Jesus wept. But not out of powerlessness.

Jesus, Nigeria, suffering

The soft spoken teenage girl had been thrust into sudden adulthood.

Her hair wrapped in a bright turquoise piece of long fabric, she looked young but protective of her newborn baby boy.

She came into our office at the hospital’s crisis pregnancy center. She had given life to a baby boy just a couple of short weeks ago.

He hadn’t been eating and had been fussy lately. She couldn’t explain exactly why, but she knew that something wasn’t right.

I’ll call her Ruth. She’d come to our office months ago for a pregnancy test. She decided to keep her baby and raise him with her boyfriend and his family, in a village area not far from town.

Ruth was brave. In America, you face judgement and criticism as a pregnant teen. Or, conversely, you can be on TV on a reality show. It’s certainly not an easy road, no matter what. But in Nigeria as a pregnant unwed teen, there are more complicated matters. Like another mouth to feed and a high infant mortality rate.

Our center offered medical help for new moms and their babies, so I escorted Ruth over to the pediatric ward. We checked in and she began the long wait to see a doctor. I knew that it would be some time before the baby would be seen, and I headed back to our office.

Lunchtime was near, and I realized that we hadn’t heard anything from Ruth. I walked over to the pediatric ward, and saw Ruth in the waiting room. Her face was drawn and vacant, almost catatonic looking.

I asked her what was wrong and she softly whispered, “He died.” My gut felt like it simultaneously fell a few feet and tied in a knot. I couldn’t believe it. I asked her what happened and she just stared off into the distance, not speaking to answer my horrible question.

I was crushed and shocked at the same time.

Tears began to flow immediately and I felt as if I was crying for this devastated young mom who remained expressionless. I asked the nurse, “Why? What happened?” She didn’t know.

Devastating, those three words. I don’t know.

My heart and mind demanded an answer. Why? What had happened to this beautiful new baby? He hadn’t been eating well, but to come to see the doctor and DIE?! NO!

The nurse sternly pulled me aside and chided me. “You need to stop crying. She doesn’t need to see that. She needs you to be strong!” I don’t remember if I said anything in reply, but in my heart I knew that it was right to cry. This great loss deserved tears to be shed.

As if walking through a bad dream, Ruth and I gathered her baby boy, still wrapped tightly in his pastel blanket, and drove him to the village for burial. Very few words were spoken on the drive. Tears said what I couldn’t say on that day.

I was honored to be with Ruth on the very dark day when she had to bury her newborn son.

Since then I have had other days with friends on dark days, and them with me. Many times I have said stupid, thoughtless things. Sometimes I said things that I hoped would make them feel better.

The reality is that sometimes nothing that we say will make it better at all.

Sometimes the best thing that we can do when our loved one is hurting is to enter in to that sad place with them, and simply grieve alongside them.

I’m thankful for friends and family that do this with me on difficult days.

Jesus knew this and did it well. The account of Lazarus’ death tells us that Jesus wept. The shortest verse in the Scriptures, but so profound.

Jesus didn’t weep for Lazarus’ death, because Jesus, being fully God and fully man, knew that He would raise Lazarus from the dead.

Could it be that Jesus wept out of empathy, compassion and care for his friends who were deeply grieving the loss of their loved one, Lazarus?

I think that this is a great reality for us when we grieve anything in our lives: Death, chronic illness, a prodigal child, divorce, or loss of a job. Jesus enters into our grief with us.

He weeps with us. Not because He is caught by surprise, or powerless to change it.

He enters into our pain with us.

Powerfully, lovingly, and sometimes, as with Lazarus, it may look like he doesn’t come through until it’s too late.

He is more than able. He himself was a man of sorrows and feels compassion with us.

He is Emmanuel,

God with us.

P.S. This is a true story that happened over a decade ago during our time with SIM  in Nigeria.

Although I went as a missionary to serve in Africa with all kinds of love and zeal for Jesus, it turns out that I learned much from the people we were to serve.

As with any culture, there is good and bad, but most Nigerian people we know are resilient and joyful, many of whom I call friends and now family.

We are far richer because of them.

 

 

Read the entire story of Lazarus here.

If you’ve ever been broken: Kintsugi

suffering, Uncategorized

Are you broken? Suffering, hurting? Going through a trial and wondering how it could all work out okay? If you feel that your situation may be beyond repair, then consider kintsugi, the ancient Japanese art of mending broken pottery:

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The 400+ year old Japanese art of kintsugi (golden repair) or kintsukuroi (golden joinery) is a pottery repair method that honors the artifact’s unique history by emphasizing, not hiding, the break.

An art form born from mottainai – the feeling of regret when something is wasted – the cracks are seamed with lacquer resin and powdered gold, silver, or platinum, and often reference natural forms like waterfalls, rivers, or landscapes.

This method transforms the artifact into something new, making it more rare, beautiful, and storied than the original. source

broken-wood-fired-tea-bowl

Wood-fired broken bowl

wood-fired-bowl-kintsugi-repair

Wood-fired bowl restored with gold

source

I am broken. Yet God has put me back together and mended the broken spots.

If someone were to look at my life before I surrendered my life to Jesus, they would have simply seen broken shards, like pottery in the picture above.

You would assume that these broken pieces were useless, and not fit for repair. You would throw them out, without further thought, and even be responsible in doing so.

Some pieces of my life were thoughtlessly or maliciously broken by others. There was rejection, abuse, and degradation.

Some of the fractures were caused by my own doing. Self-harm, bad choices, self-loathing, and destruction.

No matter how many tiny pieces of shattered fragments were scattered along my life’s path, God has filled in the missing places with His healing resin, His presence and peace.

Even now, there are hurting places that don’t make sense to me. I am sure, because of the kintsugi type of work that God has done before, that it will result in something more precious, even though I cannot yet see it.

You may feel beyond repair, but you have a Great Potter, God, who says that you are surely not, and your pain will not be wasted.

If you and I submit our hearts to God, He will restore and mend our broken places. He will ensure that our suffering has a purpose and our lives will be a beautiful display.

Will you allow God to come in to those broken places? Like kintsugi, your life and story is even more beautiful and has more value when it has been restored.

Kintsugi is a process. At first, it simply looks like what it is, broken pieces glued back together. It must be refilled with resin and sanded several times before it’s ready for the gold dust to illuminate and beautify the scars.

When we allow Jesus’ presence and peace to come into our broken places, He will redeem them and our lives will gleam with the gold of His healing touch. Our pain need not be wasted.

Just ask Him to come in, and He will.

 

Christine

 

 

 

But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. Deuteronomy 4:29

Isaiah 64 says:

Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.

Read all of Isaiah 64 here

 

 

Prayers for healing and health

suffering

If you have every prayed for healing, and not received physical wholeness, you are facing a quandary.  There are many assumptions that flow from not receiving full healing. My previous post doesn’t take you through all of the assumptions, only straight to my acceptance. However, I believe that it’s important to de-bunk these wrong ideas that I assumed about my prayers not being answered the way that I wanted.

I have prayed, my family has prayed, my friends have prayed, and we have done as James 5:13-16 instructs Christians who are sick. We continue to pray for complete healing in my body, yet I’m not fully healed. We’ve prayed for many months, and I have no doubt that most of us praying actually believe that Jesus Christ performs healing miracles. We believe He raises the dead back to life, He makes the blind see, and the mute hear. So when our prayers aren’t answered with a “Yes” it caused me to feel several things:

1. I believed that I must not have enough faith.

2. I felt forsaken and unloved by God. It felt as if I was completely unheard by Him.

3. Deep down I felt that I must have done something wrong to be afflicted physically.

I can’t tell you that I don’t think of these things at all anymore, but something about the truth of hearing Isaiah 55: That God’s ways are higher than my ways, and His thoughts are not my thoughts resonated deep in my soul. This truth corrected my assumptions when I heard this Scripture related to our prayers for healing, and Pastor Brian answered the BIG QUESTION we all have when God doesn’t heal our loved ones. (See this post to link to Pastor Brian’s sermon)

I still struggle. Sometimes what I know in my head to be truth about God doesn’t match up to my feelings. But today I know, deep in my soul, that God loves me and hears my prayers, even when I’m not completely healed. He’s moved and listens to our prayers. You and I can trust His heart when we don’t understand His ways.

Thoughts

suffering, truth

Most of us have experienced things in our life that cause us pain. I have endured, survived, and thrived after pains, joys, traumas, and the normal ups and downs that are common to man.

For many years I struggled to make sense of traumas in my youth, abuses to me and to people I love. I agonized over trying to make sense and reconcile two realities that I know are true: God is love, and He was there; and there is real evil in the world and there are people who do horrible things.

I can’t tell you exactly when or how it happened, but one day I suddenly realized that I no longer was pained over these two coexisting realities. Glorious freedom and peace ensued. It’s not that I had it all figured out, but just that I made peace with the fact that I would never figure it out.

However, I am faced with the frustration of this type of thing again with physical limitations in my health. I do know that God is love. He is fully aware of my plight and cares for me. At the same time I am not fully healed. This causes me to feel as if my brain is on overdrive at times.

I know that you and I cannot make sense of evil and sickness and suffering in the world and the truth that God is real, He is present and He is all-powerful. My assignment for myself this week is to stop thinking so much and to stop trying to make sense of it all.

Does it ever feel like your brain looks like this? Mine sure does!

Does it ever feel like your brain looks like this? Mine sure does!

Instead, I will meditate on truths that are real and unchanging. God is good.

Psalm 119:68

You are good, and what you do is good; 

teach me your decrees.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart

and lean not on your own understanding;

in all your ways submit to him,

and he will make your paths straight.

 

Photo credit: charlottesiems.com

 

Pretzel brain

MS, suffering

There are times when we can be our own worst enemy. Take the past two weeks, for instance. Facing the real possibility that I may have MS has been on the forefront of my mind. In the past two weeks, there have only been a handful of days that I have been well enough to do some of my normal activities. That’s got me thinking a lot about suffering and why God allows it.  I have asked so many questions:

Is this a chastisement for a sin? Is God really enough for me? Why??? Will I ever feel better? Jesus is a Healer; will He heal me?

I’ve had plenty of time to think since rest has been mandatory, make that TOO much time to think….sometimes it felt like my mind was twisted into a pretzel!

nightbaking.blogspot.com

Honestly, I’ve been wracking my brain and studying the Bible to see how Jesus responds to the sick and suffering. I’ve read blogs and books on the topic. Friends have given their perspective. Nonetheless, I felt like I have been hitting my head against a brick wall trying to make sense of it all. It’s finally boiled down to these simple truths that I know: God is love. (1 John 4:8) He is good, and everything He does is good. (Psalm 119:68) When I don’t understand my circumstances, I can trust the heart of God to do good things in the midst of difficulty.

Here are some of the things I’m learning:

1. Humility. Self-sufficiency is being stripped daily. I am having to admit that I am weak right now. Words cannot express how much I hate that! Admitting that I am physically weak and need help is good for me; I just don’t like it. A friend recently pointed out that this is a good thing, because if we aren’t needy people, how can we recognize that we need God?

2. To accept help. I’m learning that I can only accept help from others after I have embraced humility and let go of self-sufficient pride. I’m American, so I was born with the “pull up your bootstraps and git ‘er done” mentality. Accepting help flies in the face of all that Americans hold dear. There is a balance here, because if I let myself get into a victim-type of mentality, there would be the temptation to just give up on an active life and let people do everything for me. Accepting help has been really hard for me. It’s simple things, like carpool and making dinner or cleaning the kitchen, or laundry, that are revealing the sin of self-sufficiency in my heart. I believe God’s heart is that instead of self-sufficient, we should be God-sufficient. How can we accept free gifts from God like love, salvation, or grace, if we can’t let our friend help us with carpool?

3. People love me. Wow. People love me. And they want to help.

4. Some things are beyond my ability to understand. It’s healthy to read and research a topic concerning God, asking Him for insight and clarity. However, there comes a point when we must accept the reality that our finite minds can’t comprehend the magnificent complexity of God.

franchisefool.com

Psalm 119:68 You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees.

1 John 4:8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Beautiful Things out of the dust

Music, suffering

God makes beautiful things out of the dust. God makes beautiful things from our trials of life and suffering. Or we can just suffer, and let it be wasted. I think our participation matters.

This song, Beautiful Things, by Gungor, comes across a little melancholy at first glance. A closer look (or listen) and you can sense the hope rising up in the music and lyrics. It’s my prayer through my current trial, that I will allow God to complete His work in me and make beautiful things from it.

This group, Gungor, is a married couple and their music is incredible! Here are the lyrics:

All this pain

I wonder if I’ll ever find my way

I wonder if my life could really change at all

All this earth

Could all that is lost ever be found

Could a garden come up from this ground at all

You make beautiful things

You make beautiful things out of the dust

You make beautiful things

You make beautiful things out of us

All around

Hope is springing up from this old ground

Out of chaos life is being found in You

You make beautiful things

You make beautiful things out of the dust

You make beautiful things

You make beautiful things out of us

You make me new, You are making me new

You make me new, You are making me new

You are making me new

Don’t waste your cancer! Or any trial for that matter…..

Cancer, Christianity, Jesus, suffering

In 2006, Pastor John Piper announced that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. He responded to his diagnosis with the following:

“This news has, of course, been good for me. The most dangerous thing in the world is the sin of self-reliance and the stupor of worldliness. The news of cancer has a wonderfully blasting effect on both. I thank God for that. The times with Christ in these days have been unusually sweet.”

These challenging words are an excerpt from a letter to Pastor John Piper’s church.  Click here to read Pastor Piper’s entire letter to his church announcing his trial with cancer. It will probably rock you a little bit, as it did me.

As an American Christian, most of the time I have the wrong attitude about trials. We often feel forsaken and forgotten when we have a serious illness or undergo some sort of major trial. I have definitely felt that way lately as I’ve had an ongoing health trial. Piper reminds us that this isn’t the case, and he gives some great practical applications in his 16 page booklet Don’t Waste Your Cancer. You can download the PDF form and read it for free from desiringgod.org website.

This is a great booklet if you are suffering with a chronic or terminal illness, or if a loved one of yours is afflicted with sickness. It may just give you a huge shift in the way that you view trials, especially medical ones.

True Joy

joy, perseverance, steadfastness, suffering

Joy can mean happy, but not necessarily.  Maybe for the first time, I’m beginning to see that joy is not really based on circumstances.  Sure, I’ve heard that about 100 times. Happiness is a choice; Attitude is everything, so choose a good one; blah, blah, blah. It’s just been in the past couple weeks that I am really being to understand this a little. Things can be tough, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t experience joy. So does joy mean that we put on our fake smile and try to be charming in social settings so that everyone thinks we’re happy?  Or do we say, “Oh, yes, it’s been hard, but God is good.”? If you’ve seen me during a rough patch, I’ve probably given you both responses, but I’m learning that there’s a whole lot more to joy than that.

Look at what Jesus’ brother James says about it: Count it all joy, my brothers, whenever you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. This week I was really curious about this because frankly, I was irritated. What if I don’t want steadfastness? Or trials? When my kid is hurting and family members are physically suffering, or if we are going through really hard stuff, I should count it all joy? James says emphatically, “Yes”. Okay, when I thought about James’ perspective, it makes it a little easier to swallow. He was talking to the Jewish people who were believers of Jesus Christ, scattered among non-believing people, and they were being persecuted for their faith. I know some people don’t like me and relationships can be messy, but it’s quite a different perspective to understand that James penned these words to people who were really experiencing trials beyond what my suburban mind can fathom.

So James is coming at us with this outlook: You’re scattered from your home with people who don’t understand or think like you.  Some of them want to kill you because they don’t like that. But when you are being tested or in a trial, count it all joy.  That means think about it as joy, decide to find something to rejoice about. So I’m getting the idea here from James that joy doesn’t just mean that I’m a really smiley person with a great laugh, no matter how tough life is. He might be saying, Yes, you are facing persecution and loneliness and maybe death. Decide to find joy in it. Almost forgot!  Count it all joy. Because you know that the testing of your faith develops steadfastness.  I’m going to be really honest and tell you that I haven’t given much thought to developing perseverance before.  It sounds pretty good, but I wouldn’t necessarily want it as a trade-off for really hard times.

So I think the take away for me is this: I can be really mad and discouraged in trials of various kinds. I can kick and scream and question God about if He loves me, how could he not get me out of this. I can get downcast or depressed or just complain a lot. (I’ve done all of the above) But it seems a lot more beneficial to practice this upside down idea from James.  Maybe that’s what true joy is.  Deciding to choose joy in tough circumstances. Asking God to teach me through them and develop perseverance, character, and steadfastness in me through the trial.  Otherwise it would just end up being a rough time. I’d rather it be training ground for developing qualities in me that I didn’t know I needed, but boy do I need them!

True Joy: The world didn’t give it to me and the world can’t take it away.