The Truth About Suffering

Fairyland QuoteThis past June my husband and I found out we are expecting our third baby and while I was excited to share this news with our family and friends there was one friend I couldn’t tell.

Within days of discovering our happy news I received an email from my friend, Caye. In this email Caye openly shared the devastating news that she had just lost her baby at seventeen weeks.

I have journeyed with Caye through one miscarriage and to hear that she was now facing another, when she had just started to grab on to the hope that this pregnancy would last, broke my heart for her and her husband and their dream of having a family.

In a desire to be sensitive to the grief and loss she was going through I decided not to tell her that I was pregnant until I knew she had some time to heal. It was hard to keep my news from her. I didn’t like the feeling of not being open, of hiding something so important from a friend I felt so close to, but I couldn’t stand the thought of hurting her, of adding to her pain.

A few days ago I had the pleasure of spending some time with Caye. After weeks of not being able to get together it was good to see her and I could tell that something was different. Instead of sadness she was full of joy. Instead of grief she had hope in her eyes. I sensed in my heart that the time had come to share my news with her.

“Caye, I have something to tell you but it’s kind of hard.”

“It’s okay,” she said. “What is it? Tell me.”

“I’m pregnant,” I said with my hands literally covering my face.

“Oh my gosh!” she said. “I had no idea. How far along are you?”

“Nineteen weeks,” I said with an apprehensive smile.

“NINETEEN WEEKS!” said Caye.

Together we laughed and hugged and I know my sweet friend well enough to understand that she was genuinely happy for me. I explained to her why I waited and how I’ve wanted to tell her for so long.

“Thank you for waiting,” she said. “It would have been hard. There was a time when it would have really hurt but now…”

I watched as tears filled her eyes.

“But now, I’m over-the-moon happy for you. God has done such a work in me through this suffering and it is so, so good. I can’t believe what He’s done.”

For a moment we were both quiet, because really, sometimes there just aren’t words. But there is friendship, and there’s this way that two hearts that know Him and love Him and love one another have the ability to understand.

I’m not sure how to express what her happiness meant to me. What her words spoke to my heart. What her courage and openness inspire in my life. I am honored to be her friend, to walk with her through suffering, to walk with her through joy. And my own joy feels more complete now that she is a part of it.

Caye’s words on suffering remind me of what Mr. Beaver says about Aslan in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe:

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” (The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis pg. 86)

When we make the choice to walk with God through this life on planet earth we are not choosing a God who is safe. On the contrary we’re choosing a path that is marked with pain and suffering. There are pitfalls, and trials, and tests. There is adversity, darkness, and danger. But even in the wild, even in the pain, even in the darkest night He is there, working in us, molding us, shaping us. Creating something beautiful, creating something good.

And in the end, isn’t it the good we’re after? The beauty? The wholeness? The satisfaction of staring down adversity and finding what we’re made of?

The satisfaction of finding Him?

I’m currently reading a book by Catherynne M. Valente titled, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship of Her Own Making. (Awesome title, I know!) And in this book Valente writes of her main character, September:

“There must be blood, the girl thought. There must always be blood. […] It will be hard and bloody, but there will be wonders, too, or else why bring me here at all? And it’s the wonders I’m after, even if I have to bleed for them.” (pg 36)

This life, it is hard and bloody. And sometimes we’re left wondering why. But in it all and through it all there is One.

There is a Lion, who isn’t safe. There is a King who is always good.

There is a Savior who went to the cross, to prove once and for all, that there are wonders worth bleeding for.

For more on Caye’s story please visit http://www.cayeser.wordpress.com.

Filling In The Blanks (A Message From the Archives)

Last February I wrote this post after spending a week with my sister and her family. Little did I know a whole year would go by before we had the chance to be together again. I’m happy to say my wait is almost over! By the time you read this post my family will be with me and the message I wrote last February will repeat itself from beginning to end.

As I prepare for my family’s arrival I thought this would be a good time to dig this post from the archives and share it one more time. May it be a reminder to you of “Kingdom Moments,” and the solace found in a thankful heart…

I know Christmas, by way of the calendar, has been over for a solid month, but for me, Christmas did not end until the last weekend of January.

Due to a new position at my brother-in-law’s workplace, my sister and her family were not able to make the 872 mile drive from their home in North Carolina to Michigan in time for Christmas this year. We all agreed that we would wait as long as necessary to celebrate the season if that’s what it took for us to be together.

“We’ll leave up the decorations until July if we need to,” I assured my sister. “Just. Get. Here!”

Finally, they made it, and for a full week we each drank deep from the glass family.

When they packed up their van and rolled out of our driveway, headed home to the sunny south, my heart began to ache. I don’t know for sure when we’ll see them again and that always makes goodbyes even harder.

Later, as my daughter and I sat at the kitchen table eating lunch, the quiet of the house consumed us. There we sat with room to spare, when just hours before, the table and the house had been full.

“Mommy,” Aletheia said. “I’m sad. I miss my cousins.”

“I miss them too.”

At three years of age, I know it’s hard for Aletheia to understand why she can’t see her cousins more often. I know how my heart felt in that moment and I could tell hers felt the same way. How could I help her understand and sort through the hard feelings that come with saying goodbye?

“Aletheia?” I asked. “Do you know why you feel the way you do? Do you know why you miss your cousins?”

Her sad, blue eyes spoke the words her mind couldn’t muster.

“The reason you feel sad is because you have five big holes inside your heart. One in the shape of Madeline. One in the shape of Conner, and one in the shape of Garrett, Aunt Melanie, and Uncle Landon too.”

“Yes,” she said with her tiny voice.

“And, do you know what else? I bet that Madeline, Conner, Garrett, Aunt Melanie, and Uncle Landon have some holes in their hearts too, except theirs are in the shape of Aletheia and Tenley.”

Aletheia nodded and we went back to our lunch, to our getting back to normal.

As my girls took their afternoon naps, I retreated to my room in search of my own sense of comfort for the holes that ached inside.

It’s a feeling I’m sure we can all relate to. At the end of something great, on the tail of goodbye, the sinking feeling of empty that is left in the wake of what I like to call days of heaven upon the earth. In time the ache goes away, but what to do with those moments when reality crashes hard?

Stretched across my bed, I pulled out my phone and opened my email. A week’s worth of blog posts from Ann Voskamp filled my inbox, evidence of a week too full of fun and family to stay on top of the everyday details that usually capture my attention.

I’ve written before, of my love for Ann’s writings and the way they have helped me in the past. I don’t mean to sound redundant, but once again, God navigated me to the right post at the right time and spoke to the holes inside my heart.

How can I fill the holes, the blanks left by a week that felt so much like His Kingdom, right here on earth?

The answer, I found, was simple: Fill the holes with Thanksgiving.

By remembering the moments that made the week great and the goodbyes hard, the holes can be filled with thank yous for God, the orchestrator and giver of each precious gift…

Garrett’s curls…

Madeline’s freckled nose and “little mommy” ways…

Conner’s boyish laughter…

Watching Twilight with my sister…

Landon playing in the snow with Aletheia…

Mom’s Christmas dinner…

Dad, asleep in his chair, while the grandkids romp wild…

Tenley learning to say “Coco” the name of our family’s furriest member…

Living-room ransacked with toys…

Late nights and early mornings…

Snow falling peaceful, the feel of “Christmas Morning”…

This is how my list began. As tears of remembrance slid down my cheeks, my heart was filled with thanksgiving for God’s goodness, for the joy of family and the comfort of His love.

Every Gift

My family's beautiful Christmas tree.

My family’s beautiful Christmas tree.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17

I’ve always loved this verse and during the holidays it seems to be everywhere.

Yet somehow I’m always a bit puzzled by the ending. “…coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights who does not change like shifting shadows?” I’ve often found myself wondering what this means, and how does it relate to God and his good and perfect gifts. I feel like I’ve never quite understood how the two parts of this verse go together.

What I do know is that the beginning of my New Year is sure to be marked with changes.

For five years my husband, girls, and I have shared a roof with my mom and dad. While this sort of arrangement may spell out disaster for some families it has always and only spelled out blessing for me and mine.

And starting this January, our time together is coming to an end, at least for the time being. My dad has accepted a job that is relocating both he and my mom to North Carolina. It’s a position that will last for at least six months with the possibility of a more permanent position to follow.

To say the least our future as a household is a bit uncertain.

When I look back at the years we’ve spent together, and the moments that have transpired within the walls of this house, all I can see are gifts:

Bringing both my babies home from the hospital…

Mom’s holiday (or weeknight) dinners around the table…

Dad’s tea parties with my girls…

Birthday parties…

Barbecues on our back porch…

Mom’s special talent for rocking my girls to sleep…

Walks around the block on mild summer evenings…

Movies, football, and basketball games on cold winter nights…

Goodnight kisses, “Welcome Home,” hugs, laughter, tears, and, sweet, sweet memories…

My dad's beautiful for gift for wrapping presents.

My dad’s beautiful for gift for wrapping presents.

Gifts that I’m learning to hold in an open hand, freely given, freely accepted, freely given away.

Gifts that were given for a time and purpose.

Gifts that were never meant to last forever.

And that verse in James, it hits me full to the brim with truth and meaning. In a life full of good and perfect gifts, the only unchanging gift I have is Christ.

There is an Alison Krauss song that I love with lines that speak to the tendency I have to hold onto the changing things of this world instead of God’s perfect love for me:

“Hurting brings my heart to you, my fortress in the storm,

When what I’ve wrapped my heart around is gone.

I give my heart so easily to the ruler of this world,

When the One who loves me most will give me all.” (From “There is a Reason for It All”)

This Christmas, this year, instead of wrapping gifts for each other, what if we wrapped our hearts around Jesus? What if we looked at our lives and found that every good and perfect gift is from above but that God is the only gift unchanging?

James, he must have known how our human hearts get twisted, get wrapped around other things. And that’s why he reminds us, here, in this verse about gifts, in this verse about a world full of shifting shadows that God doesn’t change.

The giver of gifts, the Father of stars doesn’t change. Our souls can rest in him. Your soul can rest in him. In a season of gifts, and change, and blessings that come to an end, my soul can rest in him.

This Christmas, this year, in the gifts that are given, in the changes that come, in the blessings and shadows that shift and fade, may Christ be your good, your perfect, your unchanging gift.

What I’ll Miss Most

Tree 2A few nights ago my husband, daughters and I came home after an evening of running errands. As we walked in the door my dad smiled big at my daughter, Aletheia, and told her a surprise was waiting for her in her room.

Excited, we all went upstairs to find a small but beautiful Christmas tree had been placed in each of my daughters’ rooms.

As soon as I saw the trees I knew who was behind this Christmas joy…(Today I’m blessed with the honor of guest posting for my friend Jessie Heninger and her blog Confessions of a Housewife. To read more hop on over to Jessie’s site by following this link…http://jessieheninger.wordpress.com/2013/12/19/what-ill-miss-most/.)

The Prodigal

I’ve been thinking and writing a lot lately about the wonder, the priceless gift that is Christmas. However, I know that while this is intended to be a season of peace and joy, for many people Christmas can come with a fresh ache for hearts that are already hurting and wounded.

I know just last week, a friend of mine ached to see the face of her son. Her son whom she has nurtured and cherished since the day he was born. Her son who has always graced the rim of her table at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Her son who has allowed pride and anger to fork a painful wedge between himself and a family that loves him.

As my thoughts and prayers have hovered over my friend, over my own desire for the true experience of Christmas, I can’t help but remember the parable of the prodigal son.

My own children are still too young to turn from me, and I pray this is a hurt I will never know, but even still I know what it’s like to watch friends and family members, dreams and desires turn their backs and run.

I know what it’s like to feel powerless to stop them.

I know what it’s like to wait, and watch, and hope for that someday, that time when maybe things will be different. When maybe they’ll turn and come home. Home to a heart, my heart, that has never stopped loving.

When I read the parable of the prodigal son it’s easy to focus on the role the son played in the story, and certainly there is much to be learned from the foolishness of his ways. But I think that the father has much to teach us as well.

“So he [the prodigal son] returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.” Luke 15:20 (emphasis mine)

When I read this verse I can picture the father standing on his doorstep or at a window scanning the horizon, watching and waiting with hopeful eyes for any sign of his son. I can imagine him doing this every morning as the sun begins to rise. I can imagine him doing this in the afternoon as he pauses in his work. I can imagine him doing this in the evening, at sunset, before darkness makes it impossible to see.

Day after day. Again and again. Until one day…in the distance…he sees it! The very thing he has watched, and waited, and hoped for. His son, come home!

Of course, I don’t know any of this for sure. Perhaps it was purely coincidence that he spied his son in the distance. But I do know my own heart. I do know that when it comes to friends, and family, and dreams that have wandered away from me, wandered away from the heart of Christ, I look for them. I hope for them. I pray, and wait, and watch for God to bring them home.

So I ask you, this Christmas season, what’s your prodigal son? Is it your own son or daughter? A friend? A dream, or desire gone irreparably wrong?

Whatever it is, take heart! Just as the father waited and watched expectantly for his son, wait and watch expectantly for what God can and will do.

Our God, he doesn’t waste a thing, and he works, always works, in the waiting. He works in the lives and hearts of the ones we love. And he works in our hearts as well.

As Christmas dinners are eaten, as presents are unwrapped, as the ache in the heart flares, and tears, and bleeds, don’t stop checking the horizon.

Don’t stop watching for the prodigal.

Don’t stop watching for the SON.