Series on Suffering: Losing A Spouse (Update)

LosingSpouse

We resume Susan’s story of losing her first husband with an update. A lot can happen in four years — especially when you’re adjusting to a new marriage, raising middle schoolers, forging new paths in your career, and getting to know a new community. Read on…


How has your situation changed in the past four years?

Oh, so much change! I’ve now been remarried to Todd for almost six years, and three years ago, God called us to a great adventure, which included moving our family to Kansas City. New city, new church, new jobs, new friends. Now three years out, I can see how God has pushed me to corners of myself that I didn’t even know existed. I’m so grateful for the growth and refinement.

One of the biggest changes for me has been my job. I’m a bit of a nomad when it comes to my occupational pursuits, following my heart and God’s leading, and I’ve never been disappointed as to what I have learned on my journey. After serving as a teacher in independent schools for many years, I’ve landed back in public education as a learning coach in a project-based learning environment designed to empower creativity and equip students to be architects of a better world. For years, I’ve had ideas and desires to transform the learning experience for all kids and, while in St. Louis, I continually encountered roadblocks. It was as though God kept saying, not yet. Now, He has given me the opportunity to pioneer forward and be a part of something transformative.

How have YOU changed in the past four years?

Besides the gray hairs and wrinkles, over the last four years, God has continued to refine and humble me. The older I get, the more I understand my depravity and my need for a Savior. The first year we moved to Kansas City felt much like moving to a desert. Lots of anger, resentment, grief, pride. It was a lonely year for me trying to figure out who I was as a mother, as a wife, but, most importantly, who I was as a child of God. I no longer lived in the comfort of my hometown, my community of friends, nor my job – three things that had shaped so much of my adult life.

It’s been a rather arduous journey, but God has been faithful to continue His work in me to transform my heart. As much as I want to think “I’m all grown up and finally arrived at maturity,” I would be deceiving myself. Every uncomfortable situation I encounter, every painful trial I face, every joyful moment I experience–I’m learning more about the power and work of Christ in my life.

What are you still wrestling with?

Two of my greatest sin patterns are anxiety and fear. At times, I think, “Really, Susan? With everything God has done for you?” But, like faceless thieves, they creep in periodically, stealing my attention away from God. Some of my biggest fears and anxious thoughts are about my children. As my boys have grown, I see God’s hand in their lives, but I also see the effects of trauma and loss at such an early age. I tend to brace myself with the worse possible scenario, seeing the future through my human eyes. I continually redirect my thinking to God’s sovereignty and His abundant love for my children.

How have you seen redemption come from your suffering?

As a teenager, I used to think redemption meant “God sweeps in, God fixes problem, we thank Him, and life continues.” At 16, suffering meant the disappointment of not making the lead in the musical or wishing the boy I liked returned my affections. Thankfully, I’ve grown. One of the greatest takeaways from my suffering has been a deeper understanding of God’s redemptive hand in our lives. Understanding redemption, at least how I make sense of it, is believing and living the gospel. Though I will never feel nails in my hands nor wear a crown of thorns, I have learned that the more I lose and suffer in this world, the more I gain in understanding the redemption story. His sacrifice on the cross, His pursuit of my heart, His faithfulness in all my earthly sufferings—there I have known grace and redemption and love and compassion.

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So there you go — open and raw honesty for the past four weeks. While four stories and updates provide a window into the lives of ordinary men and women, I’m convinced many of you are doing more than peering through the glass. Maybe you have been cut by its jagged edges and could tell similar stories.

It’s never easy to read a story of brokenness and know you could be writing it, too. But recognizing is the first step toward claiming hope, toward believing that redemption really can happen.

A few years ago I sat in a class about doubting God’s goodness due to the rampant brokenness in the world. Oppression. Injustice. Invasions on our mortality. Reminders of our fragility. Fear.

While I can’t say I understand the mind of God with any more clarity, I did walk away speechless.  The very God who wrote a love story at the beginning of time included His own suffering in the darkest chapter. Did you catch that? The very God who wrote a love story at the beginning of time included His own suffering in the darkest chapter.

But unlike human suffering, our Author suffered with power. He could have defeated or even prevented His own suffering. But He wrote scene after scene in which He Himself was abandoned, misunderstood, mocked, tortured, betrayed.

So where do we go from here? What we do with the stories of Matthew, and Jami, and Julie, and Susan?

I dare you to look inward today. By seeing our own pain mirrored in these stories, we walk in realness. And that’s the first step toward healing. How can we ask for redemption when we’re not authentic about how our lives have really turned out? And how our situations – and hearts – are crumbling around us?  And how we’re devastated?

Yes, be real. Be honest… first with yourself, and then with someone else. And then together, walk boldly into the mess and watch redemption take place. Watch God restore and re-create your story into something more beautiful than it ever was. His project may take years, but please check in with me during the restoration process. You’re not alone, and I’d love to hear how you’re doing… even on the hardest of days.

Stop by next week for a reflection on what I personally learned through this Series on Suffering. But for now,  take the ancient words of Isaiah with you: “My thoughts and My ways are above and beyond you, just as heaven is far from your reach here on earth.”

Oh, to know the mind of God! But of this I’m sure — the pain of your heart is no surprise to your Maker. He embraced it Himself.

photo source | jen palmer

When You’re Scared to Write in Pen

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I’m not sure what I was thinking.

I love writing and have for quite some time. I should have revealed it’s therapeutic qualities to my daughter months ago.

My daughter, the writer. She’s organically etched her words in dozens of journals stuffed into drawers and under her bed. She has a lot to say. She listens to her Rescuer, and she’s not afraid to speak back.

It’s an interesting season, for she’s stepped onto that roller coaster called “almost middle school”. Bless her. Like anything in this unraveling world, I’d bear her angst if I could. But my job is to lead her, equip her, in daily finding her own story.

Yes, life is hard, even as a kid, when your mind and heart boast maturity one day but are bound by a child’s perspective the next. It’s hard, too, to hold your confusion as you’re riding that roller coaster without it spilling onto the person next to you.

Have you caught someone’s wrath before? Have you spilled your pain onto another?

“Here, my dear. Here’s a notebook. Write out your hurts and let your journal catch your anger. Take a breath, and then we’ll talk.”

“Will you read it, Mom?” she risks.

“No. But I will if you want me to.”

She assures me she won’t. The job of Savior is already taken, I remind myself.

So the first day in our new routine, she came into my office after school and grabbed her journal. She clenched her jaw and focused her gaze and wrote and wrote and wrote in silence. She wrote until we packed up to leave. Homework would have to wait that day.

The pen she grabbed from the depths of her backpack was a beautiful gem of an instrument.

“You know,” I said, “I love that you chose that pen to write out your frustrations. It’s so beautiful. It’s sort of a reminder God will redeem all the ugly stories of your life someday. Don’t you think?”

She nodded slowly. “I like it… because I’m writing in… pen.”

She narrowed her eyes and stared off into her heart, nodding ever so slightly, until she brought her gaze to mine.

She nodded again in silence with a question on her face as if to discern if I got her message.

I got it.

“Yeah, pen,” I whispered. For a moment, we traded roles again. I was the student, and she was wise beyond her years. She was the one moving me forward. You see, I will choose to journal in pencil every time. Pencil is safe and subtle and unthreatening. It’s changeable when you’ve risked too much. If you’ve been a bit too honest, well, you can erase your boldness and try again another day.

Not with pen. My daughter’s words were out there. They were raw and brave, and no one could erase her honesty. And she was okay with it. My goodness, she was okay with it.

It’s tough to create an image you’re proud of. It’s even more exhausting to maintain it.

Maybe we don’t like our truth, but it’s ours. And it’s real. And how can miracles happen without having something to restore?

The pen, it’s a starting place. It’s a bold, bold stroke onto a page of hope. There’s no denying what’s on your heart.

“There can’t be growth without pain,” a Brazilian mom told me one day. They were here for just a few months, and her five year-old cried every morning when she dropped him off at school. Confusing language, different routines, new school culture. My comfort place was her son’s fear. His growth.

Pedro’s mom would have chosen pen.

When we dig deep and harvest courage, the fragments boast honesty and the exposed heart whispers, “I’m real”. And there’s something welcoming about a person who’s truly lived, isn’t there?

Yes, where is redemption without something to redeem? Where is healing without the wounds? Where is wholeness without the shards?

Will you lean into your truth in Twenty Fifteen? You know, that truth that’s spilling over from last year? Can you grab the pen instead of choosing to be safe? And together on December 31, 2015, maybe we’ll ponder the healing and freedom this year has brought us.

I really can’t wait.

* Dedicated to my daughter’s teacher, Miss Hauser, for suggesting the journal. 

photo source