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.

Living Dangerously

Jesus, Uncategorized

I love adventure, but I don’t like to be in danger. Sometimes I can be a scaredy-cat. A few years ago our family was watching the action-adventure movie Salt, with Angelina Jolie.

I’ve never been a big fan, because I’ve only seen one of her movies. But this movie had me enthralled from the very beginning.

It begins with a beautiful CIA agent, Jolie, who is being tortured in a North Korean prison on suspicion of being an American spy. She is released, and a beaten Jolie gets in the car where her boyfriend is waiting, understandably shaken.

He tenderly kisses her, looks at her with deep love, and she tells him, “You can’t be with me. It’s too dangerous; I’m not safe. It’s not safe for you to be with me.” He replies,

“I don’t want to be safe, I want to be with you.”

At this line, I gasped out loud.

My husband thought I gasped because I had the hots for Jolie’s onscreen boyfriend, or because I thought it was so romantic. No. I was struck and audibly sucked in my breath because this is so profound.

What if we answered that way every time God called us out of our comfort zone? I don’t want to be safe, I want to be with YOU.

Let that sink in. I don’t want to be safe, I want to be with YOU. Let that be my answer every time. And may it be yours. Do you believe that God can speak through a movie?

He spoke through the mouth of a donkey. Do you and I want to be safe, or do we want to be with Jesus?

Finding what you’re looking for

Christianity

We sat at the kitchen table sipping coffee and eating breakfast. Our daughter has been homeschooled through junior high, and our visiting friends were talking to her about starting 9th grade this fall at our public high school.

Our friend, Mark, told us the story of when he was in college. He said that his college was ranked the number three party school in the U.S. by Playboy magazine. He continued on, explaining that one night at this very school, he had a life-changing experience: He went to an outing with a friend and came to know Jesus Christ. He learned that he was in need of a Savior, and Mark has never been the same since. He later married Pam, had children, and has served as a missionary Bible translator in Nigeria for about two decades.

Mark explained to our daughter, “You will find whatever you are looking for as you enter public school. I was at a school with a nationwide reputation for partying, and I found Jesus. If you’re looking for Him and like-minded people who love Him, you’ll find it. If you’re looking for the party scene, you’ll find it. Decide ahead of time what you will look for.”

Great words of wisdom for all of us. What are you looking for?

Something’s not right here…

religion

It started at Christmas-time. One of our pastors emailed a plan to youth leaders, challenging us to read the entire New Testament of the Bible for the month of December. I thought, “That’s a nice idea, we can read about Jesus and try not to get sucked in to the normal American commercialism of Christmas.” I had a lot more than that coming!

As I read through the Gospels, I was reminded from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John that Jesus doesn’t want me to live the way I’m living. It’s not okay to go throughout my day like I have been: Wake up early and have a “quiet time” reading through Scripture and praying, live a normal, cushy, suburban life of excess, then end the day with a family Bible reading time and prayer, go to bed, repeat. Kind of living my life, plus a little Jesus tacked on.

Last night I saw myself with startling clarity as I looked at the tabs I had open on my computer: several blogs of missionaries we know, alongside a lighthearted online place that has recipes, decorating ideas, crafts, and more. I suddenly saw that these tabs represented my heart. Don’t get me wrong, surfing for recipes and decorating is really fun, and I don’t have a moral objection to it. But it stirred me to ask myself: How is it that I can cry as I read and be challenged by missionaries sacrificing all their comforts, by believers around the world risking their very lives to follow Jesus, meanwhile the tab next to those indulges my materialism and want for more stuff so I can impress people? What I saw is that I have a heart that is very drawn to material things and temporary pleasures of this world, while it is also drawn to Jesus.

Jesus requires so much more than I have been giving from anyone who would follow Him. I was blown away to be reminded again that Jesus wants this from me:

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. (Kind of radical. Not the life I have been living.)

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Again, I asked myself, why isn’t this me? Why does it seem that I have been grasping at comfort and safety for dear life?)

The tension that I’m feeling is trying to reconcile the life that I’m currently living with the life that Jesus is clearly calling all of His followers to. Eight years ago, our family felt the certain instruction from God to leave our home, sell everything, and move to Africa as missionaries. This was the most difficult and most wonderful thing I’ve done as a Christian. My white-knuckle death grip onto the stuff that I had accumulated through the years was in direct opposition to my joy and desire to let go of everything and follow God to a land and culture I knew nothing about.

After coming back to the States five years ago, I can’t help but wonder how I have slowly begun to feel more at home. It kind of scares me that I have gotten so comfortable and so okay with living the American dream. The dream that is completely out of line with Jesus’ instruction to anyone who would follow Him. It is a struggle, but I am glad to be feeling the struggle and tension, to feel my heart being tugged by the One who denied Himself, giving everything He had, so that I could live.