Life these days is growing fuller by the minute.
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My abdomen is expanding at a rate I find fascinating and mildly alarming as our little lime-sized human enters the second trimester. Simultaneously, our adoption binder swells with more and more paperwork as we prepare to send Charlie to China in another few weeks to bring home our son. And my phone’s contact list is performing some downright rabbit-like antics as it expands exponentially with the numbers of pediatric neurologists, orthopedic specialists, and the myriad of other support persons we’ll need on our team later this year.
There’s a lot of stuff going on, and
all the time sometimes, it seems a bit overwhelming.
And some people say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
These people are dear to my heart, and I know it’s meant with the best of intentions. Love to all of you who use this classic line.
But folks, I’m here to argue that we must STOP saying this to one another. It’s lovely, but it’s also a complete and total lie.
Personally, I am not good at the handling.
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By Christmas this year, I will be responsible for parenting a special needs six-year-old, a spirited five-year-old, a tornado of a two-year-old, and a brand new tiny, helpless infant. Honestly, there are moments each day (such as those absolutely precious moments when Micah is screaming “MaMAmaMAMAma!!!” from the back seat in rush-hour traffic while aiming her sippy cup at my head and Ellie whines about the fact I’m so MEAN because I NEVER let her have ice cream for dinner) that I hyperventilate a little thinking about two more. How in the world? Will my hearing or my sanity go first, I wonder?”
But God won’t give you more than you can handle!
Except that sometimes, He totally will.
We begin as lumps of clay. Gray. Shapeless. Without function or purpose.
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The Potter slams us down on his wheel and begins the crazy ride of life. Sometimes, we are nauseous from the spinning, longing to return to the safety and anonymity of the shelf. The Potter douses us in cold water and begins prodding, pushing, pruning. At times, He uses sharp tools, making deep cuts that encircle our entire being. And when the spinning stops, there is, of course, the fire. (I take comfort in the fact that the clay probably complains a lot and often has some choice words for the Potter. I feel you, clay.) But in the end, the clay is strong, beautiful, and ready to serve. The clay can’t handle it, but the Potter can.
God won’t give you more than you can handle.
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But then, other times, I don’t think we necessarily should credit God for the ugliness life throws our way. There is free will and evil and sickness in this fallen world, and sometimes, life. just. sucks.
A few days before I found out about this pregnancy, my father was diagnosed with cancer in a tumor in his throat. He’s several weeks into intensive chemo and radiation and is battling through the brutal fallout. His meals come through a tube inserted in his stomach as the radiation fries his taste buds and his throat. He’s had all his teeth removed to prevent the radiation from destroying his jaw bone. Painful new symptoms appear each day. As I grow a life, my father fights for his.
He can’t handle it.
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My mother battles multiple sclerosis. She’s also my father’s primary caretaker. She pushes Ensure into his feeding tube every three hours, and carefully cleans the syringes, ready for the next round. Nightly, she rubs cream into the sores on his back, hoping he’ll get some rest. She spends hours cooking, trying to find something that will taste better than motor oil so that he might get down a few bites. She sits with him through the long hours of sickness stretching through the nights. She never cries in front of him.
She can’t handle it.
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My sister works full time. She has a daughter, a husband, and a household. She’s in seminary to become a United Methodist minister. She lives near my father, and she drops in to see him almost every day, bringing food and making sure my mother remembers to feed herself. Though she can barely keep her eyes open, she puts her daughter to bed and comes to watch Star Wars with Dad, because he loves movies with his girls.
She can’t handle it.
And out in the world? A crazed men with a hate-fueled heart enters a nightclub and slaughters innocents by the dozen. A toddler is snatched from his parents’ arms at the happiest place on Earth. Drowned refugees wash onto beaches. Rampant rape culture and systemic racism allow yet another shameless monster to avoid consequences for his abhorrent actions.
Again and again, mothers call the cell phones stuck to the floor in pools of blood. Parents lose their grip on tiny fingers. Fathers scoop lifeless bodies from the sand, and a young, brutalized woman tries to find a path forward without the benefit of justice.
Certainly, they cannot handle it.
This baby is due one day before my father’s birthday. And I’m terrified something will go wrong and bring him even more pain. I ache with my inability to sit beside him every day, cracking jokes and watching birds in the backyard. I ache that I can’t drop off lunch for my mom or relieve her during the long hours of chemo treatments. I ache that I can’t curl up in pajamas with my sister as assure one another that this will all be okay.
I can’t handle it.
I used to think I could. I believed, in fact, that if my faith were as strong as it should be, then I should be able to handle anything. In an effort to bolster my own confidence, I’d whisper the words to myself…God wouldn’t give you this if you couldn’t handle it. Pull it together. Be stronger.
And then, I’d suffer the guilt, crushed under the weight of too big things and too painful hurts, angry with my weakness in “handling” things.
The truth is that we can handle very little by ourselves. If we could, we’d have no reason to grow in compassion, understanding, strength, and love. We wouldn’t need one another. We wouldn’t need a Savior.
But we so desperately do. Some days, we need our people to help us gather up the frayed bits of our sanity and dust them off for the next day’s battle. Other days, just to get out of bed, hurting people need the supernatural strength of the God who promises to hold fast in the storms.
I don’t know how much of life is part of God’s divine plan and how much just happens. I don’t know why we’re spared from some things and forced to suffer others. But no matter the causality or ultimate outcome of all the hard, I do believe that while we can’t handle it, He can.
I choose to believe that no matter the mountains and valleys, He will ensure our paths lead into His arms. I choose to believe that while we can never grasp the entire plan of an omniscient and omnipotent God, He is good, and He works for good in our lives.
Therefore, I’m trying to make peace with my weakness and welcome it with love. I offer these words in an invitation for you to do the same.
“…God has chose the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong…” 1 Corinthians 1:27-29
“He gives strength to the weary, And to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, And vigorous young men stumble badly, Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.” Isaiah 40:29-31
“Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10
Because the truth is that He can and will take the torn fragments of any hurting life and create a new story.
And He seems to have a particular interest in doing that with the folks who absolutely cannot handle it.