when the answer is "no"

“Mom can I go to the blacktop?”... the blacktop being the parking lot at the church across the street from our house, the one that boasts a basketball goal at one end.  This has become a familiar refrain in our home since a couple of families with boys moved into the neighborhood.  After nine years of life on 5th street, Zach finally has someone of the male persuasion to keep him company.  This is a big deal for a kid whose family only hangs out with other families full of girls and their booooring games, shows, dance parties, makeover sessions, duct tape bows and the like…

“Sure can buddy”. The blacktop is a familiar bike riding, hula-hooping, side-walk chalking location for my kids since I can see it from my living room.

“Mom, can I ride my bike around the block with Trey and Lee?”

This was a little different request. We live in a very, very small town (population in the triple digits), and I only recently started allowing he and his sister to ride around the block together. But it’s a nice day, and the kids in question are good kids, so… “I suppose so. You know the routine… if you hear a car, get in the grass and put your feet on the ground, even if the other two keep pedaling.”

“Mom, can I walk up to Trey’s house…? He and Damien are playing outside.”

This is a VERY new request. Trey’s house is only a few houses down on our quiet street. I know and trust his parents. But… we’ve never faced this option before. We’ve never had kids within walking distance of our house! Thinking back to my childhood I was walking to friends and school and church at a much younger age, so... “Yes you can. But if I come looking for you, you better either be OUTSIDE Trey’s house or walking home. No if, ands, or buts…” 

Fair enough- he was off.

A couple of more trips to the black top. Another ride around the block. Running into the house to get a football.  My son has never been so content on a Saturday in his entire life.  His entire day was full of “Yes’s”, and basketball, and football, and bike rides, and friends. That were boys.

And then, as evening drew near he brought one final request to me. “Mom, can I go to the ballpark? We are going to play cops and robbers. They want me to bring my nerf guns”. Now… the ballpark is one block behind our house. And I am not necessarily opposed to the notion of him going there with friends… but it was almost time for me to leave for a church service and his daddy wasn’t home yet. Having just gotten off the phone with Jim, I knew that there would be about a fifteen minute lapse in time between my needing to leave, and him arriving home.

“Buddy, I am going to answer you, but before I do I want you to please remember that mommy has said yes to everything you have asked today- playing outside, riding around the block, walking to Trey’s. She has even made a way for you to keep playing with your friends when mommy and daddy had to run errands… but because I am leaving, and I am not comfortable with you playing outside without mommy or daddy here, I have to say no. As soon as daddy gets home you can ask him about it.”

Immediately his face fell. Shoulders slumped. Feet plodded toward the door to deliver the terrible news to his friends. “Zach… mommy said yes to a lot of things today, please try not to be so disappointed with this one no”.

But there is disappointment in the “no”, isn’t there? Even with a whole day of “yes’s”, at that moment, only the “no” hung in the air.  And although I know Zach wanted to appreciate the many times I said “yes”... he just couldn’t hide his disappointment.

And I get it. Because a nerf gun fight at the local ballpark on a beautiful spring day… does sound like a good time.

I also get it, because so often, that is my response when my Father tells me “no”.

I forget the times I prayed, and He provided.

The times I sought His heart, and He revealed it to me.

The times I begged for healing, and He healed.

All I can hear is the “no”.

All I can hear is the disappointment.

Friends and family of mine are walking through the pain of one of God’s most difficult “no’s” today. A little boy that our entire community has rallied around in his fight with cancer went home to be with the Lord today. Thousands of people have cried out, begged, pleaded with God for a healing. For a miracle. For a life spared.

And I know that many are struggling through the same disappointment…

How could we pray so hard, for so long, to a God who is so good… Just to have Memphis die anyway?

Yesterday I joined some of my dearest friend's at the altar. Tears streamed down my face for this family, grieving so deeply, crying out from the depths of our souls for a miracle. But the miracle did not come, at least not in the way we would have it. This is a tough lesson for any of us... but especially so for Grace Ann... twelve years old, with a beautiful, gentle spirit and a soft, soft heart that feels not only her pain, but the pain of everyone around her. This child, struggling with the same "why" as so many adults today. The "why" that can not really be answered this side of eternity. I think of her, standing from the altar yesterday, the altar at which she poured out her entire heart before the Lord on behalf of her little cousin. Her face, contorted with the pain of this world, her bright orange shirt stained with droplets of salty tears.  I know that her prayers were full of hope and belief that God COULD heal. That God WOULD heal.

And so no matter how many times He has said “yes” before. No matter how many times He has provided. How many Red Seas He has parted. How many sick He has healed.

Her today is filled with the weight of his “no”.

And that’s okay.

He is a God that not only understands our grief, having experienced the pain and death of His own Son… He is a God that joins us in that grief. He is a God that treasures even our tears, catching each one in abottle, recording the cause for its fall in His book.  

I can tell my friends all the right things. I have shared scripture such as Isaiah 57:1. I can remind them that Memphis has received the ONLY perfect healing. I can assure my children that he is no longer in pain. I can share how he inspired people with his amazing smile, even through the pain. I can point to Romans 8:28, and encourage them to look forward to the way God will work even this dark time to the good. I can say all the right things… and they are true things…

But the truth is, there is still pain in the disappointment. Grief in the loss. Questioning in the “no”.

And that’s okay.

I am a failed, imperfect mother, and Zach’s disappointment was a minor one… but I understood.

And so I know, I trust, that our Heavenly Father, seated in perfection, understands our disappointment when we can’t fathom His “why”.  He is patient with our questions, and through the power of his Holy Spirit will guide us through the valley of the shadow of death, refining us and growing us and loving us all along the way.

I don’t know what you are facing today. What the disappointment in your life looks like. Maybe you are grieving the passing of this beautiful young man.  Maybe you are struggling through the disappointment of a closed door.  A lost job.  A failing marriage.  A prodigal child. Whatever the disappointment… take it to the Father. 

He is a good Daddy... He understands.

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