The Way into Suffering

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.

 

Suffering.
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It infiltrates all lives. No one is exempt.
Physical pain, grief, loneliness, fear.
At times the suffering is wholly yours, at other times you suffer by witnessing another’s pain.
Although it is common to us all (or perhaps because it is common to us all), we spend much of our time and energy attempting to avoid pain.
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When our own efforts toward that end seem doomed, we resort to prayer. We beg and plead with God to remove our pain, to rescue us from our distress.
Satan seems to know this about us. He knows that we would do almost anything to evade discomfort and he uses this knowledge to his advantage.
He certainly did with Jesus. In the wilderness, Satan’s temptations were aimed at convincing Jesus to achieve his goals any other way than God’s way of the cross. God’s way of suffering.
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Yet the cross, the way of suffering, was the purpose of the incarnation. Yes, Jesus performed miracles and taught wisely, but His mission was the cross.
Now my soul is troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I have come to this hour.
Jesus understood what was coming. He knew what agony was lurking. Yet He also knew His purpose.
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He did ask once to be spared. He wept in a garden and pleaded for there to be another way to heal the world from the consequence of another garden.
And in the end, He submitted. He surrendered to the way of the Cross and was made perfect by His suffering.
If Christ had to suffer to be made perfect, why in the world, why in God’s broken world do we think we can gain Jesus’ resurrection without passing through His suffering?
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I do not mean that we should seek out adversity. In this world, it will assail us soon enough.
I mean that when it does come, these pangs that are common to us all, we should lean in and allow it to do its work.
Allow your suffering, whatever it may be, to carry you toward perfection.
Sunlight through tulips
This is the way of Christ. This is the way of all who follow Him. This is the way toward perfection.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. ~ James 1.2-4

Art credits: Three Crosses sketch by Rembrandt; Gethsemane by Carl Bloch; tulips photograph by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs copyright 2017 by Elizabeth Giger

Living in the Dark

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Christmas begins in the dark.
Dark
Advent, this season leading up to Christmas, is for us. It is for we who live in the dark.
This season seems to amplify pain. Those who are lonely feel more lonely, those who are grieving feel their grief more deeply, those who are hurting seem to suffer more.
And that’s okay.
It’s okay not to feel happy this time of year.
After all, Christmas doesn’t mean much if we don’t need it.
Mary
Mary understood. Her angel visitation led to a rift between her and her beloved, a painful journey on a donkey, and giving birth next to a chicken.
Even as she clutched her newborn son, she heard the prophecy of a sword piercing her heart and wondered.
Even after her Christmas, her beloved son grew farther and farther away from her, uttering such things as Why would you look for me? Don’t you know I must be about my Father’s business? and, when she came through the crowds to see him, My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.
Yet Mary stayed close. She trusted and held on to her faith in her son no matter how distant he seemed, even when he died. She stayed close. Everywhere we look in the gospels we see Mary, hovering on the outskirts, still showing up, still coming back to her son again and again.
Stay Close
Can we do the same?
Can we hold on to our faith in the Son no matter how distant He seems, even if He seems to be dead?
Light
This world is dark and we live in a continual Advent.
Don’t run away from the bitter-sweetness of this Advent season. You don’t have to pretend to feel joyful.
Colors
Tinsel
Don’t hide behind the tinsel and lights. Neither should you ignore the colors completely.
Linger as you abide with the sorrow and the joy, the hurt and the hope that are woven together in this season. Stay close to the Son however far away He may seem.
Christ
Settle into the knowing of how desperately we need Christmas, how desperately we need God-with-us.
Our Father promised that Christmas would come
Christmas
and it will be all the more beautiful for having lived through the darkness of Advent.

Art credit: Pieta by Michelangelo; all other photographs copyrighted by Elizabeth Giger

Be Still

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Be still.
Be Still
Wait.
Wait
Be still and wait for God.
Wait for God
Be still and wait for God to come.
God will come
Advent is waiting and so we become still while we wait for Him to come down and rescue us.
We pause in our fighting and our striving, we rest from our grieving and our mourning, we stop to breathe in our busyness and our too much.
Just for a moment.
It doesn’t take any of it away. Yet.
But we become still like Moses with the Red Sea before and the Egyptian army after and we wait for God to fight for us.
We who have lived with the pain for far too long, we who have just received the phone call and sit at our kitchen table in stunned silence, we who can’t see how we will put one foot in front of the other much less get up from our beds in the morning, we who hide in our closets and weep our wracking sobs while we rock back and forth,
God comes
just for one moment we become still.
We remember that God is and that He is fighting for us.
God fights for us
It doesn’t solve or heal any of it. Yet.
But it will.
God will heal us
Oh, how it will.
We become still and we wait for Emmanuel. We wait for Emmanuel, God-with-us, to come down.
We wait in this season and we wait in this life for our Emmanuel to come down and fight and make it all okay again.
So for just a moment, take a breath and remember how He already did this once to show us that He will do it again.
He is with us
Be still.
Emmanuel
Wait.

edited from the archives

When You Have Trouble

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God promised that this life would be hard.
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It is part of what draws us together as humans, this trouble that comes to us all.
Whether the trouble is harming you directly or whether you are hurting while you watch one you love suffer, trouble is promised to us all.
Trouble is promised, yet Christ asked us to take up our cross if we want to come with Him, implying that we have a choice.
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If trouble is not our cross, if we are guaranteed trouble no matter what, then what does it mean to take up our cross?
What does it mean to share in the sufferings of Christ, as Paul encourages us to do several times in his writings, and how can that bring us joy? This is, after all, trouble we’re talking about, not fun and relaxation.
As I read through the Bible, God seems to tell us that we have a choice. That when trouble arrives, as it invariably will, we have a choice of how to respond.
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If we look to Jesus as showing us how to live life as we were created to live, we can see Him having to make the same choice and showing us which choice to make.
After the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus is telling the disciples that He will have to die in order to be honored and glorified.
Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!
Do you see His choice?
His heart is troubled as He looks ahead a few days to His crucifixion and He sees His choice clearly.
It is the same choice you have.
Will you run away from your trouble, trying your best to escape it?
Or.
Will you make the incredibly hard choice to accept your trouble, asking God to glorify His name in it?
Will you try to escape your cross or will you take it up?
Now, I certainly don’t mean that it is wrong to pray that God will take your trouble away. Jesus asked that of God in the garden when He asked for this cup to be taken away from Him.
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I do believe, though, that the greater portion of peace and joy can be ours if we ask for God to be glorified in whatever we are facing.
This is what it means to be partners with Christ by sharing in His sufferings. This is what brings beauty and meaning to our own suffering. Suffering that will happen regardless of how we choose to respond.
It is hard to wrap our minds around this idea that suffering can be redemptive, bringing hope and healing to the world. Our world reacts so strongly against any kind of discomfort at all. Yet the entire life of Jesus shows us how grace and suffering can fit together.
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This language that combines suffering and joy is all over Scripture. Jesus endured the cross for the sake of joy, Peter tells us to rejoice as we share Christ’s suffering.
Trouble comes to us all. The astounding piece of this is that God chooses to use us, if we will allow Him, for the greater good, for the healing of all around us.
So for you who don’t know how you will pay your bills next month, for you who lost a child, for you who can’t imagine an evening without a fight, for you whose heart just broke in two, for you who are walking through the crippling loneliness, depression, physical pain, doubt,
ask God to help you make the choice that will bring the most peace and joy, the choice that will bring healing to those around you.
Ask God to glorify His name through your trouble.
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In this, you will be like Jesus. And God will grant you what you ask.

Art credit: Gethsemane by Carl Bloch

There Are Times

I took a short break from blogging after experiencing some very difficult times related to my writing, and I’m glad to be back in my writing space. As I searched for the way to be obedient in what happened, I discovered that I don’t believe God has released me from writing here in this space, so I published a couple of essays from my archives while I prayed and thought and wrote. Here is what I wrote in the aftermath of my troubles. I pray that it will give a small bit of help to you.
 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 are times when I feel desperate for God.
Times when my path forward seems dark
as the hour before dawn.
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Times when the darkness seems to creep into my soul and
times when it wants to burst out of my heart and
threaten to hurt those around me.
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I always know in a cerebral sense that my very being depends on God, but
there are times when I know it in a deep, carnal way.
These are the times I see clearly into my own heart and
tremble with fear for the rage I see there.
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These are the times I am asked to forgive, to
turn the other cheek in a real and painful way.
These are the times I find I must return something
to God that is precious to me and find that my deepest self
wants to turn away from Him instead.
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It is in these times that I fall on my face and
beg Him to surround me with Himself.
It is in these times that I lift up my eyes and
plead for Him to heal me from the inside.
It is in these times that I know with a gut-wrenching certainty that
I am, indeed, desperate for God
in all times.
I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee.
Oh, bless me now my Savior,
I come to Thee.

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
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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

More About My Book (and a second giveaway!)

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Thank you.
Thank you for all of the sharing and liking and subscribing that you have done over the past week. I’ve gained quite a few subscribers, and am grateful.
The Color of Hard
Let me tell you more about why I wrote this book.
As I wrote in last week’s post, my book is the story of how my sister-in-law, Kristina, battled breast cancer and lost, and how God met our entire family in the middle of it all. 
People learn best through story. Suffering is common to all who live on this earth, and I want to weave a beautiful story that unravels and reveals meaning.
I wrote a story that is honest and vulnerable about the ugly things in this life so that people can see themselves and can, through Kristina’s story, learn about who God is and what He does in the middle of our collective story.
Too often, people in our churches are afraid to be honest about how hard suffering and death can be, perhaps out of fear that they will be thought not faithful enough, perhaps out of fear that God may not come through after all.
If we are to be healed and comforted, however, we must be vulnerable with each other and with God about how dark this life can be.
This is why I wrote The Color of Hard. To tell a story that will help people heal. Not only people who have suffered from breast cancer, not only people who have watched a spouse suffer and die, but all who are on a journey through pain, whether that involves their own physical pain or the pain of watching a loved one suffer.
Will you help me to tell this story? The more you share this post, the more subscribers I get, the better my chance of being able to publish this story and help people heal.
The prize this week is a beautiful print with beautiful words created by a shop called Salt Stains. Go visit their website at https://www.etsy.com/shop/SaltStains and decide which print you would love to have adorning your home.
If you already subscribe to my blog and have followed me on Facebook and Twitter, you can still enter to win this prize! Just scroll down to the contest form and click on the entry tabs to let me know that you already subscribe.
And again, thank you.

Second Giveaway

I Wrote a Book

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I wrote a book.
writing a book
That is surprisingly difficult to say in so public a forum. I haven’t told very many people, yet here I am telling the world.
It’s a frightening and vulnerable thing to offer up your words to a critical world. Yet I feel I must at least try.
I wrote a book that was hard to write and is hard to read, but it contains a message that is desperately needed in this world of ours.
This book of mine is the story of how my brother’s wife, Kristina, battled breast cancer and lost, and how God met our entire family in the middle of it all.  It is the story of pain and loss, of how to reconcile the heart of God to the reality of how dark this world can sometimes be.
I named it The Color of Hard.
The Color of Hard
I wrote a book and I need your help.
The thing about books and publishers these days is that publishers want you to have lots of people who love you and will therefore most likely purchase your book before they will even think about agreeing to publish said book.
Translation? Subscribers. Lots of subscribers.
Which is where I need your help.
If you haven’t already, will you subscribe to my emails? Will you follow me on Facebook and Twitter?
Will you share this with all of your friends and help me get the message out? I would be most grateful.
And I will give gifts!  To sweeten the deal (although I know you would help a girl out anyway), I am going to give something away each week for the next four weeks. You can enter via the contest form below.
In the coming weeks, I will tell you more about my book so that you can know what I’ve been working on for so long.
Last of all, thank you.

First Giveaway

Crosses and Empty Tombs

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.

 

Crosses and empty tombs.
Cross
This is what life is made up of. Death and rebirth.
Life
Seeds that die in the ground in order to bloom glorious, winter death that must happen in order to burst into green, the dying to self that is the only way into joy.
Crosses and empty tombs.
Rembrandt
Empty Tomb
We are facing a couple of crosses in our family right now.
Really, just the possibility of crosses.
Although, as I sit quiet in candle-lit dark, it occurs to me that perhaps this waiting, this living in the possibility of a cross is, in itself, a cross.
What will I do when the cross looms large in my sight?
Where will I place these fears when all that crowds my vision is rough-hewn wood and sharp metal nails?
Will I continue to hope in the promise of an empty tomb at the end of the cross?
Death
I must. If I have to drop to my knees and beg God to help me, I must remember.
If I am to survive any cross, whether heavy or light, I must pray, I must fast, I must fling myself by any means possible into the hands of the One who bore the heaviest cross of all…the One who then emptied that tomb.
Jesus promised us crosses. We are to expect them. And He also promised us empty tombs in the end. It may not happen until the end, but He gave His word that He would make those tombs empty again.
So I must remember. I must remember that God broke into time to show us that the empty tomb will always follow the cross.
I must remember the times in my own story when God brought an empty tomb after a cross.
Hope
When I cannot see beyond my cross, when I cannot trust on my own, I must look to Jesus who proved that His power and love are strong enough to bring forth an empty tomb after every single cross.
I must remember
and hope.
Crosses and empty tombs. They always go hand in hand.
Lord, we pray we never find ourselves without hope, without a glimpse of the empty tomb each time we happen upon a cross. Help us begin our daily journey expecting both crosses and empty tombs and rejoicing when we encounter either because we know you are with us. Amen. ~ from the Book of Common Prayer

Art credit: The Three Crosses by Rembrandt; Empty Tomb ink drawing from Catholic Hymns, 1860

There Is Good News

Sometimes I am weary of this world.
Wearied
Often I adore this crazy beauty that surrounds us. There is much to love, much to be grateful for.
Every once in a while, however, the brokenness of it all begins to weigh heavy on me.
Broken
My former pastor shares that he has cancer.
Blood work comes back and tells me I must take my daughter to a specialist.
The vitriol in the politics on my Facebook makes me just close my eyes.
Sinful
There are no easy answers. For all of its goodness, the fact remains that we have sinned and thus infused our world with darkness.
Darkness
The ugliness we see around us is here until Jesus returns.
The good news for right now?
He is here in the meantime.
God came down to live this same life in the midst of the brokenness.
God came
God died on a cross so that we can be with Him now through forever, so that we can be part of Him making the ugly beautiful again.
God died
God stayed here with us, to walk with us through the darkness. More than that, to be light inside of us that cannot be overcome by the darkness.
God lives
So as I feel the heaviness press down, I don’t try to escape the hurt of this world.
Rather, I try to lean into it as God did, knowing that He is working through me to heal.
Healed
Knowing that in the end He will heal it all perfectly.
And all that will remain will be beauty.

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.

 

Art credit: The Holy Night by Correggio; photo of Christ on the Cross statue by Asta Rastauskiene; Pentecost by Mildorfer