On Receiving Unexpected Checks in the Mail and My Lack of Trust in God

The entire weekend after I turned down the job, I wandered the house like a kid fresh off the tilt-a-whirl: I didn’t know which way was up or which way was down. The job had been a chance to return to the “normal” world, where paychecks (however small) showed up as direct deposits and my family would have good health insurance. I wondered if perhaps I had just made a terrible mistake by not accepting the offer.

Worse yet, God was silent on the issue. I couldn’t get a clear sense of the rightness or wrongness of my decision. I wondered if my determination to continue writing for a living had finally meandered into the realm of the irresponsible. There are a lot of people out there who aren’t doing what they love to do, I reasoned with myself. What makes me so special?

* * * * *

In the midst of this, the weight of sadness.

On Friday evening I got one of those texts you never want to get. It was from a good friend of mine:

Hey, man. Just got back from the midwives and they couldn’t find the heartbeat. Please be praying for us.

The next day they went in and his wife delivered their second stillborn child at 20-weeks.

The same night that she was in the hospital giving labor to a child already gone, my wife got a text from another friend. She had delivered a beautiful baby girl that night and couldn’t be happier. This is when the weight descends, a cloud of questions and sadness. I find myself wondering about the role of chance in things such as this. I wonder how to respond when my friends’ lives are racing down the mountain with no emergency truck ramp in sight.

* * * * *

I remember traveling down a mountainside in the Bighorn National Park. It was five days after we lost our brakes in the Teton Pass, and I felt sick to my stomach with a foreboding that our brakes would once again fail us. A Jesus Culture song started playing on the bus, and at one point these lyrics sang out to me:

and your spirit soars in me
to the highest height
from where I’ll not look back, no
I’ll keep trusting you

I’ll keep trusting God.

Really? Did I really trust God? With my family, who had been in terrible danger until an emergency truck ramp came into view? Did I trust God with my finances, which seemed to also be on a 10% grade with no such ramp in sight? Did I trust God with my life?

I wasn’t sure, but I remember singing that song as we swept down the hill, wanting it to be true.

* * * * *

Early during the week after I turned down the job, I got a note in the mail. It was a small card. I opened it and read some very kind words. Inside was a check for $1000.

The next day, while talking to a another good friend, she smiled and with tears in her eyes handed me a slip of paper. It was a check for $500.

In the space of 24 hours I had been handed the same amount of money I would have made in four weeks at the job I turned down. Sometimes it is good to wait, to not make decisions based out of fear or a sense of panic.

* * * * *

I don’t know how to explain it when the emergency truck ramps don’t show up. When the checks don’t appear in the mail out of thin air. When the diagnosis doesn’t line up with our prayers. When the business idea, once so full of hope and promise, leads to financial ruin. When the child dies.

I don’t know.

But I wonder. I wonder if maybe emergency truck ramps sometimes look a little different than what we expect. Perhaps emergency truck ramps sometimes come in the form of a friend’s shoulder to cry on, strong backs to bear at least a small part of our grief. Or a parent’s basement to live in. Maybe what feels like the worst case scenario, like losing a job, is itself the emergency truck ramp.

And death – even death! Could it be that death is the last great emergency truck ramp, leading us safely away from this life and into a place of peace and stillness?

So many questions. But I know this: no matter where I find myself – chugging slowly uphill, resting at the summit, careening down the mountain, or stopped in the heavy stones of an emergency truck ramp – there’s no point in looking back. No point in living with regrets or wishing for a different road.

Anything that might be good about this life is out there in front of us somewhere. We just have to be strong enough to keep moving.

and your spirit soars in me
to the highest height
from where I’ll not look back, no
I’ll keep trusting you

20 Replies to “On Receiving Unexpected Checks in the Mail and My Lack of Trust in God”

  1. Emergency ramps in our life. I like that.

    Isn’t it interesting that He wants the same trust in Him whether you get the unexpected check or the unexpected IRS bill. Just trust.

  2. Please give your friends that lost their baby my sympathy. It is 9 years since we lost our 3rd child at 12 weeks. (We already had 2 healthy little girls). I too heard those dreaded words, “Sorry, but we can’t find a heartbeat.” Ever since then, my heart breaks whenever I hear of someone else who has to go through that pain. It is a pain like no other.

    Out of all my “whys” in life, losing a child is probably my biggest. It is also the “why” that doesn’t seem to ever get an answer. Please let your friends know that if I could, I would wrap them in hugs, cry with them, pray with them, listen to them, and sit in silence with them. My only adivce is to keep on hanging on to God even if it feels that they are only hanging on to His thumbnail. They are still in His hands and He won’t let them fall. Jesus said, “no one can snatch them our of my hand.” John 10:28b

  3. The only time it’s good to look back is when we are called to remember…those Ebenezer stones of his goodness. You will think of those checks, ten years from now, and again have courage to trust.

  4. Goodness. I love this. I love this because of the conversation we had about trusting Jesus while we sat on the deck in my backyard. I love this because Jesus said, “Your faith has made you well.” And I love this most of all because Jesus loves your joy even more than he loves your faith and even when faith is lacking—and words are your joy. So I love this!

    1. Yes, that was a wonderful discussion on a hot Texas night. “Jesus loves your joy even more than he loves your faith” – what a beautiful thought.

  5. I’m feeling like life is picking up speed here, the gravel is starting to fly, and I’m scared to hit the brakes too hard in case I spin out. In other words, I needed this post. Thanks. :)

  6. Last week was a bit emotionally difficult, thinking about something that felt mostly like a crash. I needed this perspective. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  7. Lovely, Shawn. Last night I lay in bed doing my panicky prayer, this time about my manuscript that needs such a huge edit I don’t know where to start. I heard these words: “You don’t have to make it perfect, only better.” Words that speak to more than my writing. It was an emergency truck ramp of sorts.

    Thinking of your friends…

  8. “But I wonder. I wonder if maybe emergency truck ramps sometimes look a little different than what we expect.” I love this thought. Sometimes it seems so upside down and yet it’s during the upside down times when I seem to grow the most in my faith and trust in Him.

  9. Omigosh, this is poignant and powerful, Shawn. Thank you. Such an image you’ve been given = and given in such a strange and frightening way: an emergency truck ramp. Yes, I think you are right. They don’t always look like what they are. I am so, so sorry for your friends’ loss – there truly are no words. Only hugs and sighs and groans too deep for speech. And there are no easy answers to any of this. Only trust, even in the midst of confusion and loss. And the glimmer of light at the top of that ramp, where the weight of the stones actually saves lives.

    (Grateful with you for those sweet friends and their checks. Surprise!)

      1. See, Shawn – you’re an artist even without trying! Taking out the “the” in that line makes it beautiful. Amazing. Hold that gift tight, man. It will take you far.

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