Filled with hope

I started volunteering at a local day center for women and children experiencing homelessness a couple of weeks ago. My friend suggested it when I was looking for a place to volunteer as part of my plan toward returning to work with the help of the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. I have the joy of doing “Guest Relations” work, which basically means hanging out, being a listening ear, sitting with, just being with the women. How lucky am I?! Oh, and we play Bingo and color together. Yesssss!!!

My husband texted me to ask how my time went yesterday. I sent him this text back:

“Today was great. The house was packed because of the rain and cold. It was fun to do my activity with the women*, and more are trusting me with their stories the more they see me and get to know me. I got to watch some Price is Right with some of them. They have male models now. (laughing crying emoji) A woman came in angry that she couldn’t get services til January 1 (she somehow did something to lose them), and when she blew out of there yelling that she was calling the police, etc. the ladies all stopped and prayed for her and her kid. They are broken and beautiful women.”

I see myself in them, my own brokenness. Many of them are dealing with health challenges for example. One woman talked with me about how she started losing her vision, was blind for a time even, shortly after finishing all of her formal art education. She was devastated and wondered what she was going to do with all of her passion and learning. She has since joined a tactile art group with other people experiencing blindness, has had a piece make it into a juried show, and was telling me where I could find her collaborative sculptures around town. What resilience! She pushed through the literal darkness to find joy again. What perseverance for me to learn from.

And I can see ways that I have much to learn from them, these beautiful, beautiful women. I mean, think about your girlfriends. If I’m being totally honest, if I were with a group of mine and we witnessed someone lose their cool and create a scene, I’m knowing that our first collective thought wouldn’t be mercy, grace and to start praying. Ouch…! These women have beautiful hearts! One said under her breath, “I know how I’ve gotten to the place where I’ve done that before.” Humility and a vulnerable “me too” – I need to drink down more of that!

I get to watch the small ways they care for each other every time I’m with them. One woman shared yesterday that she is going to use her little money to buy a soda and a candy for a friend from the day center Saturday; they have time planned to hang out, and that is what good friends do, they share and they give. One woman spent 3 hours yesterday scrubbing down the kitchen until it shined. It is normally a chore that two women do together. I offered to help her twice, and both times she’d say something pretty much along the lines of: “You just go have fun, I’ve got this; I enjoy doing this, it’s my way to give back and take care of others here.” The second time I decided she was for real. When is the last time I’ve cleaned up after 30 other people for 3 hours hand washing dishes with nothing but joy & gladness in my heart? Ummm…never. One woman had her headphones in her ear all day, and spent an hour singing loudly enough that you could hear her throughout the upstairs of the house (and you know how no matter how great of a singer we are, headphones in our ears are not our friends). The only comment I heard was from one woman: “She must have her headphones in still. Just listen to her praising God and doing her thing.” These women are all so different, but one thing they share in common is making space for and actively showing grace for one another. They truly knock my socks off every time I’m there. They spur me on to see the best in others too, and to grow in grace and love and mercy. This is a place where the fruits of the Spirit are alive and well. Not what you thought about a homeless day center? It’s seriously like church sometimes up in there!!

In these last going on two years, I’ve spent a lot of time mostly by myself at home. I’ve spent a lot of time with me. It is so refreshing to be back out in the world with other women on a regular basis. Women who, like me, are broken and beautiful. Women who challenge me to grow in love and faith and perseverance. Women who think different than me and the same as me, but who’s graciousness cover over all our differences. There is laughing and crying and joking and silence and talking and all of the good stuff of life. I read the news and my heart breaks. I look at my Facebook feed and my heart breaks again. But I spend time with these women, and I see God’s goodness all around and am filled with hope. Hope that God’s people can be a people of love and light. That we have the capacity to lift each other up and be salt and light to each other no matter the hard circumstances of our daily lives or the junk of the person in front of us or beside us. I am grateful for the love these women show me, for the love they model to me, for the love they have for each other, for the love that I get to witness and be a part of when I am there. For how that love follows me out the door and helps me see that things can be alright in the world if we’d just take our cue from these women.

Find yourself some people like this!! Find a place to be love, receive love, be a part of love. Ooooh, I am filled with hope! This is God’s upside down kingdom at work, and I am ever grateful for these women.

*we watercolor painted Scripture cards (and faces and tattoos and all other kinds of stuff)



Letting go of my illusions about suffering and control

This is post 8 in the Suffering Well series. See all of the previous posts here.

Suffering means I’m doing something wrong, or I’m not faithful enough. Suffering comes at people’s own hands, because of the choices that they make. We can pray and work our suffering away. God rewards good with good and bad with bad. If we do things the right way, God will protect us from suffering and harm. We can protect ourselves from suffering through right choices, like a solid savings account, being friends with the right kind of people, living our lives the right kind of way, living safe. It is good to protect ourselves and our children from bad, hurt or suffering. Suffering isn’t something to talk about, but to keep quiet about, or to endure.

Do any of these cultural messages sound or feel familiar?

But what does the Bible have to say about suffering? Crazy countercultural things, like that we should rejoice in our sufferings, because it produces endurance that leads to character that leads to hope, a hope that is bigger than ourselves (Romans 5:3-5). That we should count trials as joy, AS JOY, because they produce a stronger, more steady faith (James 1:2-4). That we experience suffering for all kinds of reasons in all kinds of ways: at the hands of discipline (Hebrews 12:10-11) and trials that refine our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7), persecution for our faith/being the church (2 Timothy 3:12, John 16:33, 1 Peter 4: 12-13), that in this world there is the reality of death, pain, mourning, crying and that is why the promise of heaven is so dang good (Revelation 21:4). No one, not any of us, are immune from suffering. Even the righteous have many troubles (Psalm 34:19).

And then there are gems like this that make me want to literally fist pump in the air:

We now have this light shining in our hearts (the gospel – the good news of Christ), but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.

Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you…

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. 

(Paul speaking in 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, 16-18)

That part – though our bodies our dying, our spirits are being renewed every day – I am learning that it is natural for me to focus on the physical, namely the dying, the wasting away, the troubles, the being knocked down. But then there’s the spiritual part that’s happening, that is not as in your face, that can be missed but is where the meat of life is at – I am not driven to despair, I am never abandoned, I am not ultimately destroyed, I AM RENEWED. I can see troubles easy breezy. But instead, I’m learning more and more how to see the spiritual, and I know no better way to do so than to just plain old ask God to help me to have eyes to see and to spend time in his presence, getting to know his ways and letting go of my ways, and even of culture’s ways. And when I have leaned heavy into God and made him bigger than my beliefs and my troubles, I have seen that one of God’s big lessons in all of this for me has been to let go of my big fat illusion that I can be in control. That I am in control. And to trade that in for trust, trust that isn’t just there in the good, but that buoys and anchors me in the deepest and darkest of valleys and the every day in-between. I am learning this through my suffering: This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.

Instead of hanging firm to my troubles, to what I can see, I am hanging firm to the word of God that says that nothing – tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger or sword – can separate me from Christ’s love. (Romans 8:35) I’ve only lost one thing – my health. With it has come a necessary loss of my understanding of self-dependence, of self-control. But if I lost everything? Paul says: I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8). As we sit in our suffering, may we see it for what it is, an opportunity for closeness with Christ. An opportunity for gain. An opportunity to really get, at the core of us and our lives that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. May we be able to peel our eyes/hearts/thoughts/minds away from the physical losses and think about the spiritual that God has for us to learn.

May we be able to join with the Psalmist, who says “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” (Psalm 119:50) And with Paul who says in Philippians 4:12-14 that in all circumstances – in need or plenty, well fed or hungry, living in plenty or in want – that God is the source of his strength. Can I be okay, let alone delight, in my weakness, in insults, in hardships, persecutions and difficulties because they make me dependent on Christ’s strength in me and make Christ’s strength shine? (2 Corinthians 12:10).

I don’t know. But I know I’m certainly growing in spiritual maturity, and in large part through my season of suffering. In learning how to let go of my illusions about suffering and control, I’m learning how to hang on to the thing that matters most, Christ’s strength, goodness, love and power.

Before I end, I want to be sure to say that God asks us not just to learn from the sufferings that befall us, but to walk into suffering. I could write a million and a half things on this topic, and maybe one day I will. But here’s a good word from my sister in Christ, Lori, on how you will be burned when you live as Christ asks you to live, but “Do it anyway.” She’s real and honest, and I need her voice in my life. I’m also eating up Shannan Martin’s book Falling Free. Here’s a taste of her story:

The truth had descended on me like an early fog – it’s hard to pine for heaven when you already believe you’re there…For all our adult lives, our radar had been locked on one goal: to ensure our own safety and security…What we saw with fresh eyes was that God’s “more” often looks a whole lot like less…He reminded me who he is – a God who laughs in the face of logic and weighs things like safety and security on an eternal scale requiring all of my faith…Faith points us to a way that’s completely different. It requires us to abandon our lives into the hands of God and whatever he has planned… [For us] it meant trading more for less and leaping off the ladder of upward mobility…it meant discovering the golden thread that connects all of us, the glimmering kinship of being fully known in the eyes of another and believing we share a humanity that transcends race, DNA, habits, opportunities, failures, and socioeconomic strata.

There’s just a few more days to pre-order her book before it officially releases and grab yourself some free goodies in the process. You can pre-order and read more here.

To end, Lauren Diagle’s song First has been an anthem song of sorts as I’ve wrestled through this topic of letting go of my control and focusing instead on God, in all seasons, in all moments. I leave it here for you to enjoy. As I listen, here’s my prayer for you and for me: May my heart desire to seek God first! Before bringing my needs or cares, may I just desire to be with him, to seek him, to worship him. May I be able to learn more and more through my suffering how to look beyond myself and really lose myself in God. And may that in turn lead me deeper into a life of following him, which involves willingly stepping into suffering, into service, following in Christ’s earthly example.

Peace be with you today and everyday, friends!

Praise & Forget Not

This is post 7 in the Suffering Well series. See all of the previous posts here.

I’ve been absent from this space and this series for a bit. And it’s because I’ve been a plain old hot mess (with a capital H and M, if you’re wondering – just ask my people). The suffering I’m experiencing – poor health – is a nearly every day, all day reality in my current life. Not to say that all is bad or hard, because that’s not the case! Here’s my place for pretty life and garden pictures to prove it.

It’s more like I’m just currently walking through it all, and suffering isn’t easy or straightforward or without its share of messiness. Sometimes I feel ankle deep in it, and sometimes up to my neck (or eyes, or honestly, even over my head). My health effects nearly all aspects of my present life and days – how I feel, what I can do, my capacity for clear thinking, the energy I have to parent, be a wife, be a friend. I’m not writing this series in the past tense, and certainly not because I’ve got how to suffer well (or anything in life) fully figured out. I offer these writings up not with a neat bow tied on top, but from a place of vulnerability as I work it all out. Some level of suffering is my current reality, and that’s just the way it is.

So, no need to worry, but truth is it’s just been a harder twist in this journey. I’ve been in my health margin and unable to get out, and that generally results in stuckness in other areas of life, like my emotions and ability to see the forest through the trees. I’m starting to come out of this overall stuck place, for which I am most grateful. I thought I came out of it last week, but isn’t progress often more like a one step forward, two steps back kind of thing? And that’s okay, because I’m moving forward again!

One thing that’s helping me this week is Psalm 103’s reminder to praise & forget not. It starts:

Praise the Lord, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits –
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like eagle’s.

Nothing helps me in harder seasons more than stopping to praise, because praise helps me find and keep my bearings! Praise is my anchor, my lifeline, to the God who loves, the God who is present, the God who cares, the God who comforts me and you.

And this reminder to forget not – oh how I love it & need it. Every day! But especially when I’m stuck. God is all of those things – forgiver, healer, redeemer, lover and satisfier – when all is well, and when all feels not well. It helps me immensely to think on that & to run through a list of the ways that God has been there for me in the past, to specifically remember how he’s been present for me throughout this season of hardship, and to look for him, God with me, today. Because he doesn’t and hasn’t stopped being with me, even when I’m feeling stuck. Looking back and looking deeper helps me know it to be true.

Being stuck for me is more like a loss of perspective, a place of needing to find my footing again and to remember the solid ground on which I stand. A place of needing to think bigger than myself and the circumstances I find myself in. Praise and forget not, praise and remember – I’m going to be doing a lot more of both, and invite you to join me. Because it makes a difference, when all is good, all is hard, and all the in-between. It roots me, and I pray that it roots you just the same!