my way, or the way I expected them to be, and I always ended up being disappointed and bitter over the situation. But that was just it—I couldn’t explain the turn out of every event because it is not in my ability, capacity, or even authority to know.
And if you are in this situation, maybe this is the place to start—the place of not knowing. It’s a humble place. It’s a place that may sting at first. But once you’ve learned to live in it, it’s also a liberating and comforting place because it’s where you discover that the God who is bigger and mightier than you, the God who loves you, knows exactly what’s going on.
But what about the pain?
One practice that’s also helped me recently was the practice of leaning into the pain and all its relatives. Embrace and feel every bit of it. It’s no use pretending you’re okay, and it’s even more dangerous to quickly move on. There’s even a verse in Ecclesiastes that tells us that there is a time for everything, and that includes a time to weep and mourn.
But as you lean into it, don’t lean into it alone. Don’t stay there forever. Ask God to comfort and heal and restore you. Because He is close to the broken, and if we ask, He will do it.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
Sometimes it’s really no use to try and make sense of events that don’t seem to line up the way you thought they would, because none of us are in the position to explain what we can’t grasp with our limited knowledge.
And during the rare times when you do find the reasons you’re searching for, it’s also very possible to discover that reason is never enough, because it neither provides the comfort nor hope that our hearts are longing for.
So when you find yourself stuck at an unexpected turn on life’s journey, trust that you’re never alone, because you have a God who doesn’t just know the reasons, but also provides for you exactly what you need as you take that bold step forward.