“The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Psalm 18:2 [NASB]
As I watched footage of Hurricane Irma as it swept across islands and parts of the U.S. it reminded me of our plight. Our experience has been much like that of the impact of a hurricane, the primary exception being there was no forecast for our disaster. I was particularly struck as I watched landscapes and buildings gradually being swept away. People clamored to a structure thinking they had found shelter from the storm only to realize it was incapable of protecting them, and they were sent frantically searching for another. In some cases, no doubt, people went to several places seeking shelter before they actually found refuge. In much the same way, God has been solidifying in my mind and heart the reality that He alone is my Refuge, all others will fail.
“But let all who take refuge in You be glad, Let them ever sing for joy; And may You shelter them, That those who love Your name may exult in You.” Psalm 5:11 [NASB]
I initially hoped, or maybe even assumed our local church would be my place of shelter in this storm, my refuge. However, our first week back at church literally took me to my knees in brokenness, it was so devastatingly hard. It caught me completely off guard, but in retrospect I realize I should have seen it coming. We always go to church as a family, we always walk through the same doors, greet the same people, sit in the same places, we always worship and serve together. Church membership and service is a reflection of our faith, which is the heart of who we are as a family and individuals. We are one; Scott, Karen, Katelyn, Kristen, Sarah, and Sophie. No place reveals more clearly the devastation that has befallen our family than church, it is the most difficult place to be right now.
The pain of church attendance for us was definitely compounded by various factors related to the way in which Sarah left us, but we have learned that it is actually quite common for bereaved parents to find church attendance and corporate worship extremely painful. I’ve read multiple theories as to why, and actually believe it is not one reason, but many. Regardless of the reasons, though, that very real pain prevents our local church from being our refuge. When I first realized this I was heartbroken at the thought and cried out to God in distress, questioning, “Church is supposed to be our refuge, how can it not be?” Almost immediately in my crying out, His Word began echoing in my heart reminding me that He never said church is our refuge, local or universal, He said He alone is our shelter and refuge.
“Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me, For my soul takes refuge in You; And in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge Until destruction passes by.” Psalm 57:1 [NASB]
Surrounded by friends, acquaintances and even deeply compassionate strangers in the initial days and weeks, I sometimes found myself unintentionally taking refuge in them. All of those shelters eventually gave way with time and the sustained winds of this massive storm, though. It’s not at all that anyone has failed us, they have not. It was never God’s design for them to be our refuge, they are neither equipped nor called to shelter and sustain us through the destructive winds of this storm. We must not expect them to protect us and meet our needs, that is not their role. They are called to bring cups of cold water as He leads, and we are so very blessed that they are faithful to do so. But, He alone is mighty, worthy, willing and waiting to be our Refuge.
“But as for me, I shall sing of Your strength; Yes, I shall joyfully sing of Your lovingkindness in the morning, For You have been my stronghold And a refuge in the day of my distress.” Psalm 59:16 [NASB]
I frequently refer to Scott as the rock of our family. I could not ask for, or even imagine a better husband for me, and father for our girls. He is a godly, gentle, humble, sacrificial servant leader. He longs to be a shelter for us, to carry our pain, grief and burdens for us, but he can not. He is incapable and he would collapse under the weight if he somehow actually managed to lift it from our shoulders. He is the little “r” rock of our family, but The Rock and Refuge for each of us individually must be Christ alone, all others will fail. I can not, I must not expect Scott to be my shelter and sustainer in this storm. We are both grieving and painfully wounded and we both must run to the Rock that is higher than us, He alone is our Shelter in this storm.
“Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah.” Psalm 62:8 [NASB]
A couple of days ago I went to the visitation for a dear friend since childhood, I love him and his family deeply. I intended to stay for the funeral as well, but after hugging and crying with his family I realized I simply was not able to stay. I went home and sat alone in silence, my heart ached for them and us. I thought about Sarah and how desperately I miss her, I even felt a little jealous that my friend is with her now. I spent a lengthy amount of time studying scripture searching for encouragement, but the oppressive weight of my sadness lingered. I went downstairs to distract myself with a project and ended up in our storm shelter looking for a piece of plywood. Providentially, the board I was looking for was strategically beneath two verses Sarah had recently written on our storm shelter wall ~ I did not know she had added them and had not seen them before.
God is so faithful. I went around the storm shelter reading all of the verses the girls have written through the years. Sarah had traced her little hand five years ago and written her name. I laid my hand across the outline of hers and wept, longing to feel her hand beneath mine. Even so, I was encouraged alone in our storm shelter surrounded by His Word. I was encouraged because I was reminded who my Shelter is in this storm, my Rock and my Refuge. I have a gentle loving God who inspired my sweet Sarah to write on a wall in our storm shelter two verses I could cling to in this moment. My tender shepherd then led me to them to remind me that as the winds continue to howl about us, He bends down to listen to my cry, and I need only to be still.