As the world shuts down around us I keep hearing whispers that part of why this is so hard for our country and community is that we are terrible at actually resting.
I keep hearing that this is almost like a forced Sabbath in some ways. The only problem being that Sabbath is more than a list of things we do or do not do; it’s a posture of the heart. It’s a posture that hears Jesus whisper, in the midst of overwhelming needs, chaos, fears, and lack—to come away awhile, and actually listens.
I love that Jesus isn’t afraid to take his disciples out of the crowd, the pressing needs, the chaos of a life in oppression under the Roman government, to get alone awhile and rest. Though Jesus pokes holes in the Pharisaical interpretation of Sabbath with things like healings in the synagogue on that Holy day, He shows us in innumerable other places that he knows we as his disciples, vitally need rest. And he wants to give that to us.
My family and I are all healthy at the moment; but as I read in an article yesterday, “panic breeds panic”, and photos of empty store shelves and people lining up for miles to be tested for this virus now gone pandemic, and a peek at the stock market (*yeesh*) all serve me up a daily dose of fear right now. So Saturday morning I got out and took a walk.
It was still dark, but the light of dawn was just starting to color the horizon in pink and purple hues, and I kept hearing Jesus remind me to keep my eyes fixed on the horizon. Because this current moment, the world and its chaos, is not all there is. As I wrote in my recent publication with Fathom magazine, “this is all only/the breath/ between.”
And on my walk something new came to me; a chorus and a melody. When I got home I started tinkering with it at my guitar and FULL DISCLOSURE: I AM NO MUSICIAN. But I do love music, and I do love God, and I do need the Lord to remind me of the truest truths beneath chaotic and difficult-to-predict circumstances. I need to remember that his invitation to “come away awhile” is not contingent on all being easy and calm in the world, but is actually all the more critical the more strained things become.
Like Daniel praying in his room when he knew it was against the law—how could he stop praying at a time like that?
So I wrote this song. And like I said, I am no musician, and it probably isn’t very good. But I feel God tugging me to share it with you all, that maybe you would be blessed by what God is doing in my heart in the midst of a season that feels so unknown.
I plan to send the song out with my February/March newsletter in a day or so and you can click here to sign up and make sure that you receive it. (Be sure to confirms your subscription, and check your junk mail if you are already signed up and don’t see it!)
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May you remember in the midst of uncertain days dear readers, the wonderful words of James Bryan Smith.
“I am one in whom Christ dwells and delights. I live in the strong and unshakeable Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is not in trouble, and neither am I.”
James Bryan Smith
May we hear Jesus’ call to “come away awhile” in the midst of this present darkness, and may we actually listen.
There is no disaster, no tragedy, no viral pandemic that escapes your notice or is a surprise to your kind and sovereign gaze.
You know how our hearts are fearful God; of the unknown. Of loss. Of lack. Of death.
You know the way we groan in this world that looks so like a place we long to call home; yet somehow isn’t.
None of this, is as it should be.
Multiply our peace by your presence Lord God.
Extend to us the promise of your with-ness, whatever comes.
Help us as we seek to love our neighbor as ourselves—may we steward well the people and places around us, even when we aren’t quite sure how.
Guide us by the wisdom of your all-knowing Spirit.
Jesus this current chaos reminds us once again what has always been true— our days here are numbered.
Our earthly lives, finite and mortal; susceptible since the fall of man, to death and decay, whether by age, accident, or disease.
Yet we know that in all things and through all things you can and will be glorified.
You know every day of our lives, before there is even one.
Calm our spirits O God. Cast out our fear by your perfect love. May we taste your goodness here and now.
We shall not want.
Audrey says it best. When I first heard this song a couple years ago, it absolutely floored me—if you are unsettled in your spirit today, I hope it does the same for you. And please feel free to share if any of this ministered to you.
In case you missed it on my social channels, I was published earlier this week in Fathom Magazine’s aptly themed issue “Fear” with a collection of short poems and essays called, “The Breath Between.” It follows the overlap of my Grandmother and my first child’s lives, and speaks to the angst I have felt watching those I love live and die in a broken world.
In times like these, perhaps it will spark a little hope in you, that there is more to our present reality than what our eyes can see. Just click here to give it a read.
Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
Could anything good come from Nazareth? This poor, armpit of a town?
Could anything good come from the trauma of my childhood? The pain of my present? How could anything good come from the grief of all I’ve lost? The fear I carry of what is to come? How could anything good come from the suffering I have experienced?
Can I really hold out hope that God gives beauty for ashes, when the smell of smoke is still burning in my nostrils?
Come and see.
Jesus asks us for our faith, but it is not altogether blind. He shows up with his wonderful gaze, his promises, his compassionate hands. He doesn’t ask us to believe for nothing, no matter what you have been taught. What he gives, though not always visible to the naked eye, is still real.
Come and see.
I’ll show you my wounds, so you feel safe to begin to share yours. I’ll show you where the healing has already taken place, and where there is still work to be done. I can show you beauty that has come from the pain of my past; such radiant beauty that most days, I wouldn’t even change what has happened—even the most painful parts—because these wounds are where I have witnessed glory.
I’ve been to places worse than the armpit town of Nazareth; and still I’ve seen glimpses of the good to come—slow and steady as the rising of the sun.
That’s the part of Romans 8:28 that we forget; sometimes we see that verse and demand of God “where is my good? Where’s that good thing you promised me?” But we have gotten the definition of good all turned around and screwy in our minds. We forget that God’s best good for us, looked like Jesus. And it is into this, cruciform kind of good, that he is making us.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
Our highest good, is to be conformed to the image of Christ. Christ who was an innocent—wounded. Christ who laid down his own life for traitors, murderers, abusers, liars, thieves, addicts, adulterers, and idolators—for me.
Christ who by his own deeply painful wounds heals us; by his grace allows our wounds to become places of healing for others.
That’s why I am here. Maybe that’s why you are too?
Come and See. Come and See!
Our life is still full of miracles. The ones marked by the cancer that miraculously doesn’t spread, the semi that almost slides into the side of you on icy roads, but then suddenly slides away— but these are not the only miracles we see.
There is a miracle in the note that I wrote when I was 17 to the boy I loved. The miracle that “I wouldn’t even change it now.” I wouldn’t change the pain of the past; because that pain allowed me to participate in the beauty of that present moment.
Maybe this offends you. Maybe you think I am letting abusers, betrayers and those that abandoned me off the hook.
I’m not. There is justice for these things; and God’s justice is better than mine. I can leave that to him.
But for me, there is also GLORY. Yet I know, I am speaking of what I have not seen. This glory is only the chink of light through the wall of the prison cell. I can see the dust motes swirling in it like planets—but it reminds me that the light is out there. And soon the chink will break the prison wall to pieces and I’ll be standing in the light more marvelous than the sun.
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
I can only tell you about what I have seen: both the darkness and the light. What I have to offer here are stories—ones so deep and painful that they cost me to share. But even here, there is glory. I get to participate with the Lord in the miracle; offering my loaves and fishes; my tears and my perfume jar; my two copper coins—these stories are what I have. They are what I offer you, because I hope you Come and See.
I had had enough. The straw had finally broken the camels back. I sat slumped in my chair staring into space—my heart shattered in a thousand pieces by so many burdens and so many pains. Deep regrets fought their way to the surface in the form of tears that couldn’t stop falling. What was the point?
I thought I had heard God right. I thought I had been trusting Him. I thought that the way I was headed was the way He was leading me; then why all of a sudden did I end up in this place? I felt shattered into a thousand pieces; depression slinking around the corners of my heart and a numb apathy coming to dull my mind. What now? How could I possibly move forward in the midst of all this?
I called my Dad.
“Do you have a minute to talk?”
“Sure honey, what is it?”
“I’m just…I’m just so brokenhearted.”
As I poured out my heart and concerns a thread began to emerge; one that I didn’t see coming. Was I bearing these burdens alone? Was I entrusting them to God’s care? I thought that I had been—but now that everything had gone horribly awry I was ready to claim fault for it all. I was ready to act like everything that had gone wrong in this current situation was a direct result of some neglect on my part. I was acting like I was God.
Slowly the realization dawned on me. Once again, in slow and insidious ways my pride had crept in and made me believe that for better or worse, I was responsible. No wonder the weight was too much to bear.
We got off the phone and I knew immediately what I had to do. I needed a sign, a way to represent what I was choosing now. These concerns were too far above me. I am not God. And I needed to roll these cares into His hands and allow Him to do what only He could do.
I got down a basket and labeled it: GOD’S JOB.
I cut up strips of paper, and wrote on them each of the burdens. Each of the cares that had been weighing me down for so long. All the griefs and wounds I had carried, were being lifted one by one as I scribbled, folded and placed each paper in the basket.
Some cares were easier to let go of than others. Some I could only drop into that basket by a slow uncurling of my fist. Then at last, I thought I had reached the end; but there was this nudging in my heart to write one last paper.
I grabbed the strip and the pen and scrawled the final care:
Heal my broken heart.
With tears streaming down my face I dropped that final paper in the basket, and put the basket high and out of reach on a shelf. A visual reminder that these things are way above my pay grade.
I cannot cure the cancer. I cannot mend the fractured relationship. I cannot raise the dead. I cannot be the friend I wish I could be all the time. I cannot be in more than one place at a time. I cannot turn back time. I cannot stop people I love from making destructive choices. I cannot predict the future. I cannot heal my own broken heart, let alone anyone else’s.
These things are God’s job. He is qualified and capable. He is able to do what He says He will do. He never tires of listening to our requests and granting us mercy for the day. No care is too small or two large to toss upon His great and gracious shoulders.
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the might hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
(1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV)
I invite you, Dear Reader, to cast your cares upon Jesus today. He knows what is weighing you down. He does not applaud your self-sufficiency. Rather, like a child whose parent delights to help him, the Lord delights to help you bear what you were never meant to. Pride is the root of your desire for self-sufficiency, which might be hard to hear, but is actually really great news—because it means that repentance is the path to peace.
My prayer for you Dear Reader, is that you would entrust yourself, and your broken heart, to our good and gracious God today. And if you need a friendly hand to hold, click here to subscribe to receive a five day email series entitled, “Dear Brokenhearted: Letters to the lonely and the hurting.”
Whatever cares you have to add to your basket today, from my broken heart to yours Dear Reader, I pray you always remember that wherever you go, you never go alone.
Sometimes it feels impossible to dream the dream that darkness doesn’t actually win. The space between my head belief—that God is good, in control and on His way back for us—and my broken heart; crushed beneath the cares of this world, is farther than I ever thought. Shortening the gap will take an act of divine intervention.
Last week I was so depressed by all the sorrow surrounding me—too many sorrows, and most of them not mine enough to name here. I have never been depressed really, though I have journeyed through dark days more than once. Sometimes you just can’t seem to remember where to look for the light, when the darkness feels like it might actually be winning.
This is the impossible task: to be Kingdom minded people in a world not our home—to hold out the hope of the Gospel, a tender flame that banishes the darkness from every hidden place, but first, it illuminates it. I’ve seen more darkness now than I ever could have stood ten years ago. Each sorrow, each grief, each horror feels closer and heavier than the last; and yet, God asks me not to be afraid. He asks me to trust him. To look to the horizon and see the faintest lightening of the dawn. To believe that He is coming soon.
How far we have fallen! How broken the world and the people in it! The more I know the beauty of Jesus and all He calls us to, the easier it is to mourn for all the ways we have destroyed the world He made. The curse is found everywhere. There is no escaping it.
But I can’t get stuck here. Because this story does not end in defeat. No. This story climaxes with the King of Love himself journeying into the very heart of this dark world, letting himself be killed on a roman cross, dying a torturous death as he took the burden and the penalty for all our sin and brokenness on himself. And He didn’t stay dead.
Three days later He rose to life again, and showing himself to all the disciples, proclaiming the forgiveness of sins through belief in His finished work on the cross on our behalf. Then after 40 days He ascended into heaven once more, leaving us with the message: I am coming again, soon.
Why is it so hard to believe? My heart is so easily fooled. So easily tricked into despair. Can I not keep my eye on the horizon? Do I still disbelieve in the dawn?
He is coming soon. He actually is. Coming to make all things new. Coming to wipe every tear away from our eyes. Coming to bring His children home to a house that He has been preparing for us. Coming to bring His bride to the wedding feast.
But I need the glimpse of heaven now. I need a taste of the Kingdom now. Because the stench of death is in my nose, and it’s hard sometimes to look up to where the light comes from. Sometimes all it seems to do is display the brokenness is astounding relief.
But I know the beauty of Jesus would be enough to make my heart rejoice; if I would open my eyes to actually see. To see the whispered prayer over the sick child, and the mini-miracles as more than just coincidence. To see the prayer for the peace in the midst of the storm answered in just enough courage to get me through. To feel the breath in my lungs as the divine provision of strength for the day that I have asked for, given in advance.
All is grace.
And what a grace it is now that God has finally got me to the end of myself again. If only I weren’t so prideful; so stubborn; so self-sufficient. Maybe then it wouldn’t take so much of a pounding to get me here. Because “here” is the sweetest place of my faith; when I have finally come to the end of all my resources. When I am wrung out and ragged and beat up beyond recognition. When I just can’t will myself to hope any longer; Hope himself comes along and scoops me up, and carries me. Here, I don’t have to “try harder” any more. Here, I don’t have to “figure out” how I’m going to accomplish A, B, or C. Here, I rest in the assurance of a Hope that has proven himself real to me, when I least expected it. When I had given up looking for him. When like Frodo in Tolkein’s Return of the King, I have forgotten what strawberries even taste like…it is then the eagles come for me.
I cannot will my hope into being any longer. And that’s okay. It’s even a good thing. In this place of deep hurt and sadness; when the darkness seems to surround me; when I have FINALLY come to the end of all my paltry human resources—there God is. Waiting. Arms wide open.
Today, I will let Him. But I’m sure tomorrow I’ll try and jump out of His arms again, and it will be this constant battle to lean on the One with the resources, when in my pride, I think I can do so much. Maybe today is a good day to beg for humility. Maybe that is the first miracle that I truly need. Maybe this one act of divine intervention, will open my eyes to see. Maybe then I’ll start to see the everyday miracles in sweet relief.
If you’ve been around the blog for a little while then this piece may look familiar to you. It’s been two years now since Piper’s diagnosis, and just about two years since I first wrote this piece and got my own “Courage Dear Heart” tattoo to remind me to be brave, right there where I can see it on my skin. I hope the revised version of this story meets you where you are today.
I was being strangled. Pulling out of the parking garage, I reluctantly left the hospital and turned my car towards home. It was only then that I noticed the sky. Are you kidding me?How could the sun shine on today of all days? My heart was hammering like a racehorse in my chest, the anger welling up like asphalt in my throat. Yet, I knew even in that moment that this reaction was far from dramatic or over the top; in fact, it felt like the only way to react. After all, I was pulling away from a room of the Children’s hospital, where only a few hours ago my best friend’s 18 month old daughter was diagnosed with cancer.
There’s been some mistake. I thought to myself. They mixed up the results. They brought back the wrong chart. They’ll realize it soon enough, that there’s been some mistake.
But I knew it wasn’t true, as much as I longed for it to be.
Piper had cancer. A deadly disease. Without terrible and painful interventions, she would die. Even with them, there was no guarantee.
WHY, GOD WHY??? Over and over I asked him, my heart leaden with despair. But there was no answer.
When I arrived home I poured myself into things I could control. I organized people to meet the practical needs of my friends who would now be spending the next week in the hospital with their youngest child, while their older two stayed overnight with grandparents. I made chicken enchiladas. I bought food for their fridge. I helped another friend clean in preparation for their return. But the asphalt in my throat turned to cotton in my brain, and when I got all the groceries home from Costco, it took me a half hour of staring at the the pile on the kitchen table to figure out how to put it all away.
I kept putting on my strong face for my children. Or at least I tried. But at the sink you’d find me weeping into the dishes when I thought no one was looking. I was giving God the silent treatment. And somewhere in the back of my heart, the old me was playing stone mason, and desperately building a fortress around my heart. All of me felt like a harp string, tuned too tight, till the notes were sharp and sour. The slightest touch could snap me in half.
The tender me was prisoner in a back room somewhere, but I could hear her trying to scream through the walls of the ever growing fortress:
“God is still good. He makes beauty from ashes. Turns despair into laughter. You can trust him!”
Mostly I ignored her. I slept fitfully, and dreaded waking up each morning and realizing that this wasn’t just some horrifying dream. Then one evening, a few nights after Piper’s diagnosis, my husband began to draw me out.
“You know what’s true” he said. “You need to talk to God.”
“I don’t want to.”
“But you need to.”
“I don’t even know what to say.”
“Just talk to him,” he said.
I don’t remember the words that came out of me, face down on the pillow. I’m sure there were mumblings and groanings and unintelligible words. I’m pretty sure I mostly talked about how mad I was at him. But towards the end I came to this:
“God I know that I’m a toddler, throwing a giant tantrum, because I don’t know what you’re doing. But you’re doing something…even though I don’t understand it!”
Surrender made way for peace to come. Not in overwhelming waves, but in small chunks that began to knock down pieces of what the old me had been building in the back of my mind. Little pebbles of peace chipping away at that fortress, and a still small voice that kept chipping and tapping away at me; You don’t need this… You don’t need this… You don’t need this…
As the vines of hope began to grow again.
It’s been a little over a month of Fridays since Piper’s diagnosis. A week after the original results, we found that instead of just ALL, a childhood cancer that is relatively easy to treat, she has a rare genetic abnormality in her leukemia cells which made it significantly more aggressive and difficult to treat, and made it even more likely that if cured, she could have a relapse.
The first month was horrible. The medications obviously poison. The once spunky little girl turned into a zombie by steroids. Almost all her hair fell out in a matter of two weeks.
Then last week, they had another bone marrow aspiration that would tell them whether or not the treatment was working; if she would be in remission or if she would need to go on the bone marrow transplant list. When the results showed that she was in remission, cancer free for the moment at the very least, you would think I would have been thrilled.
But you know what? It’s hard to hear the bugle of good news behind a fortress of stone.
That’s right. I’m still in there. Desperately trying to escape. The voice of the tender me, the soft me, the me that’s sensitive to what the Lord of hosts is doing; that me was getting louder and easier to hear through the holes that the hope vines were tearing. Through the holes that the peace was beginning to peck away.
But I realized on receiving this good news how afraid I am to hope. How desperately afraid I am to trust God. Because I feel like hope is a trap and a lie. And I was expecting more bad news. I had decided to expect it, as a way to try and protect myself from the painful surprises that life seems to keep throwing my direction like so many fast balls over the past six months.
I was trying to control it. And once again, this surprise, though good, had undermined my shallow attempt to pretend to be in charge of life. To pretend to be able to predict things, and by-proxy, to control them. The old me trying to take over; shouting at the tender me;
“Get out of the way! YOU are going to get us KILLED! Your hope is foolish and the love you claim to believe in is a lie.” The reality is I cannot actually control or predict the future. I am not in charge. I am not the boss.
There’s a toddler in my house; she’s three years old and three feet tall and she’s angry because I’ve given her a bowl and not a plate for her to eat her lunch. She’s raging mad. She’s screaming. Throwing herself down. Insane with the desire to control, and devastated at the perceived loss. She looks exactly like me.
Tender me in the tower is peeking out through the cracks; shouting till she’s hoarse,
“He is good! He is good! Hope is not a lie! It’s freedom! All is grace! Everyday is gift! Every day is joy! Rejoice! Rejoice!”
I want to let her out now, but I’m afraid of the rawness; the gaping wound of a hole in a tower wall that I’ve built to keep me safe. The vines would wreck and break every last part of that self-protection until not one stone is left on another, and then I would be well and truly naked. Out in the open. Vulnerable.
Everyone could see the scars on my heart; the trust I’m afraid to hold on to; the faith that’s so thin, it seems like a paper cloak at times when I know it could be thick as velvet.
But the truth will set us free.
And the truth is that God loves my friends, and their daughter, more than I do. He’s the only one able to work for their good and his glory in all things. He is the only one who always does exactly what he says he will do. He is the only one who has the power to make all things as he sees fit.
He calls the stars out one by one…and because of the word of his power, not one of them is missing. (Isaiah 40:26) Then there’s the verse I first tattooed on my skin:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of these will fall apart from the will of your father. And even the very hairs of you head are all numbered. So do not be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29-31
He knows every hair that has fallen from that sweet little girl’s head. He knew all the days of her life before there was yet one of them. And he knows mine.
He knows the days that I’ll build towers of fear because I’m choosing not to trust him—even though he’s never given me a reason not to. He knows the days I’ll come running back—a prodigal into her Daddy’s arms. Safe and held and deeply known. He loves me. Even me, in my faithless, wandering, orphan heart. He loves me. He loves me. He loves me.
And around each bend, and each corner I can hear his voice whisper; louder now than my fears or my demands to understand; “Courage….courage, dear heart.”(C.S. Lewis’ Aslan)
Not too long after I originally wrote this post, I got my most recent tattoo. A picture of Aslan the lion from Narnia, with the above quote. It has served me often these past two years, which have continued to be full of various trials, to remember that God has, and will continue to bring me through whatever comes. He will carry me.
“You are GOOD!” She shouts it from the back seat, her eyes intense in my rearview mirror, her fist pumping the air with all her five-year-old might. And I’m pretty sure witnessing this is just about as beautiful a thing as I’ve ever seen.
My baby girl has known suffering in her young life. Last fall and winter were some of the darkest times for us as she suffering through near constant flare ups of her still-undiagnosed illness. (We highly suspect celiac disease.)
She has looked at me with her wide blue eyes and said, “Mommy? Does God ever forget things?”
“No sweetie. He never forgets anything.”
“Oh, well I was just wondering. Because we asked Jesus if he would help me feel better earlier, but I still don’t feel good. I wondered if maybe he forgot.”
“….No sweetie. No, he didn’t forget,” I said, barely holding back the tears. “You know what? Sometimes God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want him to. And you know what that means?”
“What?” she asks, tears in her voice.
“That just means that he has something else in mind.”
“YOU ARE GOOD!” I could listen to her shout it from the backseat for a millenia. Singing along to her VBS CD, from a week of lessons about how God is good in the midst of all circumstances. Truth for the children and adults alike. Truth that we’ve needed from the dawn of time. Truth we are so apt to forget.
You are goodGod.
And watching my daughter in the rearview mirror I see it: the set of her jaw, the flash of defiance in her eyes, the strength of her tiny fist pumping the air. That’s what it takes doesn’t it? To believe in the goodness of God when the world has not been good to you. When suffering has punctured your life in so many places your heart feels like Swiss cheese.
The truth that I whispered over her; time and time again in the moments of her pain and despair holds true: Our God is so powerful that not only could he stop bad things from happening, but he can take even bad things, and use them for our good. Transformation. It is the powerful potter indeed who can take the cracked clay and turn it into something beautiful. The all powerful God is most on display, in the midst of our immeasurable brokenness and this is no exception.
“YOU ARE GOOD!” That the five-year-old can suffer much, and come out trusting Jesus is nothing short of a miracle. That she can shout it from the back seat with all the defiance needed to rattle the gates of Hades is nothing short of a miracle. That she believes it in her heart; for herself— for her friends with cancer, for the family with children her very own age who lost their father, for the hurting around the world for whom we pray—YOU ARE GOOD!
Maybe you’d think she’s just singing along. Maybe you aren’t sure she really believes it. Then I present to you Exhibit B: Boaz is at the dentist. And because of a rather traumatic experience he endured at Urgent Care not long ago, he is terrified of laying down and having anyone look in his mouth. I can’t get him to relax enough to even let the dentist look at his teeth. But then Ellie comes in, and as matter of fact as she can be she says, “Boaz, even when life is scary, God is good.” And though he is still terrified, he leans his head back and opens his mouth enough to let the dentist look at his teeth, as his big sister holds his hand and his heart.
We don’t know it all yet: we haven’t seen the future and we don’t know the extent of the miracle. We don’t know if Ellie will stay well, or for how long. But we know without a shadow of a doubt that whatever comes, God is at work. He is for us. He loves us. And He is Good.
Would you like to read more about my journey with Ellie and her health? I wrote an article for The Joyful Life Magazine this past winter, while we were still in the thick of this season of suffering, and I’d love you to get your hands on it.
The article is entitled; “Splendor: Glimpses of God’s Glory in the midst of Suffering” and it is featured in the Surrender issue which is available to order until the end of August 2019. Just click here to place your order today.
“Make a U-Turn at Roller Coaster Road.” The computer voice from google maps instructed. But to us in that moment, it might as well have been the voice of God.
“Are you SERIOUS?!?” We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry; but somehow this instruction from the google map seemed to perfectly sum up that had been going on in our lives of late.
We started down a path; prayed and sought and confirmed it. The change was coming; it was a big change and it was going to be hard, but we submitted to God’s leading. Then this: all the plans seeming to fall around our ears. We were left confused and more than a little annoyed at the little mechanical voice telling us to make a u-turn, but we were even more annoyed at God.
Why would he take us this direction, only to have us turn around this far down the road?
It didn’t make sense. It was confusing. We felt lost and wondered if he had forgotten about us for a moment; maybe holding the world in his hands really was as distracting as one would think. But no.
We knew there was purpose in this. Even in this. That this was the test of faith: would we follow him, even when it seemed like he didn’t know where he was going?
The thing to remember is that God has never been about the destination only; he’s always and forever interested in the journey. The in-between. The promised land, and the wilderness. Heaven, and the earth. The green pastures and the valley of the shadow of death. Yet he is our shepherd in both places.
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.”
Restoration and rest by the green pastures and still waters; comfort and confidence in the valley of the shadow of death. The promises of God’s nearness and provision are in both places, yet the promise for the ultimate destination is not what is focused on here. Of course it is wonderful when we think of the latter half of the psalm; of the table spread in the presence of enemies, and then, the dwelling in the house of the LORD forever. But hear what God isn’t saying: “Just hang on! Just hang in there!”
More and more I realize my own inability to white-knuckle it to the finish line. I do not have the wear-with-all or will power to “hang on” and “hang in” indefinitely; though perhaps I have deceived myself into thinking I do at times. When Paul and Peter speak of “keeping the faith”, maybe they really mean, that by God’s power and his presence, we keep it. You don’t have to look further than the Israelites, God’s own chosen people, to see that we are faithless creatures. I am no different. Faithless on my own, but faithful by his empowering spirit. His spirit that whispers to my soul, “Come near. Rest awhile. Look around for signs of my provision; here in the valley it’s my staff and my rod—in the verdant valley it’s the pastures and the water. But always, and forever, it’s me.“
How tempted I am to trust in the provisions, more than the provider! How often I rest in seemingly secure circumstances, instead of in my always secure place in my father’s hands and heart. Do I look around the greenest valley and fear it’s removal? Do I stand in the shadow of death and forget the one standing next to me, who has already beaten death on my behalf?
Maybe that is what you and I need most, on days where we feel lost in confusion. Maybe we need to just look up and around enough, to remember that no matter where we go, we never go alone. Though the path may seem treacherous and we are frightened out of our wits, our good Shepherd goes with us. He goes before us. He stands beside us. He takes up the rear guard. And because of the indwelling power of his spirit, he also makes his home within us.
Where the Spirit of the LORD is, there is freedom.*
Even when I don’t know what is going on, and it feels like every other day is another u-turn onto roller coaster road; even when I don’t know exactly where I am going, or how I am going to get there, I can rest in the knowledge that I belong. I am safe. I am held. I am irrevocably loved.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend time with a friend I hadn’t really seen in a few years. We met at a coffee shop and walked to a park where we sat on metal benches while my two older children played on the play ground. We sat and talked, and tried (and failed), and stop my youngest from putting wood chips in his mouth. It was a good day.
We spoke friendship, (ours is going on 13 years) and we spoke about forgiveness. We talked about the Kingdom of God, and what it means to live here with eternal purpose flowing through our veins. We talked even about times of grief in our own friendship, and I took the opportunity to confess that if I could do it all over, there are some things I would do differently. And then she said something that startled me:
“You were there for me when my brother died, and that’s all that mattered.”
It wasn’t that I didn’t remember this— the phone call, the drive to her place, the tissues, and the tea. What startled me was this sudden realization, that of all the things good or bad that I have done over the course of our relationship, that this was what she remembered. Being there was what mattered.
As a little girl I suffered. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile then you know parts and pieces of my story.
It was awful, traumatic, and life-altering. And yet, I wonder constantly now who I would be if I hadn’t gone through that. My suffering wove a compassion into me that I doubt would be there otherwise.
Walking through suffering with someone else can be intimidating. There is no guide to social etiquette for a hospital waiting room. There is no step-by-step instruction manual for encouraging a friend who has recently lost a child. There is no form for encouraging text messages to someone who’s loved one is dying.
My own insecurities are often the first thing to stand in my way. Questions and doubts plague me: What if I don’t know what to say? What if they don’t want me to come? What if I do it wrong? I wish I could say it gets easier, but I have dealt with these questions just about as often as I have been asked by God to draw near to someone in the midst of unspeakable pain.
This is not to say that care and consideration of the actual needs of those that are hurting is unimportant, it is vital. Sensitivity is key. Asking questions of others who have gone through something similar is invaluable. But the first and foremost thing, is to just show up.
Doubts and fears arising out of self-preservation often lead to inaction; an inaction does not honor Christ. We know what happened to the servant who buried his talent in the sand. (Or if you don’t you can find the parable in the Bible, Matthew 25:14-30) We know that our faith without works is dead. (James 2:14-26) We cannot stand saying we believe, and yet choose to disobey all that Christ commanded us because we are afraid we’ll get it wrong.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord. when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'”
Matthew 25: 34-40
Sometimes all you can do is pour the tea and weep with the friend who has suffered horrific abuse. The friend who has lost a loved one. The friend whose heart has been broken by marital infidelity.
The hardest part of suffering with others is that it never feels like enough.
Yet, Jesus doesn’t ask me to swoop in like Superman and make all the problems disappear; he asks me to do the practical things, and to be with the one who suffers, as though I am doing it all to Him. When I extend the with-ness of Christ’s presence to my suffering friend or loved one, I bring the Kingdom of Heaven a little closer.
I don’t need to be intimidated as I approach that front door, that hospital room, or prepare to press send on that text, because I’m doing it to Jesus. It is Him I am going to see. And He says it is enough.
If you are walking through suffering right now, I challenge you to take the risk and step out of isolation with someone you trust. My prayer is that God will lead you to that safe person who will sit with you, weep with you, pour the tea for you—even as they ultimately encourage you to look to the God who is ever at work even in the darkest of circumstances. Give them a chance to serve you as unto the Lord.
If you are walking next to someone who you know is hurting, I dare you to step out and be that friend who is willing to walk the hard road. It won’t be easy, but it is an honor and a privilege to be allowed into those moments with people. Show up for Jesus, wherever He is—in the face of a friend confined to a sick bed, in the face of the man in prison, in the face of the stranger who needs clothing—don’t miss out on seeing Jesus just because you are afraid you’ll do it wrong. Just show up, and look your suffering friend in the eyes, and see Jesus, you will.
Years from now, when there is little left of your memory or mine, the last things to go will not be the ways that we wronged each other, but the ways that we were the hands and feet of Jesus to each other. These moments of hardship bind us together; my closest friends are the ones with whom I have suffered, and those who have suffered with me. It’s not easy, and suffering with others is probably the most painful part of true love in a fallen world, but in the end, this must be what defines us:
Did we love? Did we serve the walking wounded right in front of us? Did we love others more than our own comfortable complacency?
When we do, we see it clear as day: suffering with others is an honor and a privilege, because when we minister there, we minister to Jesus himself.
I’ve seen the eyes tainted with bitterness, and in truth, more than once they have been my own.
Forgiveness comes like a threat to us; when we are holding on to hurt and pain like so much precious cargo—like the filthy bandage on a gaping wound, how can we let it go?
There is so much about which Satan lies; unforgiveness is just one more of those tools in his belt. And like all his other weapons of mass destruction, it is meant to steal, kill and destroy.
You’ve heard that unforgiveness is like swallowing poison, expecting the other person to drop dead. I too have lived this way.
With a childhood stolen by a man with selfish hands.
With friendships lost and my character assassinated.
With friends I loved like family, who chose to walk the other way in my darkest hour.
I know how bitterness can feel like a knife in your hand— like your last weapon against the coming onslaught. It can feel like self-defense.
That is until you look down, and realize that the knife isn’t in your hand at all—it’s in your chest, and you are bleeding out.
Rooting out the bitterness is as painful as all that. Letting that sharp edge be removed from your heart; then letting the Lord stitch up the place, so true healing can come. It can feel like letting that pain and anger go is letting the person who has caused your present suffering “get off easy.”
Hear me now when I say this: no one is saying that the pain isn’t justified. No one is saying that you haven’t been hurt, that the suffering isn’t real, or that there won’t still be echoes of the hurt 20 years from now—ask me how I know.
What I am saying, is that with that knife of bitterness in your chest, the healing will never come.
God never sweeps what was done under the rug. That sin that was done against you? It will be dealt with. Our God is a God of justice; he doesn’t wink at sin or give lame excuses.
He will avenge the blood of the innocent. He cares deeply about your assassinated character. His heart breaks for the lies spoken, the discord being sown among brothers. And he knows it all experientially as well.
Satan desperately wants you to forget that Jesus knows what it feels like to be rejected in his hometown. Jesus knows what it is like to have his brothers not believe him. Jesus knows how it feels to be betrayed, to death, by a close friend, and then have all your other close friends follow suit. Jesus knows.
But that doesn’t change what he does—or what he did. He died that they might be forgiven; both his friends who abandoned him, as well as the ones who called for his execution. He died that I might be forgiven; while I was still his enemy. He died to forgive your own offender, my own offender, if they would put their faith in him.
That can feel like a tough pill to swallow some days. I have wished ugly things in the deepest part of my heart; that those who hurt children would never believe and would have to bear that grievous sin on their own shoulders when eternity comes. But that’s the bitterness again. The knife’s edge sharp in my chest; and it has to come out.
The terrifying and wonderful truth is that God’s justice is so much better than mine; and letting my hatred go—letting the knife of bitterness slide out of my heart and be thrown away—that is me choosing to trust that God’s justice is better than mine, and He will do right.
Say it with me: HE WILL DO RIGHT.
So I let the knife go. I allow God to stitch me up. I let go of my need to be validated. Of my right to hold on to my anger. And that is when the healing comes. I let go of my title of “victim” and become victorious in Christ. And I begin to see things I never thought I’d see before. Some days I can even grieve for the sin that ensnared my abuser. I can pray that God will redeem even his part of the story; and I know then that I have forgiven.
Turns out Max Lucado had it right. Forgiveness can feel so hard; like opening the door of a prison to let out the one who did me wrong; and yet when the lock falls down and the gate creaks open, it is my own face that I see in that cell: I am setting myself free.
Dearest Reader, I hope you have ears to hear these words. No one is saying that it will be easy. No one is saying it’s a piece of cake. I am saying it’s worth it. I am saying that though the pain might be caused by someone else, the bitterness is yours to own—it is your responsibility. This is what God is asking you to do.
Don’t let bitterness be the pet sin you are content to hold onto; like the fluffy white cat that is held constantly on the lap of the evil genius who thinks complete destruction is the way to world peace.
If you can’t believe it in your heart just yet, I understand. There was a time when I felt exactly the same way; but freedom comes when we exchange the truth of God for the lies of our own reasoning.
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”