(In a span of 3 seconds….)
“Please don’t run out in front of me.”
“Please, please don’t run out in front of me.”
“Should I slow down? I’m only going 20 mph. But I’ve always heard you shouldn’t swerve for animals. I tried to swerve when I hit that armadillo in Gainesville and I still didn’t miss him.”
“Surely I won’t hit him if I keep going the same speed and direction.”
THUD. (Quick glance at the center mirror.)
“Oh Gosh. That’s him isn’t it. Oh NO.”
(The lower half of his body lay flat on the concrete. His head and fluffy tail distinctively quivered upright in the air.)
And just like that, with one dead squirrel my whole world was wrecked.
I worked hard to hold back tears to keep from ruining my makeup before I even arrived at the service. Yet, the question began to form in my thoughts like a pearl in an oyster formed out of the irritation of a speck of dirt.
Why didn’t I slow down? Why couldn’t I have swerved when I saw him? Most importantly, why did the squirrel cross the road?
This is not meant to be a joke. Frankly, I’ve always held the sentiments that although animals deserve to be respected and cared for, people should value the life of people over the life of any other living thing. Blame my rural upbringing or my parents’ philosophy for ministry that has been engrained in me for years.
But really, this question of WHY goes much deeper than the life of that squirrel. It resonates with the moments in life when things happen without clear explanation. Worse yet, it resonates with our experiences when life seemed unfair or cruel.
I can think of a handful of people who are probably wrestling with WHY. We think of cancer, unborn children, devastating accidents by mere chance, or the greatest consequences by certain choice. Or, we question more intimate matters in the realm of why we are the way we are, physically, emotionally, spiritually even. More ordinary seasons of life can be faced with our favorite ‘W’ word for reasons that can seem obvious but hurt all the same.
I think it feels worse when the circumstances that surround such tragedies are muddy with factors that vary in how much we have or had control over them. I question everything I did that led up to the moment my tire made contact with that creature. But what if it was inevitable? What if the squirrel’s instincts told him to run blindly as fast as he can without any consideration of how fast the massive mobile was moving? This action was not conscious or thought out with logic. Does this mean responsibility falls on the squirrel’s creator instead?
You already have made your judgment on the incident. You have said it was my fault entirely. Or, you have said it doesn’t matter; people hit animals with their cars everyday. Or, you’ve blamed God for allowing the innocent to die by my moving vehicle. Maybe it’s a blend of views or some other judgment call birthed out of your own wisdom in mammal collisions.
Then answer me this: WHY did my brother have to put a picture of me in a bikini in the church graduation slideshow? Hmmm? Answer me that!!!
Just kidding. But seriously. How did that photo make it past both my brother’s judgment and the judgment of whoever put together the senior graduation slideshow TO PLAY AT CHURCH?!? Not okay, people.
The truth is, we can most always explain away the WHYs that erupt in the lives of others we encounter.
“God has a plan.”
“All things work for good.”
“It was obviously God’s will.”
“Sometimes these things just happen and you just have to accept them and move on.”
“It’s not the end.”
“If it’s meant to be it will happen.”
“That’s just how God made you.”
“Well, you reap what you sow.”
“Life isn’t perfect/fair/easy.”
I know I’ve said several of these to people when I felt like I couldn’t answer their WHY. I’ve also heard several of these statements when my heart begged for the question to be cured. I’m not saying that these responses are right or wrong. I do however question the appropriateness of such responses when there’s always more to the story and situation.
Sometimes it feels like Christian ministers gather like vultures at the sound of someone needing answers for their WHYs. Countless books have been written about finding God’s sovereignty and grace in our lives when we don’t have answers for our hurts. I must confess; I think I once thought that clear tragedies like someone dying were easier to give answers to than the muddy, seemingly more complicated hurts in my own life. I really do realize how selfish and immature this sounds, especially considering that from the outside my life could appear incredibly blessed and passed over by the tragedies and heartaches most heard about.
Yet, I still feel I have a right to the the big ‘W’. At least, I want to believe I do.
For last few months I have felt my heart making a tighter and tighter fist to shake at the myself, at the world, and even the creator of both. If you have read any of my recent blog posts, you would know I had some big decisions to make regarding my future. Six months ago I would have never thought I would consider going out of state for graduate school. My plan was to stay put at UF and continue to grow and foster the relationships I had at present. This plan was prosperous and nurturing, considering how it seemed God had blessed me with so many wonderful people to look after me where I was. This plan also paved the way for a quick track down the aisle…at 22 years old, I didn’t have to entertain the fears that society throws on single young women.
But then, like a speck of dirt that enters and irritates an oyster until it forms a pearl, small conversations gave birth to bigger opportunities. It was as if my original plan had shrunk in size and ran out in the road to be smashed by the plans that mobilized thereafter.
And just like that, with one dead squirrel my whole world was wrecked.
To convince you (and myself right now) that this collision of plans did not occur without submission to God’s will here, I testify that I spent months praying about my decision to go to Texas A&M for graduate school. I prayed about all of my options, and I prayed for any options that I didn’t know of yet. I prayed for God to reveal His heart’s desires for my education and to take away any of my own that could get in the way. I prayed a thousand different ways in hopes that my earnestness would be heard and honored.
The night that I officially made my decision, I thought I finally had peace. And I think I did for the few weeks that followed. But, as much as I had thought I had counted the cost in terms of what I would be leaving behind, I realize now that the emotional turmoil I had felt during my time of prayer before was only the beginning of what I would feel in the months to follow.
Here I am, 22 years old, embarrassed by how much it seems God has blessed me. I’m getting paid to go to graduate school out-of-state. When people ask me about Texas and whether I am excited to be moving there, I smile and give my prepared responses. I try to downplay everything about the move and divert the conversation to something not about me. Why? Because the truth is I am wreck right now.
Why couldn’t I have stayed at UF for three degrees?
Why do I even want three degrees? Or even two for that matter? I don’t have a clue what I’m going to do with them really…Why don’t I know yet?
Why was this whole agriculture/leadership thing MY thing? Why couldn’t I have been passionate about art like I said I would be when I was 10 and wanted to be the next Guy Harvey? Or, better understood, why couldn’t I have felt called to go to some Christian school or seminary like all the good Christians my age? God, didn’t you have some say in all this?
Why did you let me form these friendships in Gainesville that are going to feel so short-lived? Why do I have to leave them behind like this, especially the ones who gave me so much love?
Why did you allow other relationships in my life to remain or die away when it would have seemed so much better for this new path if the opposite had happened? Why do I lack peace about these relationships and yet they are content?
Why do you let me feel so deserted here, at home, for this short summer I have left before everything changes? Why put me here alone with all these questions and no one to be there for me?
Why am I so scared of moving this far? Why do I envision myself alone in TX, enveloped in my own failures and darkness there with no one to see me out of it? Why has the peace left?
These are my WHYs right now, for the most part. When they aren’t plaguing my thoughts and taunting my heart with fears, I find that there are other WHYs that have matured with me over the years.
Why is my body built this way?
Why must I wear all this makeup and hair product to look half as pretty as her?
Why can I never keep a best friend?
Why am I not worth being around?
Why am I so serious/critical/not funny?
Why can’t I carry a normal conversation with people?
Why wasn’t I chosen?
Why didn’t they like me?
Why can’t I be like them?
Cliche. Common. Yes. But oh-so-felt. And for those of you too logical to lower yourself to empathize with what I speak of here, just know how logically I recognize the sheer power of the emotions accompanied by these thoughts.
When I drove home from church today, I fully expected to see the squirrel where I left him on the road that runs through my neighborhood. I expected to see his head and tail sticking up as they were so creepily before. I expected the tears that began to pour out of my eyes from the moment I got in my car after church to go home to burst forth even faster with wails of anguish and anger that God had allowed me to be a part in this living thing’s death.
But instead I saw nothing. No remains were left on the road. Just bare concrete. As I continued my drive home, questioning what could have happened to the little body, I wondered for a brief second if the disappearance was actually an act of grace and mercy.
What if the silence is an act of grace and mercy?
What if the absence of what I long for is an act of grace and mercy?
What if having no answer to my WHYs is, for now, an act of grace and mercy?
If that applies to any of my WHYs right now, then I have no right to doubt God. Because, if that much is true, then He is being faithful to His promises yet and isn’t contradicting His character. It’s a little hard for my brain to completely grasp right now, the possibility that God not explaining life or even Himself to me is actually the best thing for me right now.
Dadgummit. I just realized this may be one of those trusting lessons again. Almost makes me want to run over another squirrel, on purpose this time. (Kidding, OF COURSE.)