Changing My Why

Confession: There’s a part of my personality that I really dislike.

It’s my motives.

I find motives to be sneaky and insidious things.  Motives are a matter of the heart, the “why” behind what we do. And mine generally stink.

motive: a reason for doing something, especially one that is hidden or not obvious.

I feel a deep connection to Paul, when he shares in the scriptures, “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.”

This has been my struggle for years.  I want to do something good, and then I am immediately plagued by wanting to do it for all the wrong reasons.  I want to please others or look good. Actually, more often with me, I just don’t want to look “bad”.  Or I act out of fear. I am often motivated by the fear of not being good enough, or not doing enough good. Sometimes I feel like if there is a way to warp a motive, then I’ve probably discovered it.mtverse

And yet, I realized something recently. I don’t have to accept my motives. I can argue with them. I can argue with myself. I can actually change the “why” behind my actions.  If I am calling someone back, motivated out of guilt, I can actually remind myself of their friendship and change my “why” to calling them because I value them.  I actually have the choice to identify, and choose, the right reasons for doing good things.

I imagine that my stinky motives will keep whispering in my ear and heart. But I’m up for a good argument!



Seeking answers…

I LOVE working with passionate people. I love the fire, the alarm, the determination to see things change, to be better in this world.  I currently live with two passion-filled, justice seeking individuals.  However, it can hard to live in this world when you are filled with passion, when you “see” things, when injustice is more than something to acknowledge in conversation but rather something that needs to be confronted head-on until change occurs.

I am left with a question. It is a question that I have had numerous passion-filled people ask me and I now see the same question starting to emerge in my own children’s hearts.

The question…

“How can an individual, especially an individual within an organization, bring up valid concerns in a way that does not foster defensiveness or dismissal?  The “organization” could be a family, a church, a workplace, a classroom, a school, etc. “

I love the book of Nehemiah.  In the book, there are a large group of Jews who are working hard to rebuild the wall around their city.  Each group has been assigned a portion of the wall.  So, for example, the “Hamiltons” were given a section by the North Gate, the “Smiths” have a portion of the East side and so on.

brick making

Each group had to do a really great job on their portion of the wall to make sure that the city was secure.  They couldn’t be wandering around critically assessing everyone else’s portion of the wall. They just had to build the wall as best they could for the sake of the entire community. The security and safety of the people depended on the strength of this wall.

So what happens, if one day, a young builder is walking back with a pail of water for her family’s section of wall, and she sees another group mixing the mud wrong?  They’re not using the right amount of water to clay. The mortar is going to be really weak. She is young, but she has an eye for this thing.  However, this is a group of adults and she has been taught to remain quiet and supportive, so she takes her water back to her group.

This plagues her all day.  She doesn’t feel critical of the other group.  She has no ill feelings toward them. She just keeps thinking about the weakness of the wall. This troubles her. This is bigger than her, or even the other group. This puts their whole community at risk. So she brings it up to an elder in her group. The elder says she must have seen things incorrectly.  And even more so, who is she to criticize? She is young, they are more experienced. If anyone is wrong, it must be her.

She tries to accept this answer.  But her struggle inside grows as she thinks about her people and their safety.  So she speaks to another elder. This elder offers to approach the group with her. She is scared, but agrees. They approach the group and the elder greets the others warmly.  He helps the young girl express her concern.  The group replies by stating that they have always mixed the clay this way.  “Look at our wall!”, they say.  “It looks strong” they insist.  The elder responds to their defense by agreeing that everything appears well.  Plus, at this point, it would take too much time to try and rebuild everything, anyway.

The girl and elder walk away. The elder commends the girl for her bravery in speaking up and for her heart of concern.  They part ways.  The girl leaves discouraged.  His praise means nothing to her because it was never about her in the first place. It was only ever about strengthening a part of the wall that was weak. It was only ever about the fact that her people that she loves might now be vulnerable to many types of danger.

What should the girl have done differently? Fight harder? Talk louder? What does an individual do when he or she sees something that sincerely concerns them, but they are not in a position of influence? And how does one in influence stay open to these concerns? Especially when those in roles of leadership are usually already pressed for time and/or overwhelmed by input?

I don’t know the answers. But I need to find them. I need to find them so I am not this elder someday: commending a young girl for her bravery while leaving her discouraged over how little her voice actually mattered.

Hearing what matters

There are so many voices in this world whispering, calling, even shouting to us.  There are the voices of injustice, the voices of culture and consumerism, our own inner voices of guilt and anxiety.  I wrestle with all of these voices.  For a long time, I considered myself a “people-pleaser”, but lately I’m realizing that is not the right term.  I’m willing to say no to something if I am certain “no” is the “right” answer.  It’s the different perspectives, the questions of what is valuable, what is best, what should be fought for, and what should be let go of, that paralyze me.

I was recently talking to Alex about how life feels at times.  The best illustration I could give him is that I often feel like a child with a blindfold on, trying to hit a piñata.  I am surrounded by a dozens of people, all telling me where to swing.  Many have different motives. Some may really want me to hit the piñata because they want the candy inside.  Some sincerely want me to be “victorious” and the candy is just something to enjoy together. Others may struggle with motivation and, being that they would like to be the one to break the piñata, may be reluctant to point me in the best direction.


So as I’m explaining to Alex how I feel: standing there, blindfolded, hearing the shouts of where to swing and not to swing, feeling overwhelmed by the noise of it all, not knowing which voice to trust completely, I asked Alex,
“How do I know where to “swing”? How do I block out all of the noise? I feel like if there was just one voice that I could strain to hear above the others….”.

I felt a little foolish even as those words left my mouth.

The answer was right there. There is just one voice that I need to hear above the others.

There are so many, many voices pulling at each of us every day. The world tells us how we should act and look, what we should value and pursue.  Religion also tells us how we should act and look, what we should value and pursue.  But there is only one voice I need to strain to hear.

My Father in heaven has my absolute best interests in mind.  And in a crazy kind of way, He is actually easier to please than most of the people who surround us.  He desires to guide me, speaking in my ear, telling me which way to go. I can trust Him.

This is my goal this year: to better hear the voice of God. I honestly don’t know what this looks like completely, but I am confident that God will help me hear Him. After all, it is what He desires, also.  And God’s desires do not go unfulfilled.

Below is a beautiful thought from my Barclay commentary on the book of Mark regarding the voice of God. Here’s to a year of not “stopping up our ears” to block out the noise, but a year of straining to hear the “sweetest” voice, the only voice that matters.



My Father

This morning, while reading my Bible, I had a memory pop into my head.

When I was a teen, before I knew anything of God, I made MANY poor choices. These choices included shoplifting.  One morning, before school, a friend of mine and I went to a local store.  I’m not sure why, but that morning I decided I didn’t want to take anything. My friend and I had separated, and when we came back together, she had a pack of cigarettes that I had assumed she had bought. She asked me to put them in my purse. I did and we left.

As we left the store, a very angry manager came running after us and asked to see my purse. I knew I didn’t take anything so I immediately emptied it for him.  That’s when I understood. My friend had not paid for the cigarettes.

In the moment that followed, so many thoughts quickly ran through my mind. I could see my friend was terrified. I knew of her home life. I knew of her father’s anger and how uncontrolled it could quickly become.  I knew my father. He was kind and patient and slow to anger. I knew that I could take the blame in this moment, but when I told my father later, he would believe me and help me figure out what to do. So, in a moment of compulsive compassion, I took the blame.

Dad and Kayli 2
One of my favorites of my Dad and Kayli.

When I look back, I can’t say I now feel this was the wisest choice.  The manager was very angry. I spent the day in the police station, giving prints and having my photo taken. It went to court and I can only imagine how stressful it was for my parents. But this morning I am reminded of my Dad.

He did trust me, even with my previous record of wrongs. From the moment my stepmom (who really should receive angel status for what I put her through during those years) picked me up from the police station until the day it was resolved in court, I never felt doubted. I knew that he believed me.  He may not have agreed with the choice I made, but he believed me.

I believe this experience has led to one of my deepest beliefs about God.  Throughout the years, like everyone else I know, I have felt unfairly judged at times. I have felt less-than and weak. Many shadows from my past constantly hover, leaving feelings of shame and self-doubt. I struggle with not feeling like I measure up, or I fear what others think.  And then, I return to this passage:

“Those who look to Him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces.” Psalm 34:5

When I made that decision as a teen, the only person’s opinion that mattered to me was my father’s.  I may not have made the wisest decision, but I made it completely based on who I believe my Dad to be, and the love he has for me.

Now, I am continuously reminded of the same things of my Father in heaven. God is kind and patient, not quick to anger, but finding every opportunity to love (2 Samuel 14:14). Even with my enormous record of wrongs, that He is VERY much aware of,  He promises never to let my face be covered in shame.  As often as I look to Him for help, He promises to rescue.

No matter how I view myself or what shadows lurk in my past or what judgments may exist, His opinion of me is the only one that matters.

And for some crazy, incomprehensible reason, taking my breath away but also somehow allows me to breathe again, He not only loves me, but He DELIGHTS in me. I do not understand, but I know it can be true because I’ve seen the glimmer of this truth in my own Dad’s heart.

For the Lord your God is living among you.
    He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
    With his love, he will calm all your fears.
    He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.
Zephaniah 3:17

(It seems like this post should have been saved for Father’s day, or some special occasion to let my Dad know how grateful I am for this memory.  But, it popped into my mind today, just an ordinary Wednesday, and I couldn’t think of a better time to share it.)

Taking Hold

Recently, I began studying through the book of Hebrews.  In the opening paragraph, it has this sentence: “The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God”.

This concept of “God’s glory” is one that I’ve been trying to understand. What does that phrase actually mean??

Other literary references to “glory” have helped me understand a bit more.  Sentences like, “her hair was her glory”, “the glories of Paris shone brightly” and “the train has been restored to all its former glory” provide a bit of a reference point.  A glory, or something we glory in, is as Webster puts it, “a special cause for pride, respect, or delight”. (I know this is a WAY incomplete discussion on the concept of God’s glory…but it was enough for me to explore the thoughts below!).

So I started thinking about God and Jesus. God sent Jesus as the exact representation of God Himself.  God, the creator of the Universe, outside space and time, found a way to “package” Himself in Jesus in such a way that He could more fully communicate His character to people.

What fascinates me the most, what most deeply touches my heart, is the packaging that God chose, the packaging that God would “glory” or take delight in.

dirty feet
Then [Jesus] poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” John 13:5
Of all the forms He could have chosen, He came reaching out his hand to touch the untouchable. He came comforting the shameful as they wept. He came kneeling before us and washing our filthy feet. My mind can barely comprehend why he chose such humility.

William Barclay, in his commentary on Hebrews, says it so perfectly:
“…we see with amazing clarity that the glory of God consists not in crushing men and reducing them to abject servitude, but in serving them and loving them and in the end dying for them. It is not the glory of shattering power but the glory of suffering love”. 

“It is not the glory of shattering power but the glory of suffering love”.  This changes everything for me.

My performance-based, guilt-ridden self is often filled with dread and shame when I go to pray. My life falls short in many ways of being who I should be in Christ. However, when I think of God, in ALL His glory, choosing the way of gentleness, mercy and love in His approach to us, and not the way of condemnation and anger, I am reminded that He is not waiting to punish me.

He is the gentle husband comforting his wife when she feels like she doesn’t measure up…again. He is the loving father reassuring his children of his love even in their worst and most confused moments. And amazingly, it is in these moments of remembering His love, His character,  and NOT in my moments of harsh self-correction and/or condemnation, that I find strength, relief and oftentimes even a better way forward.

I wish I could say that I lived in this perspective everyday.  I would love to say that I bask in the grace of God and that self-condemnation has no place in my life.  I can’t say those things. This is another way that I fall short in my walk with God.  I take comfort in Paul’s statement:
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Phil. 3:12

I believe that God wants me (us) to live as someone who is deeply and profoundly loved.  I don’t know how to fully grasp this truth and that is a huge part of why I wanted to write this post.  Maybe, by writing it out, by having it “on paper” to read over and over, it will start to sink in. Maybe then I will be able to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

Starfish Wisdom

starfishI recently posted a statistic on my facebook page that really struck me.  The end of the quote said:
“Despite continuing to rank as one of the richest countries in the OECD, behind only Norway, Luxemburg, Switzerland and Saudi Arabia, the U.S. is roughly on par with Mexico when it comes to childhood poverty.”

I was shocked. Shocked at how we can be one of the wealthiest nations in the world while maintaining such an incredible rate of childhood poverty.  Shocked by the incredible disproportion of wealth within this nation.

But what surprised me even more was the response I received from posting this quote. I was touched by the sincere discussion that followed in the comments. So many joined the conversation with a resounding, “What do we do???”.  One woman even expressed feeling overwhelmed and powerless when faced with statistics like this one.  I realized that I also feel powerless when I read quotes like this. I actually feel powerless quite often as I spend my time researching numbers rooted in all of the difficult outcomes associated with poverty.

And so the question becomes, “What can we do?”.  Or even more so, “what can I do??”.

I love the people who ask that question.  Isn’t that the first step? Realizing that these things, these numbers aren’t just numbers, but rather something…someONEs…that are worth us thinking about?

In this post, I wanted to give a few ideas on what we might do when faced with the overwhelming disparity and poverty that exists in this world.  This is not an exhaustive list, and I am guessing there are far better lists out there (please share your own ideas in the comments below!), but these are ideas that I cling to as I try to answer this question for myself.

1. Do something. Anything.
You probably all know the story of the starfish. There are many variations, but the general idea is that a young boy spends his morning throwing starfish, one by one, back into the ocean. An older gentlemen walks up and questions him.  As the man looks at the thousands of starfish on the beach, he turns to the boy and asks, “How can you possibly make a difference?”. The boy picks up another starfish, flings it back to the safety of the ocean and replies, “I made a difference to that one.”.
You don’t have to save everyone. You don’t have to change policies or rewrite laws. But you can make a difference to the cashier you see every week, the child who lives next door, the man on the corner. You can “see” them. You can talk to them. You can learn who they are.  It is amazing the amount of need that exists in our own backyards.  Just by being kind directly to the person in front of us, we can “make a difference to that one”.

2. Make service as important to your kids as sports…
…Or music. Or whatever else they naturally love. Raise a child who understands that this world cannot afford any one of us to live only for ourselves.  They have too much to offer to use their talents and time only on themselves.  And if they can somehow use those talents to serve those around them..that seems like the best possible outcome!

3. Don’t “glean to the edge of your fields”. harvest
There is a law in the Old Testament where God commands the Israelites not to harvest everything they grow, to leave a little so those in need can come to their fields and find the extra. Don’t use up every moment of your time, your emotional energy, or even your money on yourself and your own family.  Being a mother of a child with a chronic illness, I understand seasons of exhaustion and even seasons of needing to harvest a little strength from someone else’s “field”.  But overall, try and leave a little time in your schedule, a little extra in your heart and little wiggle room in your budget for those who might pop up unexpectedly, for those who might wander into your “field” needing a shoulder and/or a little extra support.

4.Learn what the actual needs are in your community.
Every community,  city, and even church, has dozens of opportunities for us to serve, for us to “see”, for us to place ourselves in the heart of others.  Practically, you can google, “homeless shelter” ,  “rehab centers”, “refugees” or any other area that might be on your heart and find a dozen opportunities.  I would suggest not assuming you know the needs, but rather calling an organization that captures your eye and asking what DO they need.

There are so many references in the Bible to individuals who offered the very little that they had and God turning it into exactly what was needed and SO MUCH MORE (I love this post by a dear friend of mine). It honestly seems to be one of the things He LOVES to do. One of my favorite verses in the bible is in Zechariah 4:10: “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin”. Whatever, however, you can find to love someone else, just do something.  Trust that it will make a difference to “that” one, and that God rejoices to see the work begin.

A few extra thoughts 
At different times in my life, I have been able to serve in different capacities. The same might be true for you.  You may need to identify what is possible for whatever season you are currently in. When the kids were young, we LOVED doing Meals on Wheels.  We built many special relationships over those years. When the kids entered school full time, it opened up the opportunity for me to train and serve as a Child Advocate in the court system. The two experiences were so very different, but each one carried with it so many opportunities to love others.

And finally, I hope that no one devalues taking care of loved ones as an act of service. So often I talk to women who feel guilty because they are not out serving the community while I watch them spend hours caring for their elderly parents, grandparents or a special needs child. I cannot EVER imagine God being disappointed with love being demonstrated in that way.

Comfort Food

I love food. You may have guessed this since half of my posts end up discussing this topic in one way or another.

I wander through bakeries like some women wander through clothing stores.

One of my Grandma’s handwritten recipes…Great served with rice!

My memories of life seem interlaced with food. The pork chops that my Grandma would make just for our visits: always crispy on the outside and tender on the inside…perfect every time.  The first time I tasted homemade bread (thank you, Chris!!): biting into that incredibly soft and warm slice, butter melting down my chin.  My dad standing over me, teaching me to make pancakes when I was 8 or 9. Alex’s dad now standing over my daughter, teaching her how to make pecan rolls, rolling them tightly so the “good stuff” stays inside. My mom’s broccoli and cheese casserole that actually made me want to eat vegetables as a child.

Coming back to the States has been difficult. Moving abroad into a different culture had it’s rough moments, but I underestimated the difficulty of returning to my own culture.  We will have been back in the States for two months in just a few days, and the ache has not left my heart.  I’m not sure I can fully explain why.  Maybe it is leaving behind people that I am not sure I will be able to see again. It could be leaving a job that felt so impactful and productive. It could be how all of my perspectives have shifted just enough that I’m no longer as certain about some things as I was before living abroad.

Once again, I find myself comforted by food memories.  2017-10-31 12.44.22-1
I reminisce over the meals we shared in La Paz with so many incredible people: daily breakfast with our sweet, kind Spanish professor; sharing bowls of soup with coworkers; bumping hips with dear friends as we cook for the 20+ people cramming into our apartment for dinner; eating meal after meal in home after home while fumbling through our awful Spanish; peeling hundreds of potatoes in preparation for the funeral meal of a young man, finding laughter in the middle of grief; ordering chicken wings and burgers, recreating “home” for our U.S. volunteers (and our own family, also!); meeting monthly with 20 or 30 extremely impoverished families, enjoying lunch and playing together, forgetting the anxieties of life for a few hours.  It seems that everyone we met, food was the first common ground and incredible friendships grew from there.

Thanksgiving in La Paz…couldn’t find a turkey but still had a great time!

It’s not just the taste of food.  There is something comforting and connecting about it.  A few weeks ago, I heard in a sermon that food references occur almost 100 times in the gospels. Frequently, Jesus is referenced in a meal setting or he is providing a meal to others.

I love how Jesus cooked breakfast for his disciples when they had become discouraged and returned to their old occupation. Jesus shows up, makes a fire and cooks a meal for them. “When they (the disciples) got there, they found breakfast waiting for them–fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread.” John 21:9

Maybe that meal held a memory of an earlier meal together, a time when they felt strong and faithful, a time when promises were made and laughter was shared.

Food seems to connect and comfort, encourage and strengthen. Sure, we have abused it, like we often do with the things that are good, but it IS still good.  I would love to hear about one of your food memories, if you have a family recipe that you cherish and/or even just a new cooking tip you would like to share. Feel free to share below…and maybe, somehow, we can share a meal together soon!

Cooking tips from my dear friends in La Paz
1. A little goes a long way.  The women in La Paz were amazing in their frugality.  Instead of using a whole onion, they would just finely dice a quarter of it. The flavor was the same but the onion was used for 3 or 4 meals!
2. Always toast your rice or quinoa before cooking.
This might not be a secret, but I learned it for the first time standing next to my dear friend, Eugenia.
3. Rinsing your quinoa halfway through the cooking time will get rid of the bitter taste.
4. Stretch your meat by adding less expensive veggies. Again, a great tip in frugality!
5. And finally… meals don’t have to be elaborate, but they always taste better if they’re shared!

Reflections on our time abroad…

I have been back in the States for exactly a month today.  In the whirlwind of such a big move, there hasn’t been much time to reflect! This morning, though, it seems that some of the dust has settled and I have some time to write a little.

A friend who has frequently lived abroad advised me to try and summarize in three points what I would share if someone asked me, “what did you learn while in La Paz?”.  It is difficult to summarize ALL of the thoughts our time in La Paz brings to mind, but via my wise friend’s advice, here are three thoughts that I especially want to remember:

  1. I cannot grow in my understanding of Jesus without immersing myself in the same kind of work He did. 
    Jesus was in the trenches.  He was touching the leper and the outcast.  He was weeping with those who wept. He was with the sick, the diseased, the poor, the unaccepted and the broken. He was all in.

    2018-02-24 11.21.29
    One of my favorite memories. We squished all of us into one minivan and spent 6 hours on a rainy day delivering meals…Amazing people and an amazing day!

    I can read the scriptures and imagine what it may have been like to walk alongside Him.  I can look at those within my own social circle and try to emulate what I see in Him.  These things are a great starting point.  But I have never been so desperate to understand what Jesus would do until I was surrounded by the most heart-wrenching situations and faced with my own complete helplessness.  I have also never been more in awe of how effective his methods of love and healing are until I saw those simple solutions bring light and hope to the darkest situations.

  2. God is willing to take our most feeble efforts and make them worth something.
    The entire time I was in La Paz, I struggled with feeling “less -than”.  My lack of Spanish made me feel less-than in my friendships. I was often sick, making me feel less-than able to  serve as much as I hoped.  I struggled with feeling overwhelmed by all of the newness, much more than I thought I would, making me feel less-than the strong person of faith I hoped to be.  I was working full-time, at times very sporadic hours, making me feel less-than the mom and wife I wanted to be. Even in my relationship with God, I felt less-than as I wrestled to identify my feelings, and floundered my way through prayers.

    graceThe most amazing part of all of this is that God was still working!! (right now, you are probably saying “Of course, Carmen! 😉 )

    Despite my Spanish, I was given beautiful, deep relationships that will stay with me for a lifetime.  My heart still aches for those who I had limited conversation with, but who were always there with a smile.  Through even the most clumsy communication, our hearts connected.

    Through the sicknesses, adjustments and struggles, God was working so powerfully in our friendships and family that I remain in awe. I am amazed at the way kids have grown in their confidence and understanding. I read the cards from our friends in La Paz, and feel so deeply grateful.  And the work of HOPEww- Bolivia continues to grow and develop in powerful and wonderful ways, bringing me so much peace and joy. The whole time I felt less-than, God was ALWAYS working exactly as needed.

  3. Discomfort and pain reveal strength.
    This one is the hardest for me to write on because I am still processing for myself.  I realized that, in the past, when faced with discomfort or pain, my first instinct has usually been to somehow remove what is uncomfortable or painful.   However, in Bolivia, there were times when I was in extremely uncomfortable situations but to leave the situation would mean walking away from someone who had a sincere need.  The only right choice was to stay.  Staying in the discomfort helped me see I can expect much more from myself. I don’t need to avoid pain or discomfort. If those things are part of moving along the right path, then I will be there with them and God will give me all I need.

I know these are lessons that could be learned anywhere.  Maybe God was even trying to teach them to me here, but I just wasn’t catching on (very likely!!).  But I am grateful for the people and stories in La Paz that tie directly to each of these thoughts, and I hope to carry them close to my heart, always.

2018-06-12 20.45.09
So many, many stories here.  Words cannot express how grateful we are for each of these individuals and the ways they opened their hearts to our family!!



Yesterday… A Lesson in Love

hallwayThe father opened a small door in the wall. We ducked down to enter. The contrast between the bright sun outside and the darkness of the hallway was blinding for a moment. The four of us followed the father through the dim corridor, up a narrow set of stairs and in another long hallway. We could smell food cooking and despite the mud bricks used to create the walls and floor, the space was clean and tidy. A sense of family and togetherness permeated the home.

We were led into a small square, dimly lit room. In the center was the tiny coffin.  White flowers spilled onto the ground, brought by family and friends.  The father told us the story: what began as a cold quickly became so much more serious for a young child with cerebral palsy.  He explained the trip to the hospital but how it was already too late. His anguish, his loss, weighing down every word.

After a few moments of silence, a woman in our group asked if she could pray.  We took hands and listened as she poured out her heart to God about this child and his family.  It was only later that I remembered this woman’s own story.  This particular woman had also lost her child in similar circumstances.  And yet, she prayed and gave and wept and mourned.  She offered comfort to this family when others of us could only imagine the loss they felt.

As I was lying awake last night thinking through the day, I thought of how very strong this woman must be.  So often, we do not enter a situation or a conversation because it may be painful for us. We avoid engaging in those things that may make us hurt, or may bring back painful memories of our own. This woman courageously immersed herself in this family’s pain. She sat with them for hours yesterday, listening and caring. Surely her heart must have been reminded of her own loss, but somehow she set her pain aside to be present for others.

I believe this woman demonstrated what love looks like: the courage to forget ourselves and be present for someone else in their suffering; the strength to enter into the dark places of pain with that other person despite what it may cost us.  Yesterday, in the midst of deep sadness, I had the opportunity to witness this kind of love.

“Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to places where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen

“If anyone…sees his brother in need, but withholds his compassion from him, how can the love of God abide in him?
Little children, let us love not in word and speech, but in action and truth.”― I John 3: 17-18

Incomplete thoughts on suffering…

Late last year, we (the HOPE team) walked side-by-side a young man and his family as he succumbed to cancer. This experience had a deep impact on my heart for many reasons. One thing I walked away with was the realization that I didn’t understand “suffering”.

As we tried to help this young man in the best ways we knew how, another staff member and I repeatedly expressed how heartbroken we felt. There were days when we would cry together, wrestling over the loss of this young life.

We had many responses to our grief. Mostly, people expressed that we “should not” be sad. This young man had a deep faith in God and he was at peace with his future. And yet, the grief, the ache would not leave my heart. I was frustrated with myself, disappointed with myself that my faith in heaven was not stronger, that I wasn’t able to feel the joy it seemed I “should” feel.

While in the States over Christmas, I found a book called, “Walking with God through Pain and Suffering”. I am about halfway through the book and it has been so helpful for my heart and my understanding. There are some thoughts in particular that he shares that have helped me find peace. I wanted to share some of those insights. Please know I am only stating these as I understand them!psalm 34b.jpg

Suffering is something that our culture does not seem to handle well. It seems that hardships are something to endure; to minimize, to get through as quickly as possible with minimal feelings. If we suffer, or others suffer, we want to find a reason, to justify it or even to make it disappear. We want to blame the individual, ourself or God. When someone does suffer, if they express sadness or grief, we want to fix it quickly or even avoid it altogether. We often expect a sort of stoic-ness through suffering. There should only be joy and acceptance, not tears and/or protest.

I understand much of this reaction is usually motivated by love. We don’t want to see those we love being sad. I often tell my kids that “it is okay, don’t cry” when they are sad. However, one time, one of them looked at me and said softly, “But Mama, it is NOT okay”. And they were right.

When we approach suffering this way, trying to fix, ignore and minimize, we oversimplify very real pain. This is not what we see in the Bible. The Bible is filled with laments, protests, loud cries and tears. And God doesn’t seem to mind. If anything, He seems to engage even more with His people during those times (Psalm 34:18).

The book I am reading discusses how Jesus himself wept with the people while in front of Lazarus’ grave. But why? Jesus knew Lazarus would live again in mere moments. And yet, the word used for his weeping is one of a someone expressing a deep anger in anguish. Jesus was weeping because the world is not yet as it should be. There IS death and loss and pain, and no amount of stoic-ness will change that fact.

The author quotes a Christian in the early church expressing his own grief over the death of his brother, “We have not incurred any grievous sin by our tears. Not all weeping proceeds from unbelief or weakness….The Lord also wept… He wept for all in weeping for one, I will weep for the all, in my brother.”

This perspective is one of the thoughts that has helped me find peace. It has helped me not feel guilty when I am angry over the way things are in our world. I can cry in frustration when a young life is claimed, when many young lives are claimed, and I don’t need to accept the platitudes (Proverbs 25:20) of it “being God’s will”, or “just have faith”. I can go to God Himself and wrestle, know that He is willing to engage with me. I can know that even His own Son was not at peace with the way things are now and wept in response, even as He knew with full faith what the future will bring.

I know that these thoughts raise a million more questions of theology and a million more “why’s”. Writing this post makes me feel like a young child trying to tackle quantum physics. But I needed to know that, even if there is so much I do not understand (or am in the process of understanding), it does seem that God has room for grief, anger, indignation and tears.