Botanists tell us you can learn much about the life of a tree by observing it's growth rings when cut down. You can find out which were good years and which were bad years by looking at the relative width of the rings. Can you tell which years had good rainfall, warm temperatures and few insect or disease outbreaks in the above picture? The wider the growth ring, the better the growing conditions were that year.
For trees a thicker growth ring is a result of good growing conditions which includes rainfall, temperature, and the lack of insect or disease outbreaks. For human beings growth rings come the opposite way- through trials. The best growing conditions for Christians are not pleasant at the time- they include challenges of many kinds. Occasions that cause us to rely more fully on God prove to be times of growth, though they are usually quite painful.
If some one cuts me in half 20 years from now, they would find 2008 to be a pretty thick growth ring. Last year, at the end of 2007 I recounted some of the highlights from the year gone by. This year, I let the end of December pass and really didn't feel like blogging about the highlights of 2008 very much. Don't get me wrong, 2008 was filled with God's provision, goodness, and blessing- His mercies are definitely new every morning (Lamentations 3:23), however the year gone by will always be a difficult year to remember for me.
Just over nine months ago one of my former youth group members, a young man who I spent considerable time with especially during his High School years, ended his own life and changed the lives of his loved one's forever. I would love to report a sense of healing and closure, but I cannot. I have re-lived the phone call I received from his uncle the day he died virtually every day since March 25. The details of that day and the days that followed are still vivid to me. I sincerely wish I could share some process of understanding that has slowly worked over these months to give me a greater sense of peace, but this has not been my experience.
No one should mis-read my admissions as some kind of doubt concerning God or His goodness. My interpretation of Andrew's death has never been focused on a perceived unfairness on the part of God. On the contrary, the only genuine solace that surrounds this situation is the sovereignty,righteousness, and grace of God. This event has certainly caused me to cry out to God as the Psalmist did when he didn't understand trying events (i.e. Psalm 35), but I have experienced no essential doubt in God's goodness and wisdom through my long contemplations about Andrew's death. Further, the circumstances that surrounded his death convince me this was a momentary lapse on the part of a weak brother, not the long-planned act of a perpetually hopeless unbeliever. I am convinced that any Christian could fall in this way. God's grace is greater than all our sin. I'm just being honest by saying his death still doesn't make human sense to me and the wound is still fresh.
For me the past nine-plus months have brought weekly if not daily reminders of Andrew. I have enjoyed the recollection of some great memories as well as the continued onslaught of the "why?" and "what if?" type questions. Various things trigger my memories and thoughts- it could be seeing a vehicle like his, sometimes a person with a unique tattoo reminds me of him, a young person that looks like him, and most recently while skiing I saw a person flying downhill with a goofy hat on- just like the one he wore when we skied together. Most of all- seeing his parents on a regular basis and feeling totally inadequate to comfort them makes the pain of loss linger. There is a quiet strength Andrew's family has had for as long as I have known them and it has grown deeper and stronger. Still, I know there is a void that will not be filled in their lives until glory. That's hard to think about. Never have I felt more deficient as an under-shepherd of God's flock. God has been humbling me in this area, it is not easy and I don't like it much.
So, 2008 is history. I look forward to what a new year will bring and claim the words of Psalm 39:7 going forward- And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.