Category: hope & grieving

A Promise When You’re Tired of Waiting  1

 

I was just a kid, sitting in church with my little flowered dress and tights. My bangs were feathered and I probably rounded it out with a pair of stick-on earrings.  The choir sang a song about “God working everything out and making it good” based on Romans 8:28 and I remember breathing a huge sigh of relief.  It was a promise I knew I could cling to— my life was going to be great.  Because I loved Jesus, I was guaranteed a carefree life.

 

“That’s why we can be so sure that

every detail of our lives of love for God

is worked into something good.”

-Romans 8:28

 

It’s obvious from the “that’s why” at the start of the verse that it was never meant to stand alone, but I blissfully missed that part.  I also failed to look around me… the friend on my left whose parents were divorced and the friend on my right who had recently found her dad dead when she walked in the house one day after school.  Nevertheless, I was confident in the verse, like a protective bubble surrounding me that I would be blessed and happy.

 

Therefore, you can understand why I became quickly confused as the years went by and things happened. Loss.  Confusion. Rejection. I managed to sweep it all under the rug until the day I held my baby for the last time.  My questions about God all rose to the surface, like an exploding pressure cooker.  No longer did I have the luxury of believing that life would easily work out for my good.  How exactly would I reconcile my false beliefs?

 

Even if you’ve never stepped foot in a church, the name Moses probably rings a bell.  He’s the one who led the Israelites out of slavery from the Egyptians, leading them through the desert for forty years.  They were going to the Promised Land in a roundabout way… years of hardened hearts and disappointing decisions made the journey much longer.  Through it all, Moses led them, often feeling overwhelmed and unqualified.  Toward the end of the forty years of wandering, in the Desert of Zin, the accumulation of anger, exasperation and frustration came to a climax and Moses, acting in a lack of trust, disobeyed God.  As a result, Moses only saw the promised land from a distance.  He died before the Israelites actually entered it.

 

It sure doesn’t seem like God worked out that detail of Moses’ life for a greater good, does it?  I’ve always felt a deep sense of disappointment in the ending of Moses’ life, his old, feeble eyes sweeping the landscape, knowing that he would never set foot in the place he had longed for the past forty years. If only things had been different.

 

Fast forward hundreds of years when Jesus was walking the Earth.  The disciples were just beginning to realize that Jesus was the Messiah and Jesus was beginning to reveal to them the suffering He would have to endure.   “Jesus took Peter and the brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain.  His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes.  Sunlight poured from his face.  His clothes were filled with light. Then they realized that Moses and Elijah were also there in deep conversation with him.” (Matthew 17:3)

 

The fancy, theological term to what happened is Transfiguration, meaning Jesus’ appearance changed. It’s a mysterious, amazing story, but today it’s not where I’m focused.  Because did you see it?  Moses was there!  On a mountain in the middle of the Promised Land.  He may have died without touching the soil, but the first time he sets foot in it not only is he is with Jesus but also in deep conversation with Elijah!  Never in a million years could he have imagined it.  God— not cornered by the constraints of time or a finite understanding of life—  knew that Moses would most definitely stand there with Jesus many years later. A lifetime of feeling unqualified and  reliant upon God, a lack of trust that God would provide… and still, God untangled the messiness and redeemed Moses’ life hundreds of years later.

 

My lack of understanding of a guaranteed easy life could have been remedied if I would have zoomed out a bit from Romans 8:28. There’s a deeper and wider meaning:

“Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting,

God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along,” Paul writes.

“If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter.  

He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.  

He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition,

and keeps us present before God.  

That’s why we can be so sure that every detail of our lives of love for God is worked into something good.  God knew what He was doing from the very beginning.  

He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love Him

along the same lines as the life of His Son (Jesus).  

The Son stands first in the line of humanity He restored.  

We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in Him.  

After God made that decision of what His children should be like,

He followed it up by calling people by name.  

After He called them by name, He set them on a solid basis with Himself.  

And then, after getting them established, He stayed with them to the end,

gloriously completing what He had begun.”

Romans 8:26-30

 

And there it is, “God knew what he was doing from the very beginning…”

 

He knew what He was doing in Moses’ life… and He knows what He’s doing in your life.  Those things you’re waiting for?  The circumstances in your life that don’t seem to lead to anything but failure and sorrow?  Every detail will be worked into something good.  Maybe you’ll see it in a few minutes or days.  Maybe in a few years or at the end of your life.  Or maybe it will be redeemed generations from now, after you’ve left this earth.  Our finite minds can’t even conceive of how God shapes our lives and how He will work out each little detail.  We don’t have to work it out… we simply need to believe it and watch it happen.

 

So may you, with eyes of hope, still believe that God is working out the details of your life into something good. Trust Him to do what He says He will do.

 

 

Hello.
I’m Sarah and I write about the hope & joy that can come even in the midst of deep grief and sorrow.  It’s a privilege to have you along for the journey.  Would you like to receive encouragement from me to your inbox?  Click here to join me.

 

 

{I read through a lot of Scripture as I wrote this post.  If you would like more  references, contact me by using the form at the top of the page.  Also, thanks to Lisa Harper, who mentioned this concept in her recent interview with Annie F. Downs, and got my brain rolling!}

There’s Still Beauty in the Hardest Moments  0

 

 

 

I half-heartedly started to write a Mother’s Day post last week.  I copied this post from last year and started to edit it, but my heart just wasn’t in it.  I kept pushing it to the bottom of the long to-do list until it was too late.  And that’s okay.  I’ve had several years of difficult Mother’s Days, but this year I was feeling pretty strong.  I still felt empathetic toward the many women who were dreading a day that made their hearts empty, but for once, I was fine.

 

But Sunday came and it was a really tough day for me.  I was shocked.  There were any number of things that made it hard— our morning was extra busy, my kids were bickering like it was their job (Is it?  I sometimes wonder.)  When I hopped on Facebook for a minute, the faces of happy moms hugging their kids kids twisted up my insides, so I decided to stay off for the rest of the day.  I feel horrible even admitting it, because my Facebook feed is full of people I love, families I cheer on.  But the reminders of whole families can be hard.  So sometimes I take a little break.

 

We drove a few hours after church to meet my parents and we had a great time together.  The kids bounced between being their normal, goofy selves, making us laugh and overflow with thankfulness… and then testing the limits, scowling, and going well beyond the boundaries.  My patience was thin and I was struggling, but it was also a really great day with my family.

 

It wasn’t until today— A full three days after Mother’s Day that the dam finally broke.  I was listening to the last few minutes of Christy Nockel’s podcast with Kay Warren.  At the end, as she was talking about her son who died tragically just a few years ago, she said this:

 

“I would give anything if my three children were here.  I’m glad he’s in heaven— of course I’m glad!— but I wanted to live my whole life with him.”

My tears came fast and hard, taking me by surprise.  It was just a small statement cushioned between other things, but I’ve learned to pay attention to my tears and things that touch my soul so deeply. Yes, a million times over, I would do anything to have all four of my children here, together.

 

There are often days I am glad Annie is with Jesus.  In a world filled to the brim with danger and uncertainty, with horrible evil and malice, I am thankful she will never experience the brutal world my other kids are learning more about each day.  I’m deeply thankful when I think that all she ever knew was love— first from us, then straight into Jesus’ arms.  What more could I desire for her?!

 

But when she grew inside of me, when I held her for the first time, when I changed her diaper, tickled her tummy, nuzzled her close to me…  I expected her to live the rest of my days with her by my side.  I wanted to live my whole life with her.  The brokenness of our family is still so very hard for me.

 

Kay went on to say (and I’m loosely quoting since it was a podcast), “Life doesn’t look the way you thought it was going to look.  Things are broken, things aren’t right.  There are things I’d change in a heartbeat because it’s just too painful.  And we don’t know what tomorrow will even look like.  Tomorrow we may find that it’s even worse. But we must take each moment and say, ‘I am going to love this moment.’ That’s what allows us to still find beauty and joy in this life.”

 

Figuring out how to love the moments — from the beautiful, glorious ones to the hard, grief-filled ones and everything in-between… that’s the great mystery, isn’t it?  So much of life is found in that very in-between.  When I step back to search, I find that God is in all of the moments and it’s possible to still find beauty when I’m brokenhearted and downtrodden.  Even on the hardest days, I can still believe that life is good and God is good.  Life isn’t tied up in a neat little package.. and that’s okay.  It takes a lifetime of practice to lean hard into Jesus, to allow Him to teach me to find the beauty on the days when if feels impossible.

 

That’s what I’m preaching to myself today, as I recover from a very hard Mother’s Day.  Just because it was difficult doesn’t mean it wasn’t beautiful.

 

Perhaps, sweet friend, you need to hear that, too? Grief takes work, hard work.  Some days will be easier than others, because you didn’t expect life to look like this.  But you still have a beautiful life to be lived. The good, the bad, the in-between moments are all worth loving.

 

I’m praying the words of Paul in Ephesians 3 for you today…  May you be strengthened by the Spirit today— not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength— that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite Him in.  And I ask Him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love.  May you reach out and experience the breadth of it.  Test its length!  Plumb the depths!  Raise to the heights! No matter what your circumstances, you can live full lives, full in the fullness of God.  God can do anything, you know— far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!  He doesn’t push you around, He works within you, His Spirit deeply and gently within.

 

 

Hello.
I’m Sarah and I write about the hope & joy that can come even in the midst of deep grief and sorrow.  I’d love to have you join me. 

 

Hope is a Choice: The Story of a Haitian Prostitute  2

I never expected to find myself in Haiti, let alone at a table full of prostitutes.  But in a strange twist of events, on my fourth trip in just three years, there I was.  The stories from that week have made such a profound mark on my soul that it has taken me nearly a year to process them, the words just now leaking out onto the screen as I type.

 

I was simply invited along for this journey, and I can take no credit for the planning or execution of the plan or the hours of work that have gone into it.  I can only tell the story, my eyes brimming with tears.

 

We sat around the table with a simple invitation that would change everything.   “What are your dreams?” we asked.  The look of confusion in their eyes broke my heart.  Dreams quickly die in their line of work.  But we persisted and they began to open up.  Finally, we asked them, “Would you like to become Beadmakers?  If you could learn to make beads and be paid reliably, at a fair price, would you leave the brothel?”

 

It took a few tries until the question sunk in, but a faint glimmer of hope began to show in their eyes.

 

Rose-Merline (Of course this isn’t her real name) was there on the first day of training.  She spoke a bit of English, and was so proud to listen to our words, understanding before the translator repeated them in Creole.  She was excited and she moved quickly.

 

A little too quickly.

 

That first day, we meticulously taught them how to make beads.
How to cut.
How to measure.
How to glue.
How to roll.

 

Rose-Merline tried so hard.  But her beads came out wonky.  She rolled them too loose and there were gaps.  There weren’t fat in the middle and skinny on the ends.  She forgot to wait until the glue dried, so they all stuck together.

 

The other ladies started to laugh at her.  They had caught on quickly and she lagged behind.  I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but from the look on her face, I knew it wasn’t kind.

 

After a few hours, we handed each lady a bag of supplies and instructed them to continue to make beads at the Brothel, bringing them back to us in the morning.

 

But Rose-Merline refused the bag.  In her broken English, she told us her beads weren’t good enough and she wouldn’t be returning for the training.  She looked at us sadly and walked away.

 

There’s a bit of Rose-Merline in all of us.  Her language, her upbringing and profession may be vastly different, but we all know the sting of rejection.  We enter a place where we long desperately to belong, to prove that there’s a place at the table for us.  And when it becomes apparent that we’ve read the situation wrong, or we’re obviously not welcome, the shame burns on our cheeks and in our souls.

 

So.  I’m going to break a writing rule.  I’m going to tell you the ending of the story.  It just doesn’t seem right to string you along.  My story doesn’t have a happy ending.  It doesn’t wrap up into a neat little package.  Rose-Merline didn’t return to the training and she didn’t become a Beadmaker.

 

Soon after our conversation and after the ladies left for the day, our team felt unrest in our souls.  Rose-Merline’s words were weighing on our hearts.  We called a driver and we asked him to take us to the Brothel.  We packed a bag of supplies and we drove to the crude building where she lives and works.  Immediately, people from the streets surrounded our truck, wondering what the Americans were doing.  We peered inside the gate and we could see the ladies already making beads.  We found Rose-Merline and we surrounded her.  We spoke words of affirmation to her, saying we believed in her, that if she continued to practice making beads, she would get better.  We encouraged her to return to the training, to become a Beadmaker.

 

Her eyes lit up and she hugged us.  She just needed someone to believe in her.  If only for a moment in her life, we wanted her to know she was worth more than the few dollars she made each day.  Perhaps she had never been told that?  Perhaps no one had ever taken the time to hand her hope?  I’ll never know.  We pulled away, waving from the back of our truck, watching her wide smile.

 

She didn’t return. But you already know that.

 

I’ve wrestled with this story for months now, because I so desperately want the ending to be different.  And I’ve realized living in the grips of bondage for so long, with overwhelming obstacles, makes it desperately hard to believe there are any other options. Rose-Merline couldn’t hear the invitation over the noise of the lies.  Years and layers of decay and shame in your soul can do that.

 

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.  

Psalm 34:18

 

But you?  Today?  I can give you these words.  You are worth more than the rejection and shame you feel.  Though you believe you’re fragile and unloved, the Holy Spirit draws near.  Though your heart is shattered, though the layers are deep, He doesn’t pull back.  He pulls you close.

 

There is a place at the table for you.

 

P.S.  Need a reminder of hope?  You can buy your own necklace made by our former brothel ladies!  I can’t even type that sentence without crying.  God is so good.  

 

Hello.
I’m Sarah and I write about the hope & joy that can come even in the midst of deep grief and sorrow.  I’d love to have you join me.

The Bible is full of verses that speak to our deepest hurts.  I’ve chosen a few of my favorites for you to post around your home. You can get them here.

Holy Week: Nourishment for Your Soul  0

 

There’s a card in my recipe box from a decade ago when the kids were toddlers.  At the top, in big letters, it says “Meals the Kids Will Eat.” It includes spaghetti, grilled hamburgers and chicken & noodles (with peas).  I remember meals being exhausting and frustrating as we tried to coax each kid to eat a few more bites.  I can’t say that things have changed much over the years…. they still gobble up homemade pizza but choke down vegetable soup.  Only half of them will eat broccoli and the other half of them hate potatoes (Also, to further illustrate my point, I feel like you should know I have three kids).

 

“In the past few years, I’ve made a point to pay more careful attention to the answer when I ask my kids ‘What do you want for dinner?’ says Jenny Rosenstrach in her cookbook How to Celebrate Everything. “What I’m really asking is: ‘What foods will someday have the power to transport you back to your childhood?’”

 

I remember Sunday dinners.  Somehow my mom found a way to get dinner in the oven before we left for the early service.  We’d walk into the house after church, the smell of roasted chicken and potatoes hitting us at the door.  To this day, mom always makes me the same apple spice cake with cream cheese frosting for my birthday. Cinnamon rolls at Christmas.  Hot chicken salad.  Grilled cheese with homemade bread.  Sugary cereal on vacation. (She would like me to tell you that she made us plenty of vegetables and healthy foods… but I can’t seem to remember those).  Even as an adult, when I go home, I want the meals that take me back to another time.

 

Our souls long for those familiar rhythms of childhood dinners, don’t they?  For many of us, those times were simpler, the memories bring us comfort and peace.  When everything seems to be a rushing, swirling mess all around us, wouldn’t it just be nice to have Mom hand us a big bowl of homemade chili?

 

Just before He was arrested, Jesus sent two of His disciples to make preparations to celebrate the Passover meal.  It was a familiar meal to them; one they had all grown up celebrating with the same foods and the same rituals.  I can’t help but wonder what Jesus felt as He sat with His closest friends.

 

What a pivotal night— a significant in-betweeness—  He must’ve felt, torn between the memories of the past and the expectation of what would quickly come.  I wonder what memories of His childhood years flooded back to Him…  His mother, Mary, bent over making the unleavened bread, the bitter herbs, the lamb?  His Father, Joseph, leading his family through the history of the meal, recounting how their ancestors had fled Egypt, no longer slaves?

 

As they sat down for what we would know as The Last Supper, Jesus looked at His disciples and said, “You’ve no idea how much I have looked forward to eating this Passover meal with you before I enter my time of suffering. It’s the last one I’ll eat until we all eat it together in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:14-16 MSG).  Jesus, who knew all that would transpire over the next few days, took the time to be intentional, to build into His disciples one last time.  He took what was familiar and He brought new meaning to it— a New Covenant.  A new way to live.

 

Don’t you wonder how the disciples looked back on their final Passover with Jesus?  Before everything changed…  before Judas betrayed Jesus, before Peter would deny Christ, before Jesus was arrested and crucified. The Last Supper was the peace before the storm.   Familiar rituals and familiar foods ushered in the most turbulent, life altering events of their lives. Jesus nourished their souls as He prepared to die.

 

“Open your mouth and taste,

open your eyes and see how good God is.

Blessed are you who run to Him.”  

(Psalm 34:8 The Message) 

 

Today, under my Bible and notebook as I write, there’s a grocery list and a meal plan.  We’ll celebrate the Seder meal on Thursday, on Sunday family will gather for a traditional Easter meal.  I’m struck with the enormity of Jesus’ last meal and the power of rituals.  I’m struck with the power our childhood meals have to evoke emotion and comfort.  And I’m struck with the simplicity of the meal He shared and the meals my kids ask for.  Nothing fancy, gourmet or time consuming.

 

I find myself falling in love with Jesus even more, as I think of His last meal and the way He loved, even when the cost was so high.

 

So I’m curious about you.  What meals do you remember growing up?  What are your soul foods? What meals evoke strong memories to you, so that no matter where you are, you feel like you are home?  And what does it mean to you that Jesus was excited to share His Last Supper with His disciples, while looking forward to His next meal— One that will include us—  when He returns?

 

It’s impossible for me to know your details.  I’m well aware that your childhood memories of food may be a painful subject.   I also realize you may not be familiar with this story of Jesus and His disciples.  So today, no matter what, may you know that you are deeply loved by a God who is waiting for you to run to Him, no matter the cost, no matter the circumstances.

 

It’s Easter.  Let’s celebrate Jesus, who nourishes our souls.

 

[Want to read the Easter story?  It’s found four times in the Bible, written from the perspective of four different writers.  The details of each story are a bit different, but the basic outline is the same.  Find it in Matthew 26:17-28:13, Mark 14:12-16:20, Luke 22:7-24:49 and John 13:1-20:31.  Bible Gateway is a great way to read the Bible online if you’d rather read electronically.]

 

Hello.
I’m Sarah and I write about the hope & joy that can come even in the midst of deep grief and sorrow.  I’d love to have you join me.

The Bible is full of verses that speak to our deepest hurts.  I’ve chosen a few of my favorites for you to post around your home. You can get them here.

Hope When God Seems Silent  6

 

A yellow dog showed up at our house the day of our son’s third birthday.  I remember him gleefully looking up at us as he hugged the dog, “You got me a dog for my birthday!?” he exclaimed, pushing all his other gifts aside.

 

We stared at him blankly.  We had no idea where the dog had come from.    He just happened to have great timing by showing up to a party he hadn’t been invited to.  We broke the news to William gently, telling him the dog could stay, but only until we found out where he belonged.  We crushed his heart, but what in the world!?  What kind of dog just shows up on a birthday?

 

Our searches left us empty handed and eventually we realized the dog was here to stay.  We named him Hank and he stole our hearts.

 

A few years later, we found ourselves in a place of deep grief after we buried our third child.  William had just turned five; Kate was almost three.  Unable to process what had happened so suddenly, we decided to take some time away as a family.  We took Hank to ‘Camp Kennel’ a few towns over and drove away.

 

The moment we pulled into the driveway three weeks later, we sensed something strange had happened.  On the floor was a new dog bed and other obvious signs that a dog had been living in our home.  A note was taped to the door, “I’m out on a walk.  Love, Hank”.  We looked at one another in confusion.  We had picked up Hank from the kennel on our way into town, just a few minutes prior.  He was currently running through the yard at breakneck speed, revisiting his favorite spots.

 

That’s when our neighbor came walking up, with a yellow dog on a leash that looked just like Hank.  Only it wasn’t Hank.  It just really, really looked like Hank.  Somehow, as our community had scrambled to surround us, she had gotten the message that she could help by taking care of our dog, which she had done so faithfully for the time we’d be gone.  As it turns out, a different yellow dog just happened to run away at the same time and when she saw him in our yard, she assumed it was our Hank.

 

And just because this story couldn’t get any more confusing, when we checked his collar to see where he belonged, we found not only a phone number, but a name.  Hank.  The Hank-imposter was also named Hank.  I know.

 

When Hank-but-not-our-Hank’s owner came to get her dog later that day, she innocently said to me, “Oh! We had lost hope that he was going to return!  My kids have been taking it so hard.”

 

That’s all it took for my fragile world to start spinning.  I looked at William and Kate playing in the backyard.  I had just mustered the courage to go back into the house, with the empty crib and the endless reminders of the daughter we had buried.  How could I be happy for her kids, rejoicing over a lost dog, when my own kids had lost their sister? My heart was crushed.

 

I wonder if you’ve ever been confused by the way God is working in your life.  When the plans you have come to a rushing and disappointing halt, in spite of the prayers you’ve prayed.  What are we supposed to do when we’ve taken all the right steps and done all the right things, and yet, somehow, we find ourselves holding a broken heart, a shattered dream, a bleak future? How do we live when life doesn’t seem fair?

 

There was no one who championed Jesus like John the Baptist.  He was driven in his message and focused in his mission.  As he preached a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins, he fulfilled what Isaiah had prophesied: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” (Luke 3:4).

 

Yet, just as Jesus’ public ministry was ramping up, John was sitting in prison.  This man who spent his time in the wide open spaces of the desert, wearing an outfit of camel hair and a leather belt was confined to the darkness of the dungeon, relying on his disciples to bring him news of the outside world.  Things were not lining up like he had planned.

 

John’s disciples came to Jesus with a message. “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask,” they said.  “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:20)  If Jesus was proclaiming liberty to the captives, why had his biggest cheerleader been left to suffer in Herod’s prison for such a long time?

 

Jesus didn’t give a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.  Instead he gave evidence.  “The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.”  His words echoed Isaiah, a fulfillment of prophecies John would have recognized and understood. And then he added, “God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.” (Luke 7:22-23, NLT)

 

I find it so easy to follow Christ when my life follows my plan.  I dive into the hard work when there’s clear direction and purpose, especially when it allows my life to stay on its own happy course.  But how easy it is to abandon the plan when life takes a turn I wasn’t expecting.  When the disappointment comes and I find myself in the bottom of a dark, dank dungeon of questions and disappointment.  Are you, like me, ever tempted to echo the words of John the Baptist, “Are you the One who is to come or should we expect someone else?”

 

There were a lot of things about brokenness I didn’t understand that day I stood in the yard between the two Hanks.  My sorrow was fresh and deep. I felt like I was alone, dangling off the ledge of a cliff. I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to survive.

 

In the moment of my raw soul honesty, I struggled to make peace with God’s answer to the prayer for a lost dog and apparent decision not to answer mine for my daughter.  I felt forgotten. I wonder if John the Baptist felt the same way?

 

“There are very few places where the soul is truly safe,

where the knowing,

the questions,

the longings of the soul are

welcomed,

received,

and listened to

rather than evaluated,

judged,

or beaten out of us,”

says Ruth Haley Barton.

 

What do we do with our stack of unanswered questions?  Perhaps, like John the Baptist, we bring them to Jesus.  We sit and confess our fears to Him, our longing for more, our lack of understanding. And then we wait.  We give Him space to move into our lives, and we see that not only is He working in the souls of others around us, He is working within us.  He doesn’t scold us, doesn’t reprimand us for our clumsy sorrows.  He simply invites us to draw closer. To lean in.

 

“The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor,” He whispers to us.

 

The Bible doesn’t record how John received the message.  Though his life ended brutally in the dungeon, his voice still calls out to us in our desert.  And you and I?  Our stories aren’t over.   We must cling to hope, even when God seems silent. It is possible, even when you feel disillusioned and alone.  You may find it hard to see it clearly, but the truth is, He is always at work.  Even when it takes a couple look-alike dogs named Hank.

 

 

Hello.
I’m Sarah and I write about the hope & joy that can come even in the midst of deep grief and sorrow.  I’d love to have you join me.

The Bible is full of verses that speak to our deepest hurts.  I’ve chosen a few of my favorites for you to post around your home. You can get them here.

working through grief as time marches on  4

 

Shortly after we lost our daughter, our three year old Kate said, “I’m so happy that Annie is with Jesus. But when He’s finished being with her she can come home.”

Today, March 9, 2017, would be Annie’s 8th birthday.

 

I’m never quite sure how to face these days.  Should I be sad?  Should I be grateful?  Should I be extra weepy? Should I be normal?

 

Like so many other things, there’s no manual.  No right or wrong timeline of how I should be feeling and experiencing.  There’s no measure of “normal” and it often makes me feel a little out of control.

 

Yesterday the wind blew with great big gusts.  Limbs falling, trash cans rolling in the streets, leaves swirling all around the yard.  My emotions on  surrounding these days feel unpredictable like the wind.

 

Those first few years were so intense with grief.  Every day was so heavy, so focused on getting through each moment and surviving.  The sorrow consumed me.  But eight years later, it’s not like that anymore.

 

Grief has become a familiar friend almost.  I can barely imagine my life without it, actually.  Talking about our loss, processing things about our loss is a normal part of our life.  There’s a constant tension between moving forward and remembering.

 

The capacity of my heart to feel sorrow has increased immeasurably.  But at the same time, I’m finding that joy can be experienced more than I ever thought, too.  Losing a child has given me perspective on things I never even knew existed.  Above all, I am filled with gratitude for the richness Annie’s life has brought to mine.

 

A friend texted me earlier this week to check in on me, to see how I was feeling.  “I’m thankful the years of intense grief are gone, but I also strangely miss them,” I told her.  Maybe that doesn’t make a lot of sense?  But it’s true. I miss being so sure and focused on what really matters in life.  I miss being so desperate for God.  I miss the intensity of the pain, because the memory of Annie was much sharper.

 

However, as time marches on, I gain perspective.  The scars of losing Annie will always be a part of me.  Sometimes the wound gets ripped open again and the suffocating sadness rushes back.    But more often, time has given me the gifts of hope in my sorrow, of joy in my grief.  It has given me the gift of empathy, to be able to come alongside others who are hurting, to say, “Me, too”. It has forced me to be okay with having unanswered questions, to trust that God’s plan is bigger than what I can see with my own eyes.

 

“He shot his arrows deep into my heart.  

The thought of my suffering and hopelessness is bitter beyond words.

 I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.  

  Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:

The unfailing love of the Lord never ends!  

By His mercies we have been kept from complete destruction.”

Lamentations 3:13, 19-22

 

After her husband’s funeral following a long battle with cancer, Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “Now I am setting out into the unknown.  It will take me a long while to work through the grief.  There are no shortcuts; it has to be gone through.”

 

Dear Friend, I don’t know where you are on the journey of grief… but she’s right.  There are no shortcuts.  Bravely face it.  Lean hard into God and trust Him to lead you each step of the way.  Dare to hope, even as you grieve your loss. It is God’s very nature to be merciful, so you can confidently know that He is full of mercy and He showers it on you.  He is a God who loves those who are brokenhearted.  Find rest in His love and mercy for you today.

 


[The truth of Scripture brings healing to your soul, so you need a list to turn to when you hope seems lost. Start with these: Matthew 28:20, Psalm 46:1-5, Romans 8:26, Isaiah 41:10, Psalm 18:2, Psalm 62:8, Psalm 34:18, Psalm 73:26, Matthew 5:4.  My favorite versions are the New International Version, The New Living Translation, and The Message.]

My Three Favorite Books on Loss & Hope  0

 

After our daughter Annie died, I went through days I could only read a verse or two in the Bible (and plenty of times I just stared out the window, unable to even do that).  But there were also days I had an voracious appetite for anything I could get my hands on.

 

Before I experienced loss, I thought I had life basically figured out.  When everything changed so suddenly I struggled to reconcile my old life with the new.  I needed solid, Biblical truths to re-establish the foundation for my life.  Jesus used the words of people who had travelled the road of grief to bring healing to my heart.  I am so thankful for the gift they gave to me, knowing what it cost them to write what they did.

 

Today, I like to keep a stash of books on the shelf so at any point I can give them away to friends who are struggling with sorrow and heaviness in their lives. I get a lot of questions from people, wondering what resources I’d recommend. If you’d like to see a more comprehensive list, just click on my Resources page.

 

by Nancy Guthrie
Tattered and marked up, this book was my lifeline for the first year and I still flip through it often.  Nancy writes one page for each day of the year, split into weekly themes like “The Love of God”, “Why?” and “Finding Purpose in Pain”.  Each day is centered around Scripture— verses that have become so integral to my life that I can often turn to the exact page of the verse and topic I’m trying to find.

 

by Jerry Sittser
“Is it possible to feel sorrow for the rest of our lives and yet to find joy at the same time? Is it possible to enter the darkness and still to live an ordinary, productive life?  Loss requires that we live in a delicate tension.  We must mourn, but we must also go on living. We might feel that the world has stopped, though it never does.”  There is such loss in the world, and the circumstances may be different, but what remains the same is our ability to respond to our circumstances.  This book taught me how to allow grace to transform my sorrow, to dare to let joy enter into my vocabulary again.

 

by Nancy Guthrie
I’m excited to share this new book with you!  I know how difficult it can be to say the right thing when a friend is grieving.  I’ve been on the receiving end of hurtful advice (I just wrote about it actually).  But I’ve also been the one who desperately wants to help in loss, but everything that comes out of my mouth sounds ridiculous.  It takes courage to reach out and say something and it’s easy to let fear keep us from saying anything at all.  No one is more gracious than Nancy to help navigate what to say (and what not to say) and what to do.  She addresses heaven and hell and assumptions we might have that may not be scriptural.  There are also lots of quotes from people (including a few from me!) who have lived through the loss of a loved one and can offer advice.  It’s such a valuable resource!
Of course, if you’d like to read more of my journey and what I’ve learned about loss and hope, you can download my eBook for free from iBooks or Google Books.

 

Sorrow and grief touches us all in one way or another.  Going through loss can be so lonely, but it doesn’t have to be.  There are others who have gone before us and have had the courage to share what God has taught them through it.  I encourage you to pick up these books if you are going through a season of sorrow…  or if you have a friend walking through dark times.

 

As always, let me know how I can pray for you.  Drop me a line here.

The Love of Jesus {An Advent Series on Hope}  0

While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus— ‘God saves’— because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:
Watch for this— a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son;
They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us”).

Matthew 1:20-23

 

Christmas is tomorrow and I am finishing up lists I thought would never get finished. The house is filled with people and the kids are bouncing off the walls with excitement. It’s Christmas!

 

In the middle of the ham and potatoes, the gifts and the glow of the Christmas tree, there is Jesus.

 

“Only He who has experienced it can believe what the love of Jesus Christ is,”

 Bernard of Clairvaux wrote.

 

If I were to take all the stories of the family of Jesus, I could plop them on a timeline. Abraham, Joseph, Ruth, Jonah, Habakkuk, Mary. Of course there are hundreds in between that I missed, but eventually we would come to Jesus. The Messiah. The one who had been promised and who they had been searching for all these years. He came from a line of cheaters and liars, of prostitutes and quitters. His descendants were sincere and loved deeply, they worshipped without passion and chased miracles.  There was sorrow, bitterness, grief and stubborn hope in the lives of those whose blood ran in His veins.

 

They were real people.

 

And then Jesus was born, in a crowded village, breaking into history and breathing hope into a weary world. His life and death and resurrection changed everything, of course. Not just because He came, but because He came for you.

 

On that very first Christmas, there were shepherds watching the very sheep that would one day be sacrificed for the sins of the people. But a new way was coming, and He had arrived! These tired and poor shepherds were the ones the Angels appeared to, the ones who heard the news firsthand… and their response is amazing. It’s recorded that the shepherds hurried to see Jesus, then they spread the news as fast as they could. Their hearts were kindled.

 

Years later, after Jesus had died and was resurrected, He appeared to a few of His disciples as they were walking from one town to another. Only they didn’t recognize Him for a very long time. When their eyes were opened, they looked at each other and exclaimed, “Were not our hearts burning within us?” (Luke 24:32).

 

Lean in, my friend. This story is for you, in your emptiness and fear. In your broken promises and tension of the season. The family tree of Jesus didn’t end with Him. He has grafted you in. There’s a place for you. Let your faith be kindled, let your heart begin to burn.

 

I don’t know where you find yourself this season, but I do know that God does His best work in weakness, when we feel like we can’t possibly go another step, He is there.

 

Perhaps you feel like Mary, with empty places and an empty heart. Allow Him to rejoice over you with singing (Zephaniah 3:17).

 

Or maybe you are Habakkuk, and you must resolve in your hearts to praise Him, even in the midst of broken promises and dreams. He hears your cries.

 

Do you find yourself in Jonah, exhausted from running away from God? Listen to Him calls you back to Him.  It’s never too late to run into His arms.

 

Just like Naomi, He takes your broken hearts and deep bitterness and He gives Himself as your Kinsman-Redeemer, handing you new life and healing.

 

Do you need to be reminded of Joseph, and how God’s power gives you strength to choose forgiveness? Only with Him can we stand and declare that what was intended to harm us turns to good.

 

That’s when we discover that just like Abraham, when we open our eyes to the hurt of the world, we see that our lives can be a blessing to others, even in our grief. In our unforgiveness.  In our bitterness and emptiness. Slowly, as the walls of our hearts crumble, a new day comes as God heals our broken hearts.

 

This is the story of Jesus. Feel your heart burning within you and grab ahold of it. The tree with its’ handmade ornaments will soon come down, the lights will return to the tote in the basement.  But because of Jesus, you have been given the True Light.

 

Jesus, the hope of the world, has come.
Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

{Hello, Friend.}
There are hard seasons in life.   But even in the midst of sorrow, you can hold tightly to the hope of Christ.  Want to know more? My free eBook tells the story of how I grappled with loss and grace in the days, months and years after burying a child.  You can find it on iBooks or Google Books.

 

The Song of Mary {An Advent Series on Hope}  0

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David.  His name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name, Mary.  Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her:
Good morning!
You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,
Beautiful inside and out!
God be with you.

She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that.  But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear.  God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.” Luke 1:26-28

Something out of nothing.  Because Mary was willing to be obedient, God was able to take her empty womb and make it a place for the God of the universe to develop arms and legs, a heartbeat and skin.

 

God takes our empty places and grows miracles.

 

There’s the story of the widow who cried out to Elisha as the creditors came to take her sons as slaves.  “What can I do to help you?” Elisha asks, “Tell me, what do you have in the house?”  But all she had was a flask of olive oil.  Nothing else at all.  Think of her desperation and emptiness.  But Elisha didn’t give up.  He instructed her to borrow empty jars from her neighbors, to take her sons into the house and shut the door.  When they poured oil from their flask into the jars, they continued to fill each jar, until every single one was filled to the very brim.  The widow and her sons were able to sell the oil and pay their debts.  And not only that, but they were able to live on what was left over. (2 Kings 4)

 

When we offer our emptiness and what we lack to God, He is undaunted.  He is not stumped or disappointed that we aren’t enough.  He’s looking for our obedience, in spite of our weaknesses.

 

Even before my daughter Eliza could talk, she would sing.  She hummed and sang so often, we called it her motor.  It was our sign that all w}as right in her world. Kate has been singing “O Holy Night” the last few weeks and she has all the words down because it is what she performed in church on Sunday along with the all the other kids.  And even William belts out a few words every now and then.

 

It brings me such joy when I hear my kids sing, because I know they are happy.  Content.  They are expressing joy, even if they don’t tell me in actual words.

 

As Mary felt the Son of God moving in her belly, as she felt the roundness as He took up more and more space, she didn’t dwell on what she wasn’t. She didn’t think about her emptiness, but she allowed God to fill her.  And she found joy in allowing God to use her empty places.  How do I know?

 

Because she sang.

 

Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him.
His mighty arm has done tremendous things!  
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the right away with empty hands.
He has helped his servant Israel and remembered to be merciful.
For he has made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever. 
Luke 1:46-55

The words came from Scripture— a compilation of the Psalms and Isaiah and a few others tossed in.  Mary was grounded in who she was and in who God is.  So when the Angel came to her in her ordinary day, she was ready to receive whatever the will of God was.

 

God wants to be with you.  He wants to have a relationship with you.  He wants to take hold of your shaky hands and lead you onto solid ground.  He wants to shower you with grace and mercy. He wants to hear you sing, even as tears run down your face.

 

When we give God our emptiness, He gives us a song. He takes our empty places and make them into a masterpiece. Just as the Angel said to Mary, “God is with you”, you can believe the promise is for you, too.

 

Immanuel has come.  God with us.

 

 

{Hello, Friend.}
There are hard seasons in life.   But even in the midst of sorrow, you can hold tightly to the hope of Christ.  Want to know more? My free eBook tells the story of how I grappled with loss and grace in the days, months and years after burying a child.  You can find it on iBooks or Google Books.

 

The Resolve of Habakkuk {An Advent Series on Hope}  0

 

Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord.
Renew them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields, 
and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the lord!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
able to tread up on the heights.
Habakkuk 3:1,17-19

Mother Teresa, the little woman who lived in the slums of India, the one who lived among the poorest of the poor, in a letter in 1959 wrote that if she ever became a saint, it would be one of darkness.  When he wrote her biography, Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk said, “You can be joyful even if you’re suffering because you are accepting, and you are working and acting with love that gives meaning to the suffering.”

 

Even though.  Even if.  Even now.

 

There’s a blanket of snow resting on the ground of the cemetery across the street, the one where we stood to say good-bye to our daughter.

There’s a widow sitting lonely as the dark grows longer each day.

There’s an empty refrigerator and hungry kids who don’t know where their mom is.

There’s a marriage and a family crumbling and angry words that can’t be taken back.

There are war torn countries and people who have seen so much atrocity they have forgotten how to cry.

 

Even though.  Even if.  Even now.

 

We look around the rubble of our lives and our world and it’s not what we dreamed of or expected.

 

In these moments, Habakkuk’s declaration rings in our ears:
I will rejoice:
… even if the figs and olives fail
…. even if the people go hungry
… even if our livelihoods are taken

…. even if there is an empty stocking hanging from the mantle
… even if the diagnosis is fatal
…. even if the terror keeps me up at night
… even as the bombs fall and the children are left as orphans
… even if my tears outnumber my smiles
Even though.  Even if.  Even now.

 

We can’t wait for suffering to go away before we praise the name of Jesus, or we may never rejoice.  Read the book of Habakkuk and you’ll realize that though the prophet is exasperated,  he does not give up.  He begs God to intervene on behalf of the people, wondering how long it will be until He listens to the cries of His people.

 

Margaret Feinberg in her book, Fight Back with Joy talks of her battle with cancer: “As my body slid through the tube, I understood why so many people have panic attacks in MRI machines.  The constricting space, the rhythmic sounds, the inability to move— all felt suffocating.  Click.  Clank.  Click.  Clank.  Listening to the clamor, I breathed deep.  My mind drifted.  Has anyone offered God praise in this place before?  I thought of Habakkuk, that brazen codger.  If he could rejoice when an entire nation crumbled around him, surely I could offer something to God in this space.  After all, I had discovered a valuable insight in this process: Fighting back with joy rarely makes sense.

 

The secret to joy is in focusing on the Father, not on our fears. This is what gives meaning to our suffering, what brings light into the darkness of the world. On the night Jesus was born, a night that began like any other night, the shepherds were tending the sheep.  They were terrified when the sky lit up brighter than the day.  The first words they heard?

“Do not be afraid.

I bring you good news of

great joy that will be for

all the people.”

(Luke 2:10)

 

There is light in the darkness because Jesus has come to bring meaning to our suffering.  Do not be afraid.   You can fight for joy.

 

Even though. Even if.  Even now.

 

 

{Hello, Friend.}
There are hard seasons in life.   But even in the midst of sorrow, you can hold tightly to the hope of Christ.  Want to know more? My free eBook tells the story of how I grappled with loss and grace in the days, months and years after burying a child.  You can find it on iBooks or Google Books.