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When I was growing up, the playground was the setting for an entire series of nonsanctioned school games. These games were different from tag and duck, duck, goose. This elite category of games has been handed down from generation to generation. Games like monkey bar wars, truth or dare, and kill the carrier, to name just a few.
One of the most famous nonsanctioned playground games is bloody knuckles. In case you’re not familiar with it, let me explain that bloody knuckles is a simple game that tests your speed, your strength, and most important, your tolerance for pain. Two kids stand facing each other with knuckles touching. Then one tries to whack the other’s knuckles as hard as he can. Next, the other kid goes. Back and forth, whack after whack. This goes on until one of them quits for a simple reason: the pain becomes too intense.
The game has grown so much in popularity that there is now a World Bloody Knuckles Association (WBKA). The WBKA has a commissioner, official rules, and an option for membership. For just ten dollars, you can receive a membership card and a bumper sticker.
Ever feel like life is one big game of bloody knuckles? Except for one difference—you can’t quit. Every time you turn around, you get whacked. You try to dodge it. Whack! You beg it to stop. Whack! You pray. Whack! You do everything in your power to avoid it. Whack! Whack! Whack! The pain intensifies. The suffering is daunting. And you’re not sure what to do with it or where God is in it.
Maybe you recently experienced your own version of bloody knuckles. Maybe you lost a loved one, and the hurt has turned to denial and anger. You’re really confused. Perhaps you lost a job, and the frustration and discouragement continue to grow. You read about God’s promises, but you don’t understand why this has happened. Maybe you live with chronic pain. You would give anything just to be free of pain and not be distracted by it.
Regardless of your situation, I know that when your very soul is being torn apart, you want an answer for “What am I supposed to do?” And I know from experience that it often feels as though there’s nothing you can do. But the primary equipment you need to trust God in your pain and suffering is your pain and suffering. You already have the necessary tools; you just need the skilled hands of a loving God to wield them. So the first thing to do at the site of rebuilding is to hand over the tools in trust.
In this chapter we’ll consider what it looks like to hand over these tools and worship God in our struggles. Most of us, when faced with enormous obstacles or daunting challenges, like to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, trust in our own abilities, and say confidently, “I’ve got this.” But since we have a relationship with the God of the universe, who loves us and cares for us, it makes infinitely more sense to submit to him and say, “God, you take this one.”
My friends Chris and Kim Trethewey went through several years that felt like one long, losing game of bloody knuckles. About a year and a half into their marriage, they decided to start trying to have kids. The thought of having a family captured their hearts and consumed their conversations. They assumed that in no time they’d have two kids and the white picket fence. They would live the American Dream.
The reality was far from the ideal, and it tore their lives apart. After enduring three and a half years of unsuccessful fertility treatments, they sat down with a doctor who said, “We’ve done everything we can. We don’t know why, but you’re not able to have kids.”
Chris and Kim walked with an emotional limp after this tremendous blow, but eventually they explored other options. Through an incredible series of events, they adopted two siblings: Kiara, who had just turned one, and Caden, who was three months old.
Caden was born four months premature and was still in the hospital when my friends first saw him. He had been there since birth, with three holes in his heart and underdeveloped lungs. A devoted medical team repaired his heart and inserted a tracheal tube to help his breathing. Remarkably, his health improved, and the doctors were extremely positive about his future. He began eating regular foods and drinking out of bottles. Time was all that was needed for his lungs to develop.
Chris and Kim virtually lived at the hospital for months until they finally got both kids home. Each day they thanked God for answering their prayers and blessing them with children. Their dream had finally become a reality. Then one morning around seven o’clock, Caden’s apnea monitor went off. Chris ran in to find Caden in his crib with a distressed look on his face unlike any Chris had seen before. Chris called 911 and tried to give little Caden CPR, but it wasn’t working.
Chris remembers, “I’ll never lose that image in my mind of just knowing there was nothing I could do. I begged God. I begged him for a miracle. I begged God to save his life. I sat there, and I said everything I could to say, ‘God, please! I’ve seen you work miracle after miracle in the lives of so many people. Today I need you to save my son. I
know that you can. I know you have the power to save him. Please! Give me that one request.’ But he was silent.”
My friend continues, “To this day I’m not sure why God didn’t answer my request. I still wonder why. I’m not sure there is really a reason God could give me. What I do know is that God hurts with us. Our loss is his loss.”
In their anger and hurt, Chris said there was a still, small voice inside him and his wife that said, “God gave you this child. It’s his to take away.”
I sat with Chris at the hospital that day. I watched as he shifted into autopilot to move through the next days and weeks. I wept for Chris and Kim and prayed with them. I saw how deep a crater Caden’s death had left in their hearts.
I begged God, “Today I need you to save my son.” But he was silent.
Countless moments of grief came at them from nowhere. The sense of loss touched everything in their lives. As the months passed, they began to work through the stages of grief. They had times of guilt, anger, rage, hurt, and just plain numbness. It was hard for them to understand what they were feeling and how to deal with it in a healthy way.
Kim had been feeling sick at one point and was convinced she had the flu, but her sister surprised her and said, “Kim, you don’t have the flu. You’re pregnant.” Kim dismissed the idea, saying, “Okay, you’re a schoolteacher. I paid a lot of money to a man who specializes in this, and he said there is no way.” But she decided to take a pregnancy test. She prepared herself emotionally for the test to be negative, as it had been countless times before. But this time, amazingly, it was positive. She couldn’t believe it. Despite the fact that all the doctors had said it was impossible,
she was expecting.
Later that year she gave birth to a beautiful little girl they named Claire. Chris said, “I kind of laughed the first time I held Claire. It was a laugh to say, ‘God, I get it. You’ve called us to follow you. Not to make sense out of all the stuff going on. Not to understand it.’ As I held Claire for the first time, I was blown away by the miracle of birth. It was God saying, ‘I’m with you.’”
Now, it’s not as though Claire was an even exchange for Caden. It’s not as though having Claire meant not grieving the loss of Caden. In a way, it actually intensified the loss they were still trying to make sense of. But in the gift of Claire, the Tretheweys learned that even though they did not know why things happened as they did, they had settled the who question. They knew they could trust God, and they derived their strength from him.