I thought I was safe. It was the Mission Discovery banquet last September. I had spent hours setting up the sound system, strategically placing the speakers the right distance apart and positioning the sound board in the farthest, darkest corner of the room… behind the bar. The strategy of every sound person in any event is to place as many objects between them and the stage as possible. We like to hide. It was there that the overwhelming presence of God pressed into me so violently that tears turned to rivers running down my cheeks.
Benji Cowart is a songwriter in Nashville, and a Worship Leader for Mission Discovery. A while back he wrote a song called “I Am Redeemed”. My first time hearing this song was the night of the banquet. Each word sank deeply into my soul as he poured his heart out on that stage. The safety of my knobs and buttons melted away as he sang the brutally redemptive lyrics. I was arrested by God.
One of the most challenging questions for followers of Christ is this, “If God is so loving, and all powerful, why does He let bad things happen to good or innocent people?”
It was early August 1994 when my sisters and I woke up not realizing how different life had become. The events of the previous night would come to define our childhood, and shape our adulthood. Nothing could have prepared our hearts for the announcement our grandmother would make after she turned off the 6 o’clock news that night.
The day was strange. Relatives and friends seemed to be flooding my grandparent’s house with different casseroles and pies. My uncle Doug played baseball with me in the back yard for what seemed like hours. People were paying attention to us kids. Like an abnormal amount of attention. Even at 9 years old I could tell that something wasn’t right.
The night before, my parents had gone out to a party. It was a late one and somehow, on their way home, they ended up in a neighborhood they weren’t familiar with. The mid-90s was not a time in history that you wanted to be trotting around Richmond, VA in unknown territory, as my parents would soon find out. It was around 4:30 in the morning when a couple of kids approached the car in an effort to sell some drugs to my parents. When they refused all Hell broke loose.
The kids, armed with sawed off shotguns, opened fire on my parents. Relentlessly. My father was struck 17 times and survived. He is a real life super hero. My mother took her last breath in pain and confusion that night. And the world has been a vacuum ever since.
The hospital bills bankrupted us. We didn’t have what a lot of the other kids at school had… cable, a home phone, money for Christmas. If it wasn’t for people at my grandparent’s church we wouldn’t have had Christmas that year. I guess that is a reason activism is so important to me, because the Church has made a difference in my life in a real and tangible way. It was about that time that we, as a family, started going to church.
I became dependent on my grandmother in an unhealthy way. I dreaded the day I would lose her. I was often overcome by fear to the point I would break down in tears thinking about her death. I would cry myself to sleep over something that hadn’t happened yet, but it wasn’t long before it did. I remember asking the paramedics if she would be ok. They couldn’t answer, but the look on their faces gave me little hope. She had fallen from the fourth step carrying groceries with nothing to break the fall but her head, and concrete isn’t forgiving. She died two weeks later. Her husband, my grandfather lasted a few months without her, then passed away in his bed.
Lost and aimless, my middle school years were cloudy and my eyes were empty. I was alive, but I felt like a slug… squishy, slimy, and just waiting for that next batch of salt to send me into convulsions. I was too young for all of this. But is there really a right time?
So we are back to that challenging question, “If God is so loving and powerful and really cares about me, why would he allow these things to happen?” I think this is the wrong question to ask. When things start to pile up in my life and all is lost and hopeless the question isn’t, “Why me?” The question is, “Do I TRUST God?” The scriptures say that God has a plan for me, and it’s good. They say that His ways and thoughts are higher than mine. They challenge me to trust Him and acknowledge that my understanding is flawed. My way of thinking is incomplete so I should lean into Him, not run from Him. God pursues us, He redeems us, and He will stop at NOTHING.
If you look at the events of my past, it doesn’t take long to realize I shouldn’t be where I am today. Like in the same way A plus B doesn’t equal “Jellyfish”, my life doesn’t add up and the only answer that can be given to account for what has become of me is redemption. So when I say I was arrested by God while Benji was singing that night, I mean I became speechless, couldn’t function, and buried my head into the mechanics of that sound board. I was overwhelmed by something that was real, and unearthly. It was God. That song is my life.
Paul says, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6 NIV)
We are all on a journey. Sometimes it’s more unbearable than bearable. It’s painful, and bloody. None of us get out unscathed. We are all prone to failure and defeat. We are broken and hurt. Remember Benji’s lyrics, “When I hear you whisper, Child lift up your head, I remember oh God your’re not done with me yet.”
God is not done with me. He’s not done with you. He is working. The question is: Do you trust Him?