Suddenly I felt overheated. I untangled myself from my brother’s arms and threw off my coat. “I need air,” I said as I tried to go out the nearest door. It was locked and suddenly I felt claustrophobic. The only way out was through the hallway and back out the madhouse of an ER. I felt like I was about to lose it. I went into a bathroom and took deep, long breaths.
My mom and my other sister, who had shown up from out of town at some point just before or after Nate spoke the words that swallowed me whole into this present nightmare, followed me in.
“Its not registering,” I told them. I knew that if I really understood what was happing, that Ethan had actually just died, I should not be able to stand and walk and move. This was incomprehensible, and yet here it was and I was still moving and even that seemed wrong.
I went back out and sat in the waiting room, my family surrounding me from every side. There was a foul smell in the air. I figured that must be what grief smells like.
I sat there with a hand braced on one of my knees, my eyes on the carpet in front of me, staring at nothing. An emptiness spread through me. It was like I had passed out, though I remained sitting there with a hand braced on one knee. The only things I was aware of for a long time was the emptiness and the feeling of blood leaving my head. This seemed to last forever, hour upon hour, I have no way of knowing how much time had passed, maybe none at all, but it was as though I completely left and only a vacantness remained.
And then the Lord spoke to me for the third time that day. He said, “I am a good Father. I am not going to give you a stone, when you need a loaf of bread.”
At those words, something I did not yet understand sparked in me. It was like waking up or coming back to life, only the nightmare was still happening.
I looked up then and saw that two more of our pastors who I work with were sitting in the row of chairs across from me. I don’t know when they showed up. I met their eyes. First Keith, in his eyes I found a brotherly bearing of my pain. His eyes matched the sick in my stomach. Then I looked at Chris. In Chris’ eyes was an overflow of fatherly compassion and warmth. He had been my youth pastor when I was just child and now all these years later, he was the lead pastor of the church where I worshipped and worked.
I meant to speak and tell them thank you for coming, but I couldn’t tell if the words ever left my throat. I wasn’t sure of what I was speaking out loud and what was just happening inside my head anymore.
My mind kept pulling to the night before like some kind of magnetic vortex that was trying to keep me there. Or was it God trying to tell me something? I was brought back into the scene from yesterday, watching Ethan, watching myself from this new vantage point.
“Thank you for taking the time to see me, for choosing me, for making me a priority.” I could hear Ethan say as he held me there in his arms.
“I don’t know if I chose you out of selfless love,” I heard myself say, “or because I am so richly rewarded for choosing you.”
And I thought of the devil trying to convince God that His servant Job was only loyal to him because God had so richly rewarded him. What did I really know of love?
Then I heard God’s voice again, spoken into my present with a gentle confidence, “I am a good Father. I am not going to give you a stone, when you need a loaf of bread.”
“Do you think we are ready?” It was Ethan’s voice again from the night before, “for marriage?”
I was scared and he could tell. “… I love you and I trust you,” I had told him, “I know you would never mean to hurt me. You always aim to do what is best for me.”
“So why do you hesitate?”
“… I guess I just don’t trust love in general.”
“You don’t trust love?” I watched as Ethan cocked his head to one side, his brow knit together in concern, “What do you mean by that?”
“It’s so hard to rest in love,” I heard yesterday’s voice say, “I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Lots of people proclaim their love with good intentions, but my experience says that’s all they are, good intentions. In the end, love ends up feeling like a cruel deception, damaging to devastating degrees.”
“That’s not love,” Ethan had told me.
“The person giving it thinks its love,” I argued, “the person receiving it thinks its love. But they are deceived.”
“Perfect love casts out fear,” Ethan had stated it like it was the answer to everything.
“What does that mean?” I pleaded. I could never understand that verse. I didn’t understand love.
“I am a good Father. I am not going to give you a stone, when you need a loaf of bread.”
Why did He keep saying that? What did it mean?
Ethan would have done anything to protect me, to offer me what I needed, no matter the cost. I knew that. He really did love me that much. And if Ethan’s love was just a conduit of God’s love for me, then surely God’s love exceeded Ethan’s love. But where was that love now? Where was God’s protection and provision? Suddenly we were at the heart of it. It wasn’t Ethan’s love I had doubted all this time, it was God’s.
The scene from yesterday enfolded within my mind once again as I thought back to a moment the night before when my fear over the future was beginning to take over. As I watched into the past, I could see Ethan sitting on the floor. He had scooped me up in his arms and held me in his lap. He brushed a hair away from my face and said, “Its all going to work out, Makaila.”
“How can you be so sure?” I had pleaded with him.
Cynicism slammed against this memory. I wondered now if everything good really was a lie. How is this going to work out?
I thought about Ruth and Boaz. Wasn’t Boaz supposed to be a picture of the Redeemer? Wasn’t his protection and provision a reflection of the way God cares for His beloved. Where was my Redeemer now? Where was His protection and provision now?
My mind pulled further back, to earlier in the week when God had reminded me that I was meant to be a reflection of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.
I heard my own voice ask, “What do you want, Ethan?”
“I want you.” He had said. So simply. So surely.
I broke the silence in the hospital waiting room with the words, “he wanted to marry me,” I spoke the words out loud, with my family and my pastors there to hear me. The words were meant to bring clarity to any wondering just how serious Ethan and I were. The words were meant to give me clarity on all my heart was feeling, but instead they flooded me with confusion. Each new question twisting itself around an explosive within my mind. How could we have been that far off in where this was all going? We prayed about everything all the time. We were sure God was leading, moving, weaving us together, creating something beyond just us. How did we get it so wrong? How could this be where God was taking this?
Pastor Chris knelt in front of my chair in the waiting room and took my hands, “We are here for you, Makaila,” he said, “whatever you need, just let us know.” Then the three pastors from my church gathered around me and my family and prayed. Sometime later, the three of them each hugged me, told me they loved me, assured me they would be here for me, whatever I needed. And then they left.
What did I need from these people? Such a strange thing to consider. I still needed what I’ve always needed, just with greater desperation now and under bleaker circumstances. I needed something only God can give.
For years, whenever someone would ask me what do you want? Or What do you need? I would tell the person something that fit along the lines of what they were asking. But silently, internally, I always took their question and turned my true answer into a prayer, Lord, what I really want, what I really need, only you can give, I want a man and a story and a family. It was a simple prayer, and for me a risky prayer, but one that was prayed in earnest boldness and humility. God alone could give me what I really needed.
All these people now, offering so much compassion, wanting to offer me something to fill the void and meet a need. But no one could give me what I needed. I needed my man back. I needed my purpose with him back. I needed the home and the family we were going to make together back. Only God could give that.
And then I heard it again, “I am a good Father. I am not going to give you a stone when you need a loaf of bread.”
I didn’t know what that meant, but I repeated it this time, out loud, in a whisper to my mother “He’s a good Father. He doesn’t give a stone when I need a loaf of bread.” Still I didn’t know what this meant, but there was strength in the statement—a light, still too dim to yet name hope, but it was there, a small flickering flame of light.