What I Learned from Our Series on Suffering

fontcandy (1) copy 3Although our Series on Suffering officially concluded last week, I’m compelled to share how I was personally changed over the past few weeks. My hope was to help others — either those in agony or those watching another suffer. By posting updates from four years after the initial story, I hoped to point toward perseverance. There’s something about seeing another’s redemption that helps you reach out your hand when you’re drowning. But once again, I found transformation in the mirror.  I entered the series as the facilitator, but I left the student.

I learned…

… Everyone has a story. Everyone. Why do I forget this? Life would be so much richer and more meaningful if I stopped to listen. If I pursued. If I slowed down enough to be a safe place for others. I must remember the faces in my life have identities. Everyone has so much to say.

… People grieve differently.  There’s no consistent, proper way to get real and deal with pain. Yes, there are common rhythms of grief. But I can’t put people in boxes and expect them to convey their distress a certain way. Some friends are more emotional while others are more rational. There’s beauty in this kind of diversity. Why bring judgment into someone’s healing process?

… It’s cowardly to remain silent amidst another’s pain. The fear of offending someone absolutely can not supersede our practice of living in community. Loving others requires us to feel awkward sometimes. I absolutely must get over myself.

… I whine too much. You see, all those thoughts harbored deep within, whether they pour forth from my lips or not, reflect where I’m at. Proverbs 23:7 makes it clear: For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. (NLV)  I’m too self-centered… period… in my peer relationships, my marriage, my parenting. Especially my parenting. There’s nothing like hearing another’s story to put your own in perspective.

… I must fight to prevent my body image issues from impacting my children. I know the standards of 21st century American beauty —  for women and men. I see it everyday at the check-out lane, in Athleta catalogs that invade my mailbox, on television commercials, in the lies I uncover in my own thoughts. I must commit to not complain about the way God made me in front of my son and daughter. I want my children to grow up knowing they’re beautifully created and knowing their identity is in what Christ did for them on the cross. As our world has become smaller through technology, unfortunately our infatuation with one type of beauty has grown bigger. I must fight our culture no matter how daunting the task seems.

… Redemption often looks different than I would have imagined. I believed this already, but I’m convinced even more after presenting these four stories. We pray and claim and beg — and even tell God what to do — and His answer is often different than our original hopes. But He’s purposeful. And He often uses radical, painful situations to convey His counter-cultural message. Regardless, I’ve seen him bring beauty and life to a dying heart. As Jeremy Bedenbaugh, a local St. Louis pastor, says, “Only where the graves are is there resurrection.”

I know God will continue to uncover more lessons for me. And hopefully for you, too. I don’t know what struggle will stare me in the face tomorrow. But for now, I have much to ponder — suffering, healing, Good Friday, Easter Sunday. Come, Lord Jesus. Come to the darkest parts of our stories.

When You Need Something Bigger Than A Sunset

It would be the perfect ending to a fabulous day. After driving 1,500 miles through beauty, we still craved more.

We hunger, and we ache to be satisfied. And I still forget I was created for a different world.

We made plans and confirmed the exact minute God would sweep red and vibrant pink across the stone-and-cave canvas. Yes, witnessing the sunset over the Grand Canyon would satisfy the summer craving I just couldn’t put into words.

I was sure of it.

Earlier, I watched my son capture something bigger than himself…

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… and saw my daughter re-create instead of design. Saw her surrender instead of control.

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They were hungry. Just like their mama.

Have you craved beauty, too? Have you hungered after crumbs because that’s all you thought there was? Have you scribbled only to remember you’re not the Author?

I see you trying to carve a masterpiece but instead desperately stabbing at the form you want to redeem. The job of Savior is already taken.

Show me Your beauty, God. Show me Your glory. I was finally ready to thirst after the One who could satisfy. Ready to lean into the One I had danced away from with my worry and wandering. I really was.

Gradually, slowly, the desert air reflected the confusion within. I heard the slightest sound and felt the breeze and watched the crowd wait for more. The mystery lingered. Sometimes you’re too busy for answers, and waiting prepares your heart for truth.

The sky — it became a shadow too fast. The dark wrapped itself around us faster than the sun could paint the masterpiece.

No! The sunset! This was my only chance to see His beauty the way everyone else does. We wouldn’t be back tomorrow.

Rain, rain, go away. This wasn’t my story. Wasn’t my song.

But it was.

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The canyon, well, it’s so big. And vast. And you watch the storm inch toward you instead of surprising you like city rain. You read the story as it takes a different form, and your heart almost has time to catch up.

You think You need to see beauty, my Maker whispered. No. Not this summer.

You need to see My strength.

People ran, grabbing their children’s hands, while the brave tried to capture the moment. Tiny mortals sought shelter from something they couldn’t control. My kids watched thirsty and drank it in, letting the strength imprint their hearts instead of turning away to hide.

How can I make them run? How can I make them seek shelter when they’re brave enough to be exposed?

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I plan to be comfortable. I dream of somehow satisfying those longings I can’t even identify. I commend myself for trying to be still so I can notice the beauty.

But I recently told a friend we might just stop searching because what we long for doesn’t exist.

Yes! It’s so true, isn’t it? she agreed. We long for something that’s not even here.

I see your tender heart, weary from worry, craving comfort. I see you willing to surrender because you’re tired of fighting.

But friend, maybe the storm will show you something greater than beauty ever could.

Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters…

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,
        declares the Lord.
As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:1, 8-9 niv

Yes, come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters…

And in His grace, when we refuse to come to the water, He brings it to us.