His is a Terrible Love

 To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

There is darkness in all of us.

The Road

It is a part of being human to feel the weightiness of the absence of God.
And there is an absence of God in this world.  The Bible we profess speaks of it.
The prophets and psalms all speak of Him who is not there when He is most needed.  The author of Hebrews strips all of our pretense away when he speaks of Noah, of Abraham, of Gideon and David and the rest who “all died without having received what was promised.”
It is the anguish of glimpsing the briefest glow of the light of presence without being allowed to bask in the sun.
Glimpse of light
It is a terrible love, this love of God for us.  It is a love that means His absence as often as it means His presence.  It is a love that Jesus speaks of when He utters in His darkest moment the piercing cry of Where are you, God?
You who are in heaven for us, why are you not down here in hell with us?

Light of presence

It is a terrible love that speaks of carrying our own cross, that utters the truth that all ye labor and are heavy laden.
It is a terrible love that wounds, or allows the wounds, before the healing can come.
It is a terrible love that weeps at the death of a friend, of Lazarus.  They are tears that speak of the absence of God.  Of the part of God in the very body of Jesus who would not save the life of His own friend.
This is, after all, the Gospel.  It is terrible before it is beautiful.  It is darkness before it is light.
Darkness before light
We all labor and are heavy laden.  We work so very hard to pretend that it is not so, but even when we are appalled at the darkness, we cannot help but listen to Jesus because we see in Him not only the darkness of being without God but the glorious light of what it looks like to be with God.
It is out of the absence of God that He becomes most present.  It is out of the whirlwind, out of the storm that God first speaks to Job, answering Him not with answers but with Himself.
It is out of darkness that we first begin to perceive the light.
Paul says that “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.  God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are”, and he points to “the apparent emptiness of the world where God belongs and to how the emptiness starts to echo like an empty shell after a while until you can hear in it the still, small voice of the sea, hear strength in weakness, victory in defeat, presence in absence.” ~ Frederick Buechner
Rembrandt
The cross itself is a symbol of defeat before it is a symbol of victory and it, too, speaks of the absence of God.
When the absence is all that we see, when we are tempted to see in it a well of doubt that could lead us into atheism or at least into becoming agnostic, there is yet something else to see as well.
It was out of the darkness and absence that God first spoke.  “In the beginning…the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”
Darkness is upon our faces as well, a void that sinks deep into our hearts.  And perhaps it is necessary for the reality of this darkness to fold itself around us for us to be able to glimpse the reality of the word that God spoke into the darkness, “God said let there be light, and there was light.”
And there was light
It is a terrible love that is offered to us, and perhaps we must face the truth of the terribleness before we are capable of accepting the love.

Art credits: Three Crosses sketch by Rembrandt; Supernova photo by NASA

edited from the archives

Surprised by my Ugliness

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

I am always surprised when ugliness shows up in my heart.
Ugliness
Did I just think that?!
How could that have just flashed through my mind?!
I am shocked and horrified when my frustration makes the thought of running away from my family seem momentarily desirable.
I shouldn’t be surprised. There is something inside of me capable of deserting those I love.
It is inside of you too.
There is something inside of me capable of murder, adultery, theft.
It is inside of you too.
When I am shocked at the kinds of thoughts that can fly through my head, it is a kind of pride. It is a pride that thinks I am better. Better than those who fill our jails.
I am not.
Darkness
This kind of shock is not a sorrow which leads to change. This is only a sorrow that I was not as good as I and others thought. It is a shock and sorrow that I am as weak as other humans.
True sorrow involves no surprise. It is not surprised at the depths of darkness in my soul. True sorrow is impossible to find on my own. It can only come from God.
Only when God looks at me can I know my own weakness and brokenness.
In the end, it is God looking into the sinner’s face that matters. ~ Henry Drummond (British revivalist and preacher, 1851-1897)
Only when God looks at me as He looked at Peter at the crow of the rooster, can I turn around and be changed.
Only when we come to our Father in response to His waiting look can we be freed and forgiven. ~ Henry Drummond
So stop being surprised and be sorrowful instead. Stay where you are and let God teach you.
Look into the heart of God and be broken.
Only then can we be truly changed.

Art Credits: Let Him Be Crucified by James Tissot; Jesus Scourged, a Bowyer Bible print

When This World Becomes Just Too Much

ISIS
Ferguson
Tunisia
Greece
Our world is broken. It is fallen.
Cancer
Infertility
Loneliness
Joblessness
Our lives are broken. They can be dark.
That there can be ugliness in this life is not questioned by anyone. No one would argue with the idea that we all go through times of darkness, times of weeping, times of where in the world, where in all of this hurting world are You, God?
If the question then is not will I suffer, then the question must be what will I choose when I suffer.
When I hurt, will I believe that God works for the best in everything or will I wonder whether God is working at all? When I ache, will I believe that God is most present when I am at the end of myself or will I wonder whether God is really in anything at all? When I don’t know how long I can hold on, will I believe in God when I cannot see Him through the dark or will I wonder if the darkness is all that there is?
What do we do when we are sinking, when we are drowning, when we are at the end of ourselves and are pleading for relief?
Paul
Paul pleaded with God to remove his thorn. He begged God three times for release. The first two times? Heaven was silent. The third time? God said no.
Christ
Jesus asked if there was any other way but the Cross. God’s answer? No.
Why do we think it should be different for us? Why do we think that we should be exempt?
If God is most present and works most powerfully when we are at the end of our own limits, then shouldn’t we want to lean into our suffering rather than try to escape it?
Paul chose to boast of his weakness, to be content with his hardship. He chose to immerse himself in his thorn in order to gain more of Christ.
We don’t have a choice about whether we will hurt.
Our choice is in how we will respond.
Rembrandt
Will we spend our time begging for respite? Will we beg God to take it away and then curse Him when He does not?
Or will we receive our suffering as a gift? A gift with a purpose, even though we may never know the purpose. A gift with a promise, a promise of grace and God’s presence.
When God says no, when God says My grace is sufficient for you, instead of arguing with Him about it, instead of fighting Him with all of your strength, ask Him to help you get to the place where you can receive your adversity as a gift from a loving Father.
A gift that brings you more of His grace. A gift that brings you more of Him.
I have learned to kiss the waves that dash me against the Rock of Ages. ~ Charles Spurgeon

Art credits: The Apostle Paul sketch from 1514 A.D.; Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane by Orazio Borgianni; The Three Crosses by Rembrandt

This is Easter

Easter.
Easter
Spring.
Spring
New life.
New life
It is an inevitable part of life that monochromatic winter begins to melt into spaces of bright color. Snow gives way to tulips and crocuses. Perhaps it is our necessary reminder that death is followed by new life. Our reminder of Easter.
It was our first Easter without Kristina.
On Easter morning, my eldest ran into the living room where we had left the figure of Jesus on the cross the night before, eyes wide with hope of resurrection. “Daddy, look! Jesus left us flowers that God made!”
God made
Hope and joy at the end of sorrow and pain. This is Easter.
On Easter morning, gathered with our Family, we sang, “The greatest day in history, Death is beaten, You have rescued me. Sing it out, Jesus is alive! Endless joy, perfect peace, Earthly pain finally will cease. Celebrate Jesus is alive! Oh, happy day, happy day…”
During a celebration after tragedy, hearts swell and overflow with emotions that at first glance seem to be at odds. We feel both joy and gratitude, sorrow and longing.
joy
On Easter morning, the joy is easy. Jesus is alive!
Sorrow and longing, though, those are things that are more difficult. Yet they are real and, although hard, they are what should be.
We all suffer. We all love and therefore all suffer because in our broken world, love means suffering. Those who do not love much do not suffer much. I would not grieve so deeply had I not loved Kristina so much. God loves our world and therefore God Himself suffers.
Such sorrow was felt over our first Easter without Kristina.
Kristina
We acknowledge that all of this, this pain and death and sadness, is not how it was supposed to be. None of this existed before we rebelled against God.
Our rebellion
And so we sorrow.
Our longing is for that day of redemption and transformation. The day when earthly pain will cease and death will be banished for all time. We desperately wish to be gathered into Jesus’ arms and told that all is now well.
Someday
And so we long.
Sorrow and longing.
At second look, we are reassured that these are what we should feel. After all,
Our kind, heavenly Father has provided many wonderful inns for us along our journey, but He takes special care to see that we never mistake any of them for home. ~ C.S. Lewis
At the end of it all, however, our hearts must return again to gratitude.
On that Easter morning, as we worshiped together, we sang, “You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of the dust. You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of us.”
Just as we did in the middle of our ugly places, our hearts cry out “Why?” Yet this time, it is a vastly different sort of why.
This time we ask, why do You love me that much?
His love
You went to the cross to allow us to become children of God. Wasn’t that more than enough? Why would You now also work so very hard to make beautiful things out of the dust that we are? Why would You pour so much into molding us into people who look like You?
Let us fall on our knees in joy and with gratitude for such lavish love.
Lavish love
On Easter morning and beyond, let our hearts swell with both sorrow and longing, joy and gratitude, knowing that Jesus is truly alive, knowing that He has defeated death.

edited from the archives

art credit: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise by Benjamin West; heaven picture; cross picture by Asta Rastauskiene

Terrible Love

It is Thanksgiving time and there is light.

Happy kids eating

Happy eating

Fine dining
They sit around the table laden with food, this family bound together by blood.  There is light and laughter, talk of sports and of God, there is caring and kindness between generations.  There are eyes shining bright, shining with love and with joy in the company around them.
And there is darkness.
There is one who is recently bereft of the comfort of spouse, struggling to find what is normal.  There is one who sits heavy with the weight of marriage that is harder than expected.  There is one who wonders if anything they do will ever seem good enough.
There is one who struggles with getting older, one who struggles with trouble at work and money that slips through the fingers, one who wonders if there is anything good coming when they can’t see what lies further down the road.
The Road
There is darkness in all of us.  It is a part of being human to feel the weightiness of the absence of God.  And there is an absence of God in this world.  The Bible we profess speaks of it.  The prophets and psalms all speak of Him who is not there when He is most needed.  The author of Hebrews strips all of our pretense away when he speaks of Noah, of Abraham, of Gideon and David and the rest who “all died without having received what was promised.”  It is the anguish of glimpsing the briefest glow of the light of presence without being allowed to bask in the sun.
Glimpse of light
It is a terrible love, this love of God for us.  It is a love that means His absence as often as it means His presence.  It is a love that Jesus speaks of when He utters in His darkest moment the piercing cry of Where are you, God?
You who are in heaven for us, why are you not down here in hell with us?

Light of presence

It is a terrible love that speaks of carrying our own cross, that utters the truth that all ye labor and are heavy laden.
It is a terrible love that wounds, or allows the wounds, before the healing can come.
It is a terrible love that weeps at the death of a friend, of Lazarus.  They are tears that speak of the absence of God.  Of the part of God in the very body of Jesus who would not save the life of His own friend.
This is, after all, the Gospel.  It is terrible before it is beautiful.  It is darkness before it is light.
Darkness before light
We all labor and are heavy laden.  We work so very hard to pretend that it is not so, but even when we are appalled at the darkness, we cannot help but listen to Jesus because we see in Him not only the darkness of being without God but the glorious light of what it looks like to be with God.
It is out of the absence of God that He becomes most present.  It is out of the whirlwind, out of the storm that God first speaks to Job, answering Him not with answers but with Himself.  It is out of darkness that we first begin to perceive the light.
Paul says that “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.  God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are”, and he points to “the apparent emptiness of the world where God belongs and to how the emptiness starts to echo like an empty shell after a while until you can here in it the still, small voice of the sea, hear strength in weakness, victory in defeat, presence in absence.” ~ Frederick Buechner
Rembrandt
The cross itself is a symbol of defeat before it is a symbol of victory and it, too, speaks of the absence of God.
When the absence is all that we see, when we are tempted to see in it a well of doubt that could lead us into atheism or at least into becoming agnostic, there is yet something else to see as well.
It was out of the darkness and absence that God first spoke.  “In the beginning…the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”  And darkness is upon our faces as well, a void that sinks deep into our hearts.  And perhaps it is necessary for the reality of this darkness to fold itself around us for us to be able to glimpse the reality of the word that God spoke into the darkness, “God said let there be light, and there was light.”
And there was light
It is a terrible love that is offered to us, and perhaps we must face the truth of the terribleness before we are capable of accepting the love.

Art credits: Three Crosses sketch by Rembrandt; Supernova photo by NASA

Joy Wrapped with Sorrow

My littlest turned one this week.
Samantha
She is a New Year’s baby, the first of the year in our county.  In my own opinion, it would be difficult to find a better way to bring joy and hope to a new year than with a perfect baby.
Newborn
She passed her Papa on her way to us.
Papa
My dear friend, Martha Cook, said it well:  And so your Papa stood at Heaven’s Gate.  He saw as she passed by.  He blew a kiss.  “Samantha,” he said, “God is sending you to the best of families.”  Then he turned and entered into the arms of the God he served.  Well done.  Well done.
It is a truth of this world that joy is wrapped up with sorrow.  You cannot have one without the other.
It is the way of this world and it is the way of our God.  He loves us, knowing that the joy of His love will be enveloped in sorrow.  He loves us while He bears our grief and our sorrow.
Weeping in Gethsemane
If God Himself bears both joy and sorrow, how can we expect anything different?
Yet we do.  We expect joy without sorrow, love without grief.  When the grief and sorrow come, we shake our fists at this God and ask why?
And we should ask why, but a why of a different kind.  Why, God?  Why would You choose to love us when we continually turn our faces from You?  Why would You choose to take our grief and sorrow upon Yourself?  Why did You come to our rescue instead of leaving us to the fate we brought on ourselves?
On the Cross
We will not, in this life, have joy without sorrow.  We can either try to live this life with God or without Him.  With Him, the joys are brighter and the sorrows are lighter.
Walking with Christ
So breathe in and breathe out.
We receive what You give; We give thanks for what You give.
Our Living Water
Above all, we give thanks for You.

Art credits: Gethsemane by Carl Bloch; Three Crosses by Rembrandt; Going to Emmaus by Robert Zund; Christ and Samaritan Woman by Henryk Siemiradzki

The Years the Locust Ate

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten…you shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you…
Beauty
A beautiful set of verses in Joel.  Verses filled with hope, with new life and new beginnings.
Drought
Yet I hate with all of my being that there were entire years that were eaten by locusts.  I hate that people had to endure that pain and despair before they could reach the end point of being satisfied and praising God.
The memories of those years don’t go away.
And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends.  And the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before…And the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning.  And he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys.  He had also seven sons and three daughters…And after this Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, four generations.  And Job died, an old man, and full of days.
Flourishing
Another beautiful set of verses in Job.  Verses filled with hope, with new life and new beginnings.
Devastated
Yet Job still endured the loss of all that he had.  He still watched all of his children die and, as any of you who have lost children know all too well, no number of new children can ever take away the pain of losing those who came before.
It is a heart filled with mixed emotions, this kind of hope.  It is joy and excitement over the beauty of what lies ahead and it is sorrow and grieving over what happened in the past.
Autumn Blazes
This is life.
Life and Death
It is beauty that is tinged with sorrow.  It is love that is colored by loss.  All who live deeply are affected.  None are exempt except for those who choose not to love.
God speaks beautiful words about our future with Him, words filled with promise, words filled with satisfaction and praise and joy. What do we do with this apparent contradiction?  How do we get from this common suffering to a perfect life filled with perfect joy?
One option is that it is all a big hoax.  None of this hope is true; it is all just a ruse to keep us from rebelling too hard against our lot in life.
Those who have known God long enough to catch a glimpse of His character, though, know that He is not given to such cruel jokes.
Jesus with Samaritan Woman
If you keep God in the picture, this God who is the very definition of love, than you are left with the answer that it is somehow all worth it. If God is who He says He is, if His words are trustworthy and true, then somehow the end is so brilliantly glorious that it will eclipse the darkness that came before.
Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.  ~ C.S. Lewis
So what do we do with this hope that is so full of wildly contradicting emotions?  I don’t understand how this sort of ending is at all possible when the sorrow seems so great.  Yet like Abraham, we are asked to keep trusting in the face of apparent impossibility.  Trusting that what God said to Abraham is truth for all: “Is anything too hard for the LORD?”
Light
On our best days we are able to trust that, in the end, we will be so seized by the sight of His face that we will fall to the ground at His feet in pure adoration. And all that came before will be as a vacuous mist that is chased away by the brilliant light and heat of the sun.

Art Credits: Sunlight Through Tulips photo by Kirk Sewell; Christ and Samaritan Woman painting by Siemiradzki; Sunlight Through Trees photo by Kirk Sewell

For My Friend

I lost a friend this week.
steph
Showers.Nursery 105
She was one of the most beautiful women I have ever known.
She has suffered for too many years, enduring pain and sorrow, kidney transplants and countless hours of dialysis. Ever since her second transplant failed, her agonies had seemed even worse.
Yet through it all, her heart remained fully God’s. She was selfless, compassionate towards others while she was the one in pain. Even when the limitations of her body sent her emotions spiraling, she still knew and would declare unequivocally that emotions can play you false and that Love was true regardless of how you feel.
When I got the word that God had taken her home, my first emotion was relief. Relief on her behalf that she is finally free at last. Free from her physical body that so limited her spirit.
Yet as I think about this initial reaction of mine, I wonder why I don’t feel this way with everyone.  Surely, as Paul said, to depart and be with Christ is better by far, so why did I feel such sadness when Kristina died, when my Papa died?
Sewell_118
Analise, Natalie and Papa
Surely I don’t want to bring anyone back here to this earth, to this broken world. Surely I don’t want to carry them away from God, away from being free from pain and sorrow.
I search my own heart and finally realize that what I really want is to join them.
I am not sad that they are not here, rather I am jealous that I am not there.
It is not a desire for everyone to stay here with me but a longing for everyone here to be there. With God.
What I really want is for God to come back now. I want Him to make everything right again. Perfect. New.
The Church often gives confusing messages when it comes to death.
IMG_3384
IMG_3393
We seem to bounce back and forth between the medical view that death is an enemy to be conquered by medical technology and the Ars moriendi view that death is a friend to be embraced because it moves us from the hated physical into the desired spiritual.
It seems to me, rather, that the Christian view, the view that comes from watching how Jesus Himself died, is that death is an enemy, but one that has already been defeated.
IMG_3400
IMG_3397
This allows for the reality of the sadness that we all feel when someone we love dies and at the same time acknowledges our hope for the future, our hope in the power of Jesus’ resurrection and in His grace that will let us share in that resurrection…that physical resurrection.
I am saddened by death. I hate death’s power to destroy and bring loss.
IMG_3383
IMG_3404
And I long for the day when God will make our world and our bodies new again, perfect and free from pain, sorrow, and death.
Luca_Giordano_-_Resurrection_-_WGA09020
And so, as I mourn the loss of my friend, I embrace my weeping.
I weep for myself, for my brokenness and for the years in which she will not play a part in my story, and I weep with a profound yearning for Someday when all of our stories will finally reach
Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
Last Battle

Art credits: The Resurrection painting by Luca Giordano; final quote and illustration from The Last Battle written by C.S. Lewis, illustrated by Pauline Baynes

When I Don’t Understand

It has been a beautiful time and a difficult time, this time I have spent away from this space.
Samantha
Breathing in the scent of my newborn, surrounded by the warmth of family and friends, secluding myself from the world while I both soak up and exude the love and joy of my little family.
Gram and Papa 1
Passing my baby on his way out of this world, my Papa said farewell to us and greeted his Father with joy.
Unable to travel long miles that soon after giving birth, I did much of my grieving alone.
Mike, Kristina and Ethan
My heart was reminded too often of our Kristina, of the thoughts and emotions of her loss only a year and a half ago.
Birth and death. Being and dying.
I often think of and long to know the meaning of this cycle of life and death.
in the light of love of the Creator, who brought them all into being, who brought me into being, and you…It is part of the deepest longing of the human psyche, a recurrent ache in the hearts of all of God’s creatures.
I am reminded once again of Love.
Of Love that wants the best for us, regardless of the cost.
Of Love that walked this earth with us and died for us and then showed us how to have everlasting life.
Of Love that promises that this is not the end, these dying breaths, that promises that we have life.
road to emmaus zund
cross
As I open myself up once again to loving another baby, to making myself vulnerable to the possibility of pain that loving brings, I wonder long about meaning and whether any of this is truly worth it.
Yet even as I wonder, I know. I know that love is always worth it. I know, even in the ugly and the pain, that this life is beautiful because we are loved by One who gives Himself with no hesitation, no conditions.
I know because even though I don’t understand our God, even though I don’t understand this life or the next or how any of this works and fits together, I find yet that I know what it is about. I know what HE is about.
As long as we know what it’s about, then we can have the courage to go wherever we are asked to go, even if we fear that the road may take us through danger and pain.
And there is where the joy and beauty lie.
In knowing what it’s about even when we don’t understand.

Art credits: quotes are by Madeleine L’Engle in Walking on Water; Road to Emmaus painting by Robert Zund; Cross photograph by Asta Rastauskiene

Joy and Gratitude, Sorrow and Longing

Easter.


Spring.


New life.



On Easter morning, my eldest ran into the living room where we had left Jesus on the cross the night before, eyes wide with hope of resurrection. “Daddy, look! Jesus left us flowers that God made!”



Hope and joy at the end of sorrow and pain. This is Easter.

On Easter morning, gathered with our Family, we sing

The greatest day in history

Death is beaten, You have rescued me

Sing it out, Jesus is alive!

Endless joy, perfect peace, 

Earthly pain finally will cease

Celebrate Jesus is alive!

Oh, happy day, happy day…

My heart swells and overflows with emotions that at first glance seem to be at odds. For some time now, I often feel both joy and gratitude, sorrow and longing. 



On Easter morning, the joy is easy. Jesus is alive!

Sorrow and longing, though, those are things that are more difficult. Yet they are real and, although hard, they are what should be.

My sorrow is over our first Easter without Kristina



As we celebrate Jesus’ victory over death and as our family celebrates a new season of birth from my youngest brother and his wife, we miss Kristina with a physical ache. As I plan a baby shower, I can’t help but think of how Kristina would have been at her finest, crafting beautiful invitations by hand. 

We acknowledge that all of this, this pain and death and sadness, is not how it was supposed to be. None of this existed before we rebelled against God. 



And so I sorrow.

My longing is for that day of redemption and transformation. The day when earthly pain will cease and death will be banished for all time. I desperately wish to be gathered into Jesus’ arms and told that all is now well. 



And so I long.

Sorrow and longing. At second thought, they are what we should feel. After all,

Our kind, heavenly Father has provided many wonderful inns for us along our journey, but He takes special care to see that we never mistake any of them for home. ~ C.S. Lewis

May I return for a moment to gratitude?

On Easter morning, as we worshiped together, we sang

You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of the dust.
You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of us.

My heart cries out “Why?”

Why do You love me that much? 



You went to the cross to allow me to become a daughter of God. Wasn’t that more than enough? Why would You now also work so very hard to make beautiful things out of the dust that I am? Why would You pour so much into molding me into someone who looks like You?

There is much deep theology in this. Perhaps I will explore these things later.

For now, I will fall on my knees in gratitude for such deep love.



On Easter morning and beyond, I will let my heart swell with sorrow and longing, joy and gratitude, knowing that Jesus is alive.


art credit: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise by Benjamin West; heaven picture; cross picture by Asta Rastauskiene