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The Blessing: A Short Story of Loss and Reconciliation

Paul and Eden had adjusted well to life in Rochester, Minnesota. It was now home. They were there for Paul’s job in IT. A major company recruited him out of college eight years earlier. Great salary. Rehabbed bungalow. Fun neighborhood. Made up for the harsh realities of being really far from home and shoveling snow in April. Paul was from Tennessee. Eden was from Texas. It started at one of those Christian colleges, where they met as freshmen, fell in love as sophomores, engaged as juniors, and married as seniors. So cliche.

When they got to Rochester they found a church with an incredible culture of small groups. They adored the group leaders: Al and Carlie Lester. Kind, generous, empty nest. Al was a consultant who would work from anywhere. High earner. Sorta guy that makes all of us wish we had trained to be a consultant. Carlie was a retired teacher, which she did for love, not money.

They always smiled, never rushed, put on tea for guests, and lived in a home that had all the warm accents: fresh cut flowers, fruit bowls, and scented candles. Along their hallway there were those huge family pictures with the wrapped canvases—which featured them, their two now-adult children, and even some grandkids.

The pictures were all perfect: 2003 Christmas in Manhattan in pea coats and scarfs, 2009 in Clearwater in khaki shorts and white linen shirts; 2012 in Boulder in denim and buffalo plaid; 2018 in Martha’s Vineyard with pastels. J. Crew wished their catalog looked more like Al and Carlie Lester’s family photos.


“The pictures were all perfect.”


Al and Carlie became almost like a second set of parents to Paul and Eden. They shared a lot of life. But not quite everything.

During this season at church, the pastor had made the unusual decision to preach from the Book of Numbers. Yes, that book. The 5th most popular book in the Pentateuch. That book. The sequel to Leviticus that no one asked for. That book. The one with the counting of the armies in chapters 1 and 2 and the numbering of the priests in chapters 3 and 4. That book. The one with Gergonshites and Kohathites and Perizites and Jebusites. That book.

But the preacher knew he had a good one on the way. Numbers had something no other Book in the Bible could claim: the Priestly Blessing.

The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

The pastor asked the band to sing the song “The Blessing.” Beautiful song, popularized by Kari Jobe and Elevation Worship. All 12 minutes of it. It was so long it made Just As I Am feel rushed. The music finished and the pastor came up and delivered his fastball. He spoke about Blessing, a blessed life, and how to get it. He told the church that God wanted to bless them.


“He spoke about Blessing, a blessed life, and how to get it.”


He quoted Jeremiah 29:11: “I know the plans I have for you.” 

He quoted Romans 8:28: “All things work for good.” 

He quoted Deuteronomy 30:15-16: “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God…the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.” 

He then told them to hold out their hands and receive God’s blessing. “Can you feel the blessing? Is there anything missing from your life? If so, believe more . . . pray harder . . . do better.” 

The church lifted their hands in the air and claimed God’s blessing. The band joined and played the chorus, “He is for you. He is for you. He is for you.”

And people raised their hands, and the pastor raised his voice, and the band raised their volume. “He is for you. He is for you. He is for you. He is for you.”

Some people bowed their heads and other people kneeled and other people came to the front for prayer—and right at this moment, Eden grabbed Paul’s hand, pulled him toward the aisle, and turned toward the back. She went quickly, he followed, and they left the worship center—out of the lobby, into the parking lot—and off the property.

They were gone.


“She went quickly, he followed, and they left the worship center—out of the lobby, into the parking lot—and off the property.”


Al and Carlie had no idea that they had walked out that morning. But they did wonder why they weren’t at small group that night. Carlie texted Eden. No response, which was odd, since Eden always responded.

A week passed. The next week, Al and Carlie didn’t see Paul and Eden at church, so they texted from lunch that afternoon in their group chat with all four of them. Nothing. And then came the small group, and Paul and Eden’s usual spot on the loveseat made from bomber jacket fabric was empty.

Al and Carlie were distressed.

After everyone left, they wiped their counters down and took the garbage out while struggling to understand what happened.

Did they say something wrong?
Did they do the wrong thing?
What happened?

As they went to bed that night their phones buzzed. The group chat had a message from Eden.

“Sorry we missed small group.”

Carlie quickly texted back. Dinner on us, tomorrow night. Could you do 6:30 at that fast casual Indian spot? 

Eden replied: Sure.

Monday night they were seated around the table. Al kicked it off. “Paul and Eden, we’re a bit worried. We love you. Is there anything we can help with?”


“Did they say something wrong? Did they do the wrong thing? What happened?”


Paul took the lead and said that they were busy and they were stretched and that things were fine and it became apparent during his fumbling that he didn’t believe what he was saying. Eden rescued him and spoke the truth plainly.

They were leaving the church.

The pastor was misguided, flippant, and superficial. He put words in God’s mouth, took verses out of context, and played fast and loose with Scripture. He peddled the Prosperity Gospel, Health & Wealth, Name It and Claim It. Deuteronomistic Theology Gone Bad. Works Righteousness to the Extreme. Legalism with a Lake House and Land Rover.

Al and Carlie were surprised. Sure they could see the point. But this felt really sudden. Pretty extreme.

Carlie leaned into the table and opened her mouth to respond, but before she could say a word she noticed that a tear was coming down Eden’s cheek.

Eden looked at Paul. Then they both looked at Al and Carlie. Eden started sharing.

For the past few years, they had been trying to get pregnant. With absolutely no success. They’d tried everything, seen every doctor, talked to every specialist, and paid for every intervention. It was brutal. The hurt, pain, disappointment, and despair. Worst of all, everyone else was.


“They’d tried everything, seen every doctor, talked to every specialist, and paid for every intervention.”


Every time Eden logged onto Instagram, it was a barrage.

Professional photography of the couple as expecting with words from Psalm 139:13:

“For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” 

Professional photography of the newborn child with words from 1 Samuel 1:27:

“For this child I prayed.” 

Professional photography of the couple with their young children at the park with the most lethal ending to a social media post:

#Blessed

Everyone their age was having kids. Except Eden and Paul.

Al and Carlie received the news with grace.

They were disappointed for Paul and Eden, but not terribly surprised.

As the meal went on and they listened, Carlie felt like she should say something.

They were, after all, like adoptive parents to Paul and Eden. Should they say something sort of… parental?

Carlie spoke up and told them that just because they hadn’t received God’s blessing through the gift of children, that doesn’t mean their life wasn’t really blessed. Right? Certainly they had experienced God’s blessings in so many ways, just not through childbearing (?).

The conversation went cold.


“The conversation went cold.”


Paul looked at Eden; Eden looked at Paul. It was getting late.

Thanks so much for dinner. The chicken masala was perfect. The naan was the best in the city. Good to see you. Good to see you. Good night. Good night. 

Al and Carlie’s ride home was chatty confusion. Paul and Eden’s ride home was silence.

When they got home, Paul went to the bedroom with his laptop, ready to catch up on work. Eden sat in the living room and stewed.

She pulled up Instagram, posted an image of broken glass, and typed her caption:

Some Christians think they are so good at helping, but really they are terrible. They sit in their quiet dens of huge homes in peaceful neighborhoods and pretend that they understand suffering. When something unjust happens, they offer Thoughts and Prayers. When something good happens, they call it Blessed. Their lack of empathy shows that they have no idea. They adorn the walls of their homes with perfect family photos taken on vacation, boasting of their fancy lives—when truly they aren’t blessed, just really lucky. If they had any idea how hard life could be, they wouldn’t be so flimsy, so superficial, so shallow. #Blessed?

Thankfully Carlie didn’t have Instagram. Regrettably she had friends, which is usually a good thing, but in this case not, and they did. So they promptly screenshotted the post and forwarded it to her.

Carlie was absolutely devastated. If this is passive-aggressive, I’d hate to see what aggressive looks like, she thought.

Carlie and Al talked about this over and over and over. Endless conversations during the next few days.

First, there was the personal. Are we really bad people?
Then there was the interpersonal. Did we really say the wrong thing?
Also, the theological. What does it mean to be blessed? Does it always mean prosperity?


“What does it mean to be blessed? Does it always mean prosperity?”


The Bible does say that God blesses through fertility. So what does this say to the barren? 

And it does say that prosperity can be God’s blessing. So what does it mean to the poor?

They even reflected on their recent studies in Numbers. Moses is blessed. Yet he doesn’t even get to enter the Promised Land. Neither did Miriam or Aaron. In fact, some of the priests who get the priestly blessing eventually die in horrific ways.

Al and Carlie wondered, Should we use the word “blessing”? Is it too problematic?

They decided you can’t read much from Jesus if you can’t handle the word blessing.

Jesus says you can be blessed in all kinds of circumstances:

Blessed are the poor in spirit.
Blessed are those who mourn.
Blessed are the meek.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Blessed are the merciful.
Blessed are the pure in heart. 

Blessed does not always mean the prosperous, but the peacemakers and the persecuted.


“Blessed does not always mean the prosperous, but the peacemakers and the persecuted.”


Al knew they needed to talk to Paul and Eden, but last time it didn’t go well.

Carlie knew better. They didn’t need to talk. But they needed to come over, for sure.

Paul and Eden had seen the entire house. But they hadn’t seen everything in it.

A few weeks later, Paul and Eden came back to their house for small group. The group had a great time and everyone else left. Now it was just Al, Carlie, Paul, and Eden. Carlie asked if they could take a walk down the hall. Paul and Eden knew the hall. It was the one with the pictures of them and their two adult children: 2003 Manhattan, 2009 in Clearwater; 2012 in Boulder; 2018 in Martha’s Vineyard. But Carlie went into a closet in that hallway and pulled out some more of those large, wrapped canvases. These were a bit older.

One was from 1996 in Washington D.C. Another was 1992 at Disney World. The adult children were then kids. Carlie and Al clearly looked younger. But the additional detail was unmistakable. There was a third child.

That child was Carter. Early in his life Carter was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. Al and Carlie moved their family to Rochester so that Carter could be near the Mayo Clinic, where he received regular treatment. The doctors were pros. The staff was the best. Despite the care he received, Carter died at 12.

Al and Carlie didn’t know what it felt like to be barren but they understood what it meant to be broken.


“Al and Carlie didn’t know what it felt like to be barren but they understood what it meant to be broken.”


As Carlie told the story, Eden wrapped her arms around her and they cried together. How tragic their story truly was.

What do we mean when we say that we are blessed?
What do we think of when we think others are blessed?
Do we think it is material prosperity? God never promises that.
Do we think it is a life free of problems? God never promises that.
Do we think it’s a relationship where God answers all of our prayers? God never promises that.

In the absence of perfection, we can trust that God will give us his presence and his peace during our moments of disappointment and defeat.

Al and Paul joined Carlie and Eden in their embrace. The four of them stood in the middle of that immaculate hall full of pristine family photos holding each other as they wiped each other’s tears. They apologized to one another. For being too quick to judge. For being too quick to speak. For assuming too much. They thanked one another for being present, for being hospitable, for being open. They knew that as they were reconciled to one another they were participating in the life of God. Joy, struggle, friendship, loss, redemption.


“They knew that as they were reconciled to one another they were participating in the life of God.”


From there, they repaired their relationship.
Began doing more dinners.
Sat together in their small group.
Opened up more about their struggles.

The life they shared together was beautiful. It was warm. It was fulfilling and rewarding.

You might even say it was blessed.
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

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