Category: hope & grieving

Three Ways to Claim Hope in the Middle of the Mess  0

 

 

Whenever I get my eyebrows waxed, I always think of my son, Will.  He’s thirteen now, but the story you’re about to read took place almost a decade ago. Trust me, he has zero opinions on my eyebrows at this stage in life.  Oh, but he used to…

 

I was getting my hair cut, deep in conversation with my hairdresser/great friend.  Peter was in the waiting room with the kids who were sporting fresh haircuts and suckers. We were the only ones there, so after a few minutes, Will decided to take a lap around the inside of the shop.  That’s when he spotted the cart of wax in the corner. In a gesture of kindness,  knowing I’d soon be getting my eyebrows waxed, he decided to wheel it over closer to us. The only problem was that it was plugged into the wall.

And so, inevitably, the cord reached its end and the bowl of wax went flying, splashing the walls, totally coating everything within a 5 foot radius. Including William.  He looked at us with horror and confusion, rooted to his spot.  Because naturally, he had waxed himself to the floor.

 

We rushed to him and stripped him down to his batman underwear, lifting him out of his shoes, making sure he was okay.  He was fine…. albeit very, very (very) sticky. So we turned our attention to the mess. There was wax splashed and splattered everywhere.  And it was drying quickly.  How would we ever clean up the chaos that surrounded us?

 

In a stroke of genius, Peter found an ice scraper in the car and we began to scrape and rub and mop up the coat of wax that (have I mentioned?) was e v e r y w h e r e .

 

Somehow we got it mostly cleaned up.  I have no idea how.   Will went home in his underwear, since we were forced to throw everything else away. I sat at home that night with my tweezers because there hadn’t been enough wax left.

 

When I retell William that story now, it seems almost unbelievable that my pudgy little toddler has turned into a kid taller than me.  He doesn’t remember it and shakes his head at us like he’s sure we’re making the whole thing up.

 

I’m aware as I write on this blog that most of my material begins with a story.  Something I’ve plucked (so sorry… couldn’t resist) out of life that helps me to better understand the intersection between hope and sorrow.  I am always on the lookout for a story and if I pay attention, I find them everywhere.  Jesus finds us in our broken places and that’s where He hands us hope and joy.

 

On that day while the wax hardened as it slowly dripped down the walls, nothing about it spoke of hope.  But as time has allowed me to look back,  I realize that hope doesn’t come flitting toward us in a easy, breathless way.  Hope is a daily, diligent fight.

 

In the middle of the mess, it can be hard not to be swept away.  When the allure of giving up tempts you, here are three things to remember:

 

We need God’s grace the most in the middle our messes.  William so desperately wanted to do the right thing, yet his best effort yielded the biggest disaster.  Have you ever felt that way?  You have the best intentions, you’ve been so careful, yet you’re rewarded with a big mess.  You end up frustrated, hopeless, and vulnerable.  I’m so quick to be harsh with myself when things turn into a hot, sticky mess, but the truth is, Jesus doesn’t ask me to carry that kind of weight on my shoulders.  Instead He says,

“Are you tired?  Worn out?  Burned out on religion?

Come to me.  

Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.  

I’ll show you how to take a real rest.  

Walk with me and work with me— watch how I do it.  

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.  

I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.  

Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

(Matthew 11:28, The Message)

Perhaps you feel like you’ve been rooted to the ground, looking at the mess of life as it drips and dries all around you.  Perhaps you don’t think you’ll ever recover.  When we take our disaster to God, that’s when we find restoration.  When we quit trying to run and do and prove and rush, and instead hand our mess over to Jesus, we find real rest.  We find His grace and freedom, even in the middle of it all.

 

We must refuse to let the mess define our entire life.  Imagine if William would have let this one incident shape his entire life.  What if I, as his parent, had held it over his head, leading him to believe that his life would be one big problem after another, something else we’d constantly have to clean up? Ha! That sounds ridiculous. And yet, we do the same thing all of the time.  The voices in our head that tell us we’re worthless or we’ve messed up too much shout louder than the voice of who we truly are.  But what if the fight for hope means refusing to look only at what’s immediately surrounding us?  What if we strive to see the big picture of our life?  Fighting for hope means that our everyday life is full of steps backward and forward, forward and backward… but each step moves us closer to Jesus.   We trust God to work the details of our lives into something good, leaning on Paul’s promise in Romans,

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

God’s spirit is right alongside helping us along.  

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.”

As we hold the pieces of our broken life, will we dare to let Jesus breathe beauty into them?  Do we really trust Him to redeem them?  Lift up your eyes and don’t less the mess surrounding you define who you are in Christ.

 

We fight for hope when we allow others to step in and help us through the mess.  Even a decade later, I can remember the look on William’s face, his eyes locked on mine, wondering how he was going to get out of the middle of his waxy predicament.  Our reaction was exactly what yours would have been— we ran to him.  He needed our help.  And yet how often do we stand there, covered in wax, trying to convince everyone around us that we’re fine, fine and we’ll take care of everything, no problem, thanks but no thanks?  When we find our lives in shambles, our natural inclination is to retreat and avoid others, sure that we’ll only be bothering them if we let them see what’s really going on.  “Because grief is one of the most deeply isolating and lonely emotions, no one can carry it for you and no one can cure you of it and no one can relate to the exact degree that you’re experiencing it,” says Lisa-Jo Baker. “It’s a terrible devouring monster, and without people surrounding you, sitting on the sofa next to you, stopping by to chat about the kids or laugh about a story you’d forgotten, you’ll slowly disappear into a sinkhole of grief.” There are times we need to give up our control, and allow others to walk with us through our mess.  We were made to be in relationship with one another, especially in our hard places.  Allowing others to see we’re not really fine, that we actually need others to walk alongside us gives us life.

 

If we are going to be people who live in the intersection of hope and sorrow, we must learn to take a good look at the mess and claim the words of John in Revelation 21:5- “And the one sitting on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new!’”  You see, on that day as we mopped up the wax, there was plenty that was unsalvageable.  But it’s not the same with Jesus.  The brokenness and mess around you can be redeemed and turned into something good.

 

May you dare to lift your eyes above the mess in your life to see others who are willing to walk this path with you. May you quit letting it define you, instead allowing Christ to redeem your pain and make everything new.  And may you have eyes to see the stories of your own life, plucking hope out of the stickiest of situations.

 

 

Hello.
I’m Sarah and I write about the intersection of hope & sorrow in our lives.  It’s a privilege to have you along for the journey.  If you’d like to receive posts to your inbox along with some extra encouragement just for subscribers you can click here to join me. 

Blessings in the Fog of Grief  4

 

Early this morning I laced up my running shoes and did what I do several times a week. The fog was thick and as I let it envelop me, I started to think about the kindness of Jesus during this week in September when my thoughts constantly drift to the daughter we held as she breathed her last breath. Time is a crazy thing because it’s been eight years. Eight long, tear-filled years. And yet, we’ve fought for hope and joy– and God has given it to us so abundantly. The fog reminds me of just how gently He has carried us, how tenderly He has held us.  It reminds me that my tears are precious to Him and worthy of being recorded.

 

And so, on the eve of the day that I dread every year, I remembered these words I wrote five years ago:

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about fog lately.
 

I have vivid memories of riding the bus to school on those early fall Indiana mornings. I was one of the first ones on the bus in the mornings and the bus would be nearly empty as I made my way down the aisle. In the loudness of the engine and the jostle of the wheels that magnified each bump, I would lean my cheek against the window and look out over the fields. And on many mornings, we would lumber down a hill and find ourselves in a pocket of fog. For just a few seconds we would be enveloped in the mist before we would ascend the hill and it would disappear.
 

I’m an adult now, but I still love a foggy morning. I stare out the window, coffee in hand and watch the fog slowly disappear. There’s a hush on those mornings and things seem to slow down somehow. The heat of the summer, along with the fun of late nights and busy-lazy days, is giving way to something new and unknown about the approaching season. I fight against fall because it means my kids are getting older and the unscheduled summer gives way to the over-scheduled school season, but I love the mornings when I can slip away and feel the fog.
 

How vividly I remember taking my sick baby to the emergency room, knowing that something was desperately wrong with her. When they moved us from the curtained room to the private room and I looked up to see the doctor with tears in her eyes and I heard the door click shut, I felt myself sinking into a deep fog.

 
And when, a mere week later, I watched the truck pull into the cemetery to dig a hole meant for my Annie, I thought I would drown in that fog and that I would never breathe normally again.

 

Shortly after Annie died, we took the kids to the doctor for their annual check-ups. Our doctor took our hands and he prayed for us and told us that the human brain will only process what it can, as it can.
 

 Eventually, the mind-numbing tragedy would become clearer.

 

The fog would slowly lift.

 
As that mound of dirt over her body slowly sunk until it was ground level and then grew grass, I experienced some of the richest times I’ve ever had in my relationship with Christ. He enveloped me and gave me peace. The words of the Bible rang deep and true and brought comfort. The notes and cards and encouraging reminders from friends were daily. The unimportant things in life were stripped away and were strangely hard to see. In my deepest pain, I was most sure of who I was.

 
Maybe you’ve found yourself in the same place as me. Or maybe your sorrow is different. Chances are, when you’ve gone through something difficult, someone has told you you’re so strong. And perhaps you, like me, look at them in confusion because you know that the total opposite is true.

 

In those early days, I felt so weak, like I was dangling off the edge of a twelve story building, my fingers slowly slipping.

 

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
he is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.
He will shelter you with his wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Psalm 91:1-4

 
When my fingers failed me, and I found myself tumbling down, down, down . . . He caught me. He gave me a refuge, a shelter, a fog.
 
I nestled into that fog, I wrapped it around me and breathed it in until my lungs hurt. I sat on the couch during nap time and I just stared out the window. I went to bed each night, simply relieved that I was one day closer to Heaven.  My sadness scared me, my grief was overwhelming, and I’m sure Peter wondered if he’d ever have his wife back. But in the midst of it all, I had Jesus. And I knew that somehow I would be okay.

 

Saturday marks three years since The Day My Life Changed. This summer, well, it’s been the hardest season yet since the days immediately after Annie died. Because the fog finally lifted.  I was forced to deal with some things that I had stuffed down deep, thinking they would disappear (and in case you’re wondering, they don’t disappear).  I’ve felt so fragile this summer . . . coming to terms with my identity now that the fog has lifted.

 

Dare I say I miss the fog?

 

But today is a new day. The season is changing and I know, know, know that the promises of Christ are still my armor and protection. A dear friend told me, “You’ll never get over losing Annie, but you will move forward.” That’s what I’m doing, slowly but surely.

 

A step at a time, I’m breathing in new air, filling my lungs with the sweet freshness of His Grace that goes before me.

 

Today, as I read the words I typed five years ago, the tears still stream down my face. My heart still deeply longs for the little girl I lost. But I resonate with the words of Jerry Sittser: “We never get over the ones we miss. We still long for them, but we can still celebrate the life we’ve found because they are gone.”

 

On the morning after Annie died, Peter and I sat in bed and planned her funeral. We looked at one another and declared that more than anything, we wanted her life to point others to Christ. That in spite of the fact she lived just six short months, our desire was for people be drawn to redemption through her story. We have been amazed at how Jesus has answered our prayer. But perhaps the sweetest part? She has pointed ME to Christ. Her life has changed mine in countless ways and I am so grateful to be her Mama.

 

May you, dear reader, find comfort in my words.  May you wrap yourself in the fog and allow God to tenderly care for you in your sorrow.  May you let go of the fear and anger and believe the words in Psalm 34:8 that “God is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those who are crushed in Spirit.” I am praying for you.

 

Hello.
I’m Sarah and I write about the intersection of hope & sorrow in our lives.  It’s a privilege to have you along for the journey.  Would you like to receive a bit of quiet encouragement from me to your inbox?

Click here to join me.

Is Hope Really Real?  0

On the first day of summer vacation, our family flew to Europe for my brother’s wedding.  After spending five days on a small island of Greece in the middle of the Aegean Sea, our family ferried to Athens for a few days.

 

Here’s the best way I can think to describe it to you:  We went from playing in the crystal clear ocean, riding mopeds up and down the one road on the whole island, exporing nooks and crannies in search of the best gelato….

 

 

 

…to gritty Athens.  Though still pretty, it was full of people, graffiti and honking horns.  We arrived at our hotel and decided to walk to the main city square… except we took a wrong turn and ended up on a really dodgy street.  We tucked the kids in close and pushed on, walking quickly until we ended up in a huge open square, with people selling everything you can imagine.

 

 

 

A teenage boy came up to us and began to tie a bracelet onto William’s wrist.  He started to chat in broken English and told us it was a gift to us from him.  “For your sports,” he kept repeating.  The bracelet had the word ‘hope’ embroidered on it.  We told him no, we didn’t want to buy his bracelets, but he insisted.  “For your sports,” he smiled.  “No money. I give to you.”    He was such a nice kid, so eventually we believed him and started to walk away with our free gift.

 

Except that’s not what he meant.  Apparently his hope wasn’t free.  And he wasn’t giving the bracelet to William for his “sports” it was in exchange for “our support”.   When we handed the bracelet back to him and told him we wouldn’t be paying him any money, he looked as us angrily and walked away.

 

It’s ironic, isn’t it, that we thought he was handing us hope— in the form of a bracelet— for free.  But when we finally believed it, it was taken away.
I started to think about my relationship with hope— the tiny four letter word embroidered on the free-but-not-free bracelets.  So often I treat hope skeptically. I’m careful with the way I hold it, at arm’s length, so that just in case things don’t work out the “right” way, my heart is still protected.

 

Is hope really for real?  Can it be trusted?

 

The great Homer Simpson once said, “You tried and failed.  The lesson is… never try.”

 

If I’m not careful, those are words I live by.  But believe me, I don’t want to live by the words of Homer Simpson.  Very few of us do, I think (And if you do, well, you’re probably reading the wrong blog).  So what does it take to break down the walls of our heart and live as people who hope?

 

This verse sits on the windowsill next to the kitchen sink:

“And this hope will not lead us to disappointment.

For we know how dearly God loves us,

because He has given us the Holy Spirit

to fill our hearts with His love” Romans 5:5

 

I can’t help but wonder if you’ve ever felt disappointed by hope?  If you’ve prayed, trusted, believed, proclaimed… and then something goes horribly wrong.

 

You studied for the test, but still received a failing grade.
You went to the counseling, but nothing changed in your relationship.
You prayed for a change of heart, but the anger won’t go away.
You hoped for a miracle, but instead you were met with silence.

 

When someone or circumstances mess with what we thought to be true, we’re quick to turn and walk the other way, aren’t we?  Not so trusting, not so willing.  We refuse to be so naive.  For some of us, we find our waning hope affecting every area of our life.  And we just want to run back to where it’s safe and quiet and beautiful again.  Where the decisions don’t seem as complicated and the ache in our hearts can be soothed.  We tried and failed… so the next safe move seems to be to quit even trying.

 

But I believe God wants us to live in the intersection of hope and sorrow.  To cling to His promise to us, even when it seems that all has been lost.  And Romans 5:5 speaks to what we know to be true, not what we feel.  N.T. Wright says, “We mustn’t imagine that our feeling of being close to God is a true index of the reality.  Emotions often deceive.  Paul (the author of Romans) is summoning us to understand the reality, the solid rock beneath the shifting sands of feeling.”

 

Our hope is in Jesus.
Not in our circumstances or our feelings or other people.
Not in our future or our church or our government.
Not in our wombs or our parenting skills or bank accounts.
Our hope is in Christ.

 

That’s why Paul wrote in Romans 4:18, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed…”

 

When we finally realize what hope truly is, it ceases to be a buzzword.  When we look for it in the world, we find it in exchange “for your sports” and as quickly as we put it on our wrist, it’s snatched away. When we look for it in Jesus, we find it transforms us. It sustains our soul and reconciles us to Christ. It comes to us in our suffering and our darkest hour and brings us peace.

 

May you today find the hope of Jesus you’re longing and searching for.  May you quit grasping for empty hope and find the True Hope that doesn’t lead us to disappointment.  May your heart be filled with the love that the Holy Spirit promises us and may you see just how dearly you are loved.

 

 

Hello.
I’m Sarah and I write about the intersection of hope & sorrow in our lives.  It’s a privilege to have you along for the journey.  Would you like to receive a bit of quiet encouragement from me to your inbox?

Click here to join me.

 

 

 

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  3

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.