Tonight I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to listen to Jeff Cavins in person. Having done a few of his bible studies and facilitating his 24 week Great Bible Adventure course years ago, it was an exciting opportunity. Paul, Christina, Ruth, and Marie came from Revelstoke. Joseph and Johanna were there too. I brought Zoe so Marc could work uninterrupted on his sandcastle at Centennial Park. He’s hoping to have it done for Music in the Bay Thursday night.
Anyway, there wasn’t as big a crowd as organizers anticipated but still a good turnout – most of the ‘usual suspects’ from St. Joseph’s parish and a fair number of out of town folks. Lots of priests! The lady who organized it is the daughter of one of the founders of ‘God Squad’ and her father gave a little spiel about God Squad before introducing Jeff.
Jeff’s talk was quite simple actually and not very long, just over half an hour or so. Either that or the time just flew, I wasn’t watching the time closely. His topic was on praising God when things are rough. And not the ‘Praise God…. praise God…. praise God…’ kind of praising – though he said that was okay too. But he was talking about ‘Biblical Praise’. I wish I’d been as smart as Leah Ramsay and brought a notebook and a pen so I could take proper notes.
Basically his message was that when life sends us tumbling and reeling, our first response needs to be to praise God by confessing/proclaiming/acknowledging His greatness and His faithfulness and to trust His heart, that He’s a loving Father who loves us deeply and wants nothing more than to take care of us. And when he said ‘Biblical praise’ he was referring to speaking the great deeds and miracles of God throughout the Scriptures and then trust that God loves us just as much and will do great things in our lives too. He said when our first response is Biblical praise then wonderful things happen.
Ok. Sounds nice and all….. only I wasn’t buying it. Or to quote Toni’s kids, “I wasn’t feeling it.” Not that I’m disagreeing that God is great and He can do great things and that He loves us. What I objected to or struggled with was his unspoken assertion that we just have to praise God and trust in His love and everything will turn out great. Sometimes it doesn’t turn out great. Sometimes it turns out leaving us totally crushed!
Granted, he didn’t make a distinction between suffering and difficulties. He said he’d given a talk on suffering the night before and today’s topic was different. So that previous talk probably addressed more of what I was yearning to hear. The kind of suffering that doesn’t go away even after we praise God and trust in Him.
Why I do this to myself I’ll never know; but instead of just listening to what Jeff had to say and looking at how to apply it to other areas of our life, like the fact that we’ve gone from Marc having a steady job and a pay cheque that met our needs with some money in the bank for emergencies to running a vacation rental that can be sporadic and unpredictable and counting our pennies; I sat there and struggled with the words “Know the heart of God who loves you.” And instead of reminding myself of that “Me too” moment I had just before Bernadette died, I found myself struggling once again with the idea that a loving God lets little children suffer and die, leaving crushed parents in the wake. Everything went downhill from there. ARG. With that war raging inside me, I started to feel a little cynical about Jeff Cavins standing up there and praising God because he is a cancer survivor and was ‘healed’. Not that he had a major battle with cancer. His doctor found a spot on his back, did a biopsy, said it was an aggressive melanoma and needed to be completely removed right away and he had surgery. He never talked about chemo or radiation or having to fight the cancer. Just surgery and he was done. And he seemed to attribute his total recovery to turning to God in praise and trust the moment he heard the news. I understand that he probably simplified the story for the sake of the talk but for me it was just too easy. Praise God = everything turning out okay.
Well everything doesn’t always turn out okay! Bernadette died! We prayed, we trusted, we knew God was totally capable of granting her a miracle if He wanted to. Countless people were praying for her. We had people pray over her who had prayed over others who received miracles. She was given holy water from Lourdes. She had countless Masses and prayers offered up for her. Everyone was praying for her! She received the Sacrament of the Sick and received Communion. She received the physical touch of Jesus and she still died! I even remember the countless times I was tempted to just wallow in tears of despair but reminded myself that ‘where there is life there is hope’ and that God could still grant Bernadette a physical healing, so why was I crying and not trusting and still hoping?
When Jeff’s talk was over, Fr. George came up to me while I was still sitting waiting for people to make their way downstairs and he said, “Now is not the time for praying (I was fiddling with a plastic Rosary that Zoe had found in one of the front pews, waiting to put it back.) It’s a time for socializing and celebrating.” Granted, he could have been right, but I didn’t really want to socialize just yet. I wanted to work through the turmoil inside me. I wanted to stay and wrestle with God, just for a few minutes instead of bringing that wrestling match down to the basement and spewing it onto the people I was suppose to be celebrating with!
Again, I don’t know why I do this to myself, I seriously don’t. What I should have done was shove my thoughts and emotions back down , jump up, agree with Father, and head downstairs. Instead, my bottom lip started to quiver and in no time the tears started to trickle down my cheeks and what was going to be a silent wrestling match turned into a verbal one. And because I wasn’t ready to speak it, it came out in spurts that didn’t make much sense. To Fr. George’s credit, he didn’t run away or look like a deer who was caught in a vehicle’s headlights wishing desperately that he hadn’t come over. He was patient and gentle and didn’t jump all over me for what I was questioning or saying. It was the first time he’d really talked with me about Bernadette and it would have been nice to talk longer but he was wanting to get downstairs too, not that he acted like he was rushing or anything. What touched me most was just the fact that he took the time to listen and showed he cared.
After that, I went straight downstairs, pleasantly visited with people for a little while without sharing my inner turmoil! and finally was able to drag Zoe away and get home.
All in all, I’d say Jeff Cavin’s talk was very good and maybe it was something I needed to hear. Being reminded that we need to keep our eyes fixed on God no matter the circumstances of our lives and know He hasn’t abandoned us is always good to hear. It’s just that I wanted to hear more. I wanted to hear someone tell me how to move past this knee jerk reaction of having a knife thrust into my heart every time I hear the exuberant words, “God loves you so much. You can trust Him to do what’s best for you.” I’d love to hear from someone who has experienced the devastating blow of losing a loved one and how they reconciled with God and are now able to praise and trust Him again.
Who knows, now that I’ve spoken that need, maybe I’ll now be open to the answer and the answer will come.