The Anvil I. Loss is like an anvil sitting silent on my chest. The only noise comes when I try to breathe. The creaking of my lungs fighting to expand in this weighted world sounds like the rattling of chains softened by padded walls. Words pad the cell: “She lived a good life.” “It was her time.” “She was ready.” AND IF I COULD ONLY STAND I’D RIP THAT PADDING OFF THE WALLS AND DASH MYSELF AGAINST THE COLD AND SOLID REALITY THAT DEATH IS ALWAYS AN UNINVITED AND GREEDY HAND AT THE TABLE AND THERE IS NO EXCUSING HIM. I have tried to move the anvil by ignoring it. Pretending that I believe padded words are enough to quench embers burning a hole in my chest where my heart used to be. But surprise, surprise! It didn’t work. After sitting in the numbed silence for 100 more years I took another rattling breath—my lungs like a bellows on the embers of a heart gone almost cold as I whispered— “I didn’t get to say goodbye.” And the anger lifts the anvil— throws it broken to the ground. And I do as I said I would; tearing padding, dashing every part of me against the cold hard stone until either my bones or the wall must break. II. Blind and wounded is this how we come? Crashing through that solid wall of reality my bones turned to powder my eyes gritty my nostrils full of dust & funeral ashes. Lying under a bright & open sky— the beauty sharp like grief— at first felt worse than the anvil that sat on my chest 1000 years—a weight where my heart used to be. And now this!? As I crashed through the walls to the truth that death was always just a door— out of the tower out of the nightmare out of the Shadowlands to Here— where air is breathed just for laughing. (This poem is an excerpt from my poetry chapbook As the Sparrow Flies, a collection of poems about the various forms of grief that come with love.) Header photo by Yang Shuo on Unsplash
“When the old way is dying, we can cling to normal or we can let sorrow lead our search for something better. This is the summer of imagination… Today I pray that instead of grasping for what you used to have, you let your empty hands clasp in prayer. Optimistic clutching for normalcy only can give you temporary relief, but you were made for more than the normal you had. Only grief can grow your imagination for the goodness of the kingdom you belong to.”—K.J. Ramsey
I’ve been to two funerals in the past month. The first was a memorial for my Grandmother who passed away in March, the week that everything in our state shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. The second was for my Grandaddy who passed away at the beginning of August, and because of slightly fewer restrictions, we were able to have a small, mask-wearing-service at his home church in Fuquay-Varina North Carolina.
Aside from the season of fear and anxieties and generally vague grief that this pandemic has brought us through, some of you, like me, are also experiencing the sharp grief that comes with deep loss. Loss of a loved one. Loss of a job. Loss of money you had been saving in a 401k—we are all grappling with so much, but some of us more than others.
But it’s in this season that I am remembering and re-learning, that allowing ourselves to grieve over these losses, makes way for more peace. The kind of peace that is independent of circumstances, but that is rooted in something realer than what our eyes can see. The kind of peace that allows us to see our lives with greater clarity and imagination, showing us that our hunger for rightness in not foolish, but a good hunger that will lead us to our greatest satisfaction.
God’s Kingdom is here, and it is also coming. Every broken thing will be restored. The dead in Christ are only the seeds waiting for the proper time to grow into a new and fuller life. Our King is here; and He is coming.
The tension of the already-and-the-not-yet can be a difficult place to live. In the months following my Grandmother’s passing, before her memorial service, I found myself trapped in a grief I didn’t feel like I was allowing myself to process. The pandemic pushed pause on so many things, and I found myself being forced to grieve in different ways. In May my Grandfather gave me a box of my Grandmother’s hair things; brushes, clips, hair ties, combs—because he didn’t want to just throw it away—and I found myself staring at the grey hairs in the hairbrush she had probably been using for 20 years or more, wondering: Is this all I have left?
The question haunted me right into the grief I had been avoiding. I penned an angry poem or two, and that’s when it began to happen. Quite by accident, or quite by the Holy Spirit, my eyes began to clear and I saw what I had been missing. In my attempts to push aside my grief I had said things to myself like, “She lived a good life. She was ready. She’s with Jesus now,” all of which are TRUE and GOOD things to say and believe. But I was using them like a tourniquet and not a bandage. I was circumventing the grief, trying to cut it off at the source, by saying things that I knew to be true, but didn’t really feel or believe in my heart.
The reality is that death is always an unwanted and greedy hand at the table. My loss is great. My mother’s loss is greater. The grief I felt at waking up the morning that I heard the news, knowing I would never see my Grandmother again in this life, was crushing. And why wouldn’t it be? When I finally penned the angry poems and let out all my feelings of pent up rage and frustration, it was then that the clarity came. Crashing against the cold hard reality of death, I broke through into the realer-reality; her glorious eternal life. Grief was the path that brought me there.
Two funerals in a row is a lot, but it has given me time to practice. After my Grandmother’s memorial, I felt the peace that comes with a little bit of closure, and many tears shed with loved ones who also loved the one we lost. When I visited my Grandaddy for the last time a week later, I knew that though sorrow would come with the night, joy would come in the morning. The memory of the peace that would come through grief was recent enough for me to have not forgotten everything I learned for once; and for that I am so very thankful.
Dearest Readers; I know the burdens you carry are heavy. There are so many of you walking around with griefs much heavier even than the loss of a Grandparent or other loved one. The anxiety threatens to crush you some days. The little sorrows pile up and feel heavier than a wheelbarrow full of lead. The weight of uncertainty in this season, and whatever season will come after, adds its weight too.
But I want you to know; there is peace on the other side of this thing you are grieving, when you grieve it in the presence of God. Circumventing your grief with platitudes and comforting phrases (even when those phrases are TRUE), is not the way forward to a lasting peace and a clarity which sees the Kingdom of God at work even in our most deeply devastated and broken places.
This is your written invitation: Let yourself grieve. It’s okay. You are not alone. Your losses are not insignificant, nor do they go unnoticed by our heavenly Father. He is not looking down on you. He is not waiting for you to be stronger. He knows your frame; that you are dust, and He cares for you as His beloved child. The way to the joy of the morning is the sorrow of the night. The grief that needs to come, the tears that must be shed to wash your eyes clean so that you may rightly see what you cannot see right now.
The day my Grandaddy died, I told my husband I needed the beauty of the lake. We packed a picnic dinner and went out kayaking and paddle boarding at sunset. But I got sunscreen in my eyes and they kept stinging my whole way across the lake. I kept wiping them with the corner of my shirt until finally a wave of grief hit me and I began to cry. Later I realized that it was the tears that cleared my eyes from the sunscreen that had been stinging and clouding my vision.
May it be the same for you.
Go in peace friends. The way isn’t easy, but it’s the way we’ve been given—and it is good.
*If you need someone to pray for you, leave a comment below. You can tell us what you need prayer for, or keep it between you and God, the choice is yours. And if you feel led to pray for someone, would you reply to their comment and let them know that you are lifting them up? Grief is done best in the body of believers.*
Mother’s Day’s can be sweet and awkward at the same time.
The sweetness of your kid’s handmade card, the awkwardness of realizing they think you live in the kitchen. 😂
The sweetness of breakfast in bed, the awkwardness of eating food your kids invented.
The sweetness of looking into the faces of those you love, the sadness that shows up to the party like that awkward friend wearing too much cologne; reminding you of all you have lost.
I have been so guilty of wanting to be either one way, or the other. Good or bad. Happy or sad. But God is inviting me to see it can be both/and. In this world where we are sorrowful, yet we can still rejoice.
This tension is hard to hold, and I know today brings up equal measures of joy and sorrow. So here is to you my friends; those with bedrooms full of tiny blessings, with rooms that still hold memories of children now grown and gone, those who have gained by birth or adoption, those of you whose hearts are full today.
And here’s to you my friends, with some children snug in their beds, but the memories of those you have lost still held close to your aching chest. Here’s to you who have lost mothers—who wish with all your heart that you had someone to call today.
Here’s to you who have met every mother’s day with grief in the face of another woman’s joy, who greet today with empty arms for every reason possible: infertility, child loss, even an abortion you now deeply regret.
Here’s to every woman who has poured a cup of water for a little one in the name of Jesus, who has mothered brothers or sisters or friends on days they needed it most: you reflect the life giving nature of God.
To each and every one of you beautiful souls out there today—whether you be a mother by the worlds standards or not, may you feel seen, valued, and loved by your creator God today.
May you see the ways he invites you into the sweetness of his presence in the midst of your sorrow.
May you see the ways you are blessed in the mundane and awkward moments that will greet you as you step into this day.
And may you remember always that the Gospel is big enough for YOU.
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.
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’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.”Proverbs 3:5-8
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.'”(Isaiah 25:6-9)
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.