Gentle Reminders of Love in Suffering

This story starts with loss. With pain and suffering that still assault me.

32 years old. Husband. Father. Son. Brother. Friend. Uncle. Gone.

Too young. Too loved. Too unexpected.

Too heart-wrenchingly painful.

When loss confronts us there’s nothing to say or do to explain it or fix it. There’s no sense left in the world. Only suffering that causes one to doubt God’s goodness. Only more pain that causes more anger.

When loss confronted me I felt betrayed, confused, and heartbroken. There were no answers to silence the questions rising up in me.

So I walked away from God. It wasn’t in an instant. It wasn’t obvious. At first, I clung to God. But over the months I went to church less, I read my Bible less, I listened to K-LOVE less, I saw my Christian friends less, I prayed less. It wasn’t a bold choice, but rather a passive erosion, this distancing myself from God.

There were terrible days and there were bearable days. There still are.

 

Over the past 8 months, God has never walked away, not boldly, not passively.

Sometimes when I’m angry, I want the person to walk away. To leave. To give up trying. But in the end, that would hurt more. I’d be lonelier, more broken.

God also didn’t rush me. He didn’t shove the good news of his everlasting love down my throat. I didn’t want to hear it. I would’ve rolled my eyes at the promise of supposedly good news. Depending on the day, I still might.

But do you know what God is doing? He’s gradually reminding me of his goodness. Soft, sweet, gentle memories of a time when I loved to sit in His presence.

The past couple weeks He’s brought up songs or verses that once meant something to me, to us, in this love story God’s writing with me. And I’ve found, these memories, and my God, they still mean something to me.

Music has a transcendent quality, how a single song can carry you to another time or place, bringing a fresh encounter with old memories. When God handpicked the song and verse I needed to hear, when He spoke those words and melodies into my soul, I remembered another time. I remembered many other times. Times when I felt lonely or overwhelmed and yet God met my every need. Times when He pulled me from the miry pit and gave me a firm place to stand.

1 I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.

Psalm 40: 1-3

But what God gave me wasn’t just a memory of another time, a former time when God loved me and cared about me and answered my prayers. It was also a gentle reminder that God still loves me. Evidence that He still cares enough to speak to me, through a song, a verse, a memory.

It was the little glimpse at hope, at promise, at love, that I needed to make it through another day.

It was His unfailing love. His unconditional love.

A promise that He will never leave me, or stop loving me, or give up on me.

 

Yes, I am broken, and angry, and lonely, and bewildered in this life.

Yes, it’s a new battle but the same battle every day.

Yes, there are bad days and there are better days.

Yet, He loves me.

The days I seek Him. The days I fight. The days I distance myself.

Yet, He loves me.

The days I feel His love. The days I feel tears on my cheeks and anger in my heart. The days I don’t feel anything.

Yet, He loves me.

Love with No Borders

This post is late in coming, but the events and people are still close to my heart.

This summer I spent a week in Haiti. It was my first experience flying alone, my first experience flying into another country, and my first mission trip where I knew no one going into it. As I reflect on that, I honestly don’t know how God convinced me to go. But for some reason I really wanted to, and I’m so glad I went.

Landing in Port-au-Prince I first realized the lack of airport signs – I just followed the crowds and the workers pointing, and hoped I’d find my luggage and my teammates along the way. My first experience of the Haitian culture was a live band playing music as we entered the airport. I loved the welcoming atmosphere and wished our airports in America could have a similar environment.

I eventually found my luggage (and had to convince the workers it was truly mine since I’d lost my luggage tag). And our team slowly found one another.

Pulling out of the parking lot was just the start of our journey. A couple men literally bounced a car up and down to lift it out of our way. The bus driver artfully squeezed through and we were on our way!

Yes. That's how close we were.

Yes. That’s how close we were.                       – Photo Credit: Brian J. Smith –

After a slow, long, eye-opening, and, at times, heart-breaking drive through the streets of Haiti, we arrived at our new home. We climbed the steep, dusty hill and entered a surprisingly huge and beautiful home. And the view from the house was incredible.

The view from our house.

The view from our house.

The family hosting us was wonderful, and they will always hold a special place in my heart. They had a daughter my age, and many of us quickly became friends with her, despite the language barrier.

Some of my favorite memories were the dance parties we had with our host family in front of their house. The Haitians taught us some of their dance moves, and we taught them dances, like the Cupid Shuffle. Dance was such a blessing to me, because it is a universal language. When we danced together, we could communicate and experience joy despite the verbal language barrier.

Spending time with our host family and their neighbors.

Spending time with our host family and their neighbors.

There were 13 people on our team, and it was amazing to see how united our team was and how quickly we bonded with each other.

Our team with one of our translators.

Our team with one of our translators.

One of the most impactful experiences was meeting Meloonda, an 8-year-old girl who was severely affected by the earthquake 3 years ago. At the time, she was only 5 years old and she was trapped under rubble with her two siblings and her mom.

When she was brought out from under the rubble, people thought she had died and prepared to bury her. Her mom, Clarice, believed that Jesus could make her live again, and would not let the people bury her. She took Meloonda to a church and a doctor, and learned that she was not dead but in a coma. At the time, Meloonda could not move, talk, or even smile.

When we saw Meloonda, she had the biggest, most joyful smile, could say a couple words, and loved to stand and even dance if someone held her arms. She is a living miracle. Her mom’s love for and perseverance with Meloonda were inspiring, as was Meloonda’s incredible joy. Meloonda teaches me to never give up, but to see hope in even the darkest situations; she is evidence that God brings beauty out of ashes.

I will never forget Meloonda’s feet resting on my legs, tears streaming down my face, as my team sang, “Jesus Loves Me” over Meloonda.

Meloonda.

– Photo: John R Andersen Photography –

Little ones to Him belong.
They are weak but He is strong.
Yes Jesus Loves Me.

That’s the simple truth I want us to remember. Jesus loves every single one of us.

If you’d like to see more photos form my team, please visit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/96899459@N08/sets/72157634118324193/

“Greater Things Have Yet To Come”

For those of you who have had a real conversation with me about college, or talked to me more recently, you’re probably aware that it has been hard for me, and that I’d rather be home than away at school. (To describe this sentiment: last year my mom and I were talking about whether or not I would go back to Gordon, and I told her if I didn’t go back there was nothing I’d miss. It’s safe to say that, as my mother, this concerned her a little.)

So I think it’s a great sign that I was actually sad to leave college this year. I had grown to love, and would soon miss, things at school.

This year God brought me friends who prayed with me, kids to love on, and teenagers to mentor. All of which have been wonderful blessings.

But with close friends and invested relationships, there’s always a heartbreak at the end. The hardest part for me was leaving the girls I tutored this semester in Lynn. During the last few weeks of College Bound, God broke my heart for these girls even more. I felt a burden and love for them that only He can give. As I prayed for the girls and gave them a glimpse of God’s love, I was so thankful for the time God gave me with these precious ones.

   College Bound   

And as I said goodbye with so much sadness, I had to trust God. I had to remember that He alone saves. I was humbled and blessed to be used for a time, but God is not done. He will continue pursing these children, because He loves them. Because He desires all people to be saved. Because His love is everlasting and unrelenting. Because He is love.

As I left Lynn that day I played one of my favorite songs, “God of this City” (and I kept playing it all week).

“You’re the God of this city. You’re the King of these people. You’re the Lord of this nation. You are…For greater things have yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city…There is no one like our God.”

Although it was time for me to leave Lynn, and the people I had come to love, I knew that God remained. I prayed over the neighborhood and community, and I trusted God. Because He is sovereign. He is big enough. He is present. And He is trustworthy.

I know that though my time in Lynn is over, at least for a period, God remains, faithfully working in Lynn, touching lives every single day.

I believe in a God who was at work before I came, moved powerfully while I was there, and will continue to reveal himself and His saving grace long after I am gone.

Something’s Gotta Give. (Part I)

>>> After editing this blog, I realized it is much more of a call to action (perhaps for myself) than a spilling of my thoughts. But the call to action pours directly out of my thoughts, concerns, and internal conflicts. So instead of only laying out my mental musings, this post presents somewhat tangible reactions to those thoughts, which help illuminate the thoughts even more. <<<

     As I told a friend recently, I’ve been thinking through a lot lately. Much of which centers on consumerism, injustices, and fair trade (I’ll get to fair trade in Part II). Don’t give up on me just yet. I don’t mean to scare you off by sounding too idealistic or extreme in the words below. But please hear me out. Something’s got to give.

     How many gifts have you bought this season? How much money have you ‘saved’? I’d say I’ve bought about 12 gifts thus far (not too mention the random assortment of products I’ve bought for myself). And how much money has this added up to? Roughly $100. As I look at these numbers I think, ‘Hey, that’s not half bad’. But there’s something bigger going on here. None of my friends and family need the things I am buying for them. This is not a problem in and of itself. I mean, giving gifts can be a great way to show people you care about them. The tragedy is that there are people, all around this world, and in our own towns, who actually need gifts. They don’t have enough money to fill their kids’ lunch boxes, let alone put a Christmas dinner on the table. Beyond mere poverty, people suffer from forced labor (an estimate 2.5 million[i]). Disease also threatens many. As just one example, over 500,000 people died from Malaria in 2010[ii].

These statements are somewhat unrelated, but the basic point is this: There are people in this world in real need.

Why can I spend $100 on gifts for people who have plenty, while so many suffer? Given the prosperity in America and the unquenchable consumerism, something’s got to give. Something in my heart, something in all of our hearts, has to give. To let go of our desire for more, and to give others the more they need.

I know there are hundreds of options for giving at Christmas, and I’m sure many of you have taken advantage of these opportunities, and that is such a blessing. Maybe you gave gifts to Toys for Tots, or packed an Operation Christmas Child box. Maybe you bought baby chicks for a struggling family through Samaritan’s Purse or cooked a Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless last month.

At this season, when giving is often seen as little more than a task of gifting, I hope we may together remember how God has blessed us, and joyfully give to those in need. Not as another task on our list, but as an act of love.

I found this quote online recently, and I think it worth restating:
“Christmas is not your birthday.”
… or your friend’s, or sister’s, or father’s either.
>>> Please comment below with any ideas of how to give to those in need, or how to give more simply. Thanks for reading! <<<