Why?

Snow fell all morning as we struggled our way through school. What was piling outside the sliding glass door was so much more interesting than what was on the page. Finally we got enough accomplished that I called it quits. After a quick lunch, the kids bundled up in about a million layers and roared out to play in the snow. It’d been windy too, and the drifts made some awesome heaps.

The younger kids rassled and thrashed and heaved snow everywhere. Amid the play, the big boys also shoveled the drive (for the princely sum of $7 each) and my 17 year old daughter and I took turns with the camera. It wasn’t till a good hour later that they all trundled back in, touching my face with their icy hands, delighting at my shocked recoil, and heaping their dripping coats around the fireplace to dry.

We hooked the camera up to the TV to look at the pictures we’d taken, and exclaimed over the amazing amount of snow that had fallen. As we looked at the pictures, I told our newest daughters that this was the snowiest winter we’d had in years. “I think God knew you wanted to see snow and He’s making sure you have plenty of it to play in,” I told hem with a smile.

My 12 year old smiled, momentarily pleased. Then a shadow crossed her face. “Yes, I wanted snow. But I wanted my [Ethiopian] mom too. I prayed for her to get better. Why did He say no to that?”

My heart was suddenly heavy for her. I told her how sorry I was about her first mom, and listened as she talked awhile longer. But my words of consolation felt as weighty to me as confetti.

This evening I am still wondering what I could have said. Was there something that would have eased her pain, helped her make sense of her life, pointed her towards faith?

My faith in God is foundational to my life. Despite the bad things He’s allowed, I’ve had such abundant evidence that God watches over me. I have no doubt that He cares about the details of my life. I pray my children willl all have that faith. But is faith easy for me because I’ve led a privileged life? How hard would it be for me to trust if I’d lost MY mom at age 9?

How do you help a child find a way to trust when she has such intimate experience with a time when God let the bottom drop out of her world — in spite of her prayers?

{ 36 Comments }

  1. Mary,
    My mom passed away when I was 15, three weeks after being diagnosed with cancer. I have been thinking about your daughter since your post on Mothers. My heart breaks for her. I wish that I could use my experience to come up with an answer for her… but nothing sounds right.
    For me, losing my mom was a time of faith-growing. I clung to God as I had never done so before. I told God it wasn’t fair, but I never doubted that He would carry me through. I can’t explain why I chose that route, or why God allowed my mom to die in the first place.
    Two books that I read back then, which I found helpful, were “When God Weeps” and “The Will of God as a Way of Life”. The first one is by Joni Tada-Erickson and another author. I don’t remember the author of the second book. Both authors faced horrible tragedies and had to deal with the “Why would you let this happen God?” questions. Perhaps one of those books might help you with how to guide your daughter.
    I will be praying for your daughter. If I think of anything helpful, I’ll let you know.
    Vicky

  2. I have observed that different people have very different emotional responses to the idea that God is directly and specifically arranging the circumstances of our lives. For some people, this belief is comforting – it reassures them that everything in life has a purpose, even if we can’t understand that now, and it gives them some level of assurance that the very worst things – the things we can’t bear to think about – will pass them by. I think it also makes God’s love more tangible – the snow on the ground is a visible sign of the specific love God feels for an individual.

    For other people, there is a cost to the idea that the happy coincidences of life are arranged by God. Any comfort derived from that is immediately negated by the idea that the tragedies of life are also guided missiles, sent by God directly to the person who suffers them. It’s painful to lose a loved one, but so much more painful to see that loss as having been specifically and intentionally decreed by God to happen to me and not to someone else.

    I don’t think that the first group is more privileged than the second – at least, that hasn’t been the case in my observation. It may be related more to temperament than to circumstances.

    Personally, I see God as having ordained the general conditions of the world for good reasons that I can understand: there are satisfying explanations for the presence of sin, pain, and death in this world, and even for the general principle that life is not fair. I don’t think that God handpicks people to receive either privilege or hardship – I think he allows the world to function according to the laws he has established. When he does intervene miraculously, those miracles occur for reasons other than simply the benefit of the recipient: miracles testify to God’s character and authenticate the ministry of those entrusted with his message. To me, this does not take away from God’s power or providence: when we trust our lives to him, we enable him to use any circumstance in our lives to conform us to the likeness of Christ. Nothing is wasted or meaningless.

    That is not to say that my view of God is the right one; it may well be in error. But I think it’s valuable to recognize that neither interpretation of God’s relationship to this world is inherently more comforting than the other.

  3. Where, oh where, is the very long comment I just wrote? I’ll try to reconstruct.

    I have often noticed that people have very different emotional reactions to the idea that God is directly and specifically arranging the circumstances of our lives. For some, this idea is enormously comforting. It provides some reassurance that every event has meaning and purpose, and it gives grounds for hope that the very worst things – the things we cannot bear to think about – will pass us by. It may also make God’s love for tangible – even the snow on the ground can be a visible representation of God’s specific care for one person.

    To others, the idea that God has ordained our circumstances has an emotional cost attached to it. The gratitude we feel for God’s provision is negated almost immediately by the thought that the worst tragedies of life are actually guided missiles, sent to us specifically and directly by God. To suffer the loss of a loved one is bad enough, without having to view that event as having been arranged by God.

    I don’t think that the first group is more privileged than the second – at least, that hasn’t been more observation. It may be a matter of temperament rather than circumstances.

    Personally, I believe that God has ordained the general conditions of the world for good reasons. There are satisfying explanations for the presence of pain, sin, and death in the world, and even for the general unfairness of life. I think that God allows the world to operate according to the conditions that he has set, and when he intervenes miraculously, he does so for reasons other than simply the benefit of the recipient: to reveal his character and to authenticate the ministry of those he has sent to proclaim his gospel. I find this idea more comforting than the view that God is constantly arranging even the minor details of life – but I know that for others this makes God seem terrifyingly powerless and remote. To me, this interpretation of God’s relationship to the world does not mean that life is meaningless: when we trust our lives to God, we allow him to use all the circumstances of our lives to conform us to the likeness of Christ – that is where the meaning comes from: not the cause of the event by the effect.

    Of course, I may be entirely wrong – but I think that even if I am, it’s important for both sides to recognize that one interpretation is not inherently more comforting than the other.

  4. Oh, Mary. That is so hard.

    Maybe you could have her read “The Scarlett Thread” by Francine Rivers. Or the two of you could read it together if she is still struggling with English. It is a fantastic book about faith.

    Hugs.

  5. Hi Mary,
    Do you ever talk with her about your feelings on losing your Dad? I think losing someone at an early age can swing you both ways in faith. I lost my 16 year old brother to cancer when I was 10. While this event was traumatic for me (because I really lost my mother at the same time), it did seem to help cement my faith for me. I always felt this deep connection to God because I know he has my brother waiting by his side. (And he left me here to take care of Mom the best I can.) Have you mentioned to her she is still here because God has big things in store for her? He knows she has something valuable to share with us and placed her with you to make that happen. Enjoy your beautiful daughters, and the snow too!

  6. There is a book titled “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” It is supposed to be excellent. I have not read it, but actually the title helps me keep things in perspective. It is written by a rabbi, but applicable to all faiths. It might give you some clues on what to say to your daughter and the inner struggle that she must be going through.

  7. I would have told her that some people are so special that God decides they need to come home earlier than others and her Mom was one of those special people.

  8. “I don’t know.” I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the same time I had our second son. “I don’t know” is what we told ourselves, and what we tell our now 6-year-old big brother. Although there are still times we ponder more deeply, we are now a week away from sending in our final paperwork and waiting for a referral from Ethiopia. Just as we knew then, God is with us…I am just glad no more time than necessary was spent on trying to understand a plan we will never understand in this lifetime.

  9. I’m with Jodi (comment 4)…

    Good luck. I’m sure with some time and your influence, she will feel faith as well.

  10. I’m touched by how much love I feel you have for this child And the Lord. If i can feel this…trust that she will too, and that love will help her to heal. I’m reluctant to tell anyone that God is taking folks, I think that can create fear in children, plus we want to teach them that we are All special to the Lord. Perhaps the ‘I don’t know’ answer may be the most honest. Couple that with the explanation that though her ethiopian mother is not here with her in the flesh she is still in her heart and with her in spirit. Tell her that she can talk to her mother and that she can “feel” her whenever she desires to do so. Maybe there is a spot in her room that she can set up with a special pillow and a picture (if there is one) of her mother and/or homeland…a private special place she can go to “be” with her mom. Don’t worry at 9 or 19 none of us knew what we know now of faith (and hopefully not as much as we will know tomorrow or the tomorrow 10 years from now). But just like the Word builds line upon line, and precept upon precept, you are certainly laying the foundational example of love, faith and understanding that will help All of your children grow in faith.

  11. When I’m at a loss with my 17 yr old step-daughter I do the best I can to love and encourage her through her questions and then I go to my knees and release her to her heavenly Father who loves her and cares for her so much more than I ever could.

  12. That’s a hard one. My Grandma died of breast cancer when I was 14. She was my rock, my best friend, my mentor, my mom and my dad all rolled into one. I prayed and prayed that God would save her and when she died I was angry. I stayed angry at God for many years. Knowing that my Grandma wasn’t in pain anymore, wasn’t suffering anymore…just didn’t help me for a long time. But it did help at some point. I just had to come to that realization on my own.

    My Grandma, before she died, told me that if God wanted to take her home, she was going home. I think it was her unfaltering faith in God that actually got me through my grief and anger, even though it probably shouldn’t have taken as long as it did. I don’t know what to tell you to tell her. Just love her and stay strong in your faith. She probably needs to see that and hopefully will take comfort in your faith once she’s old enough to start understanding it herself.

  13. Don’t say she was so special that God wanted her in heaven.

    My grandmother was told when her smart, gifted brother died at age 12 that “he was too smart to live” my mother was told when her brother drowned at age 17 that “he was too special to stay on earth.” My mother is 71 years old and those words still hurt. My grandmother was still upset about the neighbor who made that comment when she was 90!

    God needs a mother in heaven more than a child needs her on earth? I can’t imagine that would make sense to a child and might even damage her faith.

    You are a wonderful woman, Mary, full of faith, you will figure this out. God is with your daughter now, to comfort her. My mother nearly died when I was 8, I was full of faith that God would take care of me no matter what. I’m not sure where that faith came from and I’m not sure that it would have survived her death. Listen closely to your daughter and (like God) be there for her. There are no easy answers.

  14. There is nothing that could be said to lessen the pain. This I know for a fact having lost my mom when I was a mere 6 1/2 years old. I was told that God needed my mom’s help in heaven. My heart goes out to those beautiful girls. God will give you the words to help your girls sort their feelings out. Please let them know that it is ok to miss their birth mother. I felt that I wasn’t allowed to miss her or talk about her. That I think makes the situation much worse.

  15. Fern, I must respectfully disagree with you that Rabbi Kushner’s book is “applicable to all faiths.” Perhaps the title is, but I certainly would not recommend it to Christian friends under any circumstances. I invite you to revisit it, and see if you can find the many inconsistencies between what he states and recommends, and what the Bible says is true. (And I’m talking about clear-cut differences in what the Bible actually says, not just in what believers might legitimately disagree on.)

    Mary, as far as your daughter, I think this is one of those opportunities in life where it is the perfect time to tell your child honestly that we DON’T know and CAN’T know why certain things happen. But that God certainly does, and that he is working ALL things together for good for those who love him and are called to Him….

    It is a wonderful opportunity to tell her about hos finite we fallen creatures are—-that even our imaginations are limited. But that God and his power and his sovereignty and his LOVE are limitless. “Now we see through a glass darkly” and ONLY ” THEN(heaven) shall we see face to face” and have the capacity to see things as God sees them.

  16. Mary,

    I also think it is evident to anyone who reads your blog, that it would be nearly impossible for God to have provided this child with a better mother than the one she currently has…..

  17. This little story is something that has been helpful in our family. Maybe someday your daughter would enjoy reading it.

    TRUST

    As a little girl, I sat at my mother’s knee and looked up from the floor.

    “Mother, what are you doing,?” I asked.

    “I’m embroidering,” she replied.

    I saw only a mess – it was so jumbled! Threads were knotted and there were blank spaces.

    “Why are so many of the threads dark? Why can’t they all be bright?” I questioned.

    She smiled and said I should go play and when she was done, I could sit on her lap and see what she had been doing.

    Later my mother called me. I climbed onto her lap and looked at her work. I was surprised and thrilled to see a beautiful sunset. I could not believe it, because the underside was so messy.

    “My child, from underneath it looked jumbled and messy. You did not realize there was a pre-dawn plan on top for me to stitch with loving care.”

    Years later I have looked up to Heavenly Father and said, “Father, what are you doing?”

    He answered, “I am embroidering your life.”

    I’ve said, “But it looks like a mess to me. It seems so jumbled. So many of the threads are dark. Why can’t they all be bright?”

    The Father tells me, “My child, go about your business of doing my business and one day I will bring you to Heaven and put you on my knee and you will see the beautiful plan of your life from my side.”

  18. I talk often about the story of Joseph in Genesis… what people meant for bad (and circumstances that looked bad) worked out for good. My adopted children seem to connect to that.

  19. well, if anyone understands her pain, it IS God-he watched His only son die, for a great many people that didn’t even care-this is why we have such a great Hight Priest who can understand all things!! Give her up to Him and let her know she doesn’t need to be afraid to ask God those questions, either-He’s big enough to handle them 🙂 and He loves her more than she could ever know. There are so many examples in the Bible of folks who just struggled or lost and God was with them. When my children don’t understand God, and myself too for that matter, we go to the story where Jacob wrestled with God and show that it is ok to do that-and ultimately God blessed Jacob for it, but he did have a permanent scar to remind him of both the wrestling match and the blessing. Your sweet one will have a permanent scar too, but hopefully also a blessing to remember-thanks for being His hands to her here on earth and keep loving and listening. I will go pray for all of you right now!

  20. I don’t know, is a good answer because we don’t know. It is something we all have to come to terms with sooner or later. Why do bad things happen to good people, why do innocent children suffer, etc.

    You can talk to her about what we do know. Jesus gave people free will on earth so he is not going to make anyone act in a certain way, as he told us we have free will.

    When he was facing death he said “My kingdom is not from this world”.

    If we are Christians we are all saying the same prayer with the line “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. To me this says that often God’s will is not done on earth, if so why that line in the prayer. Why should we pray his will be done on earth, if it is a given.

    Life on earth is very unfair if you think about it. Why should we have this desire for things to be fair? It is not the way the earth works. Why the desire to right a wrong? I think it is more a Godly feeling then one from evolving on earth.

    Sometimes God can make a miracle and sometimes it does not happen. I believe the good in everybody comes from God. I would not allow suffering if I could help it and God is a lot nicer then me.

  21. I love Becky’s (#13) answer/story. I’m going to get my daughter right now!

  22. My heart hurts for your daughter. Please do not tell her any “reason”. We do not know. She has seen much more suffering I am certain than most. If you listen to her as you d, and let her ask her valid and honest questions, then you have a chance to share your faith with her and maybe one day she will feel the same. But I believe you could alienate her if you try to answer her with a reason. There is no reason why she lost her own mother. I think it would be terrible to say that you are here to replace her own mother as the other writer #12 suggested. That cannot possibly make sense to her. (It certainly doesn’t make sense to me.) Be honest with her and tell her that you do not know the reason. Why were 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust? 1 million of them were children. That cannot possibly make any sense to anyone no matter what your faith. All of us wonder about these very serious issues. There are no good answers. If there were, we would not have suffering in this world because we would understand the mystery. I think it is wise to consider what it may sound like though when you say that you prayed for snow and it snowed, and when she prayed for her mother to live, she died. That has got to sound absurd to her. Anyway, The best thing you can do for her is to keep listening. Also her grief is really profound. I am assuming that you have a good psychologist for her? I do not know how you can get over something as serious as what she has suffered without some professional help. Maybe a faith based professional would be best and someone who knows about adoption issues too especially from countries with the kinds of problems her country has faced.

  23. I think that sometimes all you can do is to pray for her, that God will help her to understand. It is hard for any of us to really understand why bad things happen and why God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want, and it’s okay to tell her that we don’t understand. But we do know that God is working all things out for His glory, and that this world is just a tiny sliver of eternity.

  24. Some of the lyrics from one of my favorite Casting Crowns songs:

    “Love Them Like Jesus”

    The love of her life is drifting away
    They’re losing the fight for another day
    The life that she’s known is falling apart
    A fatherless home, a child’s broken heart

    You’re holding her hand, you’re straining for words
    You trying to make – sense of it all
    She’s desperate for hope, darkness clouding her view
    She’s looking to you

    Just love her like Jesus, carry her to Him
    His yoke is easy, His burden is light
    You don’t need the answers to all of life’s questions
    Just know that He loves her and stay by her side
    Love her like Jesus
    Love her like Jesus

  25. Mary, if you find THE answer, please let me know. We are about to deal with the subject of biological parental loss with our adoptive sons. Except their bio parents did not die…they did not live in a deprived country…their bio parents severely abused them as infants…and while I know God intended my sons to be my sons from the moment of their conception…how can the boys truly understand this?

    I have no idea how to explain. How to answer the questions that are coming.

    Prayers and hugs to you and your daughter who is questioning.

  26. The book by Randy Alcorn has helped me deal with my dad’s death. I was an adult, but not ready to lose him so young. He is missing out on my children’s lives so much and then you lose your mom in the process. Very frustrating at times…however, this book called, Heaven, has helped me look so forward to our time when we will all worship God together. It has eased my pain and helped me look forward instead of back or on what he is missing. The way the book is written in question/answer format may help her navigate through it. They do have a kids version as well. Oh the pain of death and its sting are so hard to take as an adult that I can’t even imagine trying to deal with it as a child. Mary, you are a blessing to so many.
    Kimberly

  27. I wonder if I come talk with her sometime. My situation was/is totally different because I didn’t get uprooted from my country… but I was a kid and I didn’t understand. Sometimes I still cry myself to sleep just wondering why. Thinking that he would have loved to see this or that….or that he would have been proud of something. No matter how you look at it, it’s hard and impossible to understand. I don’t know if she’d want to talk about it with me, but I can hang out with her sometime if you want.

  28. I think that all we can do is love them and pray for them. One time we were watching the American Girls Movie, Felicity. In it Felicity prays for her mother’s life to be spared. Itw as a very emotional scene for me, and I looked over and saw tears streaming down Beth’s face. It broke my heart to realize that she knew what it was like to lose her mother and her prayers weren’t answered. She never said anything about it, but I could feel her pain. I just hugged her and told her I love her. My father died when I was 7, so I feel like I understand her pain to some degree.

  29. I’ve been whining on my blog about God letting me down. What a jerk I am. This puts it all in perspective.

  30. Dawn in OR says:

    Mary,
    My daughter lost her mom a month after she was born. And her twin sister two weeks after they were both born. I know she wonders why “she” lived and they did not…..she misses her sister,her twin. She is now 14 but at 3, when she did not even know she had been born a twin, she would ask me where her sister who looked like her was? And why I did not go to Vietnam to get her? She just knew. We all carry losses in this world. I talk to my daughter about her first mom and tell her that at times I can feel her birthmoms love for her (our shared daughter) and that because of reasons we do not understand she could not be here to love her. But I am here and my arms and hugs are from us both. Then we talk about when we will get to meet her in heaven and ask her all kinds of questions. This usually leads to more talk and more talk is better…
    You are doing a good job Mary…
    bless you
    Dawn
    IN OR

  31. Your blog is touching. I haven’t experienced any devestation by death, but many people around me have. Sometimes I thing God allows (key word) valleys so we can give mountain tops to rejoice from.

  32. Your daughter needs to understand that God didn’t take her mother. It’s not God’s fault that she died. We live in a fallen world where there’s sickness and death, and God grieves about that as much as we do.

    Our family lost a baby this last year, and it was so hard for the older children to see their prayers not answered about their baby sister. We have had to walk through all the anger and disappointment together, and the only thing to hold onto sometimes is that this is a hard, fallen world, and all the more strive to escape it someday to Jesus’ loving arms.

  33. Hello! I just read this post and it made my hair stand up on end. It kind of hit home. God has always been my strength…especially as a child. Then at 14, I was raped. I thought WHY DID GOD DO THIS TO ME? (after this i went a little wild, but calmed dwn and have a family of my own now) So in my situation my husband had to kind of play the “mother” role in my story he showed me the way back to God. Main word “showed”. I was thinking that your just going to have to let her get ALL her feelings out and tell her your sorry that she lost her mother and that you understand it hurts. You also lost a parent. But you are there for her now, and though you may NOT be her biological mom, you love her just the same. Remind her of how much you love her & what she has in her new family here in the states. Let her know that you understand that she misses Ethiopia and she always will, but to try to look at things from the good side. glass is hlf full kind of thing. And show her what God has blesed her with, even after her mother has passed he knew she needs guidance and he knew she needed a great mother with more love in her heart then I or anyone can imagine. So what did God do? He blessed her with an unimaginably AWESOME, loving caring beautiful family. Hopefully this all made sense!!!

  34. Hello! I just read this post and it made my hair stand up on end. It kind of hit home. God has always been my strength…especially as a child. Then at 14, I was raped. I thought WHY DID GOD DO THIS TO ME? (after this i went a little wild, but calmed dwn and have a family of my own now) So in my situation my husband had to kind of play the “mother” role in my story he showed me the way back to God. Main word “showed”. I was thinking that your just going to have to let her get ALL her feelings out and tell her your sorry that she lost her mother and that you understand it hurts. You also lost a parent. But you are there for her now, and though you may NOT be her biological mom, you love her just the same. Remind her of how much you love her & what she has in her new family here in the states. Let her know that you understand that she misses Ethiopia and she always will, but to try to look at things from the good side. glass is hlf full kind of thing. And show her what God has blesed her with, even after her mother has passed he knew she needs guidance and he knew she needed a great mother with more love in her heart then I or anyone can imagine. So what did God do? He blessed her with an unimaginably AWESOME, loving caring beautiful family. Hopefully this all made sense!!! Remember God has a plan for all of us, but we have our own choices to make. HUGS!

  35. mary – i think you handeled it beautifully. sometimes listening is the best thing to do. xo

  36. I think that kind of trust in a good God takes time to build. She has had that trust shaken, but in later years, through your teaching, guidance, and her own relationship with him, she will learn that yes, he let her suffer great loss, but he also provided for her always and brought her ultimately to great good.