Unexpected Blessings in Dark Places

How can we make this work? Heather fought back tears as she tried to process the mixed emotions that gripped her. We sat in what felt like eternal silence, occasionally looking at one another but without words to articulate our feelings. During the darkest valley of our adult lives, this news was the last “blessing” we expected to receive. 

Our routine was already regimented and exhausting. Every Tuesday we boarded an early flight to Memphis, TN for Carson’s weekly chemotherapy at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Usually arriving before dinner, we ate a quick meal at what was formerly the Grizzly House (now Tri-Delta Place) before heading over to the hospital for lab work meant to measure his immunity levels. Then, early the next morning, we met Carson’s attending physician in the clinic in order to be cleared for his weekly cocktail of medication. Despite the occasional lumbar puncture sprinkled in every few months, we usually finished by lunch on Wednesday before returning to the airport for the reverse flight home. 

The only ingredient worse than the grueling pace of this drill was the daunting prospect of maintaining its grind for 128 consecutive weeks. Early on, Heather and I decided to alternate trips, but with 75% of them remaining everything was about to change. Fighting childhood cancer was difficult enough with two children. How could we possibly add a third to such a frantic schedule? With Carson needing so much attention, how could we adequately care for a newborn? How could we manage another responsibility?

But the test did not lie. 

Thankfully, neither did God’s Word. I knew and believed that children are a gift from the Lord (Psalm 127:3-5). I understood that all human life is valuable because every person is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). I also remembered that Jesus compared the pain of childbirth to the sorrow surrounding his death, while also insisting that the joy of giving birth will mirror the joy of his disciples after His resurrection (John 16:21). God seemed to whisper through my doubts, “Consider this an unexpected blessing.”

But in the interest of transparency, can I admit that it did not feel like a blessing? Don’t misunderstand, we wanted more children. Our plan, however, was to weather our storm before expanding our family. Surely, God knew the timing was all wrong! Anyone could see this was too much to ask in our situation! Yet, the Lord’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). 

Now, all these years later, I am embarrassed by my shortsightedness. That unexpected blessing was my third son, Jacob Bradley. Though the news of his arrival initially felt like an ill-timed intrusion, it actually became a healthy distraction. Yes, some days were challenging, and we often wrestled with anxiety, but it was also impossible to dwell on our trial and wallow in our misery. God, in His goodness, gave us joy in the midst of our darkness. As unexpected as it was, the birth of our son was exactly what we needed at precisely the right time. Because of our new addition, we laughed, we celebrated, and we marveled over our God instead of living in doubt.

When I look at Jacob today, I see myself behind his piercing brown eyes. He is smart, mischievous, and the life the party. Neither Heather nor I can imagine life without him.

I still grieve that I did not see it at first.

God has many purposes through our suffering, many of which we may never understand. Yet, undoubtedly, the Lord often works in the midst of our pain to drop unexpected blessings into our lives. He may gift you with greater character and hope (Rom. 5:3-5). He may comfort you in order to make you a blessing to others (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Maybe He desires to correct your waywardness and to protect you from problems you don’t see coming (Heb. 12:5-11). Whether the goal is greater humility (2 Cor. 12:7), deeper intimacy with the Lord (Psalm 119:64-68), or increased heavenly reward (2 Cor. 4:16-18), you can rest knowing that God is working in ways you cannot see to provide blessings you do not expect.

Trials are deceptive, not only because of the wounds they leave behind, but also because of the vision they steal from us. Be careful. The light of God’s faithfulness will always penetrate the darkness of our heaviest burdens, even if not immediately. You may not see it now, but you will one day.

So, look around. You are likely more blessed than you think. In fact, the very trial that you hate may be the means God chooses to deliver an unexpected blessing that you do not deserve.

Trust Him (Rom. 8:28).
Follow Him (James 1:2-4). Rest in Him (Matt. 11:28-29).

You will be glad that you did.

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