As I have been watching the war in Ukraine unfold, I was reminded of a post I wrote about desperate places. I wrote it after one of our pastors preached a sermon on John 4:46-54. This is an account of an official who was so desperate to save his son's life that he walked a marathon to beg Jesus to come and heal him. Pastor Matt described the man as being in a desperate place--as we watch news stories about the people leaving Ukraine, sheltering in place, and fighting in the war, we can see that they are definitely people living in desperate places. Desperate places simply defined are the places where life, as we once knew it, has been turned upside down. The very places we sometimes find ourselves feeling like we are at the end of the proverbial rope, shocked, powerless, and unsteady. It is the place we know only our God can help.
I shared about a few of the desperate places I've been in. One of them being the day I turned ten. My family was planning on celebrating my birthday, but an unexpected phone call radically changed our plans. My mom's aunt, with whom we were close, had a serious stroke and was in intensive care in another town. Our celebration turned into several intense weeks as we traveled to the hospital that she was in. Because they did not let children visit patients, my siblings and I sat in the car or in the lobby waiting while my parents and grandmother visited my aunt and uncle. The first night we went, my uncle came downstairs to visit with us kids and he cried. It was the first time I had seen him cry and his emotional pain scared me. And each time the phone rang at our house, my mom feared the worst and ran to answer it, choking back sobs before she even answered the phone.
I experienced powerlessness as I watched the adults ride an emotional roller coaster full of ups and downs and scary turns. As a ten-year-old, I couldn't do anything to make my aunt get well and I couldn't do anything to take the pain away the adults were experiencing. All I could do was pray the simple prayers of a ten-year-old heart. I don't remember the prayers, but I do remember wanting her well and for things to be like they were before she got sick. I also remember desperately wanting God. I remember peace flowing through me as He met me in the fear of possible loss, the anxiety of seeing my caretakers hurting, and in my admitting couldn't fix it all.The second desperate place that came to mind was when our son had an ATV accident. I met him at the hospital, and we were told his collar bone was broken in several places. He had told the triage nurse he felt like he was bleeding inside, and she noted it in his chart. However, the ER doctor dismissed it as radiating pain from his collar bone. They sent us home and several days later he came out of his room gray. This time an ER doctor discovered his ruptured spleen and his belly filled with blood. When they wheeled him away, we assured him we would see him when he woke up, secretly fearing the worst. I was desperate and knew there was nothing I could do to guarantee the outcome I wanted. I was drawn to God and afraid of Him at the same time as He had the power to heal him but might choose not to. I was too tied up in knots too pray eloquent prayers, but felt His presence growing bigger, reminding me He was with us. There were complications and the stay in ICU stretched to 12 days and the regular hospital floor another 4. I showered and walked during the nurses' shift changes. In the shower tears flowed and on walks the prayers flowed directly from my heart to God's and He was near.
The third desperate place was when my daughter-in-law was put in the hospital on bed rest during her pregnancy. She and my son were on the other side of the country, making daily decisions that no parents should ever have to make to get their child here safely. As my son kept me posted, I felt the same feelings of powerlessness I had felt as a child. All I could do was listen and tell him I was available anytime he needed me. I daily poured out my heart to God, telling Him everything I longed for in regard to my kids and their daughter. And God met me there in the middle of passionate prayers. We were at the beach when my son called with the news that they had no more choices left, but to deliver our granddaughter. She was three months early and a very sick little baby. Our son's voice was solemn as he gave us the news. My heart ached for them and I stayed up all night praying, asking God to intervene and let her live. Our son called back the next morning and said the x-rays that morning showed no sign of the infection that was there the night before. There was hope even though the next couple of months were critical for her. Our granddaughter was a fighter and held on and was soon thriving.
When I watch the news, and see people fleeing, fathers saying goodbye to their families as they stay to fight, and the bombs being dropped, the desperate place over there seems so big for those people. Even though my desperate places haven't been as big in scale, I wonder if the lessons I learned might still speak some hope into their hearts. I learned that God can always be found in desperate places, but to find Him we must choose to lean into Him through radically honest prayers. I learned that desperate places were fertile soil for faith to grow exponentially as those places bring us face to face with what we believe about ourselves and what we believe about our God.
When I think of desperate places of course the Ukranian people come to mind, but so do many others--people who have stood over child sized coffins weeping, people who have dealt with cancer that came in its ugliest forms, people who have suffered through horrendous abuses whose cries went unheard, people whose lives were turned upside down by someone's decision to drink and drive, people who watched their hometowns burn to the ground, people who watched homes being swept away by floods, and people who were suddenly laid off, wondering how they could feed their families in the face of a pandemic. I also think of people who are currently living long in desperate places--people with debilitating pain of chronic illnesses no one can see, people watching as their loved ones’ minds slip away, others watching loved ones with sharp minds whose bodies begin to cease functioning, those living with infertility and unfulfilled longings, and those who suffer in the aftermath of mass shootings with PTSD and flashbacks they cannot control. Did they lean into Jesus and find hope?
I also thought of those who will find themselves in desperate places this next year. Maybe they will be parents who will get that call from their soldier's commander because he won't be coming home because he or she sacrificed their life on the battlefield. Maybe it will be the woman whose doctor calls to say she has joined the community of those fighting cancer. Maybe it will be the parents of a student gone missing. Maybe it will be the businessman whose auditor tells him the only way out of debt is bankruptcy. Maybe it will be the couple whose marriage begins to crumble under the weight of betrayal, untreated mental illness, or self-destructive addictions. Will they lean into Jesus or will run from the very One who wants to minister to their heart? Will they see His infinite goodness, or will they believe the lies the enemy speaks? I am praying for them because I know that as much as I care, we have a Savior who cares infinitely more, longing to reveal Himself to them in ways they can't even imagine. Will they let Him instill hope into the desperate places?