Category Archives: Suffering

Eyes On The Horizon

There’s a sign in my room, crafted of pallet wood and paint.  A few inches wide and an arm’s length long.  Though unassuming in design, its message carries great weight in my day-to-day.  You see, it sits atop a high ledge, this sign, positioned precisely along my line of sight whenever I’m resting in bed.  Often, its message fills my last gaze before drifting off to dreams and it’s my first sight when I rise.

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”  C.S. Lewis

The creator of Narnia and apologetic masterpieces, C.S. Lewis was a man familiar with sorrow, acquainted with grappling life circumstances against the Scriptures.  He did not shy away from hard things nor did he minimize struggles to match up to cultural norms.  A scholar at Oxford and Cambridge, Lewis was considered among the academic elite of his day.  He firmly held to atheistic views, such as those summarized by Lucretius: “Had God designed the world, it would not be a world so frail and faulty as we see.”  Yet in his pursuit of understanding the world around him, wrestling his experiences with pain and suffering against the theology of the Bible, Lewis became a “reluctant convert”, finding the God of the Scriptures ultimately irresistible.

“You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen [College, Oxford], night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929, I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”  (Excerpt from Lewis’ Surprised By Joy)

Much has been written of this remarkable man’s life, as indeed much has been scribed by his own pen.  He holds my respect, this brilliant mind who only ever believed that which he fully wrestled with until he could find it irrefutable.  His stories of a magical Wardrobe filled my childhood as his weightier works continue to challenge and inspire my adult perspectives on life and faith.  A library surely is incomplete without the full works from this extraordinary scholar.

This man, well versed in sorrows spanning world wars and personal losses of illness and death, determined that even in the face of such surmounting pains, hope towards the future could still exist.   It echoes the Psalmist’s resolution, “Surely I would have despaired had I not been convinced I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”  (Psalm 27:13)

If the Psalmist could still hold fast to hope while running for his life from the one who swore to elevate it, if Lewis could hold firmly to believing in brighter days ahead even while walking seasons tangibly dark with pain, then so can you, so can I.

A dear friend gave me his quote on a gray painted pallet board during a time of dark clouds abounding in my life, and I will always be grateful for her kindness.  May we all wake with this reassurance and each night, lie down knowing it to still be true:  indeed, “there are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”  It’s often been a timely reminder for me.  Perhaps, you need to hear it too.

Eyes on the horizon, dear ones.  Brighter days are surely still yet ahead.

Better Things Ahead

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Mountains And Molehills

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Don’t make mountains out of molehills.”  If only I had a nickel for every time I heard that phrase in childhood…

Circumstance occurs.  Perception magnifies such & such to grandiose proportions, causing verbose lament of its significance to ensue.  Exacerbated parent/teacher/adult/any-reasonably-sound-human-being within earshot gets their fill of said ranting and responds with the classic wisdom: “Don’t make mountains out of molehills.”

This propensity is not merely my own shortcoming.  It’s common to us all, old as the Garden itself.  How effortlessly we overlook obvious good through laser-focus on the often small-by-comparison lacking bits of life.  A vast expanse of Paradise with everything free for the taking except that one little caveat that would ultimately spur Eve’s downfall.  She possessed more than a mountain; she’d been made ruler over Created Earth with Adam.  Yet of all the beauty – SINLESS beauty – surrounding, her eyes flocked upon that one fruit from that one tree.  And we’ve been following her lead ever since.

Research has repeatedly shown it takes ten positive statements to compensate for one negative.  Spend an evening showered in complements and a single negative utterance drowns them all in memory.

Annie F. Downs recently made the case for “keeping the painful parts of your life small to live a full life”.  Now she’s not advocating we play Pollyanna.  After all, in the sage words of T. Swift, “band-aids don’t fix bullet holes”.  Silver linings won’t stop a severed artery from bleeding out.  No, pain demands attention.  Survival, in fact, depends upon pain for, without it, we would befall harm quickly and at great cost.  Pain provides necessary parameters for living when it comes to safety as those affected by CIPA (aka the genetic inability to feel pain) will tell you.  Though you may not feel the heat of the flame, you still bear its resulting burns and at far greater extent than if you had felt the singe instantaneously.

Pain has purpose.

THAT SAID – it plays a part but NOT the whole.  A life’s summation must be more than its collective suffering.  There must be cause for celebration somewhere.  While creation remains under a curse, STILL it cries out in worship declaring the glory of God.  If desert sands and parched ground, if ashen hillsides and flooded banks can sound forth praise, then certainly so can I in the middle of hard things.  Even the psalmist sang, “I would have lost hope had I not believed I would see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living.”

God Himself declared to Moses, a man He spoke to as a friend, “See today I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing.  Choose life that you may live, you and your children.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)   Both exist in our reality: life AND death, blessing AND cursing, good AND bad, dark AND light.  Just as God instructed Moses, so He gives to us: CHOICE.  Choose life that you may live.  Neither are exclusive descriptors of existence.  Where there is life, death also dwells.  ‘Tis the way of all fallen flesh.  But where there is death, life’s remnant can also be found.  Decay renders soil more fertile.  Ash alkalizes acidity.  It’s central to nature, both the law of entropy AND the reality that life will out.

Does this mean Annie’s statement of keeping pain small is unfounded?  Not at all.  Pain is and always will be present while this fallen earth remains.  Pain because of a curse, a curse resulting from a choice, a choice that existed SO THAT LOVE COULD BE POSSIBLE.  Love without choice is not love at all and that comes with great risk, at great cost.

Pain is real.  It demands attention.

But not all of it.  Even darkest nights reveal the shining through of stars.

We magnify what matters.  We measure by what we make much of.   Query the Psalms, ancient accounts of suffering and song.  They face pain head-on, crying out for justice, for mercy.  They do not deny life’s sorrows but rather take its full weight before the listening ear of God.  Even the most heart-wrenching psalms bear an element of praise, a remnant of hope.  Where pain is great, praise is made greater.  Where trials rage, thanksgiving rings through and true.  The determinant is choice.

With both options ever before mankind of life and death, what realm will we choose to dwell in?  Think of your own story.  Do you measure it in increments of suffering or joy, of failure or accomplishment, and by what lens do you define the two?  When you share your experiences, do you belabor the woes or delight in even mundane moments with gratitude?  As you look over your life thus far, what draws your attention, your affection, your energy?

Let’s labor together to take one step towards triumph, towards celebrating even the smallest of wins and not letting pain hold the final verdict on our life.  When all seems ashes, take heart.  May we be people who face pain headlong with tenacious thanksgiving on our tongue.  May we be known more for what we celebrate than the wounds we lament.  It takes courage to choose gratitude in what seems a graveyard; it feels an awful risk.  But it is one worth taking.  In the context of mountains and molehills, we determine which elements of life hold sway over our hearts.  May looming structures in our lives be marked by grace and gratitude, by praise resolute with hope, rather than majoring in the minors and magnifying pain over joy.

We all endure the rain.  Floods may rise and fall.  But if its hope you’re looking for, Charlie Chaplain said it best: “You’ll never find a rainbow if you’re looking down.”

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Heard

It’s been quite a year, this 2015.

A hard one.

Hardest that’s come in my 33 years.

Funny looking back on seasons once deemed difficult, now paling by comparison.  Perhaps that’s an encouragement though – those valleys deep seeming shallow in rear view, after their hidden lessons were learned and the Author’s crafting, carrying, through it all made evident.  Perhaps those rifts felt foreboding then as these canyon-sized cracks do now.  Perhaps it’s just reflection’s rose-colored glasses.

Nevertheless.

It’s been a year of dark storms and brilliant silver linings, a year of fears actualized and unknown strength rising.  But let’s be honest – even that “strength” is simply weakness brought center stage, leading to greater dependence on the only One mighty.  If in weakness one is strong, then I’m Miss Olympia.

When walking sorrow’s road, there comes a point when our mortal core cannot carry gratitude’s banner any further, when the silver linings don’t make up for the massive clouds within, when you’re simply, honestly NOT OK and too weary to convince yourself otherwise.  ‘Tis the way of all fallen flesh.  Whether abandonment of provision, people, or plans, human hope only goes so far.

We cannot save ourselves.

Another exhausted day gave way to sleepless night.  As the last of my frayed rope’s end gave way, the guttural cries stored deep from this awful year came pouring out, silent cries giving way to sobs.  My life’s foundational belief in Yahweh, the One True God, the Ever-Faithful, Ever-Listening, Ever-Sovereign, Perfect Author of life itself, met its crux.  All the silver-linings and gratitude-fueled-hope could not sustain the weight crushing within.  God, I “know” You hear me but I NEED to know You’re with me, FOR me, RIGHT NOW in this make it or I’ll break moment.  Would my Cornerstone prove sure?

It all poured out with torrential force.  Anger.  Sorrow.  Fear.  Every awful emotion birthed from loss.  Nothing polished.  Raw.  Laid out ugly before Holiness in the dark of night.

Here, He showed Himself near.

A middle-of-the-night message sent from a friend woken, prompted to pray for me, for my precious children.  Slowly I heard His whispers.  I’m here.

Whispered nudges to a spent soul, Open your Bible app.  A book of 66 books.  Out of all of that, where do I even start?!  Just open it.

Psalm 116

I love the Lord because He has heard my appeal for mercy.  Because He has turned His ear to me, I will call out to Him as long as I live.  The ropes of death were wrapped around me, and the torments of Sheol overcame me; I encountered trouble and sorrow.  Then I called on the name of Yahweh: “Yahweh, save me!”  

The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is compassionate.  The Lord guards the inexperienced; I was helpless, and He saved me.  Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.  For You, Lord, rescued me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.  I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.  I believed, even when I said, “I am severely afflicted.”  In my alarm I said, “Everyone is a liar.”  

How can I repay the Lord for all the good He has done for me?  I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of Yahweh.  I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people.  The death of His faithful ones is valuable in the Lord’s sight.  Lord, I am indeed Your servant; I am Your servant, the son of Your female servant.  You have loosened my bonds.  I will offer You a sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of Yahweh.  I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the Lord’s house—within you, Jerusalem.  Hallelujah!  

He heard me.

I read the psalm over and again, awed how the phrases contained spoke directly to my cries.  It had just turned midnight.  I opened the app again.  A new day’s passage appeared.

I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace.  You will have suffering in this world.  Be courageous!  I have conquered the world.  John 16:33

Comfort like rolling tides swept over as the One who holds all things together held me together by His Word, living and active.  Colossians.  SheReadsTruth.com was studying the book currently.  Colossians.  Well since it’s after midnight maybe the next day’s post will be up.  Opening it read:

So if you have been raised with the Messiah, see what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on what is above, not what is on the earth.  Colossians 3:1-2

Peace like lightening broke through my dark.  He heard me.  God was speaking to me – broken, battered, ugly-raw me, saving me from what I couldn’t save myself.  And His Words spoke Grace.  Grace greater than sin, ALL sin, mine, those against me and against those I love.  Grace, My child.

And with it – Hope.

It’s now another day into this year, this year that can’t fade to memory soon enough.  Perhaps one day those rose-colored glasses will find similar reflections on the valley of now.  Much terrain remains to be traveled as my surrounding circumstances haven’t changed.  But Ann Voskamp summed it best, “Every person needs hope planted at the bottom of their hole.  Because this is the thing.  Hope is what holds a breaking heart together.  Hope in a Big God is what frees us from big fears.  Hope is a thing with keys…”

At the blackest bottom of my hole, God gently placed mine.  Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.  Beneath storm clouds still raging, He renewed truth’s song in me.

Great is His faithfulness.

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When It All Falls Down

What to do when your world needs fixing…

When everything teeters on the brink of crumbling, how do you cope?

You cry out to God, pray earnestly for His strong arm to mend the broken, to rescue before collapse. You search Scriptures, search your heart, search earnestly for something, anything, for remedy.

But what do you do when after all this – the tears, the prayers, the repentance – it all falls anyways. Prayers for repair seemingly return with rubble.

I’ve pondered this much of late: how to reconcile cries for fixing when the answer comes back in further breaking.

Was the Lord averse to my cries? Had my pleas fallen on calloused ears?

While emotions raged and circumstances spun, I sensed His gentle Spirit whisper truth to my weary soul:

I am not a handyman.

Patch this. Mend that. Indeed my prayers for fixing desired repair work on existing structures, keeping the status quo minus the cracks. “Here’s MY plan for fixing, Lord. Be a good handyman and get the job done.”

Oh the love of our patient God. As I wrestled with this new realization of my heart’s desires, He whispered again transforming truth.

You are clay and I, the Potter.

The Potter. Master craftsman. Clay always transforms into its destined design within the molding palm of His hands. Should cracks develop or walls weaken, He does not simply patch nor mend. The Potter presses the entire piece to the ground, flattening to scratch and building again from the bottom up. For the vessel to hold true, it must be made new. For the fractured, fixing requires breaking.

With this newfound perspective, I realized my cries for fixing had in fact been answered! Not by mere patchwork that would eventually give way to greater rupture but by the loving leveling of the Master Potter’s Hands. Not out of distain or frustration but clear vision of the full potential trapped within the my clay, potential that could only be realized by His molding touch.

He allowed all to fall so it could be built up in Him, strong and sure.

Take heart, weary one. You are not forsaken. When it all falls down, rest your battered bones in the palm of your Potter. His desire exceeds mere repair of fractured places. Know you are ever in His sight as the apple of His eye. He has a masterpiece in mind!

Therein lies the beauty of being broken.

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When The World Goes Mad

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Chaos.  Confusion.  Crisis.
War.  Violence.  Hatred.
Disease.  Death.  Despair.

It seems the world’s gone mad.  Suffocatingly mad.

Mad to an astronomical degree.

Lately I cannot even glimpse the news without overwhelming dread.  Here. Abroad.  The downward spiral seems spinning faster with each passing day.

And the questions.  Oh the questions!  “Why?!”

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.  Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”?  It has been already in the ages before us. (‭Ecclesiastes‬ ‭1‬:‭9-10‬ ESV)

Evil runs rampant but this is not the first time.  Egypt.  Rome.  Slavery.  The Crusades.  World Wars.  The Holocaust.  Genocide upon genocide.  Human Trafficking.  Fallen people committing unspeakable crimes in the name of their proclaimed “truth”.

As it is written: “There is none righteous, not even one; (‭Romans‬ ‭3‬:‭10‬ NASB)

From the Garden of Eden, sin’s chocking grip has bound this earth tight.  Evil has been.  Evil continues to be.  But praise be to God – evil will not last forever!

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.  Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (‭Romans‬ ‭8‬:‭18-26‬ ESV)

God remains faithful.  He remains sovereign and just upon His Throne.  His lovingkindness endures forever.

He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces, and He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; for the LORD has spoken.  And it will be said in that day, “Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us.  This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.” (‭Isaiah‬ ‭25‬:‭8-9‬ NASB)

Do I understand why He allows such pain to continue?  No.

Am I unscathed by the evil rampant on our planet?  Not at all.

Do I still have hope?  Always.

Why?

Because I believe in the living God whose ways are higher than mine, whose thoughts exceed my own. (Isaiah 55:8-9)  Because the devil’s days are numbered and soon coming to an eternal end! (Rev. 20:10)  Because Jesus has the ultimate, the complete, the all-encompassing, the final Victory!  (Genesis 3:15; Acts 2:24; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28)

Grieve the cost of sin.  Cry out to God on behalf of the broken, the beheaded, the battle-worn and buried.  Rejoice in the life, death, and RESURRECTION of Jesus Christ!  Know that HE HEARS EVERY PRAYER! HE LOVES YOU! HE WILL HAVE THE FINAL SAY!

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.  But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. (‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭15‬:‭51-58‬ NASB)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”  And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”  And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”  Then He said to me, “It is done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.  He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. (‭Revelation‬ ‭21‬:‭1-7‬ NASB)

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