I had seen the suffering dragon at a distance. Smelt the smoke when it spat fire on other people’s lives. But the first time it breathed ugly in my face was when our eldest son, Cameron, was born blind.
When I look back on the days and weeks following Cam’s diagnosis, they flash silent and disconnected like a slow-motion movie scene. People caught in an explosion. Screams but no soundtrack. Bodies smashed against glass. A shattering catching light.
Murray’s father heart broke. I was numb with fear. We would have ripped out our own eyes if it would have made a difference to Cam. We couldn’t understand why God, who loves our son even more than we do, wouldn’t heal him. Our sweet tiny boy had done nothing to deserve this. And bloody hell, neither had we.
The prognosis was devastating. Cam endured batteries of blood tests and sonars and examinations under general anaesthetic. Each specialist had a different theory about the cause of the dense bilateral congenital cataracts and microphthalmia. Nothing was conclusive.
And Murray would have punched anyone who told him, ‘Jesus wants you for a sunbeam.’
I had enjoyed a normal pregnancy and we had no reason – genetic or other – to expect a child with a physical disability.
The dragon had stalked us.
And suddenly, we were in the fray.
I felt shocked and unprepared. But when I looked down I saw that I was holding weapons. I hadn’t noticed them because up to then I hadn’t really needed them. Yet out of habit or instinct, I had kept them kind of polished. More-or-less sharp. God hadn’t thrust me clumsy into combat with brand new equipment. Quietly and consistently – for years – he’d been supplying the weapons I would need to survive this battle.
The weapons were all made of truth. But truth was more than my defence. It was also my doctor.
Because when this dragon’s claws ripped open my heart, I had to find the courage to get truth salve into the bleeding mess of raw flesh no matter how much it hurt. Without truth, infection would fester.
As a student, I read and re-read Jerry Bridges’ Trusting God. It cemented my belief that God is perfect in power, wisdom and love. Which was hard to believe when we faced the trauma of Cam’s condition. But because I had lived so long by this truth, it was my default. I knew somehow, still, that my God was almighty, all knowing, all loving. He wasn’t cruel or capricious or too busy attending to the universe – back turned on me for nine months while my baby boy grew. It couldn’t be so – no matter how much the dragon roared that God didn’t love us, that he was punishing us, that it was my fault, or that this was just a random act of the universe. I kept up the mantra in my head: perfect in power, perfect in wisdom, perfect in love.
So when debates raged around us in whispers – did a loving God allow this or did a sovereign God ordain it? – I didn’t need the answer. For me it was two sides of the same coin. And God didn’t gamble. He hadn’t flipped that coin flippant to see how it would land. Cameron’s numbered days were all recorded before the first one dawned. God hadn’t taken his eyes off the eyes of my son. Not for a second.
I knew that ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’ was the wrong question to ask. Because you and me and everyone? We’re not good people. We have a debilitating congenital sin defect and anything short of immediate judgement is pure grace on borrowed time. When Adam fell, he took creation with him. In this life we can’t shake off all the consequences of that cataclysm. The world is broken. Terrible things happen. Babies are born blind.
And it’s not fair.
But it’s true.
So the question to ask – resting and wrestling with the sure hope that God sees things we don’t and will judge the world with fairness and righteousness when he rolls up all of history in his glory – is not, ‘Why?’
The question is, ‘What now?’
I also knew that the answer to ‘What now?’ wasn’t to be found in Three Easy Steps to Becoming a Sunbeam. I couldn’t buy the answer on eBay.
The answer was: ‘Start rock climbing.’
God’s Word became my means of scaling the cliff up and out of the dragon’s den. I found finger holds and toe hooks as I scrabbled sad and desperate from Genesis to Revelation. I stopped to rest in warm familiar hollows. Breathed the air and remembered the view from truths I had long loved. Gasped awestruck at old words made new because of where I found myself.
I hung on what Joseph said to his brothers – his betrayers: ‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.’ Yes. That. It looks bad. But God brings good where it’s impossible to see any.
. . .
This is an extract from my book, Dragons and Dirt: The truth about changing the world – and the courage it requires.
Get your Kindle edition today. Or order the paperback – and half a dozen hot cross buns? – in good time for the Easter weekend. And maybe, send it to a friend who needs to look up from the sludge of life this Easter to soak up and celebrate how Jesus sets us free from all the dragons that roar, all the dirt that lurks in dark heart corners, and how his mercies are new every morning for us, and for this world. If you’re in South Africa, head over here to order your copy.
Half the proceeds of every book sale go towards Botshabelo’s Preschool Teacher Training Programme in Olievenhoutbosch and other under-resourced communities in Gauteng. Because really, we can change the world.