Born to Taste Our Sadness

It wasn’t that long ago that I felt everything in my life was pretty stable. Then I reached out in a single amazing moment to move to China for my dream job: photographing for an orphanage and advocating for orphans. The Holy Spirit led me to just the right place for little old me. And then life got crazy crazy crazy busy in an instant. As I did last time I traveled to China, I asked God to prepare me for serving Him in another land, to break my heart for what broke His, and to prepare my heart for new China children.

Instead of a slow awakening like I expected, everything broke. Instantly.

The Breaking of a Heart  

Physically, I was stressed out of my mind on all I had to get done in just 4 months. I struggled with eating enough and getting away from work to regain some peace. Spiritually, I just kept praying that God would show me Himself as I literally ran towards China. Mentally? I’m laughing just thinking about it. And Emotionally? I’ve only continued to break, in more ways than even I thought could happen. God has softened my heart to the point of it bleeding for children I have yet to meet, and He has broken down walls I didn’t even know existed. It’s been humbling, and very obvious to those around me. I finally realized this is what I asked Him to do in breaking my heart and that has meant embracing that appearance of “weakness” instead of pretending I’m that strong wanderlust woman that hops on a plane and never stresses or cries or breaks.

At the beginning of December, I felt like my friends and I were limping into this Christmas. Along with my heart softening for China, I was mourning the extreme darkness that befalls so much of our world, a world aching without knowing Jesus. I was grieving the heavy injustices we have seen this year in America and across the globe. Weeping for the least of these and the lost and forgotten. Desperate for every orphan to be home. Desiring justice for so many torn apart families and broken hearted marriages. Dear friends suffering the loss of their children through miscarriages or sudden death, family members to suicides, car accidents, cancer, and the loss of building more memories together. Hard anniversaries. Parents declining. Depression kicking in. Dreams crushed. Need I go on? Our entire world aches with longing for relief.

And then on December 14th, R.C. Sproul, our beloved teacher, esteemed pastor, loving friend to so many and grandfather to my friends, died. It seemed impossible that we would outlast him, but in just 11 days after becoming sick, he went to live with the Savior He preached about his whole life and longed to see with his whole soul.

Any possible shred of emotional stability has been torn to pieces. Like the violent ripping of a rug from underneath our feet, my dear St. Andrews Chapel family has been deeply grieving, and I’ve been grieving along with them. Now not only limping into Christmas, we’re stumbling into this weekend with hearts so broken we don’t know how to live in the “holly jolly white wonderland we wish you a Merry Christmas spirit”. It’s foreign to us. Instead our texts are filled with tears and how much we just want to curl up and cry.

The Better Honor of Mourning

Here’s the honest truth. People who have all their crap together and all their Christmas gifts bought are not the people I’ve spent the last week crying with. Mourning with and supporting my friends was the better honor but I felt like a terrible family member for still not having my gifts together. Just thinking about it makes me cry. I am so so so tired.

I spent most of last week driving back and forth from being with “my people” while we mourned together, worked together, walked together, laughed together, prayed together, stood in silence together, and cried together. It’s been exhausting, and it’s been worth it. 

I am of the fierce conviction that when Christ calls us to live like a Christian in Romans 12, it is not a mistake that “weep with those who weep” comes just a few short sentences after “cling to what is good”, “loving one another”, “rejoicing in hope”, “continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints” (Romans 12:9, 12, 13, 15).

Mourning, is a gift. Weeping in sorrow is a gift. Joining as a church to grieve is a gift.

We are not broken for nothing. We have been broken in love, and we are beautiful in it. 

Jesus stood at the tomb of Lazarus knowing He would raise him to life again and yet He wept deeply. He groaned with deep agony. Those standing nearby said “See how He loved him!” (John 11). His tears were not shed in unbelief and they were not hopeless but neither were they not sad. Jesus was weeping in sadness, and so we can also weep without shame. Mourning is a testament to loving deeply, and oh, have we loved deeply.

So on that note, I want to offer three things I’ve been thinking upon this advent season:

1. Don’t Try to Fix Your Grief

I was washing sand off my feet today after a beach walk with my dear family, when all this hit me and how important it was. My friends who are grieving so deeply, we’re all just trying to make it to Christmas and the New Year, and I’m not even kidding. I get in my car and I cry all the way to my destination, wipe my mascara, get out and see my people, cry, get back in the car and cry all the way home. Everything hurts, everything is broken. Every day is a struggle. We can’t stop crying. We laugh about how much we’re crying. Last night I spilled cooked potato on my lap and burst into tears. I hear a line in a Christmas hymn and burst into tears. I looked at a Diet Coke and tears welled up. We’ve sobbed for weeks. Last night I thought I’d almost made it….but no, the tears came afresh.

We tag each other in “barely making it” memes and laugh together and it’s a really GOOD thing. We’re in this together and rarely have I more felt the “worldwide church” band together to grieve than this past week. Grieving is so lonely, but we aren’t alone. We’re praying for the Sprouls and all the hidden needs among us that a few know but many don’t. And not once have we told each other that something small that is hurting us “doesn’t matter”. We’ve sat in the hurt and in the grief and we haven’t tried to fix it.

And honestly I’m wondering why we do grief so wrong so often when it looks so God-honoring when we do it right. 

Why do we expect each other to stop weeping after a few weeks instead of continually seeking an intimate presence of a Jesus-like heart for the pain in this world? Jesus wept KNOWING what we could never imagine would happen. For who would expect the dead to rise? Jesus, Who would One Day make all things new and knew He would reign over all injustice was standing outside the grave of His friend, feeling the agony of death and His response was to burst into tears. He sobbed. He felt great pain. He wept openly. 

Don’t try to fix your grief this Christmas. You are like your Savior in your mourning. Believe in the hope of the resurrection promised, believe that Jesus will crush death, and weep in your sadness, for in it, you are like your Savior. He calls you to come to Him with your tears. He does not chastise us for weeping them; He reminds us He sees us and knows our pain. Jesus came to taste our sadness, and to bear our every pain and grief.

“Jesus wept not because He lacked faith, but because He was full of love. In love, He weeps with those who weep…Jesus wept. And in these tears we see that God does not stand aloof to the pains of our existence. He has drawn near. He has taken our flesh and blood. He has not called us to a humanity that He himself was unwilling to take. We have not been abandoned to a  world into which He was unwilling to enter. We suffer no pain He was unwilling to bear. We have no grief He was unwilling to carry. 

The very heart of the Christian message is that the happy God so loved our weeping world that He gave His own Son to weep with us, all the way to the place of utter forsakenness, that whosoever believes in Him will not weep forever, but have everlasting joy. 

And one day, when He wipes away our every tear, it is not because He is suppressing our sadness. The One Who wipes away our tears has shed His own. And He has triumphed. 

This is our gospel in two words: Jesus wept.” – David Mathis 

“A Jesus who never wept could never wipe away my tears.” – C.H. Spurgeon

But Jesus did weep. And in his humanity, He came to bear what we could not. Indeed, Jesus has been carrying our sadness all our lives. He can bear every sadness we’ve ever known or will ever know. He was born to taste our sadness, and He was born to defeat and triumph over all that breaks us in our world. He came so that when Isaiah says “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”, we would know that it was true because Jesus felt our deepest human pain more than we could imagine.

2. Don’t Lose Sight of Jesus

Lately I’ve been praying that we would see the beauty of Jesus in the darkness. It’s 3 days until Christmas and in all the pain and exhaustion I keep thinking that this is the same world Jesus was born into. A war zone. Injustice. Slavery. Broken families. Children dying. Tyrants for kings. It comforts me that this doesn’t shock God, and it makes me cry to remember that the Jesus we sing about in Christmas hymns didn’t come to make this dark world beautiful. He came to defeat Satan’s temporary hold and bring us an eternal holy life that could not be broken by sin ever again. He came to be our light and peace.

“O Come, thou Rod of Jesse, free thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save, and give them victory over the grave.” 

The baby cry that rang out that one dark night broke generations of silence. He would grow up to tell us that our sadness will not last and He would triumph over it by His death and resurrection. That one dark night when angels filled the skies because the King had a heavenly choir exulting over His arrival and wonder in what He would do. That one dark night that changed our darkness forever with the long-expected and awaited Light of the World.

“the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16)

That one dark night would bring another dark day with a cross, long agonizing nights of weeping, then would be broken by a brilliant earth-splitting morning. We are led in our valleys of darkness by the One Who promises to never leave us or forsake us. The darkness is not darkness to Him, and His sovereign hand will not let us go.

“Even there (in the depths of the sea), Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” even the night shall be light about me; Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You.” – Psalm 139:10-12

I know He will never allow His light within me to go out, for darkness cannot stay where Jesus is. “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in Me may not remain in darkness.” (John 12:46) We may be in darkness now, but He is our Light in it.

Don’t lose sight of Jesus. Look to the promised morning. He is coming back for us.

3. Don’t lose sight of Who You were called to proclaim

Christmas can be lonely. In a world where everyone seems to have their lives together, it feels alienating that ours feel so broken and like they are constantly falling apart. Embrace it. BE in it. And preach the Gospel. Our world doesn’t need one more “Everything is Awesome” Insta-grammer who looks like a model 24/7. Our world needs more people weeping in church pews for the littlest lovely thing that reminds us of Jesus. Our world needs more grieving people walking to the graveside and proclaiming the coming morning of resurrection. Our world needs more aching souls seeing the injustice of the world and calling out what would have enraged our Lord of Compassion and Justice. Our world needs to see that we can sit in the sadness of hurt, the darkness of depression, the longing for healing from chronic illnesses, the grief over sin, and not be okay with it.

We were not born to save ourselves. It’s a good thing because we aren’t any good at it. 

We need a Savior, and we need one badly. To portray ourselves as all-sufficient is a sin and an injustice to a world who can and never will “make it”. We are barely making it.

So let go of it. Instead preach the saving work and all-sufficiency of Jesus to a dying world. 

We are broken vessels that God uses to shine His light through, and I believe that when God uses that metaphor it isn’t meant for us to try to glue ourselves together with the “self-help hope that tomorrow will be better”, but to look to a healing that will not come from within ourselves. We need Jesus. Must we believe it is bad to be so very broken?

How else would we preach the need of Jesus to a broken world? How else would we ever see our great need? We are not “less” in our suffering, indeed the Bible reminds us that we are “blessed” in it, and that God intends to use our “weakness” to proclaim His glory.

I have been broken by God’s hand and it is a beautiful thing in His sight. I will rest in it.

I am coming weeping into the last days of Advent. I am proclaiming the joy of the Christ child coming one dark night and anticipating the most glorious Heavenly morning because of it. The weight of sadness is heavy and so every joyful proclamation of all that Jesus will do causes me to yearn in my brokenness and to weep with wonder and expectation. Emmanuel, God with us. Born that man no more may die. Our Joy secure.

“Because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven,
to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)

 

Home & Hope: Words from Dunkirk

Tonight my Dad and I went to see Dunkirk in theaters. I’d been giddily anticipating its release since I first heard of its making, and since my favorite movies are war movies, I also anticipated that I’d be able to handle it.

I vastly overestimated myself and drastically underestimated how tense I would be for the whole movie. “Zimmer has done it again”, my Daddy whispered under his breath. My good friend sitting next to me laughed as he said: “Never let it be said a soundtrack doesn’t do anything!”. Thanks, Christopher Nolan, for pushing every “feeling” button I had.

The whole movie, you never get a break: you’re in the air, you’re on a ship, you’re surrounded by fire in the oil slick sea, you’re on the beach being picked off by fighter planes, you’re the captains with worry in their eyes, you’re the desperate soldier waiting for a boat, for anything really, to be rescued.

It’s gripping and devastating and with every minute you wonder if you’re still breathing.

Hans Zimmer put a clock into the soundtrack, a deadly undertone hum that instantly speeds up your heart rate and never lets you go in its intensity except for two times:  once in the next to final moment when they are safe, and the one that no one will forget….

The “victory” moment. 

You’ve been listening to roughly an hour and 20 minutes of never-ending, pounding, heart throbbing ticking and watching devastatingly raw footage, and the on-edge string ensemble continues to build and build and scrape and scrape…..at this point you’ve actually started to get upset at yourself for thinking that this movie was going to end happily. Everyone’s dying and so are you.

And then the captain on the pier sees something, and you can instantly tell he’s seen something he thought he’d never see. He asks for binoculars and his second in command asks tenuously: “What is it?” The Captain lowers the binoculars with tears in his eyes and says simply: “Home.”.

You see the fleet of civilian ships coming in. And the music that has been grating and grinding and scraping and building and tearing you into pieces shifts into the most beautiful melody you’ve ever heard. You could feel joy melt into that theater room.

Obviously, I began crying. But not because the ships were coming in. Not because they were rescued. Not because a movie had stirred me or hit me in all the feelings yet again.

In the stunning moment that the Captain saw the ships and said the word “Home”, my heart immediately replied “HOPE”, and as the music shifted from raw pain to astounding beauty, my heart instantly sang: “JESUS.”

“Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. This is you in my night of grief. This is You in all my pain. This is You in every ache of my heart. This is You in my agony. You are my Hope. You are so intensely beautiful and You are my song in the night.”

My Hope in the night. My Hope in my pain. My Hope in my distress. My Hope in my grief.
My Hope in my loss. My Hope in the fiery sea. My Hope amidst despair. My Hope always.

My Hope now and forever. 

The music lifted, swirled and I swear everyone in the theater let out a deep, relieved, too-moved-to-be-cheery sigh and began breathing at the word: “HOME”.

and tears streamed down my face: JESUS. 

Jesus, standing on the shore, calling me in from the stormy sea. Jesus, holding my hand on the rough waters. Jesus, pulling my gaze from the thousands of miles between me and someone I love. Jesus, reminding me I can trust Him with anything, even this. Jesus, holding me tight against His heart and never letting me go.

Jesus, the One in Whom Hope will never die, even when all seems so desperately lost.

The dark night may stretch for hours to months and on to years, but there is hope, there is a light, look up, there He is….parting the waves so the redeemed can cross over.

Emmanuel, God with us.

Home and Hope. 

“You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, 
the HOPE of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas,
Who formed the mountains by Your power, having armed yourself with strength,
Who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves,
and the turmoil of the nations.

The whole earth is filled with awe at Your wonders;
where morning dawns, where evening fades, You call forth songs of joy.” 
– Psalm 65: 5-8

Turning 29, and 3 things I know to be true –

29 years ago in the dark before the dawn of the morning, I was born: a 5lb 12 oz baby girl with bright red carrot hair. I was almost immediately placed in my parents arms, and loved instantly and completely: “It’s a girl! and she has red hair!”.

It’s been a beautiful life so far, and so turning 29 years old today seems like a gift.
A big gift, considering this last year.

Turning 29: it’s not as startling as I thought it would be. It is, after all, just another day.
Birthdays make me introspective. I’ve been thinking deeply about what another day means and looks like, and further, what another year looks like in the season of life I am in right now.

This season is hard and confusing and I feel a tad like a little ship that is adrift on a stormy sea. I need truths to hold tight to, things to dwell on in the middle of the night, to preach to my heart in the dawn of the morning.

So here are 3 core things I know to be true:

 1. He has good for us

This good. It’s not a human good. It’s not a “dream come true” good. It’s a good that surpasses what our human-minds-can-dream-up-good. It’s a “beyond what we could ask or imagine” good. I saw that goodness revealed when I met my brother in law and saw him pursue and love my sister and care for his own little son. It was a “beyond” moment that God fulfilled after years of prayers for my dear sister. We continue to say “Thank God for Ben” continually. This is just one example of the millions of “beyond” good moments we all have, if we just take a moment to look back and dwell on the GOOD God has done.

We are self proclaimed “American Dreamers”. We think we reach a higher pinnacle of dreaming more than any other country and accomplish more. We don’t even hit the bottom of the mark of what God has planned for us; we can’t begin to dream up its beauty.

A few months ago, in a dark season of my soul, I took a piece of chalk and wrote in large letters on a small chalkboard: “He has GOOD for us.”. In the deep pain, in the loss, in the moments when our dreams fall apart and we don’t have exciting ones to fill it….

God’s goodness remains unchanged. And His good for us remains unchanged. 
The GOOD He has planned for us finds its drawing well in His sovereignty.

It may take years of feeling unmoored in a stormy sea, but don’t doubt that His care for you will one day be plain to your eyes, and you will say, “He has GOOD for me.” 

“When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing. 
Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad.” {Psalm 126:1-3}

“You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” {Psalm 23:5-6}

2. He is worth following to the ends of the Earth

This year I’ve had months when I’ve been closer to God than I have in the past 10 years, and I’ve also had months when I’ve dragged myself to church and sat in the second row trying not to cry my eyes out Sunday after Sunday because none of it felt real.

And all that it has taught me is that Jesus is worth it. He’s worth it when everything you were dreaming for falls apart, the little boy you love with all your heart is halfway across the world and not in your arms, when your friends lose their children and you have no words. When you stare yourself down and don’t know what to do with your life.

Jesus. Is. Worth. It.

The days when I’ve 100% stepped out into the dark and expected nothing except for God to show up and show me something/anything, He has. He won’t let you fall. He is leading you through the darkness and holding you on the stormy seas and whispering to you in the most beautiful sunset. He is preaching to you in your pain: Trust Me. He can be trusted. He can be trusted with everything you can’t be, and can’t do. He is trustworthy!

The God Who pursues us and is faithful when we are unfaithful is worth following today, tomorrow, next year, every year we have. It’s the only life worth living, one loving Jesus. It is, after all, what we were created for. To know and love the One Who loves us the most.

3. He is perfecting a good work in us

This Sunday I taught my 5th graders about Heaven and as we were reading through Revelation 21, I asked them what they were looking forward to most about Heaven. Without hesitation, my sweet student I’ve known since she was born looked up with shining eyes and said “To not have sin in me anymore!”. She knows. I know. We all know.

The more I live on this earth, and the more I see my sin, the more I long for a sinless heart, a sinless body, a sinless world. Sin has broken our world and it breaks our hearts.

I long for the perfection that I know we were made in. We all ache with our dying world that groans for the Creator to come and redeem it from death as written in Romans 8:19-24.

We will not be perfect or perfectly holy in this life, because that is not possible here, nor is it what our perspective of perfection should drive us to. Trying for perfection ourselves will slowly kill us and kill our worship of our perfect Savior.

Our sin and lack of righteousness now is not meant for us to seek our own perfection (for we could never keep the Law), but to look to the One Who is our righteousness. 

We cannot and could never be what we need most: a Savior who would redeem us.
But Jesus can, and is, and has accomplished for us what we could not: Holiness.

How then could we ever be discouraged that He will bring us to sinlessness at the end of our lifetimes? He will bring us in as He has promised, as the angels sing in welcome, and He will announce to us what we’ve been believing and hoping for all along: Forgiven.

Beloved Bride of Christ. Forgiven. Accepted. Holy. Perfect. Healed. Sinless. Forever.

“being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you
will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
{Philippians 1:6}

When we look at ourselves, we despair of all the sin we see. Don’t keep your eyes there.
Look up at the cross. Look at the empty grave. Look at the shimmering throne.
Look to Jesus. Know that your sin debt is paid in full and you are gaining a glory better than anything you could have ever dreamed and God is bringing it about in you even now.

And that love and grace and mercy rests upon you NOW. It does not wait until Heaven to be revealed, but is placed upon us as an invisible crown of His love. YOU, His Beloved Bride of Christ. Forgiven. Accepted. Holy. Perfect. Whole. Healed. Sinless. Heirs of glory.

For your 29th year. And for all the days of your life. Forever.

Five Ways to Make it Through the Darkness

A few years ago, I wouldn’t have believed I’d be writing this. Not even a few weeks ago. I’m glad I am. I’m glad I have the space to be open, and I’m glad knowing I’m not alone in this. This is a hard and deep post, and I won’t tie it up in a tidy little box for you or for me.

Within the past month, within two weeks of each other, dear friends and acquaintances of mine have lost their sons. First, it was our dear friends losing their 24 year old son very suddenly. Then 2 weeks later, our friends lost their 3 month old grandson and nephew within 48 hours after finding him unconscious during a nap.

It’s been a heavy and hard year and a half, and I’ve undergone many “why” moments in that time, but I never thought it’d be 2nd hand grief that would completely break me.

I sat at that first funeral of the month, staring at what seemed like the hundredth wooden casket, looked over to my weeping friends, and back to the casket, and it was then that something incredibly thin snapped inside me. 

Tears streamed down my cheeks as my heart cried out these eight words to God:
“I don’t know how to do this anymore.”

*THIS* was life. *THIS* was death. This. I don’t know how to live this anymore.

I wasn’t grieving for me, but I was grieving. I barely made it through the next week and a half, crying in the night, weeping in prayer, begging for comfort and mercies for my friends, and leaving myself quite out of the healing process that should accompany grief.

Only I wasn’t out of it. I was in it. In it and utterly unable to remove myself from it.

I went to a baseball game with my friend at the end of that unbearable week(s), only to have my friends lose their little 3 month old baby boy the very next morning.

I drove 7 hours to comfort my friends with hugs and tears, and no words; truly, there are no words in this kind of loss and pain. The wind fluttered pictures of his sweet life of 3 months that were hung up around the chairs of those who had gathered to celebrate his life. Onesies he would never wear again danced in the breeze; worship songs rang with hope we would not let go of. A monsoon sized storm darkened the skies and fittingly as we left it opened up and drenched the grass that held our tears.

So much deep loss, so much clinging to Jesus, so much pain, so much hurt, so much sorrow….the darkness has been deep and inescapable, and I recognize my footsteps in the valley that I’ve walked many times before. The days the darkness will not lift are the days you need Jesus the most, and yet I’ve been without a way to put words to the night.

Today was the first day in a month where I woke up and didn’t feel like I was dying. 
Unable to write or work or share my heart without bawling, today was the first day I didn’t feel like a hypocrite to share 5 ways to make it through the darkness.

So here we go:

#1. Stay in the Word however you can

Listen, I’m not here to tell you that every day you need to stick to a strict schedule of memorize the entire book of Psalms, but I am telling you that you need to stick to a committed schedule of, at the very least, opening the Bible once a day.

Why? Because when you’re dying, you need life. 

You aren’t going to gain LIFE back into your soul faster than dwelling on the words of God, Who is the fullness of Life. You need this more than air, more than water and food.

I’m calling you to dwell, not conquer. Often it’s the same verse for days. Over and over and over again, hundreds of times. Find what comforts, find what pierces, and dwell.

You are in pain, don’t deny yourself the medicine you need.

#2. Preach the Truth to your soul

You are in a battle between what you FEEL and what you KNOW. Constantly trusting either truth about the God you believe or what you see around you right now. When you’re surrounded in darkness and can’t see a way out or any glimmers of light, preach to your soul that there is a God Who loves you and is with you in the darkness.

The darkness might feel like the most pointless holding pattern and an empty desert that isn’t producing the fruit you feel like waiting should produce, and it might feel like a million losses that have piled up that are crushing you. You need something to hold onto. 

Make it Jesus. 

In the night, in the day, in the weeping, in the laughter, in the sorrow, in the loss. Come what may…..remind yourself that there is an answer to your pain, and it isn’t anything this earth can give you. It’s the One Who is trustworthy, the One Who is sovereign.

Don’t ground yourself in something that will not hold you forever secure. It will not comfort. C.S. Lewis writes this: “To what will you look for help if you will not look to that which is stronger than yourself?” 

We are not strong enough to lift the darkness or tear the veil. Jesus is. Preach it to your soul.

#3. Reach out with both hands

Yesterday I shared openly and honestly with two dear friends and mentors about how everything seems completely overwhelming and I can’t do it anymore. Within a half hour, I was beating myself up for sharing my heart. Don’t do that. Reach out with both hands.

Text your friends. Be honest. Be specific. Be raw. Ask for prayer. Ask for lots of prayer. Ask for prayer that won’t have a tidy bow in a week and let them know that.

Let your community know your hurts and the darkness you see. There won’t be a lot that will be able to handle it without wanting to fix it, but there will be a few. They may be scattered in different places, but reach out and let them minister to you in this season.

Don’t weep alone when we’re called to weep together. Do not feel as though you must fix it before you share, because you can’t fix it, and neither can they. Only Jesus can.

On a practical note, realize that there WILL be something in the dark that brings joy. If it’s hymns/worship music, play those on repeat, if it’s being outdoors, go. If it’s the ocean: get there as often as you can, if it’s mountains: hike, if it’s creating beauty by hand on a rainy day, create. Find what heals, and DO IT. You are worth the healing. Reach for it.DCIM100GOPRO

#4. Don’t let go of Hope

Ohh, this one. Could there be something else so vital to life besides hope? I’m not sure there is. Don’t let go of Hope, no matter what you do. Don’t let yourself let go.

The Hope we have been given is an everlasting, never changing, never failing hope.
It lives in Jesus and His triumph over sin and death. It’s the hardest thing to do when you feel like you’re drowning in the dark, but there IS hope. There is always, always, always hope, because Jesus lives and reigns. Hope is alive even when you are hidden in the darkness and cannot see it.

Do not depend on your finite vision when you trust an infinite
and sovereign God with a Hope that will not be taken away from you. 

“And now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in You.” – Psalm 39:7

“For in You, O Lord, I hope; You will hear, O Lord my God.” – Psalm 38:15

“Preserve me, O God, for in You I put my trust.” – Psalm 16:1

“Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? 
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.” – Psalm 42:5

“For You are my hope, O Lord God; You are my trust from my youth.” – Psalm 71:5

“Uphold me according to Your word, that I may live; and do not let me be ashamed of my hope.” – Psalm 119:116

“I rise before the dawning of the morning and cry for help; I hope in Your word.” – Psalm 119:147

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I do hope.” – Psalm 130:5

“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the
presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?”
– 1 Thess. 2:19

#5. Trust the One Who brings light out of darkness

“If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” even the night shall be light about me;
Indeed the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day;
the darkness and the light are both alike to You.” – Psalm 139:11-12

Once upon a time, the God Who made everything created light out of darkness. He spoke light into being: “Then God said, “Let there be light”, and there was light.” {Genesis 1:3}

When sin brought darkness, He sent His Son to permanently shatter the darkness by His presence: “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat
in the region and shadow of death LIGHT has dawned.” {Matthew 4:16} and “to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” {Luke 1:79}

This is the same God Who is with you in your darkness. Do not equate the darkness with His absence. He is present. He has promised never to leave you and has given you the Holy Spirit as a promise. You are not alone. You never were. He is with you always.

The darkness cannot cover His light. The darkness cannot fully triumph where the Holy Spirit reigns. Yes, you may see it and feel it, but trust that the One Who has conquered this darkness once and for all LIVES IN YOU and has defeated that darkness already for you. Look to the sunshine of His countenance and trust that one day, that light will again dawn upon your face. Indeed, it shines in you even now, albeit weakly on hard days.

“He knows what is in the darkness and light dwells with Him.” – Daniel 2:22

“When I fall, I will arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.” – Micah 7:8

“Be of GOOD COURAGE, and He shall strengthen your heart, all You who hope in the Lord.” – Psalm 31:24View More: http://shannonashleyphotography.pass.us/wetlands-shoot

“O for grace to lay down all my dreams in Him be found,
O for faith to keep it true and never stop believing You,
And when it’s strong or when it falls through,
Oh Lord to know my answer is You.

And oh for love to trust some more, to fix my eyes on Heaven’s shore,
and for hope with every step, every word, my every breath,
And when it’s strong or when it falls through,
Oh Lord to know my answer is You.

For Your life, I lose my home,’cause I’m not staying here, I’m moving on,
so give me strength to hold on tight through stormy gales ’till morning light.
And when it’s strong or when it falls through,
Oh, when it’s strong or when it falls through,

When it’s strong or when it falls through,
Oh Lord to know the answer is You.
Oh when it’s strong or when it falls through,
Oh Lord to know my answer is You.”
– Brady Toops (2017)

The Now and the Not Yet

Last night I made pizza and the crust refused to get crisp. I happily put together all the delicious ingredients and spread them on top of a Trader Joe’s pizza crust. I plopped it onto a pizza stone, put it on the bottom oven rack and put the timer on. The time came up, yet no crispy pizza. A tad exasperated, I tried bumping up the oven temperature, over baked the rest of it, and yet it stubbornly stayed chewy. We ate it anyway, to my parents kind words.

Honestly I wasn’t that surprised, more confused and disappointed.

It fit right into my week. Unexpected terrible that I had no control over making better.

I spent most of last weekend crying, weeping for our friends’ deep loss of their son at a funeral. It did not ease Sunday morning as I wrapped myself up in a shawl and felt the sadness wrap around me, and yet the closeness of God’s love envelope me in that sadness. All the hymns seemed closer and sharper in the midst of grief.

I cried most of Monday morning. Overwhelmed, I pulled out of church activities and a Bible study.

Tears still slip down my face most of these days, and I can’t pinpoint all the reasons why I’m crying, I just know that grief sometimes stays heavy and won’t let go.

The Very Muddy Middle

As Christians, we talk about the now and the not yet. It’s the theology simply stated that we live between when Christ has come and will come again. Between Christ’s saving work on the cross and the day when He will come again to make all things new. We live in the unseen of what will be, yet with the “seen” revelation through the Bible. We live in the middle of that; we live in the Now.

The very confused middle most days. The Now is a muddy middle, and a lot of days it doesn’t look like brilliant sun rays of glory and peace. It looks like a mess. It looks like we screwed everything up. It looks like a toddler got ahold of all the wrapping paper and glue and tissue paper and (while covered in sticky pudding fingers), put together a picture that resembles nothing what you thought life would be. You can’t tell if it’s up or down, whether that’s you or not, and whether you’re in a peaceful ocean or an angry sea of lava.

We hate the muddy middle because we love the brilliant glory of clarity and comfort,
but we lose ground hard won when we rush ahead to the future glories without remembering the fruitful seasons of the past.

Resting on either side will exhaust us for different reasons, which is why they need to be connected. They both matter.

On each side, the Now and the Not Yet, there is hope, but it hasn’t ever and won’t ever lie in us.

This is because the Now, the Muddy Middle, and the Not Yet is not about us. 

We Forget What Came Before Us

We have a brief span of years here on this earth, but when we stay self focused, we lose sight of those who have gone before us. From the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years, to the period of 400 years when the Israelites thought they’d never hear the voice of God again, to the pilgrims at Plymouth who thought they were finally free and lost half of their family and friends that first year.

Whenever I think of those periods, I think of how much they must have felt plunged deep into the aching, dark, muddy middle. Confused. Lost. Devastated. Weary. Broken.

The Now stings so much when it’s painted with grief and loss. 

Yet no days have ever been so dark than the days before Resurrection Sunday. The shock that must have ripped through the Christians homes. That thousand yard stare in their eyes as they tried to put together some comfort amid the realization that their Redeemer and King lay in a tomb. Everything they thought would come true was dead and gone.

They couldn’t see ahead any better than we can 2,017 years later.

We Can’t Lose Sight of What Is Coming

It’s so easy to get lost in the dark of the middle. Some days it feels like I’m wading through waist deep mud, and can’t breathe from the weight of all that has happened. The despair will tie me to the bed and the ache in the middle of the night will crush my heart.

It’s so hard to look forward when you feel so utterly overwhelmed by the past.
It’s so hard to keep walking forward when you don’t want to lose the people in the seasons behind you.

But we do not bear up under grief by pulling ourselves out by our bootstraps or good will.

We bear the dark and unseen Now by keeping our eyes on Christ and what is coming. 

We bear it by knowing the One Who came before us has paved the way ahead with glory,
because Jesus trod it for us and has walked every path we will walk, with holiness.

We bear it by knowing that what comes ahead will be not only the fulfillment and redemption
of the muddy middle of the Now, but ALL of History, when Jesus makes ALL THINGS NEW.

But most of all, we bear it by knowing that Jesus already reigns, has always reigned.
God has put “all things under His feet” (Eph 1:22), which means ALL things in His control,
and all things under His sovereignty. ALL things, friends. All things for our good and His glory.

Walking in Hope Through the Now

The Now is filled with joy and sorrow, but has always been, friend. Our days are not new to the span of history, although filled with different stories. Our days are not a surprise to our God. Our trials are not meaningless, our suffering is not wasted, our tears not unseen.

When we keep our eyes on Christ, we can’t stay in the grief of the Now
without looking ahead to the Joy and Hope of the Not Yet.

It is a tension, yes, a necessary tension in a tug of war between the two:
balancing grief and joy, feeling the weight of the grave while looking toward Heaven.
Neither to be abandoned or discarded, but both to be measured and counted, balanced, and lived well.

The grief of the Now gives meaning to the Hope of the Not Yet.
The Joy of the Not Yet gives strength to the hard days of the Now.

So while we live in this tension, let us cling to the Hope that
will not change on the worst days: the Hope in Jesus.

“So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the 
unchangeable character of His purpose, He guaranteed it with an oath, so that by 
two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for
refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the HOPE set before us. 

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into
the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.”
– Hebrews 6:17-20

This Hope, is unchangeable. It is unchangeable because it is in Christ.
Jesus, the Hope that will never change. His love has been set upon us
throughout all our days and will never be removed. His Hope is our Hope.

He is making all things new, and one day….we will see it for what it really is.

One day it won’t look like a glued painting done by a toddler where you’re drowning in an angry sea.

One day….it will be the most beautiful painting and story you’ve ever seen,
and never ever could have dreamed it would be while you were standing broken in the Now.

“Behold, I am making all things new….” – Revelation 21:5

All My Days

You’re going to be shocked when I tell you this:

I’ve had my funeral planned since I was 13.

I don’t think I’m usually so opinionated about parties that I *ahem* won’t be attending, but my gracious, I was very opinionated about my funeral. I wrote it up on a sheet of double-lined paper, with large letters saying: “NO carnations or daisies, I hate them.”.

Before you think I was a morbid child, you have to realize that at the innocent age of 13, I  lost my Sunday School teacher the day after 9/11, and my beloved grandparents the next year (within 10 months of each other). The hymns that carried me through those days would solidify the hymns I wanted people to remember singing at my funeral. The hymns that sang of being carried, of resting beside still waters, of all Jesus was to us, and dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.

For all my days.

“Make it to 30”, used to be my mantra. Still is, since I’m bordering on 29. A lot of days I wasn’t sure I’d make it to 30, like the time a garbage truck crushed my car and sliced metal ribbons through the hood and stopped within inches of my windshield. Or the time I hit a deer in the dark night on a county road, miles from a fire station. Or one of the many times I could have sworn my heart would never beat right again, for it was so broken in sorrow. But the Sustainer of life would breathe into me, and my heart would go on beating.

So it seems logical that when I traveled to China in March of 2016, I updated my living will, and re-wrote my funeral plans. I cried for a week, writing goodbye letters. I would be up late at 2am, bawling my eyes out and writing words you give in eulogies, the best of the best that you save for special occasions. My friends all thought I was crazy. It wasn’t that I expected anything to happen (I mean, it’s halfway around the world. Anything could happen, haha), or thought we’d fall out of the sky, but I couldn’t stand the thought of leaving without saying what my heart has known for so long.

My days don’t end here.

We were made for more. I didn’t want my parents thinking this dream trip had ended a beautiful life. I wanted them to know that I had merely slipped from one realm of Earth to our better and true Home in Heaven, and I was doing what I’d waited and dreamed of and prayed over since I was 12: visiting orphans. It was so important to me that they knew I wouldn’t be disappointed at all if in the midst of one calling, He called to me in another way. I wrote amid streaming tears that I would be more alive than I’d ever known. The “more” wouldn’t end, it would forever go on and on….with Jesus.

Because life is more than this world.

Life.…isn’t air. It isn’t health. It isn’t family. It isn’t planet Earth. It isn’t blessings. It isn’t dreams come true. It isn’t how many people you meet or how many countries you visit.

Life, the very core of Life, the very BEING of Life, the Giver of Life, the Creator of Life…

LIFE is Jesus

And it’s nothing without Him.

Albeit a little paraphrased, it’s what I wrote in my funeral plans and in my will. It’s what I want sung at my funeral. It’s what I want people to remember in my lifetime span in this world: Jesus was my everything.

Worth more than all my dreams or business plans of success or glory. Worth more than traveling to England and China one more time, worth more than seeing Scotland in person, worth more than walking down the aisle, worth more than having children, worth more than adopting, worth more than anything I could dream up.

So fill your days with Jesus.

If your days may not be long, let them be spent for Christ.

Don’t live restlessly in a world you fill up with things that cannot go Home with you. Trust your future to a known God. Spend every day making the relationship with your Savior deeper and closer. Don’t rest on your pillow at night sorrowful of all the dreams you haven’t yet accomplished, but instead rejoice in all He has prepared for you. 

Live for the glory of Christ and His kingdom. Live in the expectant joy of the span of endless days in the light of His brilliant splendor, finally dressed in holiness and radiant with wonder at the sight of Him. Live for Jesus. Let all else go. 

And sing at my funeral one day if you get the chance ….

“The sure provisions of my God, attend me all my days.
Oh may Thy house be my abode, and all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest, while others go and come,
No more a stranger, or a guest, but like a child at Home.” 
{Isaac Watts}