1. Ash Wednesday
Leaves burned last fall
just when yellows and reds
should have swept us away
with the colors of flame—
Instead aspen leaves dropped charred
from the sky dark at noon.
They crumbled to dust in our hands
while smoke made it hard to breathe.
Thoughts of our own mortality
have never been nearer
than these masks that hide
our faces but not our fears.
Ashes to ashes
and dust to dust—
fears coming nearer like the lines
the fire fighters drew to protect the houses
the roads, the school campus
in the mountains burning down.
Like the lines marked
every six feet with signs
reminding us to keep
But it’s the loneliness
that weighs me
down the most
Most days I stare out the window
who are the faithful friends?
the one’s who’ll weather
this storm too and stand
by my side again—
when spring finally comes
when fresh leaves
emerge from aspens
scarred by flames
of last year’s destruction?
It’s Ash Wednesday now
a time to think about
all that perishes—
and what remains.
is already standing sentry
when the pine seeds
in glorious resurrection?
I know the answer
like I know the sound
of his voice—
In this life so full of loss
and lack that burns
like smoke in my lungs
there is only One True
and Lasting Beauty:
One God who put on
fragile flesh to kneel
in the dirt,
to plant himself
like a seed sown in tears
in a borrowed tomb.
Like a pine seed,
to burst forth.
This poem is the first in a series I will be doing, one poem for every Wednesday of Lent. I hope you follow along and that these poems of lack and longing meet you where you are this Lent. To receive updates in your email, click here to sign up for my email list and you’ll be sure not to miss a thing, even if you take a step back from social media for awhile. 🙂
Blessings on you Dear Reader, wherever this Lenten season finds you. And may the only True and Lasting Beauty—meet you there.
My twenty month old is my most timid of my children. Though a relatively peaceful and happy-go-lucky guy, he is easily startled and is the most likely of my kids to become frightened in a situation that feels out of control or uncertain. I’ve learned to warn his siblings that he’s going to need someone to hold him when I use the blender.
“It’s going to be loud, okay buddy?” I say in my most cheerful voice, smiling with my eyes to reassure him; but even still, he is afraid. There is little I can do aside from making sure he is held.
Last week it was the same thing when my husband was using a power saw in the backyard. The second the machine roared to life, he came running, terror in his face. I tell him: “It’s okay buddy. Daddy’s just using a tool. Daddy’s in control of it, he won’t let it hurt you.”
It dawned on me that this is how God parents us; he uses his tools to make good and beautiful things, but the tools are often loud and scary sounding. But he never chides us for being afraid—he understands that we are, one of the reasons that the encouragement “do not be afraid” is one of the most common in scripture. He tells us that there is nothing to fear, that he is in control, yet he also holds us securely until we actually believe that it’s true.
Someday my son will no longer fear the buzz of the saw, or the hum of the blender, or the thrum of the lawnmower. Someday he will go to my leg for comfort for a moment, and then turn right back around to appreciate the beautiful thing that his father is making from the pile of wood, from an overgrown lawn, or the smoothie that he will shortly be sipping courtesy of the loud appliance on the counter.
We hadn’t left the house all together since the day my grandma died in mid March: the week the pandemic really set in. It had been six weeks since my 20 month old had ridden in the car, but even with his fears of loud machines and unpredictable things, I didn’t see this fear coming. No sooner did I begin backing out of the driveway, then my son began screaming in terror at the top of his lungs. I pulled over to see if anything was wrong: a seatbelt pinching him somewhere? A toy lost over the edge of the carseat? Nothing.
I began driving again and he began screaming again. It had been a long day, and in my fragile, frenzied and finite mind I only felt the inconvenience of it. I had been looking forward to this drive as my first “outing” in almost a month, and now it was being ruined. I couldn’t comprehend why—why was he screaming? We pulled up to a stop light and the screaming slowed, but it began again the moment we resumed our trek. It finally dawned on me; perhaps he was afraid of the unpredictable movement of the car.
I reached my hand back to rest on his cheek, stroking his soft skin with my thumb until the crying stopped. That was how we pulled up to the office a few minutes later, and that was how I would drive in the relative peace I had been craving the 20 minutes back home.
Pulling into our neighborhood half an hour later it dawned on me how sharp the difference between my parenting and the parenting of God are. I was so frustrated at the child who would not stop screaming. I was angry at his irrational fear. I didn’t understand and I wanted it to stop. But what a grace that God never deals with my fears that way! He always and forever simply drives the car, craning his arm back so that he can cup my chin in his hand and tell me that everything will be okay. He tells me this on the days I believe him, and on the days that I do not.
I need that now just as much as my son did. I need that touch of comfort; that assurance that even when my circumstances are constantly shifting, uncomfortable, and totally outside of my control—that I am okay. God is still in control. He is still working for my good. All shall be well.
The One who knows all things; who knows where this car is heading, is also a God of infinite and kind compassion. He does not chide you for being afraid, though he invites your loving trust. He does not yell at you from the front seat to hush and be quiet, he meets you in the rearview mirror with his tender gaze. He cares for your fears, even as he does not promise to remove the scary situations from you. He will take you where you need to go, even if the way is frightening and you would just rather not go that way at all.
Trusting God, like my son in the car finally trusted me with my hand secure beneath his quivering chin, may just be the bravest and most beautiful thing you ever do. By this child-like trust, the world will know that there is something different about us; we are a people who despite every chaos and calamity, can still rest secure. We are a people who remember who they are in the context of whose they are. We are a people who will one day see this fearful journey for what it was all along; the sweetest most intimate journey of faith.
“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.”
Provision can come from the strangest places. Or maybe strange isn’t the right word: maybe more like, “unexpected.”
When you are walking through the desert; through a wilderness season, and you look around for water and there isn’t any to be found, it can be so life sapping. When there isn’t any water in sight, how can we hope for the refreshment our souls need? It feels pointless at best, and at worst, foolish.
We are searching for the thing: for the what of what we need to survive. But the more important thing to search for is the Who. The Who that provides for our needs. This idea keeps coming back around: that it’s not about the what, it’s about the who.
The Who that holds together every molecule of our being, the Who that ordains the location of every grain of sand in this desert; that Who can bring water out of the rock if He so desires. There is nothing too hard for Him.
To us; unexpected or strange. To Him; as natural as breathing. As natural as a mother, whose child tugs at her skirt saying, “Mama, I’m thirsty.” As natural as pulling a cup out of the cabinet and as simple as leaning over the kitchen sink and turning on the tap. As mundane as screwing on the lid with the child’s favorite straw in place.
It’s as easy at that. This water from the rock. It’s as natural and normal and spectacularly beautiful as a mother giving water to her thirsty child.
Yet, I so often hesitate to even ask. And when I don’t ask, how could I receive?
It’s pride mostly—and fear: they combine in me to form the deadly sin of self-sufficiency. Pride because I don’t want to need God to bring the water from the rock; I want to find it myself. Fear because, what if He doesn’t bring water from the rock, and I look foolish on top of everything else? What if I ask and I DON’T receive? Or what if His provision doesn’t look the way I want it to?
The truth is that it rarely does. The Israelites were led in hope to the edge of a promised land they would not enter for an additional generation, because though the Lord had brought them this far, they couldn’t imagine how He could possibly help them overtake the fearsome inhabitants currently living in the promised land. (Deuteronomy 1:19-46)
I am so like the Israelites more often than I’d like to admit. Oh how small is my belief! I so easily forget that the God who has brought me this far, will surely see me home.
“The LORD your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the LORD your God, who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go.”
Deuteronomy 1:30-32 ESV
I am no better than they. I too have forgotten the way He has carried me through desert seasons past; the way He has provided so unfailingly for me in the midst of difficultly, loss, and pain. I have forgotten the miracles by which I have come this far. And even when I go astray, even when the path before me does a 360, whether as a result of my own disobedience or just the fallenness of the world, my God, He will lead me still.
“And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty hears int he wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.”
Deuteronomy 8:2-5 ESV
Dear Reader, wherever you find yourself today, I hope you remember to look up and around. Open your eyes to the way God has carried you and led you up until now; and seeing His faithfulness, believe again that He is carrying you still.
If you need a little reminder of how to walk through the hard things of life with the hope that comes from remembering what God has brought you through, then I made this for you. It’s a short little PDF e-book called Scattered: Seven Days to Hope in the midst of Hardship. And for a limited time, it’s yours, absolutely free. Just click the link and subscribe to receive the link to the download today.
*PLEASE NOTE being a WordPress subscriber will not allow you to download this file because I am not permitted to email WordPress subscribers. So if you have been following me here for awhile, and haven’t ever received an email from me (other than a WordPress update) you may want to check and see if you are actually subscribed! I’d love to get this goodness into your hands.*
Loneliness opens up like a sink hole in my chest. It sucks in everything; my joy in the small moments, my hopes for the future, the lessons I have learned from the past. It turns my whole body numb with longing and the desperate question—does anybody see me?
Suffering can be one of the loneliest places; there are many reasons for this; enough in fact that I could do a whole blog series on it. (And maybe I will, let me know in the comments below if that’s something you’d be interested in.) There are many reasons why the sufferer herself might be the cause of some of her own loneliness, but in this post I would like to examine what I believe is the central reason why other’s pull away from the sufferer in her hour of need: unbelief in the goodness of God, and the fear that comes from realizing the depth of our own unbelief.
The reality is that it is excruciatingly hard to look in to the eyes of someone tortured by the terrible illness of a child they love, when there is nothing they can do to make it better. It’s hard when they don’t know what to say, and the silence gapes wide like a chasm. They know if they stand of the porch a second longer and look into your soul-haunted gaze, they will have to reconcile some things in their faith that aren’t currently matching up.
Standing with those who suffer is sometimes like signing up for a weekly wrestling match with God. Because when you love them, and you look in their eyes, and you hear their hearts beating and breaking—you will howl right along with them: Why God?
These questions can be scary, and I believe they are the very reason that many shy away from sitting with someone who is deep in the midst of suffering. The greatest relief I have experienced though, as someone who ministers to those who suffer, has come through realizing that these questions must come.
In one of the great paradoxes of the world we live in, sometimes the quickest way to faith is through doubt, and so I have stopped measuring my faith by a lack of doubt, and instead have begun thinking only of how quickly I surrender to God when we wrestle—because wrestle, we will.
During seasons of suffering in my own life, I have felt the rage bubble up, as well meaning people tried to white wash over my pain. And it seems like an impossible ask, but here it is: I think sometimes God asks us, as ones who are suffering, to have grace on those that are less than helpful around us, and even on those who abandon us in our hour of need.
It feels like insult to injury I know, to say that as those who are hurting we might even have to forgive the well meaning friends who say all the wrong things, or the friends that once loved us and now seem to have forgotten us completely; but there it is. Because where there is hurt, there must be forgiveness. And we must entrust ourselves to the love of our good God, who will provide for us what we need to take the next step—the next breath.
As a survivor of sexual abuse, some of my deepest wounds are not from the abuse itself, but from those who should have stood in the gap for me. Those who claimed to be our friends, but who left us in our hour of need. Friends whose negligence led to my being abused in the first place; because they knew something was wrong, and yet they kept silent.
If you are reading this, and you were one of these people, I want you to know—I have forgiven you. Before the Lord, in prayer, by name. You are forgiven by God, and you are forgiven by me.
In turn, I’m sure I also have been a means of wounding some; maybe even some of you who may be reading this. Maybe it was a casual word spoken out of turn, or maybe it was the words I should have said but didn’t. If I have ever added pain onto your pain, I pray that you would also forgive me. I too am a work in progress, and have sometimes chosen wrongly. I do not get it all right. But I trust that even here, God will redeem.
Because here’s the really beautiful part: partially as a result of who God made me, partially as a result of the lack we suffered when I was a kid, God has grown me into a woman who cares deeply about the suffering and hardship of others. It’s a part of my story—that I am committed to the long road with people. That I will take the time to wrestle with my God for the truth that He is good even when circumstances seem to shout otherwise. In many ways that’s what this blog is all about.
This isolation––this loneliness––may feel like an insult to the injury of your present hardship, but this too will be redeemed by the God who takes every broken thing and makes it beautiful. And no matter how many people hurt you, abandon you, whitewash over your pain, or condemn you in the face of your suffering, you are not alone.
You are seen. You are held. You are loved. Even when the people who ought to be there, run away. Even when the family members don’t know what to do or say. Even when your friends withdraw and you come to that painful realization that where you are going, they cannot come…even then. You are seen, you are held, you are loved; by the God who paid everything to make you His. By the God who suffered also from loneliness in His hour of deepest need. By the Savior who was betrayed and abandoned by His friends. He knows. He cares. He sees. He has not forgotten you.
Dearest Reader, my prayer for you today is that the overwhelming peace and love of the Lord Jesus would surround you today, wherever you are. And through this peace, I pray we will be able also, by God’s power, to extend forgiveness and grace to those who have hurt us by their words, actions, or lack-thereof, in our hour of deepest need.
Do you need someone to kneel down in the dirt with you? To help you scatter seeds of hope in the midst of hardship? It would be my greatest honor and privilege to minister to you in this way; to give to you a little of the comfort with which my God has comforted me.
I used to think margins were a luxury for the very, very rich. I thought that if someone felt good enough about their work done in the main hours of anything to cultivate spaces in between it all, then they must have been rich indeed. Or maybe they really just had money seeping out their ears while they slept on the couch after a movie marathon, and that was how they could justify the rest. It is as ridiculous as it sounds.
But just the other day the thought struck me; that it’s more than margins. It’s more like refusing to do the opposite of leaving margins. It’s refusing to cut it too close.
“Well, you probably missed that one,” we heard from under the furrowed brow of the man clicking on his computer at the Air Canada check in desk. My best friend and I had just enjoyed the most magical week on Prince Edward Island. We saw some sights, walked on the red sand beaches and ate Canada’s most famous Cow’s Creamery ice cream. But when it came time to leave early that Friday morning, we had forgotten that we needed to put gas in the rental car.
I secretly wish there had been a camera filming the action as we struggled to figure out a) how to open the gas compartment on a mini-cooper b)how to pre-pay in liters for enough gas to fill said mini cooper, and c) how to realize earlier that google was taking us on a 45 minutes detour instead of just telling us to make a u-turn, on our way back to the road from the gas station.
When we ended up on a one-way dirt track we realized it: we had cut it all way, way too close, and we were very possibly going to miss our flight to Toronto. But we had a hope, that since the airport we were leaving from only had two gates, that we would probably be able to sneak in 30 minutes before our flight left.
“I don’t suppose you can get two more suitcases on the plane Brody…” the grouchy man with the furrowed white brows spoke into the walkie, he seemed to be willing Brody to say no.
“OH YEAH…” we heard the cheerful voice on the other side, “No problem at all!”
We owe the happy ending of this story to a man with a cart who was not afraid to come and get our tardy baggage. We made it on the plane just as the sun was coming up over the Island, but as we stood on the stairway waiting to board, there was no doubt in our minds, that aside from blindly following google’s directions, the main problem was that we had cut it all way too close. Though this week of rest with my best friend was in so many ways a testament to my learned ability to rest in the midst of seasons of intensity and hardship, I had forgotten to leave margin at the end of it all, to leave room for inevitable hiccups that come when you are traveling, especially in another country.
For so many years I lived a “cutting it close” kind of life. I respected following distance when driving to be sure (I was and am, a rule follower by nature), but when it came to cultivating any kind of personal margin to preserve my sanity; I wasn’t into it. I think I actually felt crazier when I tried to STOP what I was doing in order to rest. As newlyweds, my husband saw this monster of perfectionism up close and personal, as I obsessively cleaned late into the evening and refused to respect my bedtime. Always to my own detriment, and his. How would it be that years later, when I became the parent of a daughter who suffered from terrible tummy pain, that I would finally learn how to rest?
I think so often when we are faced with suffering of any kind, but especially the suffering of our children, it can be so easy to swing the pendulum the opposite direction, and try desperately, to control the situation. And to be sure; as parents we are called to steward our children as best we can, to keep them safe from harm and to help them heal when harm has been done. But there is also peace in realizing that it is not all up to me. There is a heavenly father who loves my daughter, who cherishes her, even as He cherishes me. He watches over Ellie on the couch when I take five minutes to go get a glass of water and wash my face. He comforts her in the quiet dark when I can do nothing more than sit next to her and rub her feet. When I am hungry in the middle of the night, having stayed awake every hour when I would normally be resting to take care of a little girl in flare-up, it behooves me to leave enough margin in my own heart, to accept the rest that God wants to give to me: to heat up a bowl of the soup a loving friend brought for me, and then go and resume my place next to her on the couch.
This is how I refuse to cut things too close; not that I take or fight my way for what I feel are my own personal needs—but that in those moments, I quiet my heart before the Lord, and I accept the rest that He wants to give me. I leave room. As I provide, I must also accept His gracious provision.
It is in the spaces in between; the space between the loading of the groceries and the drive home. The space between the laying down of the last sleepy head, and the laying of my own weary head on the pillow. The space between the alarm clock ringing, and the words I write so early on the page. These are the spaces that God invites me to rest in the fullness of who He is; and who I am as a result of that. He invites me to create space in my mind and my heart, to welcome Him into whatever difficultly, I am currently facing.
If you are suffering; or if you are walking through suffering with someone else, what would it look like for you to cultivate a little margin today? How can you accept the rest that God wants to provide to you, even in the smallest moments, so that you can endure the trials and cheer on others who are enduring with you?
Dearest Reader, it takes a recognition that we are not in control to sit down for a moment and rest in the midst of hardship, but in the end, that surrender is where peace comes. Here we make space for the small things that could become as urgent as a missed flight if left unattended. Here we make space to fill up a glass of water for ourselves, as well as for someone else. Here we make space to acknowledge that God is God, and we are not. We are finite, and so needy, and that is not a liability, it’s an opportunity for God to meet us.
My chest aches. Tears blur the words of the page and my throat feels like I’m being strangled.
I wonder what they think of me. Do they think I am weeping for my own suffering? Do they wonder what is going wrong or do they have their own guesses? What would they think if they knew that the primary reason I was weeping at church this morning was not for me, but for someone else?
I think most believers agree that weeping with those who weep is a good and beautiful concept; but what about when you are the friend of the friend of the person weeping? What about when your friend seems drug into the depths of despair by a grief that you know is not theirs? Would it make any sense to you?
I have been the friend; the one weeping. Stuck between the well meaning friends who just want me to be happy, and the friends that I can never put out of mind as they walk through the depths of suffering. I cannot “change the subject”. I cannot simply refuse to think about it and move on. I am all there sometimes with those that are walking through the valleys of deepest darkness. It’s a gift. But sometimes it looks like a curse.
Sometimes I find myself angry, because I feel like I shouldn’t be feeling the way I am feeling. Sometimes I find myself wanting to involve myself more and more with those suffering; partly because I want to help and minister to them, and partly because I feel like then I’ll have an excuse for the way that their hardships are affecting me emotionally. But why do I feel I need an excuse?
Do I need to make excuses for the God who made me this way? So sensitive there is hardly a TV show I can watch that isn’t a comedy. So in tune with the way that others are feeling that I can tell they are upset even when they insist that they are not. So empathetic that I weep often into the dishes of my kitchen sink for children that are not my own, belonging to people that I’ve never even met.
It doesn’t make much sense. Even to me it often feels confusing and frustrating. But I’m done wishing away the gift. It is this very same vulnerability, this intensity of feeling, that has led me here. To writing these words on this page. Because it’s the least I can do.
I wish for the world that I could understand it all; that I could tell you the future and assure you that it’s all going to work out just beautifully in every way you hope and dream; but I can’t. And I’ve learned that’s not my job. My job is to kneel down next to you in the dirt.
You—yes, you. You living in the barren landscape. You—staring down giants and dragons and shadows and death. You—looking around at the wasteland and thinking it’s so familiar, it must be home. You—too despairing—too afraid—you’ve seen too much, perhaps, to hope.
But hope, real hope, as my pastor reminded me today, is more than a passing fancy. Hope is the firm belief that what has been promised to you will come to pass; and if you believe in the God of the Bible. In the Great I Am, who sent His own son Jesus Christ to die on the cross that we might be reconciled to him; then oh brother…oh sister—there is much that has been promised to you.
Romans 8:28 met me like the tiniest seed, planted in the soil of my own childhood suffering. An abuse perpetrated against me that was so damaging, I couldn’t even begin to understand it’s impact on my life. Mustard seeds start small too, then grow into the largest garden plants. So large that they make home for birds; they provide food and shelter and shade.
“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.”
Romans 8:28-30- ESV
I don’t know all of God’s purposes for my life, no more than I know all of His purposes for yours. But I believe this verse is for us. God works all for good, and our ultimate good, is to be conformed to the image of Christ.
Maybe somehow that makes it not only okay, but important, that sometimes I feel misunderstood. Christ, the creator himself wrapped in flesh, was rarely understood by anyone. He was misunderstood even (and sometimes especially) by his closest friends. And no matter how many times he said it, or tried to explain it, they still never really understood what he was there to do.
Even once he did it.
It’s a good thing that his selfless service of us had no condition; he wasn’t looking around at the crowd that day on the road to Jerusalem thinking, “Hmmm. These people really want me to be an earthly king. I guess I’ll change plans and do that instead.”
Thank heavens, He knew what He was doing. He was about His Father’s business, and He didn’t let misperceptions or misunderstandings, even seemingly honorable ones, get in the way of His doing what He was there to do. Maybe that’s it, maybe that is the key to the courage I need right there. To do my Father’s business. To not worry about being misunderstood in it, but being fully known and understood by the Father, carrying out the mission that He has put in front of me. Daring boldly to do all that He has asked me to do.
I want to be so singular minded as that. I hope some day I will be. Until then, I hope I can keep in mind that the refiners fire rarely feels good, but the reward is worth the endurance it takes to produce.
“…though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
1 Peter 1:6-7
Maybe no one understands you, or what you are going through. Maybe you feel isolated and often alone. Being misunderstood is only painful because I think in our deepest hearts, we are all desperately longing to be seen and truly known.
The suffering I endure is one thing. It’s not that I only weep for others, no. I have shed more than a few tears for myself this week as well. But I think for me it comes down to that additional fear; that additional pain. The fear of being misunderstood. The reality is that my longing to be deeply known in this life may only be met by the God who made me the way that I am. But if becoming more like Him is the point, then even this is good.
Dearest Reader, if you need someone to kneel in the dirt with you—to help you hope in a season that seems more wilderness than promised land, more winter than spring, CLICK HERE to sign up and get my FREE E-BOOK DEVOTIONALScattered: a seven day journey toward planting seeds of hope in the soil of suffering. [If you are already a subscriber, be sure to check your email, it should already be in your inbox. If not, be sure to check your junk mail folder!]
Sometimes the pain of it all feels like a heavy weight. Like cotton in your brain. Like you can’t see or hear. Or breathe.
Sorrows weigh us down; they make us limp. When I was nine, I twisted my ankle after doing a roundoff of a balance beam in gymnastics class. I had to wrap it, ice it, keep it elevated. Rest.
But oftentimes it feels harder to give ourselves the emotional grace, when sorrows and hardship leave us wounded, like we have a twisted ankle, or worse. Some days my heart feels so bruised I wonder if it’s actually internal bleeding.
So today, here is your permission to not do it all. You don’t have to be productive. The to-do list can fall by the way side. The dishes can stack up in the sink. The laundry can fluff for the fourth day in a row and you can have sandwiches for lunch and dinner both.
It’s okay. It’s really okay.
Today the sun shines brilliant in the sky, but the hearts of many I love are grieving deeply. There is no bandaid to fix any of it. There seems to be only the endless ocean of pain. How do we handle it when our prayers aren’t answered the way we hope they will be? When the 11th hour rescue doesn’t come…how do you hold on to hope?
Maybe this is where we’ve been led of course all this time. Maybe it was wrong to think of hope as this pitiful small thing; this waning attempt at positivity. The truth is that hope is a battle; and today, yes today, you must fight.
Fight hard. Because if you are in Christ, then this too shall pass. And it is well with your soul. And even death cannot separate forever. We have more to live for and more to hope for than this earthly place; these lives we live in the shadowlands. We have eternity stretching out before us; and as one of my wonderful pastors said while we studied through the book of Job two years ago; “heaven is not a consolation prize.”
Heaven is not a consolation prize. I repeated it to myself just this morning. It’s not a dumb trinket you get at the bottom of a happy meal; heaven is the all. It is everything we are longing for.
“On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our GOD; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.'”
Someday—someday soon—we will be dancing and singing and eating with our Savior King who himself went through unimaginable suffering on our behalf.
Thank you Jesus, this is not how our stories end. This is anything but the end. Dearest Reader, if you find yourself today in a place of deep grief or sorrow, I pray that these words comfort you. And that they remind you that it’s okay to know in your heart what God has done, what He is doing, and then just rest. It’s okay to just be. On days that begin with terrible grief, it’s more thank okay to just sit and be still, and let God hold you.
He is making all things new; even when it looks like everything around you is falling to pieces. I know it. I’ve seen it. I hope today, you can dare with me, to believe that it’s true.
That’s why, after too many months of hype, God knew that today was finally the day for Scattered: a seven day journey toward planting seeds of hope in the soil of suffering to be released into the world. If you need someone to kneel in the dirt of your present circumstances with you, I’d be honored to be that person. Just click here to sign up and get you’ll get the link to download my free ebook delivered directly to your inbox. It’s in a PDF format so you can either read it on your phone, your computer or print it off at home.
Today, on a day that felt abysmally dreary, I left the dishes and the laundry and the floor unswept; and I went out and planted seeds. Because the Bible teaches that what is sown in dishonor will be raised in new life; and though planting seeds is my least favorite part of the gardening process for just this reason, that I struggle to believe, God knows. And today this is exactly what I need.
I had a dream last night that my daughter was making paper mache at church. Her hands and face were covered with the sticky white glue/water/flour mixture. For a Mom of a child with severe gluten sensitivity, this was an actual nightmare.
It’s been seven weeks since her last flare up. It’s been a long hard season, but it feels like maybe we are getting towards the end of it…? I’m always afraid to say that. Like maybe I’ll be jinxing it somehow. Maybe I am just waiting for the other shoe to drop.
But part of me is almost ready to dare to hope. To hope that maybe this season of intense hardship is ending. Maybe we have done a better job keeping her safe. Maybe we are finally figuring some things out. Maybe there isn’t another shoe hanging above our heads, but just the same shoe at our feet: that she has severe issues with gluten. And maybe it’s celiac and maybe it’s not.
We were told by the pediatric gastroenterologist that we will not be able to get a celiac diagnosis, even if we did a scope, because she has been on the gluten free diet for so long already.
“Even though she’s still been having flare ups?” I said.
“You could make a case for it,” she said, “but I don’t think it would show up definitively, no.”
She said the only way to get a celiac diagnosis would be to feed her gluten for six weeks straight and then do a scope.
You can probably guess what my answer to that was.
I am not so obsessed with answers that I will purposely hurt my child to get them.
I am not so obsessed with control that I will break the well earned trust that she has built into me, that what I cook for her, to the best of my knowledge and ability, will not make her sick.
I do not need answers that badly.
It helps that she’s doing better. Right now, that feels like answer enough.
She still has tummy aches from time to time, a few every week. I try to keep on top of her enzyme as best I can. I make sure to follow rigorous hand washing when we go anywhere and I wipe down a table before she sits there.
I don’t take her down the aisles with bulk bins and I warn her not to touch the open baskets of bread at the grocery store. I don’t take her to Willy’s hockey games anymore; that was the tragic scene that we are fairly certain caused her last flare up. Gold fish cracker crumbs littered the bleachers, and who knows what other specks that could not be seen. It was probably just a few too many small exposures in one day.
No matter how we covered her hands with her sleeves, I laid out a blanket for her to sit on, she washed hands repeatedly during and after our time there as well as changed her clothes the moment we got home. I thought I had thought of everything. But then next day when she woke up sick, I remembered the dog licking her face. I hadn’t accounted for that. Most dog food contains gluten of course, and I would never let a person who just ate a slice of bread lick her face.
So we try to be careful of that now too.
It could be easy to start feeling sorry for myself, but when I think back to that season of intense suffering that has only appeared to end a few weeks ago, I remember to give thanks for the little girl with the strength to be sassy to me about how “unfair” it is that she can’t eat/touch/do XYZ.
It’s understandable she’s upset. But the fact that she calls it unfair and doesn’t automatically shy from that thing in fear, just goes to show how the Lord is healing and protecting her little psyche as well as her body. She is forgetting how bad it all is, and I am okay with that.
Maybe that’s what this in-between season is all about. Learning to be okay. Learning to live with the unresolved. The lack of answers. The lack of certainty about whether or not what we are doing is working, or if it’s something else all together. Time may reveal some of these. But either way; God is with us in the middle places just as he was with us in the darkest nights.
My youngest child has always been a good sleeper, but these past few weeks he’s taken to waking multiple times at night again like he did when he was a newborn. I could bemoan this fact, or I could thank God that he’s doing this now and not while I was dealing with a daughter in flare up in the middle of the night.
A friend has needed temporary childcare help with her sweet 2 year old daughter, and though adding a fourth kid, five and under, does make some things (like a trip to the grocery store) a little more interesting, it’s also just so amazing to me that God has orchestrated this timing. If this had happened a few months ago, I wouldn’t have been able to help.
Another friend’s daughter has been in the hospital for the past four weeks; they just finally moved her out of the ICU. And the thought in my mind and heart is that I’m so glad I can offer my help in some small way. Watching your daughter suffer is no easy task, I know it in new ways now that I hope help me to be a compassionate companion.
And you Dear Reader, I am working hard for you; like I’ve never worked before. If you would like to be one of the first to receive my (almost finished) FREE DOWNLOAD: Scattered: A seven day journey to planting seeds of hope in the soil of suffering, just click here to sign up, and as soon as it’s finished I’ll deliver it to your inbox.
In Colorado we are transitioning—from winter to spring. And it comes slowly here, where we often still get snow even through the month of May. But the crocuses are opening in the morning light. The tulips and the daffodils are emerging from the front beds that I neglected to clear of leaves last fall. The chorus of birdsong now greets me and my morning cup of coffee. And the clearest sign; the delicious light that lingers over me as I prepare supper in the evenings.
Though I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of winter’s chill, this time does feel like a change in the air. Like the spring that we hoped for might be just around the corner, after all.
A year ago I was preparing to share my testimony with our small group. It was a chaotic day; one in which I felt inadequate in nearly every way. The kids were crazy, the house a mess, so I stuck my (then) two kids in the stroller and took a walk in order to gain some sense of peace and gather my thoughts.
Then the voice—so familiar and yet so startling: “Are you ready to tell Our Story?”
It caught me like a lover’s indiscreet kiss. It sent shivers down my spine. I’m not sure if I was even ready then—but I am now Jesus.
Yes Jesus. I’m ready to share Our Story.
Here is where it all began:
I was eight years old.
Sometime in the recent past I had finally got up the courage to tell my Mom that I was being sexually abused. She believed me, sheltered me, fought for me. Both my parents did. But there were, and are, some things no parent can give to a child in that situation—and it was something I desperately needed. It’s what we all need when we feel stuck in a darkness too deep to ever escape from on our own.
I needed Hope.
I was in the messy middle of recovering from an abuse that I was too young to understand. I knew the darkness that plagued me to the the depths of my soul. I sensed the evil that lurked around each and every corner, threatening to gobble me up. In my childish mind, I just wanted it all to go away.
God found me there on the rough carpet of my bedroom. On my knees in front of the solid wood bookshelf, I was kneeling as I often did when searching. Searching for something to read. A bibliophile from a young age, I looked for the answers to my needs in books, but none of them seemed to meet me here and now. None of them held the answers to the questions I was asking. Bending over, peering down at the volumes on the bottom shelf, turning my head sideways to read all the words on their spines. Then the Bible caught me. That large volume which I considered to be both Holy and wholly intimidating. The thing I had tried to force myself to read, but just couldn’t quite get into. I was only eight years old after all.
I pulled it out and didn’t know where to begin. Then, a miraculous whisper. Romans. It said. Chapter 8. It said.
And I opened up to these words in the 28th verse.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
(Romans 8:28, NIV)
There on my bedroom floor, kneeling at my bookshelf, God captured my heart. And I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that somehow, someway, the suffering I was going through, and the abuse I had endured was going to be worked for good. Down my eight year old cheeks streamed tears of peace—tears of joy.
That was the beginning of my love story with Jesus.
About seven years later, I started blogging. Blogging for other survivors of sexual abuse. Blogging so that they would know that they weren’t alone.
Though I think my readership was near non-existent, I haven’t even actually deleted the original blog because it has a sentimental special place in my heart. And now, it’s just so beautiful to me to see how God was planting seeds in my heart to serve others who are, or have gone through suffering; that you would know that you are not alone, and that there is and always will be, a glorious redemption plan for every broken piece of our shattered hearts.
This one thing I know for sure: that God is in the business of making all things new. He’s done it for me, over and over again. I wish that I could say that my childhood trauma was the only really hard or scary thing that I ever faced; in fact when I was younger I was pretty sure that the fact that I had dealt with hardship at such a young age meant that I had gotten that part of my life “out of the way”, and it was going to be all rainbows and sunshine from there on out.
Go ahead and laugh if you want to. I can’t think about that sweet naiveté of mine without chuckling either. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has thought this way. Because believing that life is will often be dark and difficult? That can make you want to give up right there on the spot.
But for those of us who belong to Christ Jesus, suffering doesn’t get to have the last word. Abuse doesn’t have the last word. Sickness and death don’t get the last word. Whatever current hardship you are facing; it doesn’t get the last word because we live by the Power of the Living God, and there is nothing that is so dark that He cannot bring the light of His redemption to it. We walk in step with the Holy Spirit, and He gives us all that we need to survive this crazy life, and to make it a life worth living. For now, and for Eternity.
How do I know? I’ll tell you. I have so many stories. I’m sure you have them too.
Stories of joy in the pain. Of beauty from the ashes. Of eternal weights of glory being made from these comparatively, light and momentary afflictions.
The truth is that God is the Good Gardener in my life, pruning me that I may bear fruit. Planting me often, in the soil of suffering, that I may bear fruit. Showing me that His presence with me always was, and always is, enough.
And it’s enough for you too.
I’m working on something right now: It’s called Scattered: A seven day journey to planting seeds of Hope in the Soil of Suffering. It’s not finished yet. But if this sounds like something that might help you, I’d love to get it into your hands.
All you have to do is click here, and give me your email address. A few minutes after you put in your info, you’ll get an email welcoming you to my email list, and as soon as I am finished creating this content, I will send it directly to your inbox for absolutely free.
Even better news: if you sign up before I finish making this resource, you may even get to help influence it by sending a reply to my first email and telling me what you are struggling with.
Because these words aren’t just for me anymore, Dear Reader, they are for you.
That together we may bear fruit, by God’s grace and for His glory.
It feels like a full fledged onslaught. The battle for my mind is raging every moment that I am present to my actual feelings and thoughts; and if I’m not present, then I’m just plain numb.
We heard these words of doubt last week: “I’m stumped.”
From a doctor, especially your child’s doctor, those are words you never, ever, want to hear. She looked sad. She looked tired and concerned. She has labored for us and with us for well over a year, and now, we are at the end of her expertise. The end of her possible answers.
“That’s what specialists are there for,” I heard her say. And I wonder if she wasn’t just saying that for us, but for herself. To remind herself that it’s okay that this time she didn’t have the answers we were looking for. In fact, we seemed at a loss for answers at all.
We have run out of non-invasive options. Our next right thing is to head to the pediatric gastroenterologists at Children’s Hospital, and hope they can help us find an answer. A diagnosis. Something, that will help our baby girl feel well more than 50% of the time.
The last time I was at children’s hospital, I stood as a witness as one of my best friends received the news that her 18 month old daughter had cancer. What had seemed like a fractured ankle from a crib injury ended up quite different than any of us could have anticipated. I can’t say I’m excited to go back there.
No solutions feel very comforting right now. Even if it all goes perfectly “well.” Sometimes the diagnosis makes things a lot better, other times, it’s the devastating last blow that seals just how much “worse” it all is.
And even if it’s not worse. Even if it’s all fine; I’m not excited to put my daughter under extensive and invasive tests. I don’t want to watch as she fades from consciousness from anesthesia. I don’t want to let anyone wheel my baby away on a gurney. I don’t want to put her life in any one else’s hands. As I looked at the faces of the pediatric gastroenterologists on the Children’s Hospital website, I just kept thinking to each face, “Do I trust you to take care of my baby girl? How about you?“
The truth is I trust no one. And I know enough now to know that I can’t necessarily even trust myself: I mean, I haven’t been able to keep her healthy have I? No matter how much I slam down the control all around us and our life in attempts to keep her well, it’s never enough. I’m sure there’s been a time more than once over the past year and a half, when I’ve encouraged her to eat something that ended up making her sick. I try not to dwell on those times, but sometimes I do.
All I know is that I know her, and I love her. I remember when she was one-year-old she smelled to me like butter, and sugar cookies. That when she’s happy she doesn’t always smile, but her face is smooth and peaceful. She doesn’t always show her pleasure in the demonstrative ways you’d expect from a five-year-old. And she’s always been that way. I know that she’s happiest when she’s making art. That she’s an extrovert that needs her alone time. That she is more thoughtful and capable of compassion than I often even give her credit for.
A little over a month ago, I found myself making an hour long drive with a car full of sleeping babies. And through the gentle words of a scripture lullaby CD, I heard an almost audible whisper:
If you never find the answers, will you still trust me?
And through the tears, my whispered answer came, “Yes.”
The challenge now is one of memory: remembering the peace that comes when I choose to rest in the sovereignty of God. Remembering and keeping before my consciousness moment-by-moment, that God knows her and loves her even more than I do. That He has not abandoned her. And challenging as this thought is, that He has good for her, for us. Even here, smack dab in the middle of this pain; this terrifying unknown.
What that good might be? I don’t know yet. But I’m on the hunt for it. I’m ravenous. I’m parched. And I need to taste that spring of water that never leaves you longing for more. Especially here in this desert season, as I feel myself walking towards this valley of shadows and death. Come near to me Lord Jesus.
I believe He will.
If you too are walking through a season of suffering, or uncertainty, or both; I’m so glad you are here. I hope to create a place here where we can Cultivate a Fruitful Life, and I know that paradoxically, God often does His best work in the soil of suffering. Will you let me kneel down in the dirt next to you? CLICK HERE to sign up.
Praying for you Dear Reader. I know you’ve been through a lot. I have too.
But together, let’s keep before us, the truth of Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (ESV)
If you are planted in the soil of suffering like I am right now Dear Reader, then maybe, just maybe, God is in the middle of cultivating fruit.