Just before driving into the town I grew up in my oldest son, a sophomore, asks the big questions. We took the 17 hour drive in two day chunks, making our way to Oakland, Oregon, just a few miles from Roseburg, Oregon, the small town I was born and raised in. My grandmother passed away in June and her progeny and their familes all gathered for a family-reunion to celebrate her. My grandma’s story is quite a story. Another time.
All the feelings were on the sleeves as we rolled down I-5 passing the high school I attended the year my best friend committed suicide. Past the exit for Garden Valley Boulevard, where I had been the passenger in the back of my parents car a thousand times as they pulled off the interstate to head home from church. Every time I drive into my hometown I feel all the yucky feelings mixed with the good memories I have from growing up, getting married and giving birth to my two sons there. So when my son asked if I believed his dad was going to hell (his dad was driving while my son asked this) because he doesn’t believe in Jesus I wanted to teleport to an alternative universe or throw up.
There are too many things I can’t explain. Hard things. Why Julie had to die. Why my mom couldn’t be more stable. Why my dad seemed to favor me. Why I married at 19. And why I didn’t divorce him when we separated 10 years later. Why grandma let my dad go live with his dad at such a young age, so far away. Why there is a hell.
Painful, hard questions flood my mind and bring up the nauseating feeling of insecurity when I drive into the small, red-neck town that informed me. And why there is a hell and whether or not people I love, including my husband will end up there is one of those hard things I don’t want to try to explain. But you can’t hide from a curious teenager in a car moving 70 miles an hour into all your difficult memories.
I told him I couldn’t be his dad’s judge. I told him what the Bible says and what I struggle to understand about hell and what helps me accept what I don’t understand. All with my hand on my husband’s arm as he drove the car. I felt pathetically ill-prepared for such a moment. I felt like a fool. Like I did when Julie died. Like I did when mom left dad the second time. Like I did when I took the engagement ring off my finger and swore I’d never put it back on. Like I did when he said he wanted to come home and I told him I wasn’t afraid to love him.
We pulled into the driveway of our home in Arizona today. Back to the predictable life. Laundry, car wash, dishes, feed the animals, homework, grocery shopping and dinner. While I was out getting the car washed my son’s hard questions came back to me. I felt my face flush with dis-ease. A prayer ascended while I vaccumed up road-trip crumbs. “Father, I am a fool. I don’t know how to explain anything. All I know is you have a hold of me. And you made my son, please give him understanding.”
I want to have answers. Good answers. But like I heard Ray Ortlund say today on a podcast, I’m no Tim Keller. I’m me. I don’t have all the answers. But I do have hope that my husband’s heart is in the hands of the One who has me here, with him through all our turmoil and 25 years of rough road. I know that he who gave my son life and knit him together in my womb can also give him new life and heart of understanding.
Life here is really hard. There are lots of questions with no good answers. All I know for sure is Jesus is good. And my hope is all in him.
‘After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, ‘ John 6:66-68 ESV
Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
Mark 9:24 ESV